Advanced Bible Studies
16. What About "Faith Only"?
What About "Faith Only"?
WARNING: This article is not for the faint of heart but for good and honest seekers of Truth. Some who read this article may be angered, others will be surprised by what they read. We are not trying to be offensive, but sometimes the Truth offends. See Matthew 15:12-14 cf. Galatians 4:16. It is our only purpose to speak the Truth in love. See Ephesians 4:15. Above all else we want you to know that God loves you deeply and that he has provided the only way to eternal life through Jesus Christ his Son and through his Holy Spirit. This is what the gospel of the kingdom is all about! But, there are many false teachers and doctrinal errors that we must guard against as we prove all things and hold to the good. See I Thessalonians 5:21 and I John 4:1. Dear friend, you must not take our word or any man's word (especially the creeds of men) for Truth. Take God's Word as the only Truth and make sure that you see (i.e., believe) it for yourself. Don't take our word for anything, take God's Word for everything! If you have any questions, please feel free to write us. Now, please give humble and prayerful consideration to what you are about to read. To God alone be the glory!
Preliminaries and Perspective
In I Timothy 4:1-2 the Apostle Paul said, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”
Perhaps no lie of the Devil and his minions has had a more profound impact on the religious world than the doctrine of “Faith Only.” There are few errors more pernicious than this one. There are few teachings that have affected and infected more churches than the idea that salvation is by “grace alone through faith alone.”
It is interesting to simply consider the man-made formulation of “grace alone through faith alone.” (And that is what it is ... a man-made, not God-made formulation!) If something is by “grace alone” how can it also be by “faith alone”? Now if God actually says that in his Word, we must accept it. Yet, such a statement is not found in Scripture. It is, however, found in the doctrines and teachings of men. It should be noted that this phrase actually comes from a longer statement found in the creeds of men: “Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone revealed in Scripture alone to the glory of God alone.” This creed was born out of the Protestant Reformation and influenced by the likes of Calvin, Luther and others. This creed has become a spoken or unspoken part of numerous churches and faiths. (For a study of Calvinism go here.)
This brings us to another point. The actual phrase “faith alone” or “faith only” is not even found anywhere in the Word of God ... except in one passage: James 2:14-26. But, this is the passage that clearly states, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith only.” (James 2:24) Isn’t it interesting that one of the key and cardinal doctrines of most of the Protestant and Reformed Churches in the denominational world is actually refuted by a very simple passage? Isn’t it interesting that many can’t really even explain, let alone accept what this passage teaches. In trying to explain James 2:14-26, most end up really trying to just explain it away. How sad!
Here is a vital point that must be made: Most Bible doctrines are basically very simple and simply understood if we will just take what the Bible says and respect it as the Word of God. However, men come along and make things all complicated. This is the Number One problem of the Apostasy that is the denominational world. Jesus actually addressed the heart of this problem in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23. (But nobody pays any attention to these passages either. Do you?) Dear reader, if you want to see this problem illustrated, just consider the subject of Bible baptism and then consider what the religious world does to it. (Go here to see if you really believe what the Lord says about baptism.)
Why can’t we accept the truth of James 2:14-26? Well, it actually gets down to the heart problem that Jesus identified in several places. In the parable of the sower, the seed and the human heart, Jesus said that some just simply do not and cannot and will not understand the truth because they do not have a “good and honest heart.” See Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15! In other words, many do not really love the truth and would rather believe in the Devil’s lies. Consider II Thessalonians 2:9-15.
Power and Principles
Of course there are some things that we need to know to clearly understand in all of this.
First, the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by faith. Do not think for one moment that we are in any way are trying to minimize faith. The Bible, over and over, emphasizes the importance and even supremacy of faith as the very basis of our relationship with God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly (i.e., diligently) seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) How diligently do you seek God? Faith “only” isn’t good enough! And of course everyone knows John 3:16 ... or do they? While most people can quote John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ... many do not study that verse in context! Most wrongly conclude that since it only mentions “faith” it must then be by “faith alone” that we are saved. A closer reading of the context would prove otherwise!
