Robert Prater posed an important question —
If you take such position that a person is saved/justifed/forgiven of sins on the basis of faith alone/only without its inclusion of further acts of obedience which demonstrate/define, etc. true “faith/belief” (i.e., confess, repentance, baptism), then I fear we debating the wrong topic/issue/question and need to immediately shift focus to how a person, according to the N.T., is saved.
By the way, I think I might know what you are saying (maybe). I agree with the proposition and every one of the passages you sited concerning this point and have no problem with the proposition that we are justified/saved by faith in Christ Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith. (Eph. 2:8) And if a person properly understand the nature of true, saving faith, then I guess we might be able to say and undersand “faith alone.” But I completely oppose such terminogly due to such the large scale accetpance of the otherwise false doctrine known as “faith alone.” I reject completley this denomintional view of “faith alone/only.”
You see, I’ve heard all the verses you quoted above in my years of trying to help lead people out of the “faith alone” doctrine and then show them that not only single verse like the ones you quoted, has the words “faith alone/only.” As you probably know, the only time that phrase “faith alone/only” appers in the Bible, it is condmened and not put forth as true faith (i.e., faith without works/obedience) – James 2:24, 26.
Robert wrote in response to a post where I challenged his teaching that we aren’t saved by faith alone. To make my point, I listed a few dozen verses that say that all with faith are saved. My point was simply that asserting these verses are true could hardly be damnable. But it’s important, I think, to explain what these verses do mean. It’ll take about four posts.
It’s important that in this conversation we get past the last-verse-read argument. Robert cites James. I cite the many faith-only verses. And back and forth we go. That’s an utterly futile way to argue. I’d like to try this from a different angle.
Here is the cinch points:
- Do the faith-only verses eliminate the need to be baptized?
- Do the faith-only verses eliminate the need to obey God’s commands?
- How do we reconcile the faith-only verses with James?
Now, it’s absolutely critical that we separate the first two questions. You see, throughout the 20th Century, we in the Churches of Christ had such zeal for the doctrine of baptism for the remission of sins (which is a true doctrine) that we tried to prove the doctrine by asserting that baptism is a “work” and arguing that works are required to be saved, following an interpretation of James and ignoring huge portions of the rest of the Bible.
I mean, anytime someone quotes Paul —
(Rom 3:27-28 ESV) Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
— we quote the baptism verses and James, as though by getting in the last word, our verses would trump the faith-only verses. But all the verses are inspired, true, and God’s word. And none should be explained away.
There are a couple of important Biblical truths we overlook when we see these passages as contradictory or in need of being expanded.
N. T. Wright explains in Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 263, how “faith” was used by First Century Jews. He refers to story told by Josephus regarding a Jewish rebel named Jesus —
Josephus asked Jesus the Galileean brigand leader, ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus’ instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries.
Josephus notes that “believe in me” is translated “be loyal to me” in most translations (see p. 250).
The same meaning shows up in modern Bible translations, where the Greek word for faith, pistis, is sometimes translated faithfulness.
(Rom 3:3) What if some did not have faith [pistis]? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness [pistis]?
(Gal 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis], 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
You see, we begin our readings by assuming “faith” is somehow divorced from obedience or loyalty, when in fact the word means faithfulness as well as belief.
And part of the confusion arises because we modern Christians tend to miss the full depth of meaning of other aspects of the gospel. For example, when we ask our converts to give the “Good Confession,” we ask them to quote Peter —
(Mat 16:16) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
But to modern ears, “Christ” sounds like Jesus’ last name. Let’s return to the original meaning: You are the Christ = Messiah = Anointed One = King promised by the prophets, the Son of the living God. “Christ” means “king” and not just king, it means the king who would sit on David’s throne and rule all the nations as prophesied.
Now, compare this to —
(Rom 10:9) That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
“Lord” is not a special word for heavenly beings. “Lord” is the word used in the Roman world to refer to Caesar as emperor. Quoting Wright once again —
The accession of the emperor, and also his birthday, could therefore be hailed as euaggelion, good news (we should remember of course that most of the empire, and certainly the parts of it where Paul worked, were Greek-speaking). The emperor was the kyrios, the lord of the world, the one who claimed the allegiance and loyalty of subjects throughout his wide empire. When he came in person to pay a state visit to a colony or province, the word for his royal presence was parousia.
With all this in mind, we open the first page of Paul’s letters as they stand in the New Testament, and what do we find? We find Paul, writing a letter to the church in Rome itself, introducing himself as the accredited messenger of the one true God. He brings the gospel, the euaggelion, of the son of God, the Davidic Messiah, whose messiahship and divine sonship are validated by his resurrection, and who, as the Psalms insist, is the Lord, the kyrios, of the whole world. Paul’s task is to bring the world, all the nations, into loyal allegiance — hypako? pisteos, the obedience of faith — to this universal Lord. He is eager to announce this euaggelion in Rome, without shame, because this message is the power of God which creates salvation for all who are loyal to it, Jew and Greek alike.
In short, the confession of Jesus as Son of God, which we call “faith,” is also the confession of Jesus as Lord, ruler of the universe. It’s repentance. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin — we believe Jesus is God’s Son and Lord and we submit to that — faith and penitence — or faith and faithfulness — or pistis and pistis — or just “faith.”
You see, we’ve misread many of the faith passages as though they say nothing about obedience. And therefore we feel obligated to graft on to them other passages from radically different contexts. But they stand quite well on their own.
Now, let’s take a fresh look at a faith-only passage —
(John 3:16) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
All my life, this was a Baptist passage. We couldn’t read it without immediately flipping over to James, to wash the Baptist heresy off it. But let’s see how what we learned from Josephus changes our understanding —
(John 3:16) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever [is loyal or faithful to] him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Is this right? Let’s check the context —
(John 3:19-21) “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Immediately afterwards, the subject is plainly good deeds and evil. It’s about doing — which makes sense if it’s about faithfulness or loyalty or Lordship. If it’s about the purely intellectual exercise of belief — as we use the word in English, as in “I believe in ghosts” — well, then the passage makes no sense. Jesus does not call us to radical abstract thinking. He calls us to radical discipleship — and centuries of Augustinian/Reformation thought has clouded our reading.
Now, obviously enough, we can’t be loyal to someone if we don’t even believe in his existence. If we deny that the Son is the Son or that the Lord is the Lord, we can hardly submit to him as Son and Lord. Believing is a part of faith. It’s just not the entirety of faith. It is, indeed, only the beginning of faith. (I urgently note that in English translations, “believe” is simply the verb form of pistis. There is no distinction in the Greek. In English, though, “believe” often means a mere abstract intellectual acceptance. That is not good Greek.)
[to be continued]