Of the many traditions of men so deeply entrenched in the Church today, perhaps none is so prevalent today as the Protestant innovation of “salvation by faith alone”, unknown to the Church for 1500 years of its 2000 year existence.
The phrase “faith alone” is found once in Bible, James 2:44: “you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”.
So we see the one explicit verse in the Bible using the phrase “faith alone” is denying justification by faith alone.
Not exactly the strongest of starts.
Of course, none of this is new to those who believe in faith onlyism and they often use passages like John 3:16 (“who believes in him has eternal life”), Ephesians 2:8-9 (“for it is by grace you have been saved through faith...not of works”), and others that speak of the necessity of faith for salvation to prove salvation by faith alone.
This use of Scripture fails for several reasons:
Salvation by faith does not equal salvation by
I believe wholeheartedly that we are saved by faith, as the Bible makes this point clear again and again.
However, nowhere does the Bible say that we are saved by faith alone.
To assume this is to make the critical error of thinking that because faith is the sole means by which we receive salvation, it is also the sole condition for being saved (an error more fully explained and critiqued by people like Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cincinnati Bible Seminary).
To use an imperfect example, faith is like a car you use to get to work (i.e., the means of your transportation to work), but it's not enough to simply have a car, there are other conditions for getting to work, such as getting in the car and driving to the destination.
In the same way, while God communicates saving grace to us by and through our faith in Him, that is not the only condition for receiving such grace.
For example, we must hear the gospel (John 5:24), repent of sin (Acts 17:30), confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9), and be baptized (Acts 2:38).
The Bible points to all of the above as conditions for salvation alongside faith.
At this point, some of you may be asking how we can by saved by more than faith alone if we receive salvation at the moment we believe, which leads to my next point...
Salvation by faith does not equal salvation at
the moment of faith.
Two common verses used to support the idea that we are saved at the moment we believe are Romans 10:10 and Acts 16:31:
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'
Ironically, if you believe in salvation by faith alone, you have a conflict between these two verses.
One verse just says believe, while the other says believe and confess, confession being logically subsequent faith.
So at which point is the person saved, at faith or at confession of Jesus as Lord?
The answer is neither.
For one, these passages are not intending to give a full picture of God's salvation plan (there's no mention of repentance, for example).
However, it's also of great importance that neither of these verses says when a person is saved (i.e., the occasion of salvation).
Saved by faith does mean I am saved at the time of my faith, contrary to popular Evangelical thinking.
Rather the proverbial period on God's plan of salvation is baptism, and it is at that point which we are saved by our faith:
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. – Colossians 2:11-12.
Salvation by faith and not by works does not
equal salvation by faith alone
This is the biggie.
By putting faith in a special category all of its own and everything else a Christian can do in the “works” category, salvation by faith alone is found by its supporters in every verse that affirms we are saved not by works, but by faith.
The problem here is that faith is not in category all on its own and the definition of “works” most Protestants use is woefully inadequate to do the biblical data justice.
It is true that we are not saved by works, rightly defined.
However, Jesus himself says that faith is a kind of work (John 6:29) and we are saved by faith.
This is because while works of law cannot save (Gal 2:26; Rom 3:20), there is no contradiction between acts that people can do, which are a kind of work (hearing the gospel, having faith, repenting, confessing Jesus as Lord, and be baptized) and salvation by grace through faith.
The other conditions for salvation listed above are, like faith, things we do, and in that general sense works, but they are not works of the law (but aspects of gospel obedience; Romans 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8) and thus do not conflict with salvation by grace.
There are so many more things that could be said, thoughts that could developed, and arguments that could be addressed, but this should suffice for our purposes.
For us this side of the cross, the Bible nowhere teaches we are saved by faith alone or saved at the moment we have faith, but that we are saved by faith (which functions as the means which we receive salvation, among other things).
I hope you'll dig deeper into this issue and to see what the Bible is saying about this issue apart from what others might say certain passages "must" mean.
Listed below are some resources that may help (with a focus in baptism as the occasion of salvation).
Dr. Cottrell's articles on baptism and faith alone:
Dr. Cottrell's website (search “baptism” for many helpful articles):
http://bebaptized.org/ (Looks at the meaning and purpose of baptism whilst rebutting faith alone obejctions).
http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/articles.htm#Baptism (The Lavista Church of Christ baptism articles)
http://www.bible.ca/H-baptism.htm (Early Church quotes on baptism)
Baptism: A Biblical Study by Dr. Jack Cottrell
Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum by Anthony R. Cross
Baptism in the New Testament by G. R. Beasley-Murray
Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries by Everett Ferguson.
“What Baptism Meant to the Early Christians” in Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up by David Bercot
“Baptism and the Lord's Supper” in Pagan Christianity? By Frank Viola and George Barna