1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Salvation by faith-alone is considered a core belief in many Christian denominations, beginning with the reformation. It is even more often taught in evangelism in common gospel tracts such as the notorious “Roman's Road” which leads to overemphasis on the “sinner's prayer” and the initial experience of being saved. We have to be careful not to be giving people a false sense of security as if once you are “saved” you do not have to do anything to keep your salvation. When reading scripture, receiving the gift of salvation is always connected to repentance from sin, not only believing. “Born again” means an entirely transformed life. It is a commitment far greater than only believing in Jesus as your personal saviour. We can't be living the exact same as the world and expect to stay saved. If a person doesn't eat food they shrivel and die. If we don't work out of our faith the same will happen to our soul. Later on in this article we will look at how Apostle Paul’s faith-based teachings were not actually opposed in any way to James and the rest of scripture, but were complimentary.
Beginnings In The Reformation
As appreciative as we are of Luther showing the church the way out of the corrupted Roman Catholic structure, we must acknowledge that he did make a few major mistakes. One of them was in teaching anti-Semitism (which would prepare his home country Germany for Hitler many centuries later). Another great mistake was in teaching salvation can be by “faith alone,” downplaying the need to repent in our actions and thus causing confusion. He added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 “faith alone” even though it is not present in the original Greek. Luther at one point wanted to rip out the biblical books of James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation and to create a new Bible without them as they taught the importance of good works and were thus a stumbling block to his new theology.
When encountering a falsehood it is a common tendency to want to swing to the opposite extreme. The church had been teaching that you could essentially “earn” salvation by paying “indulgences” to the priest. They also taught that a believer could not have his own relationship with God, but needed intermediaries (such as the priest). There were plenty of man-made traditions such as prayer to Mary and saints and veneration of images which were added as the church expanded in order to appease pagan religions by incorporating them into Christianity. As Roman Christianity took over, the statue to a local goddess would be repurposed as “the virgin Mary” and the locals allowed to continue worshipping it so as to not offend them. Besides this the popes were some of the most wicked and corrupt men of their age. Adultery, murder, warmongering, and mass homosexual orgies are only a few of the countless abominations of these popes. The church badly needed reformation, but to say we are saved by “faith alone” was going too far and a distraction from the true reforms that were needed. The Bible mentions countless times that repentance is necessary before salvation and yet for some reason we would rather trust theologians in place of reading the plain meaning of the Bible for ourselves.
Early Christians had to deal with a common heretical group known as the “antinomians.” These people believe you were saved by faith-alone and that you could thus sin as much as you pleased and still be saved (sounds like modern Christianity right?). There is an extra grace for mistakes in the New Testament, but not if that grace is presumed upon to live a wanton lifestyle. 2 Peter chapter two is clear that people who live like this are storing up wrath against themselves in the judgement. When we tell people they only have to believe in Jesus to be saved, it leads to an antinomian mindset where they believe they can stay in sin because they are saved no matter what.
Necessity Of A Changed Life
James 2:19-21 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But do you want to know O foolish 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?”
James 2:24 “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
(James is pretty self-explanatory here. Works are a required part of justification, not just a fruit of being saved.)
1 Peter 4:18, “Now ‘if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the sinner and ungodly appear?’”
(This verse indicates that there is a degree of righteousness God expects to even be “barely saved.”)
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Repenting from unforgiveness is a crucial part of salvation. We miss this when we teach people “faith-alone.” Holding hatred of your brothers and sisters in Christ due to their past offenses against you disqualifies you from salvation. Have all the faith you want, but without repentance from major sins such as unforgiveness that faith will be in vain.
Matthew 7:21-23 ““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. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Now we cannot get much clearer than this. We have people who believe in Jesus and are active in ministry, but they have not repented from their sin and thus their souls are required in hell.
In Matthew 18:8-9 Jesus says, “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”
This passage clearly shows that certain habits of sin can keep one out of salvation, thus making repentance and commitment to righteous living a non-negotiable component of being saved.
