My ears were ringing, but it was worth it. I had been waiting to see that band in concert for years. When they finally came to Nashville, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It was normal to see people outside of concert venues handing things out as the mad exodus made for the parking lots. They were usually handing out flyers for upcoming concerts or demo discs from local bands. I was always keen to hear new music, so I grabbed whatever I could.
Walking to my car, I started to read what a middle-aged man had given me. “If you die tonight, where would you spend eternity?” This isn’t a flyer; it’s a tract!
I knew the answer though. I would be with my Lord. I knew that, not by some feeling in my heart, and not because some religious leader told me so, but because of the promise of God in what was written (see 1 John 5:13).
I turned the tract over, and I saw a familiar, but heart-breaking sight.
If you are ready to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be sure you will go to heaven, pray this prayer:
“Dear Lord, I know I am a sinner in need of Your forgiveness. I now place my faith in You, accept You as my personal Lord and Savior, and invite You to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins. In Your name, Amen.”
The tract then said:
Salvation is as easy as ABC: Accept, Believe, Confess.
After that, there was an encouragement for the “newly born again” person to seek out a Bible-believing church.
I want to be sensitive, but this type of teaching has coaxed millions of people into the mouth of the roaring lion, the devil. Will a simple prayer lead someone to heaven? Will “faith alone” save a person? What do the Scriptures say?
I understand that salvation offered in Christ is the most precious gift (see Ephesians 2:8). I will do my best to be both sincere and sensitive. If I challenge your belief system in this study, I do not do so maliciously. I am doing my best to present the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). If you believe I miss the mark, I would be happy to hear you out, as I take James 3:1–11 seriously.
If you were to be brave enough to ask your friends or local religious leaders, “What must I do to be saved?” what answers do you think you would receive? One of the most popular responses these days is, “Just believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Is that biblical? Almost. In fact, that is almost a direct quotation of a passage in the Bible (more on that later).
This answer comes from those who sincerely teach salvation by faith alone. Although it is extremely popular today, “Just believe,” is a fairly new answer to questions about salvation. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone teaching a faith-alone salvation before the 1500s.
To make a long history lesson short, the faith alone doctrine stems from a movement ignited by Martin Luther and other men against the unscriptural teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the 1500s. (As damaging as the faith alone doctrine is, I feel compelled to mention how thankful I am for the boldness of Martin Luther. His work opened many doors of religious freedom that many people enjoy today.) Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) was the first well-known theologian who started teaching salvation by faith alone. By his own admission, he went against almost 1,500 years of Bible teachings and beliefs when he taught salvation by faith alone, claiming that teachers “have been in error since the apostles.”2
Whether we are saved by faith alone or not is most relevant these days when the question of baptism comes up. For instance, if one has been taught salvation is by faith alone, and he encounters Mark 16:16, he might become confused. In this verse, Jesus says:
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.Mark 16:163
The doctrine of faith alone is quite simple, really. It teaches as soon as you believe in your heart Jesus died for your sins and rose again, you are saved, forgiven, and granted eternal life. This is how advocates of faith alone have typically presented the doctrine to me in conversation. There are variants of the doctrine, so if you’re ever in conversation with people who believe in faith alone, I recommend you ask them what they mean by “faith alone,” instead of assuming what they believe.
This “faith” would exclude all “works,” including obedience. Although baptism is never referred to as a “work” of man in Scripture, proponents of faith alone frequently call it a work. In reality, when the apostles and prophets speak of salvation apart from works (e.g. Ephesians 2:8–9), context shows us that the “works” are works of the Law of Moses, not the commandments of Jesus.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.Romans 3:28
In reality, the “washing of regeneration” is clearly distinguished from “deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Titus 3:5), and that which is accomplished at baptism is “through faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12), not in the work of the one being baptized.
When faith alone began circulating in church communities, many who trusted in the doctrine to save them came out of their experience lacking something. They felt a bit overwhelmed with emotion and underwhelmed with confirmation. In order to develop a reference point, people started practicing the Sinner’s Prayer, which was what was on the back of the tract I received.
