SUMMARY: The Bible clearly testifies to the role of faith as uniquely offering the means to salvation. We believe and we are saved. It some sense, it is just that simple. However, we must consistently and conscientiously examine ourselves as to the efficacy and reality of our faith. The one who loves God and is called by Him should always seek to be growing in grace, knowledge and passion for his Maker and Master.
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.” Acts 16:30-31
Since her inception, the church has consistently proclaimed that salvation is granted to God’s children by His grace through faith. This was the message of Jesus,1 the apostles and the early church. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says “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.” This understanding of solo fide (“faith alone”) is the basis of Biblical Christianity and lies at the heart of a proper understanding of God’s dealings with His people.
Texts Emphasizing the Role of Faith as the Instrument Through Which We are Saved
- John 20:31
- Acts 15:8-9
- Romans 1:16-17
- Romans 3:21-31
- nowhere are we said to be justified by works apart from faith
- Romans 4:4-5
- Romans 4:13
- Romans 5:1-2
- Galatians 2:16
- Galatians 3:11
- Galatians 3:26
- Philippians 3:9
- 2 Timothy 3:15
- 1 John 5:4-5
- 1 John 5:13
The evidence for faith alone as the instrument through which God works salvation into His people is overwhelming within the pages of Scripture. All that is necessary for salvation is that we believe in the gospel — the good news of Christ’s perfect life and obedience, death for our sins and in our place, and resurrection.2
While intending to take nothing away from the above foundation, it is imperative that we address a common and dangerous misunderstanding of the doctrine of solo fide which has consistently plagued the church. This error would seek to minimize the nature of faith to that of mere cognitive assent and/ or to denigrate the need for and role of works. This is frequently referred to by its opponents as “cheap grace” in that it neglects the call for repentance and good works.
We are not now embarking upon some fresh heretical understanding of faith alone. The apostle Paul himself dealt with just these very issues and addressed them regularly in his writings. This is particularly the thrust of his argument in Romans 6 in which he writes of the believer’s death to sin and life to obedience. The preaching of grace alone and faith alone, although foundational to proper Biblical revelation, always has a tendency to be perverted into a license for sin by the ignorant, corrupt or immature. We must continue to stress the former while constantly opposing the latter.
For those who say that faith is nothing more than mental assent or cognitive recognition, the second chapter of James presents some unanswerable difficulties. Especially important are James 2:17, 2:20, and 2:24.3 For the person who interprets the “faith alone” understandings above as easy belief or allowing for license to sin, James introduces a fundamental obstacle to such an interpretation.
So, what are we to do with the evidence for faith alone and the clear testimony of James? Are we to say that James was not inspired and seek to have his letter removed from the canon as hoped some Reformation scholars? Are we to confess that Scripture contradicts Scripture such that it is not sufficiently clear on the matter? Neither is a viable option. Rather, the proper understanding of James’ epistle is that his intent was not to add to the criteria for salvation, but instead to qualify what true and saving faith really entails. He is neither nullifying nor limiting the role of faith, but rather is expanding our understanding of the true definition of faith. If one has faith which does not work, it is not really faith. It is a misnomer.
It is therefore still exquisitely true that “all that is necessary for salvation is that we believe in the good news,” but now we know that such belief carries with it by its very nature an inward transformation which produces and manifests repentance and good works. We are not saved by works, but rather by faith; but the faith which saves is not without works.
Pertinent Passages on Repentance and Obedience as Being Related to Faith
Obedience to the faith:
- Acts 6:7
- Romans 1:5
- Romans 16:26
Repentance and faith:
- Acts 20:21
- Acts 26:18
In light of the fact that faith entails more than mere understanding and acknowledgement, it is necessary for each and every Christian to take stock of his or her faith against the criteria which Scripture provides. None of us want to see the reality of Matthew 7:21-23 applied to our own lives.4 The Scripture is full of related warnings for those who are so deceived.
- 2 Corinthians 13:5
- Colossians 1:23
- 1 Timothy 1:19
- 1 Timothy 4:1
- 1 Timothy 6:21
The Lord is not implying, much less stating, that those who profess true faith can decisively fall away from salvation.5 Rather, He is once again warning us, as in James that those who profess faith and yet work out continuous and unrepentant sin are evidencing that their “faith” is not really faith at all.
The good news for the believer is that just as we are saved by faith, so also are we kept into grace through faith. All that is necessary for salvation is belief and true belief keeps us in God’s promises.6
Continuing by Faith
- Galatians 3:2-4
- Philippians 2:12-13
Therefore, having been chosen by God for His glory and our joy and having been blessed with faith in His great and sure promises, let us continue to pursue our Lord in confidence that He will complete what He has begun.7
- let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water Hebrews 10:22
In the end, the believer rests in a happy tension of rest and contention. We rest in the promises of God, knowing that it is by faith alone that we enter into those promises. At the same time, we struggle against the flesh and the darkness of the world and fight earnestly for the faith to which we are called.
- Hebrews 6:9-12
- Hebrews 10:35-39
- 2 Peter 1:5-11
- Jude 3:00
- Jude 20-21
The Bible clearly testifies to the role of faith as uniquely offering the means to salvation. We believe and are saved. In some sense, it is just that simple.
However, we must consistently and conscientiously examine ourselves as to the efficacy and reality of our faith. The one who loves God and is called by Him should always seek to be growing in grace, knowledge and passion for his Maker and Master. If, in testing ourselves, we find our hearts dulled and distant, we repent8 and continue to trust in the gospel which is able and effective to save.
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