Revelation 20:12-13 “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.”
Judged according to their faith? No! According to their WORKS. If you don't change your life around and bear Christian fruit you are no more saved than any non-believer.
What did the early apostles teach in regards to salvation?
Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
The apostles did not just say “believe in Jesus to be saved.” They commanded everyone to REPENT.
Romans 2:6-10 “[God] "will render to each one according to his deeds": 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness -indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
It seems everyone loves to cherrypick Paul's writings for the salvation by faith verses. Romans has been looted by theologians for every mention of 'faith.' Meanwhile when we open our bibles and read Paul's writings for ourselves we see the other side of the coin; scriptures such as the above. Note verses six and seven, God judges every person “according to his DEEDS.” Eternal life is promised to those who “by patient continuance in DOING GOOD seek for glory, honor, and immortality;” Continuance in "doing good" refers to our actions; living the straight and narrow life of repentance. So if Paul was teaching faith-alone, why would he write scriptures such as this one? Did Paul change his mind halfways through writing Romans? Of course not. Changing our 'works' is just as important as faith to maintain salvation. Time to take off our theological lenses and really just let the bible speak for itself.
Parable Of The Sheep And Goats
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations [gentiles]: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And [Christ] shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
This parable shows you can be saved by works of love without even having known Jesus name or heard of the gospel! The same Greek word for “nations” is also “gentiles” and “heathen” (“ethne,” Strongs 1484). This word (in the plural) is always used to refer to the non-Jewish foreign nations who had never heard of God or Christ. Showing works of compassion to those in need can be accepted for salvation if you never had the opportunity to clearly hear the gospel message. How's that for the faith-alone crowd? Seems like God will sometimes accept even zero faith if you have been practicing works of love. That may be contrary to the theology of many, but it is what this parable teaches. Maybe it's time your theology changed to line up with scripture, rather than twisting scripture to fit with your theology.
Pistiv: Faith And Faithfulness
The original Greek scripture word for faith is “pistiv” (strongs 4102). This word does not simply mean to “believe” however, but also has the meaning “faithfulness” and “loyalty.” We miss this aspect in our English translations as the translator is forced to pick only one meaning. Thus the scriptures saying you are saved by “faith in Christ” or “believing in Christ” also have the meaning that you must be faithful to him and have a relationship with him; not just believe in his death on the cross. Faithful and loyal means we are faithful to what he commands us to do. To work his will on the earth.
Which ‘Works’ Were Paul Speaking Of?
So what does Paul mean then when he preaches that we are not saved by works, but by faith? Is Paul saying that we can be faithful to Christ yet without works? Is James calling Paul a “foolish man” for believing that salvation was through faith alone and needs no lifestyle change? Would Paul rebuke James for being a legalistic Pharisee for preaching that works were necessary for salvation? This is where the misunderstanding comes from. We too often forget that Paul and James were two separate authors each with their own intents, vocabulary, and writing style. Could it be that the “works” Paul teaches on, and the “works” James refers to are two entirely different things? It does not make sense that James and Paul would have so quickly part theology on such a basic doctrine as salvation.
What happened is that James and Paul actually believed the exact same theology on salvation and they were preaching against two entirely different perversions of the doctrine. When digging into the books of Paul it can be seen that Paul often uses the phrase “works of the law” when he writes that works are not necessary for salvation. “Works of the law” are entirely different types of behaviours than the works James describes. James tells us that “true religion is to visit orphans and widows in their time of need and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” These are the things Jesus preached were part of the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, certain sets of believers known as Judaizers were trying to say that it was necessary for Gentiles to basically “become Jews” to obtain salvation. This included circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and the rest of the Torah laws. These types of works are what Paul preached against when he sarcastically speaks (regarding circumcision), “having begun in the Spirit are you now perfected in the flesh?”