There is a major problem with the Sinner’s Prayer. It is not in Scripture. More and more people are starting to realize that. Although unscriptural, the Sinner’s Prayer is convenient. It gives the “new believer” a reference point. The doctrine of faith alone leaves the moment of conversion unknown; whereas, the contradictory “faith alone plus the Sinner’s Prayer” successfully provides a dot on a timeline.
It is possible to know one is saved and to point to a moment in time when forgiveness occurs. It is not based on feelings or a declaration by some religious leader or tract. It is based on what has been written. Can you compare and equate your “salvation experience” with the Scriptures?
Who will win the fight?
It really is sad that a significant number of those who profess a belief in the Bible do not give the same answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Instead of going out and showing the scriptural answer to those desperately needing it, they argue amongst themselves how to answer it.
Unfortunately, once people become caught up in the argument, they are shoved into extreme categories like boxers in a ring. Each person must defend one side and offend the other side. “In the blue corner: Faith. In the red corner: Obedience. Round one, fight!” Then, one side brings all of the passages that only mention faith to the fight. The other side is forced to bring all of the passages that mention obedience or baptism. The one with the most Scriptures in the end wins. Is that how we are to treat God’s word?
If you have ever participated in such a fight, you have effectively communicated God does not always mean what He says and it is okay to only believe part of the Scriptures. I am convinced, however, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), who is a God who cannot lie and does not confuse (see Titus 1:2 and 1 Corinthians 14:33.). Therefore, God meant what He said in all of the verses without contradiction. It is consistent and wonderfully liberating to believe all of the passages in the Scriptures about faith and all of the passages on obedience. Therefore, when I read our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ in Revelation 1:5, and we are saved by grace through faith in Ephesians 2:8, then I conclude blood, grace, and faith are connected to salvation. It is not blood alone. It is not grace alone. It is not faith alone. The truth is, if you actually search for the phrase “faith alone” in the Bible, you will find it only once.
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.James 2:24
Since this is the only passage that includes “faith alone,” and it says we cannot be justified by faith alone, perhaps we need to seriously re-evaluate this popular doctrine.
We are saved by faith
Yes, it’s true we are saved by faith, but not by faith alone. First, Christ had to do the redemptive work. Without the shedding of Christ’s blood, there would be no forgiveness of sins (see Hebrews 9). In order for us to hope in resurrection, He had to be the first fruits of an eternal life after death (see 1 Corinthians 15). His work of redemption demands a response from us. He will not force us to be saved, but salvation is a gift to either be accepted or rejected (see Romans 6:23 and Hebrews 2:1–4). To begin looking at how one responds to the gift of salvation under the new covenant of Christ, we have to begin with the book of Acts. When reading through this history book, we will see people encounter the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the first time. The faith we see in the first disciples was not a superficial faith, but it transformed their entire lives and dictated their actions, similar to how the faithful of the Old Testament responded to God.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.Hebrews 11:1-2
When we have true faith, we believe in a God powerful enough to speak the world into existence and always keep His promises—promises of both eternal life and condemnation. Therefore, to respond to God, we obey Him.
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.John 14:21
Much of the New Testament expresses the gift that Christians have “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). We do not deserve anything but death, yet God still offers the gift of salvation.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 6:23
Read the following passage while keeping in mind the book of Ephesians was written to those who had already been saved and come in contact with the blood of Christ.
For 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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.Ephesians 2:8–10
The only proper way to respond to God’s gift of grace and promise of judgment is by a working faith.
- By faith Abel offered (Hebrews 11:4).
- By faith Noah prepared (Hebrews 11:7).
- By faith Abraham obeyed and he went out (Hebrews 11:8).
- By faith Abraham looked for a city (Hebrews 11:10).
- By faith Abraham offered up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17).
- By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Hebrews 11:24).
- By faith Moses chose to suffer affliction (Hebrews 11:25).
- By faith Moses forsook Egypt (Hebrews 11:27).
- By faith Moses kept the Passover (Hebrews 11:28).
There is a difference between earning our salvation (a concept utterly despised in Scripture) and fulfilling conditions God has placed on salvation. Just as the above cloud of witnesses exemplify, God expects us to respond to Him through faithful obedience, trusting He will fulfill His promises to those who endure until the end.
