When Martin Luther stood opposed to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and their emphasis on meritorious works, he began teaching that salvation came by faith only, without any works of any kind. In fact, he called the book of James “an epistle of straw” because it clearly taught differently than his faith only views. From those early days of that teaching, many have boarded the “faith only band wagon”. Having recently read yet another article titled, “Faith plus nothing equals salvation”, we thought we might present the Bible’s teaching concerning that statement.
We might start with a very simple illustration that would to any of honest hearts, settle the matter once and for all. When the Lord gave the great commission to His apostles, Marks account reads, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). Now note specifically the first nine words of verse sixteen. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…”. Many would have use believe, “he that believeth is saved and then should be baptized, when in fact our Lord said that one had to believe and be baptized in order to be saved. I suppose that one might say as Joshua did to the children of Israel in the long ago, “choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Josh. 24:15). In this case you can follow mere men or you can believe the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the Lord’s word on it any day!
There is another important bit of the New Testament that must be considered when discussing this topic. It comes from that very part of God’s inspired word that Martin Luther called “a straw epistle”. James wrote, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17), “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20) and “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26).
There is no doubt whatsoever that faith is required in order to obtain eternal salvation. However, no where in the Bible does it teach that salvation comes by faith “only”, which is what the “faith plus nothing equals salvation” proponents would have us believe. In fact the only time in the New Testament the words faith and only are coupled when dealing with salvation is found in the little epistle of James as well. James wrote, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). The apostle Paul had stated that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).
Some may see a contradiction here, but James clears it all up. He stated, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he 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” (James 2:21-23). A real test of our faith is our response to the commands of God and especially when that stand opposed to that which we have always heard taught and believed to be true. A faith that saves is a faith that obeys. All other faith is nothing more than a dead faith.
If just having faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God will bring about salvation, the devil and all the evil spirits are saved, for they all knew and know exactly who Jesus is. They believe, but they do not obey. You may believe those who claim you can be saved without obeying the word of God, but it would be wise to listen to the inspired James instead.
Would it not seem to be a bit ridiculous to give commands that do not have to be obeyed? If one is saved by faith without obeying God’s commands, then those commands become meaningless to say the least. By the way, if one does not have to obey any of the other commands, then why would they have to obey the command to believe?
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. 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” (Matt. 7:21-23). These “many”, no doubt believed in Jesus, otherwise they would not be doing works in His name, but they failed to “do the will of my Father which is in heaven”, thus failing to have eternal life in heaven.
The idea that one can just believe and be saved may be appealing for it requires little of one, but we cannot be saved our way. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for the The Sampson Independent.