By Cecil Willis
In this issue we resume our studies upon the great and important theme of faith. Probably there are but few themes that have caused so much confusion because of misunderstandings. It is our purpose in this article to try, by studying God’s word, to get an accurate understanding of the proper relationship existing between faith and salvation.
What the Bible Has to Say
One very readily can see that there is a definite connection between faith and salvation. There is some way that salvation is related to one’s faith. Many, many passages could be cited in which salvation is attributed to faith. First of all; we cite some passages on the positive side of the issue, pointing out that salvation may be attributed to faith. We refer you to the frequently quoted passage, Jn. 3:16 first: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Further, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24). “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him (]no. 3:36).” In Acts 16 we find the Philippian jailer crying out, “Sirs what must I do to be saved? And they (Paul and Silas-CW) said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.” In this passage, salvation was conditioned upon the hearer’s faith in Jesus Christ. Another frequently quoted passage on this subject is Eph. 2: 8, 9: “for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.” All of these passages and many more might be cited pointing out the fact that salvation is predicated upon faith.
But not only are those who believe said to be the recipients of eternal life, but those who do not believe are said to be condemned. Very early in our Lord’s ministry He expressed this truth; “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18). Again our Lord said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). The writer of the Hebrew letter had this to say: “and without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him” (Heb. 11:6). In giving the great commission, Christ placed a premium upon faith and declared that those who did not believe would be damned. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15, 16).
It very easily is seen that there is a definite relationship between faith and salvation. Our Lord gave a very plain and simple command that one must believe that He is the Son of God. A commandment of the Lord cannot be declared to unnecessary. If it is necessary that one believe, then there is a definite connection between faith and salvation.
Today there is a wide variance of opinion`as to the part that faith plays in one’s salvation. To the majority of the religious world, faith plays the only part in one’s salvation. In other words, the majority of the denominations would have one believe that there is nothing else in the world that has a thing to do with one’s salvation except faith. They teach one that he is saved by faith only.
We have already quoted a good number of the passages in the New Testament on faith and salvation, and yet not one of those passages had one word to say about salvation being by faith only. In fact, not any passage in the New Testament, nor the Old Testament, teaches that one is saved by faith only. Yet today, one of the leading tenets of almost every denomination is that one is saved by faith only. Every passage that one can find in the Bible concerning faith says no more than that faith is necessary. It is impossible to find one single passage saying that one is saved by faith only. The passages only assert the essentiality of faith.
Yet in view of this fact, observe this quote from the discipline of a prominent denomination: “We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort” (Methodist Discipline, “Articles of Religion,” Article IX, pg. 73 of the 1944 edition). This doctrine of faith only might be a very wholesome and comforting doctrine to some, but the question is, “Is it a true doctrine?” If it is not truth, then it can be neither wholesome nor comforting to those who respect the Word of God.
“not only by faith”
If there were not another passage in all the Bible the following passage would be enough to set aside the doctrine of justification by faith only as false: “Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith” (Jas. 2:24). James is saying that there is something more required than mere mental assent or intellectual persuasion. Man must do something more than just believe. It is said in this passage that salvation is by works and not by faith only. James did not say that salvation is by works only, and neither do I so argue. If I should, then I would become guilty of the same error that denominationalists make when they read a passage that says one is saved by faith and they conclude from it that he is saved by faith only. We shall have occasion to refer to this passage and its context in a future lesson. The works by which one is justified are the works of God. These are the things that God has commanded man to do, and are not just some things that man has conjectured in his own mind and has supposed that by doing them, he can be justified. This passage alone would destroy the doctrine of the justification of a sinner by faith only.
There are certain consequences of this doctrine that its propagators are not willing to admit, but they logically follow. The doctrine says that one is saved just the moment that he-believes, and before he can do any work that might affect his salvation. The doctrine of faith only would say that one is saved when he becomes persuaded that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If this inference is not true, than there is no such doctrine as justification by faith only taught. This false doctrine says that believing is the only essential pre-requisite to salvation.