If we believe that we need to follow the Jewish Laws in order to stay in salvation, then we are missing out on the entire point of salvation. There would be no difference in lifestyle than there was previously in Judaism. The whole point of salvation is that we are not longer under the curse of the law. When Paul speaks against “works” other passages show that his phrase “works” is short for “works of the law.” Paul is not teaching that we can suddenly slack off our works of love, obedience, and repentance once we are saved. He is simply teaching against following the Old Testament laws that we are no longer obligated to keep.
So the solution can be seen that we do not need to perform the “dead works” of the Jewish law in order to remain in salvation. We do however, need to repent and commit to a lifestyle of obedience. The heart attitude is what is important though. And there cannot be a good heart attitude towards God without good works and a changed life always following this.
Take a look at this passage written by Paul:
1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (NKJV).
Paul is saying that if he becomes slack in the faith, he could be disqualified from salvation even after helping so many others become saved. That doesn’t sound like salvation by faith alone now does it! He didn’t say weak faith would disqualify him, he said having his “body” become undisciplined would. Sins of the BODY, not lack of faith! No matter how much you “believe,” being casual about sin can still indeed disqualify you.
Now remember this verse from Paul as well:
Philippians 2:12, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.”
Well, so much for the false doctrine that Paul taught salvation by faith-alone without any works required! Paul and James were not in any way at odds with each other, but as it can be seen they were discussing two entirely different types of “works.” They also both would have understood that “faith” also meant “faithfulness” and saving faith is when both of these work together. They were not at all at odds with one another. Neither were their teachings. Faith and works are not two competing aspects of salvation, but rather they are mutual and complementary. Though salvation is completely by grace, we need to be faithful to Christ in order for Him to give us that grace.
Faith Plus Repentance Leads To Salvation
Repentance is the missing ingredient here. A true heart of repentance and commitment to changing your life around from the old ways. Just ‘believing’ Jesus died for you is not enough. You do not have a licence to go and sin as much as you please. “Believe” all you want, it will not save you from hell if you think you can just casually live a sinful life while saying you belong to Christ. There is a minimum standard of commitment and obedience which differs for each person according to your level of knowledge and experience in Christ. A baby Christian is not going to have the same expectation as a 10+ year believer. As long as the baby Christian has a true heart to repent and it making effort to turn their life around, they can expect to be saved. A 10+ year believer may think they are so spiritual, but constantly disobeying the conviction of the Holy Spirit and living against the teachings in the Bible will not be welcome at heaven's gates.
Luke 18:13-14, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The publican here shows genuine repentance. He is grieved over his sin and struggling to turn his life around. He does not have a casual attitude of “I can do what I want, I believe so I must be saved.” No! he takes his repentance seriously. God saves and justifies him despite his sin because of this. God doesn’t expect us to be sinless, but he does expect us to take him seriously and be striving to overcome sin. The thief on the cross did not have a chance to be baptized or to repay his victims, but he showed both faith and true remorse over his sin. He even did the one ‘work’ he was able to and evangelized to the other thief. He was not casual about his sin, but humbled himself in repentance. As a result, God saw his changed heart and he heard the words “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Nothing we can do will ever “earn” salvation; we could never pay the penalty for our sins by good works. Repentance does qualify us however, to receive the unmerited gift of salvation that Christ paid for entirely with his death on the cross. Repentance is a continuous attitude of the heart, not just saying sorry but never meaning to change. Repentance begins in our heart. Turning our heart around is what allows us to be saved and this allows our actions to come into alignment. We must take repentance seriously. Only “believing” does not cut it. To be saved, pursuing a changed life is a requirement, not an option. This is taught clearly throughout the plain meaning of scripture. Only by cherrypicking certain verses and ignoring others can theologians come up with the “faith alone” teaching. It is time we learned the fear of God and his holiness. Faith without works of repentance is dead.
Hebrews 10:26-27 “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
Revelation 21:7-8, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”