That is why people in the book of Acts responded to Christ in obedience immediately after they believed “the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). When they saw the righteousness of Christ, they were willing to turn away from sin and turn toward God in repentance, trusting in the work of Jesus. They were also willing to bury the old person of sin through water baptism and allow the Spirit of God to raise them to walk in newness of life and transform them.
There is one example in the book of Acts of someone not obeying the gospel as soon as he believed and repented, and it proves conclusively that we are not saved by faith alone or by a Sinner’s Prayer. Saul of Tarsus, on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus for believing Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead, meets Jesus Himself. Of course, this proves to Saul that the gospel of Jesus is true. To get the entire account, read Acts 9, 22, and 26. After meeting Jesus, Saul calls Him Lord, he believes in Jesus’ resurrection, he obeys Jesus by going into the city, and then he fasts in repentance and prays for three days. If you were in Saul’s position, what would you be praying for? If there were an example of a sinner’s prayer in Scripture, this would be it. Most “Sinner’s Prayers” today last no longer than a minute. Saul’s lasted for three days! Does this three-day prayer wash away Saul’s sins? No. The Lord instructs a disciple named Ananias to find Saul. After he finds him, Ananias says, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Even after fasting and praying for three days, Saul was still in his sins. What was lacking? Obedience to the Lord in baptism.
As mentioned above, “Just believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” is almost a direct quotation from Scripture. In the biblical text, however, the word “just” is missing. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. Instead of blaming God for the situation, they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25). After a work of God shook him up (literally), their jailer asked the most important question. Notice the question, the answer, and what follows.
And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 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.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.Acts 16:29–34
After hearing these devout men’s praise to God, this Roman, likely an idolatrous one, wanted to know the answer to the most important question he could ever ask. Unfortunately, many people rip verse 31 out of its context. When it is read in its context, however, we see the story in its entirety. In order for the jailer and his household to have true faith in Jesus, Paul and Silas had to speak “the word of the Lord” to him and his household. Then, the jailer washed Paul and Silas’ wounds. If these wounds were dealt by his own hands, I can think of no better fruit of repentance. Though repentance was not mentioned specifically, I cannot imagine this man going back to his old way of life after knowing what Christ was willing to go through in order to wash his sins away. Then, “immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.” After their baptisms, the household was rejoicing, “having believed in God.” What do we learn from all of this? The jailer and his household were able to rejoice and were considered believers only after they heard the word of the Lord and were baptized into Christ.
People in the New Testament responded with faith in Christ immediately by dying to sin and being baptized into Christ. If you were to ask a first-century Christian when he was saved—at the point he believed in his heart, or at the point he was baptized—he would likely respond with a question of his own: “Huh?” Since conviction of sin, understanding of the gospel of Jesus, and being baptized into Christ happened “immediately” and “in the same hour,” initial faith, repentance, and baptism were always considered to happen together. Unfortunately, since the 1500s, people have been trying to rip them apart.
Romans 6 teaches us baptism is the point at which a person crucifies and buries the old person of sin. Imagine a person learns about the gospel of Christ, and then repents by dying to sin, but then waits a month to be baptized. That entire month, he is a dead man walking! That man needs to bury his old person of sin and be raised to walk in newness of life!
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.Romans 6:1-7
The sum of Scripture is truth. Do you believe all of the verses on faith and all of the verses on obedience? It is abundantly clear in Scripture that the just reward for disobedience is death and eternal separation from God (see Romans 6:23). The only thing sinners have earned is their eternal destruction. That is why God freely offered salvation to us by His grace in the first place. How else should we respond to God’s glorious gift, other than true, faithful love?
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.John 14:15
how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?Hebrews 2:3a
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.Mark 16:16
Jesus does not say, “He who believes and says the Sinner’s Prayer shall be saved.” He says, “He who believes and has been baptized shall be saved.”
Reaching for one last objection, I can already hear someone say, “But it only says, ‘He who disbelieves shall be condemned,’ not, ‘He who is not baptized!’” That is absolutely true, but are we not interested in how to be saved, rather than being condemned? No person is going to choose to die to sin and be buried with Christ in baptism if he does not believe Christ can save him. How does Jesus say one can be saved in this passage?
