In part 1 a pretty solid case was made that the Bible teaches salvation is by grace through faith apart from works of righteousness. In part 2 I want to examine some of the evidence and objections used against salvation by faith alone- or “sola fide”.
You may ask “what’s the harm in believing that good works contribute to a person’s salvation? They are still believing in Jesus Christ so it’s no big deal.” The difference is immense, life and death in fact, and the Bible tells us about it. We’ve already looked at a couple of Galatians verses, and at the beginning of the book in the sixth verse Paul says that the Galatians as a whole are following a “different gospel”. What is this different gospel? The verses that we’ve already looked at give us insight into it. 2:16- “we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” 3:3- “having begun with the Spirit are you going to be made complete by the flesh?” [Yeah, right!] He doesn’t just call them mistaken, he calls them stupid. There must be serious consequences if Paul is willing to call the church that this letter is written to stupid. The stupidity was avoiding the Spirit and trusting in their works.
Now we can focus in on a couple of passages that will help expose why this is such a serious offense. In Luke 7:21-23 Jesus illustrates what will happen when certain people die and think they will enter heaven. He says that not everyone that calls him Lord will enter heaven . These people appeal to their many works that they have done as their justification before God. Jesus said to them “depart from me because I never knew you”, then he called them law breakers- as if they weren’t even aware that they were sinners. He says in verse 21 that heaven is reserved for the one that does the Father’s will. John 6:29 tells us that the will of God is to believe on him who He had sent- Jesus the Messiah. John 6:40 promises heaven for such people. By simple reasoning we can determine that the people in Matthew 7 did not believe him but did only works which made it look like they believed him. Works, in this way, can become a replacement for faith and trust.
For an even more straight-forward consequence of trusting in works for salvation we turn back to Galatians 3:10. Here Paul says that you are under a curse if you are relying on works of the law. The law brought in a curse, while faith in Jesus brought liberation. 3:11 says the righteous will live by faith and that following of the law is incapable of saving anyone. If you appeal to the law instead of grace and faith then you are under an obligation to uphold the entire law. Paul, as he’s writing the letter, knows the impossibility of such an endeavor. In fact, if anyone could boast about being a follower of the law it was Paul, yet he considered himself the chief of sinners.
God ought to appreciate our good work though, right? Well, no, actually. God appreciates faith in action, not works for the sake of works. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous at are like a polluted garment”. I don’t even want to describe what he’s talking about there. If we ever think we have something of ourselves that we can offer God, Romans 3:10-12 should put us in our place; “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one.” Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ made it possible for us to actually serve God rather then just doing dead works. This indicates that some works are useless and some works are useful.
How do we differentiate? A simple way is found in Romans 14:23- “everything that is not done from faith is sin”. If we have to abandon God in order to do something, that act is a sin. It doesn’t matter how good it looks to the outside world. Often things are done ritualistically or religiously and not out of faith in God. The ritual becomes the replacement and suddenly God is not first in your life. To stay out of such a pitfall we need to fulfill the goal in Hebrews 10:22- to “draw near with a true heart and full assurance of faith”. The next chapter in Hebrews tells us all about the history of faith in action.
This would be horribly incomplete if I didn’t mention James chapter 2. The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and even the Catholics love to bring up James 2 to show that works are necessary for salvation. It is good that we have some background information from Galatians and Hebrews so that we have a context to put James into. Most people that appeal to James 2 will agree that the Bible does not contain a contradiction. All over in Paul’s writings he says that faith alone apart from works is sufficient to save. Then James says that a person is saved by works. How is this not a contradiction? 1 way is the context of who you are justified before. Paul is talking about justification before God, while James is talking about justification before man. Another way to demonstrate harmony is that Paul is talking about genuine faith while James is talking about a claim of faith. (2:14 “says he has faith”) James then says that everyone ought to show their faith by their works. Again in verse 14 James asks whether faith that has no works with it can save a person. Can that type of save save? James concludes that the “faith” that does not lead to change lifestyle and good works is not real faith. Anybody can claim to have faith, but genuine faith will result in a new lifestyle. You have a new seed planted in you when you come to faith in God. bad seed will there bad fruit. A good seed will bear good fruit. So Paul deals with the initial heart faith, while James addresses the genuiness, or sincerity of that faith. Notice how there is no evidence in the Bible that Paul and James had to correct each other on this matter. Paul had to stern the correct Peter on a similar topic, weather gentiles had to start performing the Jewish ritualistic acts. We know that the Bible does not hold back from giving us this sort of embarrassing information. But nothing is recorded about a disagreement between Paul and James.
To conclude this issue of faith and works, the Old Testament seems to be highly works oriented then the New Testament seems to be highly grace oriented. However the New Testament clarifies that grace by faith was effective in both. The New Testament clarifies that it was grace, God’s choosing, through our faith, that brought salvation. We need to be extremely careful we only appeal to God’s grace as the means of salvation. We are not to think that works contribute. Works are still vital as a way to demonstrate our love and devotion to God. We are first saved by Him then we choose to do those things that glorify Him. Then, by His grace changing our hearts, good works follow and are not burdensome to carry out. True faith causes us to live according to a new nature.