A great question in the Christian faith has to deal with the mechanics of our salvation. How does it work? To begin this discussion, we first have to understand that we are saved by God’s grace. To take this a step further, the Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace through faith:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith . . .” – Ephesians 2:8a
To understand that we are saved by grace through faith is important. We cannot say that our faith saves us, because it doesn’t. God’s grace is what saves us, but it is through our faith that His grace is applied. And more importantly, faith in what? Faith in Jesus Christ. More specifically, faith in what Jesus Christ did for us. Namely, His shedding of blood for the atonement of our sins. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” – 1 Corinthians 15:1–4
Is it safe to say that we are saved through faith alone? Is this what the Scripture teaches? The belief in faith alone for salvation, also known as sola fide, has been challenged by many throughout the centuries. Many say that Scripture does not teach salvation through faith alone. With that said, let’s go to the Scriptures themselves and see what light can be shed on this subject:
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:17
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” – Romans 3:22a
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” – Romans 5:1–2
Given the above verses, it seems quite clear that we are in fact justified by faith. Why do Christians, such as myself, insist we are saved by faith alone, even though the scriptures do not explicitly say “faith alone?” Put simply, it is for emphasis that it is by faith and nothing else.
Faith vs. Works
What are works? Works are basically something a person has to do; an action. There are many that claim that a person is not justified by faith alone. Okay, so if justification is not by faith alone, then logically speaking it is by faith plus something else. What is this “something else?” If the “something else” is something that a person has to do, an action on their part, then by definition it is a work. This sums up to a belief in justification by faith and works, which is explicitly against Scripture. This is exactly why biblical Christianity uses the phrase “faith alone.” It is to emphasize that justification is by faith, not by faith and works, so there is no confusion or misinterpretation.
What does the Scripture say about faith and works?
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” – Romans 3:27–28
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” – Romans 4:2–5
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” – Galatians 2:16
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” – Galatians 2:20–21
“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.” – Ephesians 2:8–9
It is quite clear that we are saved by faith and not by works. Throughout Scripture, there is an overwhelming contrast between faith and works. Biblically speaking, they are in fact opposites. As you can see, salvation is by faith alone without works.
What about verses that teach works? James 2:24?
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” – James 2:24
At first glance, it seems that this piece of Scripture flies in the face of all of the preceding text. Is there a contraction in God’s Word? Of course not. As with any biblical text, responsible biblical exegesis requires that we look at the context:
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” – James 2:14–24
When looking at the context, what is James saying? Notice how he begins with “though a man say he hath faith.” Sure, a man can say he has faith, but if nothing changes in his life, is his faith alive? It is true, faith without works is dead. Why? True, saving faith results in regeneration, being “born again” (John 3:7). We are made a new creature in Christ (Galatians 6:15). However, it is important to understand that works are the result of salvation, not the cause. So James’ statement that a man is justified by works, and not by faith, is true. It is true in the sense that works are a necessary fruit of regeneration/salvation.
I’d like to add that James makes another great point. He says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” His point is that a superficial knowledge or acknowledgement of Christ will not save a person, as the devil himself acknowledges Christ. But true, saving faith is more than a mere acknowledgement or knowledge of Christ. It is the placing of complete trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross, acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior, and coming to repentance.
Is salvation really that simple?
Is getting saved really as simple as putting faith in Jesus Christ? Yes, it is. Even Paul warned of the possibility of straying from simplicity:
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” – 2 Corinthians 11:3–4
Is there any biblical proof or examples from the Bible that would show such simplicity? Take a look:
“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.” – John 3:16
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” – Acts 16:30–31
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” – Romans 10:9
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – Romans 10:13
In conclusion, we cannot merit or work for our salvation. Our righteous acts are filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Eternal life is a free gift, and being a gift it is completely unearned and undeserved. If we had to merit or work for our salvation, the free gift ceases to be a gift.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6:23