OceanSide church of Christ
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DOES SALVATION COME THROUGH FAITH “ONLY”?
Victor M. Eskew
There are numerous religious groups that teach that one is saved by “faith only.” In The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, we read the following: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (pp. 79-80). On page 21 of the The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1930, we are told: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works for deservings; wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.” The Baptist Manual authored by J.M. Pendleton asserts the same teaching about justification. “We believe that the great gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in him is justification; that justification includes the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in the Redeemer’s blood…” (p. 48).
Most of those who hold to the doctrine of “faith only” have their choice passages to which they will turn in their attempt to “prove” this doctrine. Some will go to the Golden Text of the Bible, John 3:16, to try to prove justification by “faith only.” The words of this verse are familiar to all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Another text is found in Acts 16. This chapter contains the conversion account of the Philippian jailor. After some extraordinary events happen within the jail that historical night, the jailor asks the apostle Paul and Silas an important question. “Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30). Their answer to the jailor’s question has become a sugar stick for those who teach salvation by faith only. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). Ephesians 2:8-9 is a third passage of Scripture that is used to support this teaching. It states: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Each of the passages listed mention faith and salvation. The question, however, is: “Do these passages teach justification by faith only?” It is interesting to note that not one of the verses listed contains the words “faith only.” John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 contain the word “believe.” Ephesians 2:8 contains the word “faith.” But, the word “only” is not attached to any of these words. Yet, we are told that these verses teach the doctrine of justification by faith only. How is this true when the word “only” is not found in any of these texts? In fact, the words “faith only” are only used together in one passage of Scripture in the King James Version. They are found together in James 2:24, which reads: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” It is interesting that the only verse in the New Testament that puts the words “faith” and “only” together teaches that one is not justified by faith only. This is a thorn in the side of the “faith only” advocates. All sorts of arguments have been given to try to remove this potent text from the debate about “faith only.” Martin Luther rejected the inspiration of the book of James. The “faith only” advocates try to tell us that James is not talking about initial justification. All the arguments in the world, however, will never remove the powerful force of James’ words which say that one is justified by works, “and not by faith only.”
Another problem the “faith only” advocates have involves the contradiction that exists within their own teaching about salvation. If we were to ask any of them: “Does a man need to repent in order to be saved?” they would answer in the affirmative. In other words, they teach that a man must repent and believe in order to be saved. If one must repent in addition to believing, can he really be saved by faith only? The answer to this question is: “No!!!” The word “only” has a definition. It means: “without others or anything further; alone; solely; exclusively.” If salvation is by “faith only,” it is without anything else. This would include repentance. The moment repentance is added, salvation is not by faith only. Sadly, many who hold to the doctrine of “faith only” do not see this contradiction. These individuals also believe that one must confess the name of Jesus Christ in order to be saved (Rom. 10:9-10). Now they have added a third element to the salvation process: faith, repentance, and confession. In reality, even the “faith only” advocates do not hold to salvation by faith only.
If salvation were by faith only, the demons could be saved. James 2:19 tells us that the devils believe. “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” In like manner, if salvation were solely by faith, the Jews who would not confess the Christ during Jesus’ earthly sojourn would have been saved because they believed. John 12:42 tells us about these men. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.” This verse plainly reveals that salvation is not by “faith only.” Those chief rulers had faith, but they needed to combine that faith with confession in order to saved.
Our Lord never taught the doctrine of justification by “faith only.” He did teach salvation by faith (John 3:16). Faith is the vital force in man’s salvation. If man does not believe, he will do nothing else in the salvation process. It is faith that moves man to do the other things necessary to be saved. On the other hand, if one will not do the other things in the process, then his faith alone will not save him. Jesus said: “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” (Matt. 7:21). The old hymn echoes Jesus’ teaching. It is entitled: “Trust and Obey.” It sets forth a truth needed by those who hold to the doctrine of faith only. It says: “Trust and obey for there’s no other way…” When one understands that salvation involves faith, but is not by faith only, contradictions are laid aside and man can easily submit to the other commands of God which are necessary to salvation, namely: repentance (Luke 13:3), confession of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:32-33), and baptism (Mark 16:16). The Philippian jailor did these things. Acts 16:34 reveals that after so doing, he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” Obedience is not separate from faith. Obedience to God’s divine will is a part of faith.