Saved by faith only ?
By Eddie K. Garrett II
In the religious world in which we live today, there is a favorite doctrine advocating that men are saved by "faith only." What is meant by this is that one is saved at the point of initial belief in Jesus Christ without any commitment whatsoever. Many will not readily come out and admit this, but, in all actuality that is what they believe and teach. They believe that if one ONLY has a belief in Jesus Christ without any acts of obedience then he is saved because of that faith. This is very common today, and we want to examine this premise with what the Scripture says in this regard. It is not enough what some man may say or what some group of men might say, but, "what saith the Scripture." We should not believe anything with regards to spiritual matters on the basis of how popular a doctrine may be or what a majority of religious scholars say, but, once again, "what does God say." This should be our attitude as is spoken of in Acts 17:11 as noting the attitude of the Bereans.
Martin Luther, one of the Protestant Reformers of the seventeenth century, coined a phrase that is accepted by the majority of Protestant religious bodies today. This popular phrase is that men are "justified by faith alone." One must be aware that Luther came out of the Roman Catholic church and despised them with great passion. He was very noble in many regards, although, his great distaste for them and their teachings led him to the opposite side of the ditch of error. The Catholics believe in "salvation by works" and Luther when he departed them, ran as far away from any kind of teaching that acknowledged any form of "acts of obedience" with reference to justification. In Luther's quest to depart from any and all kinds or classes of works, he came across some verses that just gave him fits in this regard. But, the book that gave him the most trouble in which he just could not harmonize with his doctrine of "justification by faith alone (only)" was the book of James. Many passages throughout the New Testament bothered Luther and his premise, but, this was a whole book that went against his teaching. After many long, arduous and pain-staking hours of trying to harmonize his premise with the book of James he finally realized that it was an impossible task. Luther came to a crossroad here, should he reconsider his premise and get in harmony with the Sacred Scripture, or find some ingenuous way to get around the truth. So, Luther opted to say openly that the book of James was NOT INSPIRED of God and that it should not be in the Bible.
The passage that gave Luther problems as well as his modern day apologists is found in the second chapter of the divinely inspired book of James, namely verse twenty-four. Although, all of the second chapter gave Luther trouble in harmonizing his doctrine, verse twenty-four was too plain to try to explain it away. Let us quote it here at this point. Remember that Luther's main premise in which his doctrine was built upon was none other than, "not by works," but, "justification by faith ONLY." Yet, James says:
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and NOT by FAITH ONLY."
One can readily see what a dilemma Luther found himself in with this one plain, simple passage and its obvious and apparent meaning. It was then easier for Luther to discard the whole entire book of James and say it was not divinely inspired of God. But, the truth of the matter is that it is indeed part of the canon, and is God's Word, and when someone, because of his doctrine, has to tear out a portion of God's Word, that should be a red flag to all students of the Holy Scripture. One's doctrine as such should be suspect when part of God's Word has to be torn out to substantiate a false premise.
James says emphatically that a man is justified by works, and NOT by "faith ONLY." Does James contradict the apostle Paul who says that a man is not saved by works? NO! They must harmonize together. The only way of trying to harmonize the two is to realize that there are two different kinds of "works" spoken of in the Bible. Actually, there are more than two, for example, there are, "works of the Mosaic Law," "works of the Devil," "works of man's righteousness," "works of God," etc. There are good "works" and bad "works." There are "works" that has nothing to do with our salvation, and then there are "conditions/works" that do have to do with our justification for the remission of our sins unto eternal life.
James says that a man is NOT justified by "faith ONLY." In verse fourteen, James says, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" The modern day religionists would answer YES! But, James clear implication is NO! He goes on in verse seventeen by saying, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is DEAD, being ALONE." And lastly, he says in verse twenty-six, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so FAITH without WORKS is DEAD also." These inspired statements harmonizes with the entire revelation of Sacred Scripture.
Let us notice an instance where the Scripture says some "believed," yet, were not saved. Look at John chapter twelve, verses forty-two and forty-three.
"Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him (Jesus); but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."