Second, the Bible also clearly teaches that we are saved by a faith that obeys God and does what he says. We must obey God ... even in faith! We must love God ... only in faith! It is interesting to note that at the beginning of John’s Gospel, John makes this very simple point: “Jesus came to those who were his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:11-12) Thus, we have an interesting principle for the context of John 3:16. (Did you notice that John says that those who believe in Christ are “given the right to become children of God”? If belief alone makes a person “immediately” a child of God, why do they still need to become one? Maybe Matthew 28:18-20 might help. Disciples – who are believers – must also be “baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”!) Then in John 3 we should note that John makes another powerful statement about salvation by faith. In John 3:36, John says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever does not believe (i.e., obey!) the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” It must be realized that the phrase “does not believe the Son” uses a word that means “to disbelieve and be disobedient”! (The NASB translates this verse, “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.”) Later, our Lord will state, “If you love me you will obey what I command (i.e., you will keep my commands).” (John 14:15,21 cf. I John 5:2-3; II John 1:5-6) Do you believe? Do you love the Lord? Will you obey him? Then you must know that the only faith that is acceptable to God is one that “works through love.” See Galatians 5:6 cf. I Thessalonians 1:3; II Thessalonians 1:11. (For an Old Testament perspective on the principle of “loving obedience” read the book of Deuteronomy.) In Hebrews 5:9 we are told, “Jesus became the source of salvation (i.e., author of eternal salvation) for all who obey him.” The pure and simple fact is, obedience is a necessary part of our faith in salvation. Do you love the Lord? Have you obeyed him?
Here is just a thought: Baptism is but the loving expression of our faith in God. Jesus said that the greatest command is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30 cf. Matthew 22:37) Why wouldn’t we do exactly what the Lord says to do, the way he says to do it and for the reasons he gives? If we really love God we will do anything for him that he tells us to do and we will do what he says the way he says for the reasons he says! We will believe. We will repent of our sins. We will confess his name. And, we will be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because that is precisely what he wants. If we do anything less, then we don’t love God.
Third, the Bible clearly says that we are saved by works. But, we must make sure that we understand, not all works save. There are many “kinds” of works. The only works that save are the works that God has given us. Even faith is, in some sense, a “work”! This is clearly stated by Jesus in John 6:29. When Jesus was asked what we must do to work the works of God he replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” And, faith – if it is true faith – will produce good works. If it does not, it is not true faith! Consider I Thessalonians 1:3; II Thessalonians 1:11 cf. James 2:14-26. But, as we have said, not just any kind of “works” save! There are works of the Devil (John 8:41) and works of men (Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-9) and works of sin (Romans 7:7-25) and works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-24) and even works of self-righteousness (Matthew 23:3, 5; Titus 3:5). There are also the works of the Law that Paul talks about in Romans 3:20,27-28; 4:2-6; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:2,5,10; etc. No one is ever saved by these kinds of works! But, there are also the works of God – works that God has given us by his grace and these are the works that we must “do.” Consider John 4:34; 6:27-29; 9:4 etc. Peter said, “In every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted by him.” (Acts 10:35) The “righteousness” that we are to “work” is not our own, but that found in God.
In Ephesians 2:8-10 we are told, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it (salvation) is the gift of God – not of works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Many try and force this passage to mean that we are saved by “grace only through faith only” and yet the context of all Scripture refutes such a notion. If salvation has nothing to do with any kind of works, then, as we have seen, it has nothing to do with faith because even faith is a “work” God has given us! God has also given us the “works” of repentance and baptism as well. The kind of works that have nothing to do with our salvation are those in which we can boast! When the Lord gives us a “work” and we “do” it, we have no right to boast. It is only by grace that we have been given that work in our life. Consider Luke 17:10 – “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Perhaps no passage captures the beauty of grace and works better than Philippians 2:12-13 – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Thus, even when we are baptized – and we must be baptized in order to be saved – it is “through faith in the working of God.” See Colossians 2:12. In baptism we are really not doing much of anything. It is God and his Spirit that does everything in the new birth. See John 3:3,5; Titus 3:5. We are merely submitting to the will of God. Consider Romans 6:3-14 for the reason and purpose of baptism!
