The question is important in our time. A byproduct of the Protestant Reformation is the popularity of a principle espoused by Martin Luther and other reformers: Sola Fide
Consider the following explanation of the phrase from Wikipedia: Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone), also known as justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine that distinguishes most Protestant denominations from the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some parts of the Restoration Movement.
Is the principle of justification by faith alone a true concept or not? First, note that the Catholic Church is not the institution that determines that. What Catholics believe is irrelevant to the question. The same is true with regard to the Eastern Orthodox church, most Protestant denominations, and yours truly. The only thing that matters is what God had to say on the matter.
Now, I could be glib and quote James 2:24, and say that the question is settled. After all, James wrote, "You see than that a man is justified by works, and not be faith only." This text clearly contradicts the Protestant principle of justification by faith only. Luther certainly had a problem with James' statement, believing that it directly contradicted the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 2. His opposition to the epistle of James was so significant that he contended it should not have been contained in the New Testament canon! (For a non-technical discussion of that issue, consider the Wikipedia article, Luther's Canon). I once had a man say to me, "I don't go to James to find out how to be saved." My question was, why not? Why reject any part of God's word that might shed light on what God requires for our redemption? Where is the wisdom in that? We will come back to James 2 in a few moments, but first consider the following:
Paul affirmed that faith alone is not profitable. In his grand treatise on love, the apostle Paul wrote the following: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). These words parallel his next point, that without love, benevolence and self sacrifice "profits me nothing" (verse 3). While the subject is love rather than faith, his words directly contradict the concept of salvation by faith alone. Now, to be fair, few would hold to the idea that we can be saved without love for God and man. They might even say, "you can't separate the two." However, you will note that that is exactly what Paul does. It might not be the default state, but it is possible for a man to have "all faith" and to lack love. In such a case, he would not be saved. Clearly, Paul teaches that love is necessary for a man's salvation.
Consider the faith of the chief rulers. "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42-43). Consider the strong denunciation of the rulers' cowardice by John. Couple that with Jesus' statement in Matthew 10:32-33, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven." It is simple to connect the dots. The faith of those rulers did not save them.
Look at it from another direction, in Paul's words to the Galatians. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6). Again, this passage is not directly addressing our topic, but the implication of Paul's words are valid to our discussion. A faith that "avails" (benefits, profits) is a faith that works "through love."
So, if faith by itself is not sufficient to save a man, what else must be present? Or, to put the question in terms that more closely align with the Biblical construct - If God requires more of man that simple faith in Jesus Christ, what more must we do?
A caveat is necessary at this point. We all contend that our salvation is based upon the extension of God's mercy to man in the form of His Son's sacrifice on the cross. We are saved by Grace. We can't earn our salvation. To stipulate that man can't earn his salvation is a far cry from denying that God requires works of obedience as a prerequisite for receiving that gift of Grace. This is what James affirms in his letter, and what Martin Luther never understood.
So, what else does God require? Well, we have already mentioned love for God and man. Interestingly, Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). So, Jesus requires obedience. Faith by itself is not enough, we must keep the commandments of the Lord. The doctrine of justification by faith alone denies this truth. While consistent advocates of the principle might admit that we should obey, they can't admit that it is necessary!
We also noted the necessity of confessing Jesus as Lord. Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." This is yet another scripture that denies we are saved based upon our faith alone.
Consider a final verse, taken from the first gospel sermon preached following Christ's ascension into heaven. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, preached to Jews in the temple. He ended his grand sermon with these convicting words, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). These words were believed by some that day, as Luke records, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37). This passage indicates not only faith, but a willingness to acknowledge that faith to men (which is the central aspect of the confession required by Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33). Notice the concern that something might be lacking on their part, "what shall we do." Unlike the Jewish man I wrote about earlier who was told that his faith had saved him, Peter here tells the Jews that they must "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Clearly, faith alone was not enough. They had to repent and be baptized for their sins to be remitted (revoked, abrogated).
Consider a few final points from our original text of James 2:
"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (verse 17)
"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!" (verse 19). Question: Are the demons saved by their faith? No! The entire point James was making indicated that the faith of the demons, by itself, did not save them!
"But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" (verse 20)
"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (verse 26)
Obviously I argue for the necessity of baptism in water for salvation, based upon Acts 2:38. Others may dispute this, and I stand ready to defend my teaching. However, it is obvious from this article that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide is without scriptural justification!
This fraudulent doctrine is dangerous. It leaves good people thinking they have satisfied God when they have not. We plead with all men to continue seeking until they have seen all that God requires of them. Do not allow tradition, family or preconceived views of scripture to blind you to what God requires of you and of all men. Faith alone does not save! Don't ignore James' warning, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24).
By Stan Cox from The Digest Issue 1.5 03/09/2017
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