Sunday, March 31, 2024

Does Salvation come by Faith Alone?

2 Peter 3:16 | Words of jesus, Sacred scripture, Scripture

It is Easter Sunday, and after hearing a sermon I felt obligated to correct a major error that certain churches repeat, ad naseum. Despite what churches teach, we are obligated to double check what they say by referencing scripture, and not take things out of context.

There are many churches who have made Christianity one of belief only, where only a verbal statement is needed to be made in order to receive salvation.  For this they quote the apostle Paul out of context, and completely ignore not just the Old Testament, but the words of Jesus Himself.  For this, there are typical proof texts to support such a false teaching, all taken from the writings of Paul. Observe this typical statement from a church web site, "What We Believe":

So lets go through these quotes one by one:


The first passage is in Rom. 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23, NASB)

Here, there is slight mistranslation of the verse. Several translations have "free gift" here.  The Greek word is charizomai, and it simply means "gift" as originally translated in the KJV:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:23, KJV).

The implied doctrine here is a verbal acceptance, without regard to one's life, is all that is needed to receive the gift of eternal life. So what did Jesus say on this?  That particular Greek word translated as "gift" or "free gift" is nowhere found in the Gospels, but there are similar passages to the same effect. There is one similar to Paul's statement, where indeed salvation is a gift available to those who wish to receive it:

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:13)

But to receive the Holy Spirit, one should live by the Holy Spirit. Jesus always couples salvation with how you live, and always emphasizes a life of charity or giving to others according to their need:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 11:32-34)

Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. (Luke 6:38)

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matt. 10:8)

And finally, Paul quotes a saying of Jesus that is not mentioned in the Gospels, which may just cover in a general sense what was quoted in the passages above:

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35)


The next passage is in the letter of Ephesians, and it happens to be the most often quoted passage from those who support the idea of salvation from faith alone:

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. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Paul here uses the word "works" which he uses in three different contexts:

  1. Works of the Jewish rituals, which were representative rituals fulfilled by the coming of Jesus, and,
  2. Works done for the sake of self credit to glorify one's own self, and, 
  3. Works done out of a spiritual faithful life for the sake of others and God.

Paul here is talking about works done for sake of appearance to give one pride in one's ego. But unfortunately Protestant churches lump works of faith in this quote, which clearly goes against what Jesus taught. And even in Paul's day his own letters began to be used inproperly, which prompted James to respond in his letters against faith alone:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14)

But will thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:20)

These, among numerous other passages, are simply ignored as "blinders" are put on for those who wish to support the doctrine of faith alone.  The other excuse Protestants use: the will of man is passive, without any active participation on our part.  But one important point the passage of Ephesians is taken out of context. Paul continues about works in the very next verse:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)

In other words, faith does include a life of good works according to Paul.  To "walk" is to live by the truth.  And this verse was conveniently excluded from a prominent church web site, and the ordinary man off the street would not know any better.  Paul himself even recognized how his writings could be perverted in his day when he wrote this:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.  (Rom. 6:15-19)

And salvation is dependent on "sanctification" - which is the process whereby the Holy Spirit enters our life as we turn away from sin and commit our ways to righteousness. And Paul repeats this again, salvation is dependent on how we live our lives by following Jesus Christ:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (Rom. 6:22)


It is in this context, that we can now quote Titus 3:5, which at first glance seems to contradict what was just said and support the idea of faith alone:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

Here, again, Paul is talking about works of self-righteousness as explained in Eph. 2:8-9, not about works done through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. When good is done, it must be acknowledged that the one source of Good is God Himself; we are simply active conduits participating in a relationship of the holy covenant made available to us in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this passage alone can be twisted to support the idea of faith alone, but one must ignore many, many other passages to the contrary. That this is the case, Paul himself states all will be judged according to their works:

Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath (Rom. 2:6-8)


So, in the case of any doubt, what exactly did Jesus say on the subject of salvation and eternal life?  He was quite clear: one must follow the 10 commandments:

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matt. 19:16-19)

So this is very clear, no ands, ifs or buts.  And believe it or not, when I quoted this to a group that followed the idea of faith alone, without any effort to live a life of obedience to turn away from sin, they simply said that this was all abrogated and had no effect after the crucifixion(!!!!). In other words, everything Jesus said had to be ignored and what Paul said has priority.  The coming of Jesus simply abrogated the Jewish rituals, not the 10 commandments. But even then they ignored statements from Paul.  For after the crucifixion, Paul said this:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)

It is for this reason, that the apostle Peter warned the church against those who distort the writings of Paul:

And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

So with this, follow the simple rule: follow Jesus, and what He says, above what other people say or believe. Jesus has priority over everything in your life. Loving God and loving one's neighbour is what is central to a spiritual life; faith is just the understanding which leads to that way of life.

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