Here is another important key point: Why isn’t baptism just as much a work of God and grace as faith is? As we have seen, faith and baptism are both works of God and grace in our lives. It is all about grace! Yet, when we believe, that work of faith does not minimize grace. When we repent, that work of faith does not minimize grace. So, why should baptism (an act that is done “through faith in the working of God”) minimize grace? The truth is, it does not! Baptism is just as much a matter of grace as faith is. If not, why not? The only reason baptism is “not” all about grace and faith is because that is what men in their man-made creeds have done to it. It is not because God ever did that. If faith is a matter of pure grace, so is repentance and so is baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins!
Sometimes it looks like no one really believes the doctrine of “faith only.” Why? Well, because when you press them about love and even repentance being necessary for salvation they will usually admit that both are also essential. (In other words, don’t you really have to love God in order to be saved? Don’t you really have to repent of your sins in order to be saved? So, it is not just faith, it is also about loving God and it is also about repenting of your sins.) So, what about baptism? It too is just as necessary in God’s purpose and plan! Remember, on the day of Pentecost when the people asked, “What shall we do to be saved?”, Peter did not tell them, “Well, you are already saved because you have already believed.” And, he did not tell them to, “Pray the sinners prayer and accept Jesus into your heart.” No! What he told them is what he tells us: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off – as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Again, whenever the New Testament says that we are “saved by faith, not by works,” the “works” it is referring to are never those things that God has commanded us to do ... for he has even commanded faith, let alone repentance and baptism. The kinds of “works” that have nothing to do with our salvation are those that are based in “self-righteousness” or in “legalistic law-keeping.” (Remember, this is what Paul is dealing with in Galatians and Romans and this was the heresy of the Judaising teachers in the early church.) And, we have seen that when we do whatever the Lord asks of us, we have nothing to boast about. That men try and make “baptism into Christ and his body” a work of anything other than God’s righteousness is damnable! To say that “baptism for the forgiveness of sins and salvation” is anything other than pure grace is heresy! Anything that God gives us in salvation – whether it is faith, repentance or baptism – is grace! In John 3:21 we are told, “But he that does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be made manifest that they have been wrought (i.e., worked) in God.” This is what the “work of faith” is all about!
Finally, we need to accept that if the Bible says that we are saved by faith (and it does!) and if the Bible says that we are saved by works (and it does!) then this means that the only kind of faith that God accepts is “the obedience of faith”! It is amazing how many in their desperate attempt to prove salvation by “grace alone through faith alone” appeal to the book of Romans to support their doctrine when Paul clearly defines the kind of faith that is necessary for salvation as the “obedience of faith.” He does this two times in the book – once at the beginning and once at the end. One of the most important principles in Bible study is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Paul mentions the “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5 and then again in Romans 16:25-27 where he says: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him (lit. “for the obedience of faith”) – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Thus when Paul says that the gospel is all about the righteousness of God revealed in faith “from beginning to end” (i.e., from first to last) we now know what kind of faith he is talking about.
For more on "the obedience of faith" you must read and study the addendum below!!!
Many times, in order to “prove” the doctrine of “faith only” some will list all the passages that talk about salvation in terms of faith, that only mention faith. And, of course there are quite a few passages that only mention faith in their immediate context. But, what about the passages that don’t mention faith in the context of salvation? What about those passages that mention something like repentance or baptism in the context of salvation? See Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21; etc. The truth is, there are a number of passages that mention all of these in the context of salvation, but they don’t say anything about faith or belief. Why do so many ignore them, or worse, explain them away and try to say that they really don’t mean anything because we are only saved by “faith alone”?
Here is a radical thought: If we find a passage that clearly says we are saved by faith and we find a passage that clearly says we are saved by repentance and we find a passage that says we are saved in baptism, why don’t we just accept the truth of all of them and conclude that we are saved when we believe, repent and are baptized into Christ? (Why do some force a contradiction? Why do some pit one doctrine against another? Why do some make faith antithetical to baptism and grace when God never did such a thing?) Do you see how simple it really is? Do you see how complicated men make the doctrine of faith with all of their lies? For a more complete picture on salvation go here.
