Are We Saved By Faith Alone?
By Lance Mosher
I'd like to talk to you about your salvation. How would you react if a stranger, or even a friend, came up and said that? Would you tense up? Would you become uncomfortable? Would you say, "Thanks, but no thanks"? Most of us find it a bit strange, if not taboo, to discuss salvation with others. That should never be the case, especially with other Bible believers!
One of the reasons why we become uncomfortable when the topic of salvation comes up is because there are so many different teachings on it that we're afraid to seem judgmental. Or we are afraid that others would judge us. Or we are afraid that we might be challenged!
When it comes to salvation, however, we should all be willing to discuss it! Of course, Bible discussion, being by itself, can be dangerous. It's vitally important that it is Bible study. And when studying salvation with others, we must be sincere and sensitive.
I understand that our salvation in Christ is the most precious gift (Ephesians 2:8). I will do my best to be both sincere and sensitive. If I challenge your belief system in this article, I do not do it maliciously. I am doing my best to present the "simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). If you believe that I miss the mark, I would be happy to hear you out, as I take James 3:1-11 very seriously. Please contact me.
If you were to be brave enough to ask your friends or local religious leaders, "What must I do to be saved?" what answer(s) do you think you would receive? One of the most popular response these days is, "Just believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." Is that biblical? Almost. In fact, that is almost a direct quotation of a passage in the Bible (more on that later).
This answer comes from those who sincerely teach salvation by faith alone. Although it is very popular today, "Just believe," is a fairly new answer to questions about salvation. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone teaching a faith alone salvation before the 1500s.
To make a long history lesson short, the faith alone doctrine stems from a movement ignited by Martin Luther against the unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church of the 1500s. Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531) was the first well-known theologian who started teaching salvation by faith alone. By his own admission, he went against almost 1,500 years of Bible teachings and beliefs when he taught salvation by faith alone (see "Of Baptism" chapter in Zwingli and Bullinger, edited by Bromiley, 1953).
It seems that the question of whether we are saved by faith alone or not is most relevant these days when the question of baptism comes up. For instance, if one has been taught that salvation is by faith alone, and he encounters Mark 16:16, he might become confused.
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
The doctrine of faith alone is quite simple, really. It teaches that as soon as you believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and rose again, you are saved, forgiven, and granted eternal life. This "faith" would exclude all "works," including obedience.
When faith alone began circulating the Christian circles, many who trusted in faith alone to save them came out of their experience lacking something. They felt a bit overwhelmed with emotions and underwhelmed with confirmation. In order to develop a reference point, people started practicing the Sinner's Prayer, which goes something like this:
There is a major problem with the Sinner's Prayer. It's not in the Bible. More and more people are starting to see that, too. Biblical or not, the Sinner's Prayer is very convenient. It gives the "new believer" a reference point. The doctrine of faith alone leaves the moment of conversion unknown; whereas, the contradictory "Faith alone plus the Sinner's Prayer" successfully provides a dot on a timeline.
The apostle John said, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). It is possible to know one is saved. It's not based on feelings or a declaration by some religious leader. It's based on what has been written. Can you compare your "salvation experience" with the Scriptures?
WHO WILL WIN THE FIGHT?
It really is sad that all Bible believers do not give the same answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" Instead of going out and answering that question for the unsaved, we argue amongst ourselves how to answer that question.
Unfortunately, once people get caught up in the argument, they are shoved into extreme categories like boxers in a ring. Each person must defend one side and offend the other side. "In the blue corner: Faith. In the red corner: Works. Round one; Fight!" Then, one side brings all of the passages that only mention faith to the fight. The other side is forced to bring all of the passages that only mention obedience, baptism, or works. The one with the most in the end wins. Is that how we are to treat God's word?
If you have ever participated in such a fight, you have communicated that God doesn't always mean what He says and that it's okay to only believe part of the Bible. I'm convinced, however, that "All Scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3:16), a God who cannot lie and does not confuse (Titus 1:2; 1 Corinthians 14:33). Therefore, God meant what He said in all of the verses without contradiction. It is wonderfully liberating (and consistent) to believe all of the passages in the Bible about faith and all of the passages on works and obedience. Therefore, when I read that our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5), and we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), then I conclude that blood, grace, and faith are connected to salvation. It's not blood alone. It's not grace alone. It's not faith alone.
The truth is, if you actually search for the phrase, "faith alone" in the Bible, you will find it only once.
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Since this is the only passage that includes "faith alone," and it says we cannot be justified by faith alone, perhaps we need to seriously reevaluate this popular doctrine.
WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH
Yes, it's true that we are saved by faith, but not faith alone. First, Christ had to do the redemptive work. Without the shedding of Christ's blood, there would be no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9). In order for us to hope in resurrection, He had to be the first fruits of an eternal life after death (1 Corinthians 15). His work of redemption demands a response from us. He will not force us to be saved, but salvation is a gift to either be accepted or rejected (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 2:1-4).
As far as being saved by the blood of Christ, we cannot look for examples in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), since those cover the life and redemptive work of Christ. Those saved during the life of Christ were saved under the Law of Moses (Hebrews 9:15-17). To begin looking at how one responds to the gift of salvation under the new covenant of Christ, we have to begin with the book of Acts.
Throughout this history book, we can watch people encounter the gospel for the very first time. It's a beautiful thing to watch someone come to faith in Christ Jesus for the first time. The faith we see in the first disciples was not a superficial faith, but it transformed their entire lives and dictated their actions, similar to how those of the Old Testament responded to God.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.
When we have true faith, we believe in a God powerful enough to speak the world into existence (Genesis 1) and always keep His promises (Titus 1:2), both promises of eternal life and condemnation. Therefore, we respond to God by obeying Him, which is the only biblical way to love God.
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.
Ephesians 2:8, a favored passage of faith alone proponents does not say we are saved by faith. It says we are saved through faith. On closer inspection, we learn that we are saved by grace. We don't deserve anything but death, yet God still offers the gift of salvation (Romans 6:23). Read the following passage while keeping in mind that the book of Ephesians was written to those who have already been saved and come in contact with the blood of Christ.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The only proper way to respond to God's gift of grace (and the sovereign judgment of God) is by a working faith.
Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
That is why people in the book of Acts respond to Christ in obedience immediately after they learn and believe in the gospel of Christ. When they see the righteousness of Christ, they are willing to turn away from sin and turn toward God in repentance. They're also willing to bury the old person of sin in water baptism, allow the Spirit of God to raise them to walk in newness of life, and transform them. Read through the book of Acts, and you will learn that there is no exception to this. Consider one example now.
As mentioned above, "Just believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" is almost a direct quotation from Scripture. The word "just" does not belong. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas have been beaten and imprisoned. Instead of blaming God for the situation, they "were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25). After a work of God shook him up (literally), their jailer asks the most important question. Notice the question, the answer, and what follows.
And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
After hearing these devout men’s praise to God, this Roman, likely an idolatrous one, wanted to know the answer to the most important question ever asked. Unfortunately, many people rip verse 30 out of its context. When it is read in its context, however, we see the story in its entirety. In order for the jailer and his household to have true faith in Jesus, Paul and Silas had to speak "the word of the Lord" to him and his household. Then, the jailer washed Paul and Silas’ wounds. If these wounds were dealt by his own hands, I can think of no better fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Was repentance mentioned specifically? No, but can we imagine this man going back to his way of life now that He knows what Christ was willing to go through in order to wash his sins away (Acts 17:30)? Then, "immediately he was baptized, he and all his household." After their baptisms, the household was rejoicing, “having believed in God.” What do we learn from all of this? The jailer and his household were able to rejoice and were considered believers only after they heard the word of the Lord and were baptized into Christ. In the New Testament, there is no such thing as an un-baptized Christian.
People in the New Testament responded to faith in Christ immediately by dying to sin and being baptized into Christ. If you were to ask a first-century Christian when he was saved- at the point that he believed in his heart, or at the point he was baptized- he would respond with a question of his own: "Huh?" Since conviction of sin, understanding of the gospel of Christ, and being baptized into Christ happened "immediately" or "in the same hour," initial faith, repentance, and baptism were always considered to happen and work together. Unfortunately, since the 1500s, people have been trying to rip them apart.
I admit that we live in a different time. In Acts, adults were being taught the gospel for the first time as Christians traveled through the regions. As the generation of Christians became older and had children, they were instructed to bring their children up "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Once this happened, there was a generation of children growing up and believing in the existence and work of Christ, yet they were not baptized, since only accountable sinners need the blessing of newness of life. However, there comes a time in a person's life when he or she begins to understand the difference between evil and good (Isaiah 7:14-16). When a person understands that and is convicted of his or her sins, there should develop a strong desire to be forgiven in Christ.
Romans 6 teaches us that baptism is the point at which a person crucifies and buries the old person of sin in our lives. Imagine that a person learns of the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 10:17), and then repents by dying to sin (Romans 6:1-2), but then waits a year to be baptized. That entire year, he is a dead man walking! Are we to believe that the Holy Spirit wants to work with dead sinners? That man needs to bury his old person of sin and be raised to walk in newness of life!
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
ARE WE SAVED BY WORKS?