Notice that the text says that these chief rulers "believed" on Jesus. Yet, they would not confess Him, and what did Jesus say of those that would not openly confess Him: "Whosoever therefore shall CONFESS me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven" (Mt. 10:32&33). And what is said of confession: "..with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10). Not only did these chief rulers refuse to openly confess Jesus, but, the text says, "they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." What did Jesus say of men that are such? "He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me: he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37). So, these "believing" Jews were not saved according to Jesus and the inspired words of Scripture. What Jesus says in these passages harmonizes with that of what James said which we read earlier. A person can "believe" and yet, not be saved. A man is not saved by "faith ONLY." Notice in John 5:44 when Jesus said, "HOW can ye BELIEVE, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" These chief rulers received honour one of another, they received the praise of men and not the praise of God. Were they saved? NO! ONLY a live faith can save a man, not a dead faith as James has said. A man CANNOT be justified by a dead faith, a faith that does not avail in the necessary works/conditions which are commanded and ordained of God in the New Testament dispensation.
It should be noted that there are two usages of the word "believe" in the Bible. There is the faith that avails in remission of sins (acts of obedience), and the faith that does not avail in ones sins being remitted. The one being a "live faith" while the other a "dead faith." These chief rulers had a "dead faith," it did not avail or benefit them in the remission of their sins. One must remember that in the scripture the word "believe" can mean either, "initial faith," or "saving faith." This can be determined by the immediate context as well as the overall context of Scripture. There MUST be a "rightly dividing of the word of truth."
This can be easily seen in John chapter one and verses twelve and thirteen which says:
"But as many as received him (Jesus), to them gave he power (right; authority; priviledge) to BECOME the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
One can well see that when one receives Christ (initial belief), he IS NOT as yet a son of God. One cannot be a child of God without first having his sins remitted. God considered them still a child of the Devil, Satan. They are NOT children of God yet. Why? Because their "faith" has not yet acted and availed itself unto the remission of their sins. Although, still a child of the Devil (still in their sins), they are in rebellion against him. An active or live faith, as James says, is a faith that is availing, working, moving into the direction of forgiveness. Paul says that faith that avails itself for remission of sins unto salvation is that "faith which WORKETH by love" (Gal. 5:6). What does it mean, "faith which worketh by love"? It means that it is an active, live faith that is working, "keeping the commandments of God" (1 Cor. 7:19).
The word "believeth" allocates "works/acts of obedience."
Notice Numbers chapter twenty when God told Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water to drink, and Moses struck the rock twice and water came forth. God, for some reason was very displeased with Moses. He did not act or follow in God's command. Thus, in verse twelve we read: "And the Lord spake to Moses and Aaron, Because ye BELIEVED me NOT, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." However Moses disobeyed God in this instance, it resulted in God saying they "BELIEVED me NOT." So, the Lord's usage of the word "believed" here included "acts/works of obedience."
In John chapter three, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus and says to him in verse three, "...Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." He goes on to say in verse five, "...Except a man be born of water (baptized) and of the Spirit, he CANNOT ENTER the kingdom of God." Jesus tells him in verses sixteen and eighteen that he MUST believe this, and if he DOESN'T BELIEVE it (obey), he is condemned and will perish in eternal hell.
Let us look at John 3:16,18 which says:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
The word "believeth" in these passages is a "synecdoche" (a part standing for a whole). "Believeth" here includes "acts of obedience". We can confirm this by the same context in verse thirty-six which says:
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that OBEYETH not the Son shall NOT see life; but the WRATH of GOD ABIDETH on him." (RSV)
To "believe" on the Son of God in these passages is to be baptized in "water and of the Spirit" as is noted in verse five.
The apostle Paul says to some Ephesians in Acts chapter nineteen verses four and five:
"...John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
When these Ephesians heard that they should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, what does the text say THEY DID? They immediately were baptized in the name of the Lord. The "believing" in this text obviously INCLUDED acts of obedience. Believing in Jesus Christ IS being obedient to His commands/conditions. Paul was preaching salvation through faith everywhere as also the other apostles. Paul was preaching that "form of doctrine" (the gospel of Christ) that was delivered unto him of God.
How does one receive remission (forgiveness) of sins to be saved?
By obeying the gospel of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. "And being made perfect, he (Jesus) became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that OBEY him" (Heb. 5:9). Speaking of eternal Hell, Paul writes, "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that OBEY not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thes. 1:7,8). Also Peter warns us as well: "...what shall the end be of them that OBEY not the gospel of God?" (1 Pet. 4:17).
It is obvious that OBEDIENCE to the gospel is essential to salvation. We MUST OBEY the word of the Lord to be saved.
What are the necessary works/conditions that we must DO in order to have our sins forgiven? Jesus said:
"He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved" (Mark 16:16).
