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What Do You Mean, “Faith Only”?
On page 84 of the book, Questions and Answers, Edward Fudge makes some startling comments about the faith only doctrine. I quote, “Good brother, we can’t have it both ways. We are either saved by trusting or we are saved by trying.”
I don’t know why Mr. Fudge used the word “trying” instead of “obeying”. Perhaps it is to avoid the impact that the word, obey, has for a great number of people from the Restoration Movement. Nevertheless I believe his idea is dead wrong. I believe that not only can we have it both ways but also we must have it both ways. As the old hymn says, Trust and obey for there’s no other way.” Saying “we can’t have it both ways” has a certain ring about it. But is it true? I submit that the Scriptures instruct us that faith is the principle of life. “The just shall live by faith.” I submit that the Scriptures also instruct us that we cannot be saved by works of law, works performed to be righteous, or works of which we might boast. But I also submit that the Scriptures instruct us that we must obey God and the gospel in order to be saved. This is the obedience of faith, the obedience that comes from faith. We must never reverse this order and think that faith is but a factor in our obedience. Faith is the principle; faith is primary. But also because obedience is secondary to faith, we must never conclude that obedience is nonessential to our salvation.
Sadly I have heard Restoration Movement preachers state that obedience is the greatest characteristic a Christian can have. One man said “Love, love, love, I am sick and tired of hearing about love.” I shudder to think about it. Surely love is the greatest characteristic a Christian can have. Surely obedience proceeds from the principle of faith. The Scriptures speak of the obedience of faith. I use this as an example not to condemn, but unfortunately as a classic example of what the Galatians were doing in perverting the gospel of Christ from a law of faith into a law of works. When you make obedience the principle, over and above faith, you are doing that very thing. Obedience must proceed from faith, not the other way around. When you make obedience primary, you change it into a law of works.
“Either Jesus did it all, or we do some of it” Mr. Fudge says. No, no, that is not the mentality that we bring to this issue. Surely He did it all. By the grace of God He tasted death for every one. But everyone is not thereby saved. Many will be lost. Why? Because they did not believe that Jesus died for them, they did not appropriate this grace as God has instructed us. Moreover this saving faith, this justifying faith is dead and useless while alone. It has no life and no value alone. It only becomes alive and purposeful when it is accompanied by obedience.
“We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves never remains alone,” Mr. Fudge concludes. What does he mean? I understand him to say that we are saved by faith alone, but that faith will always perform. In other words our obedience is not in order to be saved, but because we are saved. Is this really true? Is this what the Scriptures teach? No, no. The Scriptures as far as I can find, never, never say that we are saved by faith alone. Please, some one correct me if I am wrong. The Scriptures say that we are saved by faith many times but never by faith alone. I believe that Mr. Fudge is terribly wrong about faith alone. I say this not to condemn or judge Mr. Fudge. I pray for him. I say it to repeat the point that James made. Faith alone is dead and useless. Faith must have works, obedience, action or a response to make it alive, useful and productive.
Certainly, we would all agree that after becoming a child of God, our faith would lead us to further obedience and service to God and to our fellow man. That is not the issue here. The issue is, is our obedience a factor in appropriating the grace of God through faith? The following are passages that, I believe, indicate that obedience is a necessary factor in salvation.
Matthew 7: 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
Mark 16: 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved
Luke 13: 3 I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
John 3: 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God
John 3: 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
Acts 2: 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the names of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
Acts 5: 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, who God has given to those that obey Him.
Acts 11: 18 Well then God has granted to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life
Acts 22: 16 And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away you sins, calling on His name.
Romans 6: 17, 18 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed fro sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
2 Corinthians 7: 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation
Romans 10: 10 For with the heart man believes resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses resulting in salvation
2 Thessalonians 1: 8, 9 Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, and these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.
Hebrews 5: 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those that obey Him the author of eternal salvation.
1 Peter 1: 22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.
Should obedience be characterized as earning, deserving or working for salvation?
Obedience proceeds from faith in God. It is best characterized as submission to the will of God from our perspective or as God working in us both to will and to do from the heavenly perspective. The motivation is the love of God. We love because he first love us. One cannot say he believes in God in a saving or justifying sense unless he obeys God.
What is a work?
The term is used in a good sense and in a bad sense. Many seemed confused. I suggest that when a response, or an action does nor proceed from faith in God but it proceeds from trust in our ability or trust in our religious heritage, it is a work (bad sense). When an action or response proceeds from faith in God, then it is a work (good sense) of faith or obedience of faith.
What is the answer? What is the theology of salvation?
Some believe that salvation is by grace alone. Others believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone. Still others believe that salvation is by grace through works or obedience. The new covenant Scriptures are not given to us as a systematic theology. If we want that form we must do some work. We will look at two passages and combine the central theme of each.
For by grace you have been saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2: 8
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5: 6
Combining the two thoughts we conclude:
Salvation is by grace through faith which works (obeys) through love.
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