Swinging the pendulum from the Catholic Church's works-based salvation, people of the Reformation Movement started rejecting baptism and all responses of obedience to God as having any bearing on one's salvation. When someone teaches Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, or 1 Peter 3:21, faith alone proponents call foul: "You're teaching a works-based salvation!"
Corresponding to that [Noah's family being saved through water], baptism now saves you— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience —through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When one reads these verses, he cannot help but notice the connection between baptism and forgiveness of sins and salvation. When that clashes with his faith alone doctrine, he starts to invent new interpretations and new baptisms.
The Bible is that claims its sum is truth. Do you believe all of the verses on faith and all of the verses on obedience? It is abundantly clear in Scripture that the just reward for disobedience is death and eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). The only thing that sinners have earned is their eternal destruction. That's why God freely offered salvation to us by His grace in the first place. How else should we respond to God's glorious gift, other than true, faithful love?
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
Reaching for one last objection, I can already hear someone say, "But it only says, "He who disbelieves shall be condemned," not, "He who is not baptized!" That is absolutely true, but are we not interested in how to be saved and not condemned? No person is going to choose to die to sin and be buried in Christ through baptism if he does not even believe that Christ can save him! How does Jesus say one can be saved in this passage?
If you have been taught faith alone your entire life, I don't expect this single article, as long as it may be, to change your mind. My challenge to you would be to read the entire New Testament, watching for how people were saved by the blood of Christ. Don't read pockets of Scripture. Don't read single verses. Read it all.
For those unwilling to take up that challenge, please continue reading below. Below are some questions that cannot be answered by faith alone without contradicting its own teaching or contradicting the Bible. Again, I'm not trying to be insensitive or malicious; I'm trying to be loving and truthful.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.
Are we not saved by the blood of Jesus?
One of the arguments that comes up frequently among faith alone proponents is the amount of passages that link faith and salvation together with no other condition explicitly mentioned. For instance, Acts 16:31 states, "They said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" This is the perfect verse for pulling out of context and using to teach faith alone, since the jailer was simply told to believe. However, with that logic, we are not saved by the blood of Jesus, since the redemptive blood is not mentioned in this verse. Beyond that, the jailer, likely being a Roman idolator, was permitted to remain in all of his sin, since repentance isn't mentioned in this verse.
Using this same method, one could use a number of verses to teach any number of "x alone" salvations. For instance, we could teach repentance alone (2 Corinthians 7:10), baptism alone (Acts 22:16), the life of Christ alone (Romans 5:10), the blood of Christ alone (Revelation 1:5), the word of God alone (James 1:21), obedience alone (Hebrews 5:9), and so on.
The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.
Should we tally the number of verses that only mention faith, tally the number of verses that only mention baptism, see which one has the most, and teach salvation based on that condition alone? As a side note, I have recently heard a few preachers say, "You are saved by grace alone by faith alone." That is an oxymoron. If it's grace alone, faith cannot be included, since it is grace alone. The same is true if it is faith alone. Grace must be left out. The psalmist in Psalm 119:160 understood the sum of God's word to be truth. If we are to be good Bible students, we will too. However, when we make passages fight against each other, we are saying that only some of God's word is truth (as opposed to the sum of His word).
What healed the blind man?
Observe Christ heal the blind man.
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. [...] He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.
Did the water heal the man? Could any blind person wash in the pool of Siloam and be healed? No, it was Jesus who healed the blind man! However, would the blind man have been healed if he was unwilling to wash himself in the pool of Siloam? The passage says, "So he went away and washed, and came back seeing" (John 9:7). If this man were listed in Hebrews 11, it would say, "By faith he went and washed in the pool." He would not have been healed if he had not washed, since it was a condition Christ put on his healing. When the critics came, they did not criticize the water; they criticized the Healer! Though it was necessary for his healing, the formerly blind man did not give credit to the pool for his health. Speaking of Christ, he said, "He opened my eyes" (John 9:30). However, even he recognized that washing was part of the process. "The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight" (John 9:10). The water was necessary, but the power was not in the water, it was in the Healer!
Similarly, the teaching of baptismal regeneration, which teaches that baptism by itself will save someone, is utterly false. However, Christ put baptism as a condition of one's salvation (along with belief and repentance). When Jesus fulfils His promise of "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved," it would make no sense to give praise to the water! All credit is due to the Healer of the soul, who always keeps His promises.
What will become of those who only called Jesus "Lord"?
I've seen Romans 10:13 listed as biblical documentation of the Sinner's Prayer before.
for "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved."
However, if this passage means to say that all you have to do is verbally call Christ "Lord," it contradicts Jesus' words on the mount.
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."