If believing alone saves one, then all believers would be saved. If not, then why not? But notice this passage: “Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (Jn. 12:42, 43). Now the question is, “Were these men saved?” Most denominationalists would logically be forced to answer “Yes.” The doctrine of salvation by faith only says that all one has to do to be saved is believe. The rulers in John 12 believed, so they must have been saved, if the “faith only” doctrine be true. But Christ said that “whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Could these men have been saved with Christ denying them? Certainly, they could not have been saved in this condition. Further it is said of the rulers that they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Could these “believers in Christ” have been saved in this condition? But someone objects, and says, “These men were not true believers.” The “faith only” doctrine says that all one has to do to be saved is believe. The Bible said that these rulers believed, so they should have been saved, even though they preferred the praise of men to God’s praise. Paul says that these believers could not have been saved, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). The doctrine of salvation by faith only says that these men were saved, but the Bible implies that they could not be.
Further, if believing is the only thing that affects one’s salvation, then even the demons could be saved. “Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder” (Jas. 2:19). Even the demons were believers, but it would be absurd to say that they were saved; but this is the logical implication of the doctrine of justification by faith only. If faith is all that is required, then these demons were saved, for they believed.
An Alleged Bible Contradiction
This doctrine has caused many people to array Paul and James as contradicting each other. They assume Paul said that we are saved by faith only. Since James said that we are not saved by faith only, it is claimed that they contradict each other. But Paul simply said that we are saved by faith, and James says that we are saved by works. These do not contradict when we see that James says that faith is made perfect by works. But this false doctrine and supposed contradiction has led some to deny the inspiration of James. When Paul said that we are justified by faith in Rom. 3:28, Martin Luther added the word “only,” and made it read that we are justified by “faith only.” This would contradict what James had said, and so Luther said that the book of James is a “right strawy Epistle.” (Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, pg. 28). This is the consequence of the doctrine.
Preachers of denominations believing the doctrine of salvation by faith only come to the passage in Mark 16 which says, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Since this would contradict their doctrine or salvation by faith only, by implying the necessity of baptism, in debate they often deny the inspiration of Mark 16:9-20. I would not hold to any doctrine that necessitated my denying the inspiration of the Bible (See also the article by Howard See, “Is Mark 16:9-20 spurious or Genuine?” Truth Magazine, Vol. XIX, No. 29).
Do They Practice What They Preach?
Although it may seem contradictory to all that I have already said, of those claiming to teach salvation by faith only, I do not know anybody who truly believes that we are saved by faith only. I do know many who profess to believe it, and many who even teach it, but actually I know none who believes that one is saved by faith only. Notice that they use the word “only” to express what they are supposed to believe. I turn to Webster’s Dictionary and find that the word “only” means: “alone, exclusively, solely, merely, singly; as the only one, sole.” According to Webster’s definition of the word “only,” and their use of it in defining their dogma, they think that one is saved by faith without anything else. They will tell use that this is what they believe, until we begin pointing out to them their logical conclusions. If one is saved by fiath only, the he is saved without the love of God; without the love of Christ; without grace; without hope; without hearing the Word of God; without the Holy Spirit; without the Bible; without repentance; without obedience; and without confession of the name of Christ. But, someone who holds to this doctrine says, “I never said that all of those things were non-essential.” Yes, in so many words they never have said that these things were non-essential, but when they said that one is saved by faith only, the word “only” excludes everything else. Therefore, these things were excluded. You see, friends, that is why I claim that I do not know a single person who believes that one is saved by faith only in its true and full meaning, although I do know many who teach the doctrine.
What About the Believer?
John gives us the true picture of one who has believed, when he says that the Lord gives him the right to become a son of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:12). If one is saved at the very moment that he believes, then he is saved before he becomes a child of God, for John says that the right to become God’s children is given to those who believe.
We have found in our study that there is a definite relationship between faith and salvation, but this salvation does not come by faith only. It comes when our faith is made perfect by doing the things commanded by the Lord. Certainly one could not be saved without faith, and no one contends that they can. It is only when this faith leads one to obey that he can be saved. Paul tells us how it is that we put on Christ, and thus become God’s children. “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26, 27). Our whole plea in this lesson is that you believe on Jesus Christ in order to gain the right to become children of God, and that you then put on Christ by being baptized into Him.
Truth Magazine XIX: 42, pp. 659-662
September 4, 1975