We notice that on the day of Pentecost, those that heard and believed Peter's preaching, then were convicted in their hearts of sin, they asked him, "what shall we DO" (Acts 2:37). Peter replied, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). Peter was following the Lord's commands in the "great commission" which was the New Testament order. They "believed" in verse thirty-seven but had not received forgiveness of sins UNTIL they OBEYED the gospel of Jesus Christ in His commands spoken of Peter.
It is the same with the Philippian jailer in Acts chapter sixteen. He asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what MUST I DO to be saved?" (vs. 30). They said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (vs. 31). Verse 32 says that, "...they spake unto him the word of the Lord." Then it says in the next verse, "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized." Then the Bible says something VERY significant in verse 34 that he, "rejoiced," then it states, "BELIEVING in God." Why did he rejoice? Because he had OBEYED the gospel and had his sins washed away in baptism. The same as on the day of Pentecost as in every instance of conversion from that day onward.
We must understand that believing the gospel is to be obedient to the gospel. Having ones sins forgiven involves far more than just a "belief" in Jesus Christ. It involves being obedient to the Lord's commandments that He has set forth in His Word. This consists of some necessary conditions/works which Jesus established and commanded. Without meeting these conditions one will NOT receive remission of past sins.
Notice Rom. 6;17,18 which says:
"But God be thanked, that ye WERE the servants of sin, but YE have OBEYED from the heart that FORM of DOCTRINE (conditions) which was delivered you. Being THEN made free from sin (forgiven), ye became the servants of righteousness."
Notice that it said that AFTER they obeyed that specific "form of doctrine," they THEN were made FREE of sin. In other words, had their sins remitted. Not by "faith ONLY," but, by required acts of obedience. Not when they believed, but, when their belief manifested itself in action towards God's commands. The faith that is active is a live faith which saves.
Paul's conversion is also in harmony with these as well. In Acts chapter nine we see Paul on the Damascus road being struck down by a light from heaven. It was Jesus Whom Paul saw. He was then a believer in Jesus. He asked the same question to the Lord about "what must I do?" Jesus told him to go into the city and it will be told him what he must do. Paul was a believer, yet, he was not forgiven of his sins. He was in deep agony to where he could not even eat. As an observation, Paul doesn't display the actions of a newly forgiven saved man during these several days since seeing the Lord on the Damascus road. He also had no sight. In Acts chapter twenty-two, Ananias had been sent by the Lord to Paul, to preach the gospel to him, so that he could OBEY and have his sins forgiven. Ananias tells him in verse sixteen, "And why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and WASH AWAY thy SINS, calling on the name of the Lord." Immediately afterward, then it says that Paul THEN ate.
Although, Paul was a "believer" on the road to Damascus, he did not receive remission of sins until he OBEYED the gospel of Christ.
This reminds me so much of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter eight. Where Philip joined himself to the chariot of this eunuch and preached unto him the gospel of Jesus Christ. The text doesn't give us all of what Philip said, but, it is obvious he preached "faith," "confession," and "baptism" to him. Because the eunuch asked him in vs. 36, "...they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Somewhere in Philip's message the subject of baptism came up. Also in vs. 37, "And Philip said, If thou believeth with all thine heart, thou shalt (notice, NOT "IS" saved) be saved." And of course we know that the eunuch made his open confession that Jesus is the Son of God and Philip commanded the chariot to stop and he took the eunuch down into the water and baptized him and in verse 39 we read that the Ethiopian eunuch "went on his way REJOICING."
We are taught from the Bible that a person MUST BELIEVE, REPENT, CONFESS, and be BAPTIZED in water for the remission of sins, to be saved. After we are saved, we must walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Putting away sin and walking in obedience to God's commandments. Once you have had remission of your sins, you now are in Christ, into the body of Christ. You are then priviledged to all spiritual blessings. Because all these blessings are IN CHRIST (Eph. 1:3). How does one get INTO CHRIST? The Book of God says that we are "baptized into Christ." Read Rom. 6:3-6 and Gal. 3:26&27 for more confirmation.
Now, we can readily understand and acknowledge what James wrote by God's divine inspiration; so let the words of the Holy Spirit ring loud and clear; that a man is absolutely, positively, most certainly, and Biblically NOT justified "BY FAITH ONLY." But, by faith that's alive, active, which worketh by love in obedience to God.
Friends, this is the VERY HONEST TRUTH, nothing more & nothing less.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Eddie K. Garrett, II for the article!
Email the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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