Perhaps you think it harsh to refer to “faith only” as the doctrine of demons? Well, it is James who actually suggests it. And since salvation by “faith alone” is not taught in Scripture it did not come from God. (What is more, if it did not come from God then it is “another gospel”! See Galatians 6:6-10.) And, if it did not come from God then it came from men. But Paul in I Timothy 4:1-2 said that false doctrines really are demonically inspired! But, how does James suggest that “faith only” is of the devils? In actually refuting the doctrine of “salvation by faith alone” James says that its the demons who have a kind of “faith only.” They believe and all they do is “tremble.” See James 2:19. (Actually the demons have a better faith than many. At least they tremble before the Lord! Too many who claim to have faith don’t even do that.) Their “faith” leads them to nothing else. The question is, does your faith lead you to love and obey the Lord in all things? Think on these things...
Addendum: The Hearing and Obedience of Faith
There is something else that you must know about faith that is absolutely critical in understanding just how wrong the Reformed Doctrine of "Faith Only" really is. It has to do with understanding the biblical doctrine of "the hearing and obedience of faith." Please consider the following ...
The greatest command is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Mark 12:28-34) This is called the “Shema” and specifically is the Hebrew name for Deuteronomy 6:4. Every good Jew repeats it several times a day making it the most frequently quoted verse in the entire Bible! The term “shema” is the Hebrew word for “hear.” There are some interesting things you need to know about this term …
In the Hebrew the term for “hear” occurs over 1000 times and means, “to hear; to listen (hearken) to; to understand and respond; to obey.” The Shema is found within the Book of Deuteronomy – a book that emphasizes over and over the necessity of obedience to the Law of God. See Deuteronomy 6:1-25; 11:1-32; etc. The fact is the Hebrew term “shema” is one of the main terms for “obedience” in the Old Testament! It is used in such significant passages as Genesis 22:18; 26:5 in the life of Abraham and Exodus 19:5; 24:7 … Deuteronomy 27:10; 28:1,2,15,45,62; 30:2,8,10,17,20 in the covenant with Israel. No one can read the Book of Deuteronomy right without coming away with a very clear understanding that obedience to the commands of God is an absolutely essential part of the covenant relationship with the Lord. (It is interesting to realize that in Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 11:13; 15:5; 28:1; Isaiah 55:2; Jeremiah 17:24; Zechariah 6:15 the term “shema” is actually doubled and means, “diligently [completely] obey.”)
And, if all of this is not enough, “shema” is the term used in I Samuel 15:1,19,20,22,22,24; 28:18 in one of the greatest lessons on authority in the Old Testament. Respect for God means: “listening to the Voice of the Lord”! Anything less and we loose the kingdom. It is also very clearly stated in II Kings 18:12 that the reason for the Assyrian Captivity of Israel was that they too did not listen to the Voice of God. And, of course this was the preaching of the prophet Jeremiah to Judah – they too did not obey the Voice of the Lord. See Jeremiah 2:4; 3:13,25; 7:23,24,26,27,28; 9:13; 11:3,4,6,7,8,11,14; 12:17; 13:10,11,15,17; 17:20,23,24,27; 18:10; 22:5,21; 23:16; 25:3,4,7,8; 26:3,4,5,13; 29:19; 32:23,33; 34:14,17; 35:8,10,13,14,15,16,17,18; 38:20; 40:4; 42:6,13,15,21; 43:4,7,23; 44:5,16,23,24,26; etc. Daniel would even pray for Israel and Judah’s failure in all of this. See Daniel 9:6,10,11,14.