If you have been taught faith alone your entire life, I do not expect this single study, as long as it may be, to change your mind. My challenge to you would be to read the entire New Testament, watching for how people were forgiven by the blood of Christ. Don’t read pockets of Scripture. Don’t read single verses. Read it all.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.Ephesians 4:14-15
Below are eleven questions that cannot be answered by faith alone without contradicting its own teaching or contradicting the Scriptures.
Are we not saved by the blood of Jesus?
One of the arguments that comes up frequently among faith alone proponents is the amount of passages that link faith and salvation together with no other condition explicitly mentioned. For example:
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”Acts 16:31
This is the perfect verse for pulling out of context and using to teach faith alone, since the jailer was told to believe. The argument is presented: Since faith is mentioned, and baptism is not, baptism is not necessary for salvation. However, with that logic, we are not saved by the blood of Jesus, since the redemptive blood is not mentioned in this verse. Beyond that, the jailer was permitted to continue living in sin, since repentance is not mentioned in this verse either.
Using this same method, one could use a number of verses to teach “salvation by X alone” doctrines. For instance, we could teach:
- Repentance alone from 2 Corinthians 7:10
- Baptism alone from Acts 22:16
- The life of Christ alone from Romans 5:10
- The blood of Christ alone from Revelation 1:5
- The word of God alone from James 1:21
- Obedience alone from Hebrews 5:9, and so on.
The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.Psalm 119:160
As the psalmist states, the sum of God’s word is truth. However, when we make passages fight against each other, we are saying only some of God’s word is truth.
As a side note, I have recently heard a few preachers say the contradictory statement, “You are saved by grace alone by faith alone.” If it is grace alone, faith cannot be included, since it is grace alone. The same is true if it is faith alone. Grace must be excluded. Of course, the preachers can probably explain themselves, but I’m primarily concerned with this: “grace alone by faith alone” is not in Scripture. Search and find out for yourself.
What healed the blind man?
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.John 9:1–7
Did the water heal the man? Could any blind person apply spittle and clay to his eyes and wash in the pool of Siloam and be healed? No. It was not the physical elements, but Jesus who healed the blind man. However, would the blind man have been healed if he was unwilling to go to the water? The passage says, “So he went away and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:7). If this man were listed in Hebrews 11, it would say, “By faith he went and washed in the pool.” He would not have been healed if he had not washed, since it was a condition Christ put on his healing. When the critics came, they did not criticize the water; they criticized the Healer. Though it was necessary for his healing, the formerly blind man did not give credit to the pool for his health. Speaking of Christ, he said, “He opened my eyes” (John 9:30). However, even this man recognized washing was part of the process.
He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.”John 9:11
The water was necessary, but the power was not in the water; it was in the Healer. Likewise, the teaching of baptismal regeneration, (which, depending on who is teaching it, sometimes means baptism by itself will save someone) is utterly false. However, Christ does put baptism as a condition of one’s salvation, along with belief and repentance. When Jesus fulfills His promise of “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” it would make no sense to give praise to the water. All credit is due to the Healer of the soul, who always keeps His promises.
What will become of those who only called Jesus “Lord”?
I’ve seen Romans 10:13 listed to validate the Sinner’s Prayer.
for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”Romans 10:13
If this passage means to say all you have to do is verbally call Christ “Lord,” it contradicts Jesus’ words elsewhere.
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”Matthew 7:21–23
How powerful, yet how terrifying! It is proper to call Jesus our Lord (see John 13:13); however, those who depend merely on that call (like the Sinner’s Prayer) will be sorely surprised on the day of judgment. Instead, we must be found “clothed…with Christ” (Galatians 3:26–28) and “in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13) while we “walk in the light” (1 John 1:5–10).
Why do you call Me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?Luke 6:46
Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.Acts 22:16
The above verse demonstrates that responding to the gospel through baptism is calling on the Lord’s name. Likewise, all aspects of “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” in Acts 2:21 can also be found in the commandment a few verses later: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
- Everyone/each of you
- Call on the name of the Lord/be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ
- Will be saved/for the forgiveness of your sins.
