One of the most frustrating “push backs” to the necessity of spiritual practices, liturgy, and “disciplines” in Christian living comes from anti-“works-righteousness” individuals. They think since salvation is by faith alone, there is no need for spiritual efforts. Believing is enough. However, is that understanding true to scripture and real life?[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
Since the Protestant Reformation, a new doctrine has become a part of most evangelicals’ thinking. It is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Though the bible nowhere mentions that salvation is by faith alone, 500+ years of saying it is so makes it very difficult to refute. There is no doubt scripture teaches that salvation is by grace through faith. Salvation is initiated by God’s gracious, loving mercy and responded to by human beings in faith. What I’m addressing here is the notion that salvation is by faith alone.
Among many reasons, believing that salvation is by faith alone surprisingly diminishes one’s motivation and ability to live as a Christian. If I am saved by faith alone I need not put forth any effort related to being a Christian. I only need to believe. When someone challenges me to “work” at my salvation, I immediately respond that “I am saved by faith alone and what you’re proposing is “works-righteousness” which I whole-heartedly reject.”
This is a perilous doctrine. It throws the serious follower of Christ into a quandary. Faith itself is misunderstood. Salvation is made out to be something it is not. It belies scriptural teaching. It’s effects are so stealthily embedded in minds that many “Christians” can’t truly live as their heart begs them to live. This is one example of one’s theology impeding one’s authentic Christian living.
No wonder so many Christians are frustrated with Christianity as they know it. Truth is, they’ve not known the real thing due to doctrines such as “faith alone.”
One Reality – James
Though the relationship of faith and works has been debated for over 500 years, there is no doubt about one reality. You cannot find “faith alone” taught in the bible. The only place it is mentioned is James 2.24 where St. James presents faith alone as something NOT to believe. “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only [alone].” I am not misquoting the verse. It’s as plain as it gets.
Earlier, St. James writes, “faith by itself [alone], if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2.17). No wonder Martin Luther described the book of James as “the epistle of straw.” For him it lacked theological substance and significance. He couldn’t get his mind around the reality that faith and works were somehow in synthesis or union for real justification to take place. On a mission to destroy the Roman Catholic doctrine of works-righteousness he “discovered” something in scripture no one had ever seen before. He invented a new doctrine – in essence, making all scriptural references about faith into scriptural references about faith alone.
So a firestorm of debate has spread for centuries over a teaching not present in the Church for 1500 years. “Professional” and amateur theologians make arguments that don’t solve much. How God saves, justifies, and sanctifies seems absolutely clear to many. The rest of us come to this mystery in wonder and naivete’, allowing God to enlighten or veil as He sees fit.
One reality is certain. Nowhere in scripture is “faith alone” mentioned.
What about Ephesians 2.8-9? “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Look closely. Salvation is said to come by faith. However, no mention is made that salvation comes by faith alone.
How about Abraham? “He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4.3). “For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4.9). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). See it? Justification and the imputation of righteousness is always by faith. But not once does St. Paul say these occur through faith alone.
Romans 3.28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
Galatians 3.2, 6, 8: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?…just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’…And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham…”
Always by faith. Never by faith alone.
I bring this up today to challenge the notion that Christians need not put forth effort to experience the fullness of salvation because “salvation is by faith alone.” As you can see, this is not a biblical teaching.
You are not saved by faith alone. If you are saved, you have not been saved by faith alone. You are not being saved by faith alone. You will not be saved by faith alone.
You are saved by faith. If you are saved, you have been saved by faith. You are being saved by faith. You will be saved by faith.
Salvation/justification is always by faith. Salvation/justification is never by faith alone.
As far as my finite mind can tell, that’s the truth.
Luther got it wrong it seems. Experiencing salvation fully involves more than faith alone.
“Faith alone” is no excuse for lack of effort related to all salvation has to offer.
I hope you’ll think about this for a while.