Thus, in the Old Testament we learn that the greatest command is prefaced with one of the most basic principles of faith – obedience to the Voice of the Lord! When we come to the pages of the New Testament, nothing has changed. Consider “hearing” in the New Testament. In the New Testament the basic word for “hear” is from the noun ακοή and the verb akouo. (These terms are defined as, “to hear; to listen; to give careful attention to; to give heed to; to hear and understand and accept; etc.”) What must be understood about these terms is the fact that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture) used these exact terms to translate the Hebrew word, “shema.” And, as in the Hebrew so in the Septuagint, this word was used of “obeying the Voice of the Lord”! See I Samuel 15:22 (“And Samuel said, Does the Lord take as great pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in hearing the words of the Lord? Behold, obedience [akoe – hearing] is better than a good sacrifice, and hearkening than the fat of rams.” – The Apostle’s Bible based on the Septuagint). Behind the New Testament term for “hear” stands the Old Testament word for “hear.” It is critical that we understand and appreciate the Old Testament context for any term or idea in the New Testament. Therefore, in the New Testament the term for hearing the gospel of Christ always has behind it the idea of obedience. What this means is that there is no hearing the gospel (i.e., the Voice of the Lord) without the consequent and necessary obedience to whatever God has said and commanded.
When Jesus was teaching on the importance of “hearing” in Matthew 7:24-27; 11:15; 13:1-52; 15:10 and Mark 4:1-34; 7:14,16; Luke 6:46-49; 8:1-18; 8:21; 11:28; 14:35; Acts 28:25-28; etc. he was most certainly talking about obedience! And especially consider John 5:24; 6:45; 8:42-47; 10:3,8,16,20,27; 12:47; 14:24; 18:37! There is no way to divorce hearing from obedience in biblical thought. So a passage as simple as Romans 10:17 takes on a whole new (old) meaning: “Consequently, faith comes from (by) hearing [the message], and [the message is heard] hearing through the word of Christ.”
Of even greater significance is Paul’s interesting usage of the phrase “hearing of faith” in Galatians 3:2,5. What we have here is clearly parallel to Paul’s “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26 (Acts 6:7)! Thus, "the hearing of faith" equals "the obedience of faith"!!!
Please note in the context of "the hearing of the obedience of faith" the Apostle Paul goes on to actually say, "In Christ ... the only thing that counts is faith working through love"! (Galatians 5:6) There is no such thing as "Faith Only" in the doctrine of Christ. The true doctrine of God knows only the hearing and obedience of faith.
What is more, the term for obedience in the New Testament is the noun hupakoe and the verb hupakouo. This word group is composed of the prefix that means “below, under” and the term for “hear”. Thus, this word group means, “to listen to; answer; obey … obedience; to follow, obey, be subject to” and comes to mean, “responsive obedience” in a life of discipleship! These terms are found in Romans 1:5; 5:19; 6:16; 15:18; 16:19,26; Hebrews 5:8; I Peter 1:14,22; etc. and Acts 6:7; Romans 6:12,16,17; Philippians 2:12; II Thessalonians 1:8; 3:14; Hebrews 5:9; 11:8; etc. (These are also the terms for children obeying their parents and for servants obeying their masters and Sarah obeying Abraham in Ephesians 6:1, 5; Colossians 3:20,22; I Peter 3:6.)
What we see in biblical thought is that “hearing the Voice of the Lord” always involves the ideas of listening, understanding, giving heed to and obedience. Once again we learn that there is no faith (“the hearing of faith”) without obedience (“the obedience of faith”). Once again we learn that “faith only” is not God’s truth but the devil’s lie. So, are you listening to the Voice of the Lord?
It should also be noted (for the purposes of rounding out this discussion) that the term for “disobedience” in the New Testament is found in the noun apeitheia and the verb apeitheo and the adjective apeithes which means both (especially) “disobedience” and “willful unbelief or rebellion” and is found in Romans 11:30,32; Ephesians 2:2; 5:6; Colossians 3:6; Hebrews 4:6,11 … John 3:36; Acts 14:2; 17:5; 19:9; Romans 2:8; 10:21; 11:30,31; 15:31; Hebrews 3:18; 11:31; I Peter 2:7,8; 3:1,20; 4:17 … Luke 1:17; Acts 26:19; Romans 1:30; II Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:16; 3:3.
So what are you going to believe about faith? Do you see that faith without obedience is no faith at all? Do you understand that the only faith that matters is a faith that works through love? Again, consider Galatians 5:6!!! The doctrine of "Faith Only" is clearly a doctrine of man. The doctrine of the hearing and obedience of faith is clearly the doctrine of Christ and his Apostles. Which will it be for you?