What about those who die outside of the Lord?
While reading through Paul’s writings, it is hard to miss his frequent references to blessings found in Christ. For instance, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and salvation are all found “in Christ” (see Romans 6:23; Colossians 1:13–14; and 2 Timothy 2:10).
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.2 Corinthians 5:17
The apostle John also shows us the imagery of someone being in the Lord.
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”Revelation 14:13
Those who die in the Lord are blessed. This is in contrast to those who die in their sins (see John 8:24). The question remains, then, how are we placed into Christ? How are we transferred from being in our sins to being in the Lord?
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:26–284
You could do what so many people do with this passage: quote verse 26 by itself. However, Paul wasn’t finished speaking. Were these Galatians saved by faith alone? No! The word for at the beginning of verse 27 is telling. Their faith was validated and completed through their baptism.
The way to be placed into Christ is through faithful obedience to Christ in baptism. To say that we do not need to be baptized to receive Christ’s salvation is to say that we can be saved outside of Christ and without eternal life, forgiveness of sins, or eternal salvation, since those blessings are only found in Christ.
How can one be saved outside of the body of Christ?
It’s common today to try to have a “relationship with Jesus Christ” without being associated with His church. That is scripturally impossible. In the New Testament, the church was made up of the saved, and the saved made up the church (see Acts 2:40–47).
And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:22–23
For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.Ephesians 5:23
Jesus is the Savior of His body, the church. As above, if you were to ask a first-century Christian, “Did you become saved first, or did you become a part of the church first?” he would respond with his own question: “Huh?” They happened at the same time, as Christ is “the Savior of the body.” How does one enter the body of Christ?
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:12–13
Those who teach salvation by faith alone offer a “salvation” outside of the body of Christ and devoid of God’s Spirit.
I am aware there are some teachers who, while trying to avoid the truth about baptism, will claim that the verses that link baptism to salvation are not talking about water baptism. They’re just talking about metaphorically being surrounded or immersed in Christ. However, by the time Paul wrote Ephesians in about A.D. 63, he could confidently teach that there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Even after the Gentiles were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they were commanded to be baptized into Christ through water (see Acts 10:44–48). Baptism in water and into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the only baptism that is commanded of the audience of the gospel throughout the New Testament.
Don’t let anyone try to tell you that the baptism in Acts 2:38 (or other passages that link baptism and salvation) is not water baptism. Peter tells the audience on that occasion to be “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” The same Peter later says of Cornelius’ household:
“Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.Acts 10:47–48
According to Scripture, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ requires water.
What about the demons?
In James 2, James explains to his audience that laziness in Christ will not suffice. God expects His people to prove their faith by making the world a better place.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?James 2:19–20
I understand James is not teaching someone how to be saved. He is writing to Christians, those who have already been saved. However, to help prove his point that Christians should be working for Christ, he says demons believe in God. Are those who profess faith alone going to be consistent and teach demons are saved?
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.James 2:24
What about the unrighteous?
Many people who teach salvation by faith alone teach as soon as you believe in your heart, and before you repent of your sins, you are forgiven. Otherwise, if they taught salvation through repentance, then it wouldn’t be by faith alone anymore. Notice what Paul said:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.1 Corinthians 6:9–11
Paul boldly claims that those living unrighteous lives will not inherit the kingdom of God. Doubtless, he was elated to be able to say, “Such were some of you.” These Corinthians had changed their ways. God had washed them and given them a sanctified life in His Spirit, which, he explains a few chapters later, happened at their baptism (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–13). Godly sorrow produces a repentance to salvation. Would those who teach faith alone also teach one can remain in his or her sins and be saved?
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.2 Corinthians 7:10
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:38
Is love of any value?
Faith alone means just that. Faith and nothing else.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1–3
Although not directly related to the salvation of the soul, this Scripture claims, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Meaning, in order for us to amount to something in the eyes of God, we need at least faith and love. Faith alone will not cut it.
Is obedience irrelevant to salvation?