How powerful! How terrifying! It is proper to call Jesus our Lord (John 13:13); however, those who depend merely on that (and performing "many miracles" in His name) will be sorely surprised on the Judgment Day. Instead, we must be found "clothed with Christ," "in the Lord," and "walking in the light" (Galatians 3:26-28; Revelation 14:13; 1 John 1:5-10).
What about those who die outside of the Lord?
While reading through the writings of Paul, it's hard to miss his frequent references to blessings found in Christ. For instance, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and salvation are all found "in Christ" (Romans 6:23; Colossians 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:10).
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
The apostle John also shows us the imagery of someone being "in the Lord."
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”
Those who die "in the Lord" are blessed. This is a contrast to those who die in their sins (John 8:24). The question remains, then, how are we placed into Christ? How are we transferred from being in our sins to being in the Lord?
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The way to be placed into Christ is through faithful obedience to Christ in baptism (see also Romans 6:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
How can one be saved outside of the body of Christ?
It's very popular today to try to have a "relationship with Jesus Christ" without being associated with His church. That's biblically impossible. In the New Testament, the church was made up of the saved, and the saved made up the church.
Jesus is the Savior of His body, the church. As above, if you were to ask a first-century Christian, "Did you become saved first, or did you become a part of the church first?" he would respond with his own question: "Huh?" They happened at the same time, as Christ is "the Savior of the body." How does one enter the body of Christ?
Those who want to be saved by faith alone want to be saved outside of the body of Christ, without partaking of God's Spirit.
What about the demons?
In James 2, James tries to explain to his audience that laziness in Christ will not suffice. God expects His people to prove their faith by making the world a better place.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
I understand that James is not teaching someone how to be saved. He is writing to Christians, those who have already been saved. However, to help to prove his point that Christians should be working for Christ, he says that demons believe in God. Are those who profess faith alone going to be consistent and teach that demons are saved?
What about the unrighteous?
Most who teach salvation by faith alone teach that as soon as you believe in your heart, and before you repent of your sins, you are forgiven.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Paul boldly claims that those living unrighteous lives will not inherit the kingdom of God. Doubtless, he was elated to be able to say, "Such were some of you." These Corinthians had changed their ways. God had washed them and given them a sanctified life in His Spirit. Godly sorry produces a repentance to salvation. Would those who teach faith alone also teach that one can remain in his or her sins and be saved?
Is love of any value?
Faith alone means just that. Faith and nothing else.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Though not directly relating to the salvation of the soul, Paul does claim, "if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." Meaning, in order for him to amount for something in the eyes of God, he would need at least faith and love. Faith alone won't cut it.
Is obedience irrelevant to salvation?
The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches by Edward Hiscox (1903) claims:
Baptism is not essential to salvation, for our churches utterly repudiate the dogma of “baptismal regeneration”; but it is essential to obedience, since Christ has commanded it.
Though I also repudiate baptismal regeneration, which teaches a type of baptism alone salvation, I cannot agree with Hiscox's conclusion. Essentially, he says that obedience is not essential to salvation, which is the opposite conclusion of the author of Hebrews.
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The Bible says Christ is the source of eternal salvation "to all those who obey Him." Faith alone teaches obedience is irrelevant to salvation.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
What will Christ really judge?
Faith alone claims that Christ judges the soul by what the person believes in the heart. Examine the passages that actually explain how Christ will judge when He appears again, and notice how different that idea is from the Bible's teachings.
Honestly, the amount of passages that mention deeds, works, and judgment took me by surprise. There are dozens more that I did not mention, so I encourage you to search them out yourself. Before I am accused of teaching that we can earn our salvation, or that Christ owes us salvation because of all the good works we have done, let me clarify that I fully believe Ephesians 2 and Romans 6.
As mentioned above, we must believe all of the Bible. Our response to God's free gift is obedient, faithful, love and reverence.
Where does the Bible say that?
The most common description of baptism among faith alone proponents is that it is "an outward symbol of an inward salvation/grace." My question is simply, where does the Bible say that? It cannot be found.
Baptism itself is nothing without faith in the subject's heart and the promises of God to back it up. There is nothing miraculous about water that can cleanse the soul by itself, otherwise, we should be busy grabbing every unbeliever and dunking them (even against their will!). However, God has deemed baptism in water as the way connection His children with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. That is the reference point that is lacking in "faith alone," which has been replaced by the Sinner's Prayer.
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
Do you want to trust in a salvation that does not connect you with the death of Christ? Or would you like to trust in God's plan that says, "if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection"?
If you have trusted in faith alone and/or the Sinner's Prayer to save you, I hope you have considered these Bible passages carefully. I challenge you to go back to the Bible. Put down the commentaries, and stop looking on the internet for your answers. Read the entire New Testament, and see what God has really been trying to say.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
Except where noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation