Not by Faith alone
Not by Faith alone
To examine the controversial question about whether one can be saved by faith alone or if faith followed by living a Christian life is necessary for salvation.
The Christian world has long argued over the question of whether or not faith alone in Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation or if works alone is sufficient. We will examine some teachings from the Bible about this and see if we can reach a conclusion.
It seems that James and Paul are the most quoted writers in the Bible on this subject. It would appear at first reading that the two disagree on the basic question. A close study of what they both say however, reveals a surprising truth. They basically agree on the core principle that Faith is followed by good works if the faith is genuine.
First, lets consider what James said about this;
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James believed that if a person has genuine faith in Jesus Christ then they will do good works. In fact, he states quite clearly that to not do good works is a sin. This would mean that it is not optional that the Christian should do good works. Doing good works is at the very heart and soul of being a Christian. James 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
It is important to note that James is making the point that there is nothing wrong with having faith so long as it is not alone. There is a need for it to manifest itself with good works to be complete. Standing alone, having faith is nothing more than intellectual assent to the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The belief that something is true or exists does not mean that one is committed to that something. Merely to say that one believes (or has faith) that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that the things he did and taught were true and good does not mean that one accepts them as their own salvation.
(Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (NIV).”The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.
Having considered the writings of James, let’s see what Paul said;
Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Verse 8 of this scripture is used by some belief systems to justify an “eternal elect” or the belief in Predestination. These doctrines teach that “once saved, always saved” and that it is pre-determined who will go to Heaven. Some believe that once you are saved by grace, you cannot be denied entry into Heaven regardless of what kind of life you live afterward. This is a dangerous doctrine.
A smart person once said “I would rather live my life as if there was a God and find out there is no God than to live it as if there was no God to find out there is a God.
It is a terrible danger to believe that one can be saved once for all and then no matter what they do, they will still go to Heaven. It could then be said as the unknown realist is quoted “Since I cannot do right, I must find out tonight what sin to commit and commit it”.
Verse 9 of this scripture has been used by many to support the argument that works is not a pre-requisite of salvation. Paul states very clearly that we are saved by grace (gift, forgiveness of God) through faith (belief and acceptance). It may appear to some that Paul is also saying that works is not a necessary part of salvation (verses 8-9. This interpretation fails to consider the complete text of what Paul is saying because in verse 10 he clearly states that we are then created unto good works which God has ordained that we should do.
It was a common practice in those days that people would herald their good works. They wanted to be noticed by their fellow man for their charity. The belief was that if they did good works, they would be rewarded for it. Many believed that if they just did good works they would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul was just refuting the belief that good works alone would provide you entry into Heaven.
Faith is the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was sacrificed for our sins and that our salvation from eternal damnation is assured by our acceptance of his sacrifice for us. However, belief alone is not sufficient. Jesus told Nicodemus, a learned teacher that we must be born again. As James told us, even the Devil believes and trembles. Most understand the definition and principle of faith and works but fail to practice them.
Some use rationalization to justify their own desires to continue the lifestyle and behavior patterns before becoming Christian. One would have to question their sincerity. Genuine faith will produce good works. As James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Many will be saddened at the Judgment when they are asked to explain why they professed to have faith but did not produce any good works. James 2:20 made it very clear; But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Disregarding “Works” may be the undoing of these people.
2 Corinthians 5:10 (KJV) "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is a good example of the rewards we can expect. The laborer arriving at the first hour was paid the same wage as the one arriving at the 11thhour. The vineyard is compared to the Kingdom of Heaven. They came to work in the vineyard. They did not come to praise the owner of the vineyard or to tell him they had faith that he owned the vineyard, they had come to work. Those who did not work received no pay. Coming at the 12th hour was too late. Heaven is full of workers from the Vineyard but not so much of those who only offered lip service.
There are multitudes of passages in the Bible that speaks clearly of one’s judgment being rendered on the basis of one’s deeds and works on Earth. There is not one that tells us to notdo good works. Consider the teaching of Christ in Matthew chapter 20. Verse 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. And again in verse 20:24-27 about the man who built his house upon a stone foundation and the foolish one who built upon sand.
Jesus spoke clearly on this subject again in the parable of the fig tree. Luke 13:6 6 He spake also this parable; A certain [man] had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? 8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung [it9 And if it bear fruit, [well]: and if not, [then] after that thou shalt cut it down.
The thief on the Cross is sometimes erroneously used as one who was saved without any good works. By asking Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom was itself a good work. Besides, we do not know what good works he had already done or may have done because he was cut off before he had time. The good works he did that we know about however were the clarity of the process of asking forgiveness from a contrite heart, recognizing Jesus as the Son of God and capable of saving him from damnation and a genuine faith that he would be included in his Kingdom. His example is still helping untold numbers of people today which in itself is a good work.
There is a simple, commonsense question to be answered regarding faith alone and the role of works. Suppose that every Christian decided to ignore the works part of the process. Would we have the accomplishments of civilization today? The Church is a beacon of light in a corrupted world. Without the good works and sacrifices of millions over the years, the world would be without hope.
The doctrine of the “State of Grace” is broadly misinterpreted as once saved always saved. There is also the condition of “fallen from Grace”. This seems to be a contradiction of terms. If one is “once saved, always saved” how then can one become unsaved? Some Churches teach the doctrine of “backsliding” as a fall from Grace. It has to be one way or the other.
There is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant nor is there such a thing as being a little bit saved. Could one believe in being rewarded a little bit of Heaven. It is an all or nothing matter. Either Heaven or Hell. There is no in-between state. That would be like saying a part of your soul is in Heaven and a part in Hell.
For one to believe that Faith alone without observance of a moral law resulting in good works is not necessary to justification unto salvation would mean that one would have to believe that evil works does not exclude one from salvation. This doctrine would then include the belief that good and evil are inextricable joined and man is powerless to choose to do the one and not do the other.
If this was true, why then a judgment as to how we lived our lives in a conscious state. If we have no power over our choices how then can we be accountable for out actions? There is even a path laid down for us to follow. Matthew 7:13-14 Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in thereat. 14 Because strait is the gate and narrow the way which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it.
Faith alone is like buying a ticket for a train going to Heaven and then not boarding the train. You can proclaim that you own the ticket but unless you use it, you don’t go anywhere.
1. Discuss the role of Faith and Works as discussed above.
2. Ask and answer questions about the subject.
3. Inquire of the students if they understand the two arguments presented.