The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches claims:
Baptism is not essential to salvation, for our churches utterly repudiate the dogma of “baptismal regeneration”; but it is essential to obedience, since Christ has commanded it.5
Salvation by baptism alone, which is what baptismal regeneration sometimes teaches, surely is false. On this, Edward Hiscox, the author of the manual, is correct. However, I cannot agree with his conclusion. Hiscox says Baptist churches believe obedience is not essential to salvation, which is the opposite of what the Holy Spirit teaches.
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.Hebrews 5:8–9
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.John 3:36
What will Christ really judge?
Faith alone claims Christ judges the soul by merely what the person holds in the heart. Examine the passages that actually explain how Christ will judge when He appears.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”Matthew 16:24–27
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.Romans 2:9–11
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.2 Corinthians 5:10
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.2 Thessalonians 1:6–9
Honestly, the number of passages that mentions deeds and works as they relate to judgment surprises me. There are dozens more not listed above. I encourage you to search them out yourself. Our response to God’s free gift should be obedient, faithful love and reverence. Of course, this does not mean we earn our salvation by doing good deeds. Ephesians 2:8–10 and Romans 6:23 still hold true. However, to teach that deeds and works are irrelevant to eternal salvation and judgment would also be a mistake.
Where does the Bible say that?
The most common description of baptism that I have heard from faith alone proponents is baptism is “an outward symbol [or sign] of an inward salvation [or grace].” My question is simple: Where do the Scriptures say that? It cannot be found.
Baptism itself is nothing without faith in the subject’s heart and the promises of God to back it up. There’s nothing miraculous about water that can cleanse the soul by itself, otherwise, we should be busy grabbing all unbelievers and dunking them, even against their will. Come to think about it, that’s what infant baptizers have been doing. However, God has deemed baptism in water as the way He connects a faithful, penitent person with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. That is the reference point that is lacking in “faith alone,” which men have replaced with the Sinner’s Prayer. Baptism is when God circumcises the heart without hands, when He forgives all transgressions, and when He raises up the person who has been granted a new life through the resurrection of Jesus.
And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.Colossians 2:11–13
Corresponding to that [the water that saved Noah and his family], baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 3:21
The fact that God works through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus during baptism is an important point to remember when conversing with people on this topic. The poster child of faith alone is the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39–43. Some people claim he was promised paradise on the basis of his faith alone. However, no one knows whether or not the thief was ever baptized. Some assert he was likely baptized, as “all the country of Judea was going out to him [John], and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him” (Mark 1:5), yet we are still left guessing if this man was part of that group.
The more important point is Jesus did not provide new covenant baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit until after His resurrection (which happened well after the thief in question entered paradise on that day). Jesus waited to command this baptism, because it is what unites someone with His death, burial, and resurrection, and thus is when someone contacts the forgiving blood of the covenant, as we see in Romans 6:1–7. It would have been impossible for anyone—including the thief on the cross—to be baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ without the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ having already happened. The thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament system, not the gospel system (see Hebrews 9:15–17).
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.Romans 6:3–7
Do you want to trust in a “salvation” that does not connect you with the death of Christ? If so, go ahead and trust in the man-made doctrine of faith alone and the Sinner’s Prayer. Or would you like to trust in God’s plan that says, “if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection”? If that’s what you want, I beg of you: obey God today!
If you have trusted in faith alone or the Sinner’s Prayer to save you, I hope you have considered these passages carefully. I challenge you to go back to the Scriptures. Put down the commentaries and other man-made writings (including this one). Don’t look on the internet for your answers. Read the entire New Testament, and see what God has been saying all along. Once you do, do not hesitate to trust and obey Him.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.2 Peter 1:2–3
- This study appears as an appendix in my book, Clouded by Emotion: Studies on the Holy Spirit and Miracles. ↩︎
- Bromiley, G. W., ed. Zwingli and Bullinger. Westminster John Knox Press, 1953, 119–175. ↩︎
- Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ↩︎
- See also Romans 6:1–7 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13. ↩︎
- Hiscox, Edward Thurston. The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches. American Baptist Publication Society, 1903, 21. ↩︎