The Ancient Faith
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH ONLY?
Looking into this subject requires some factual determination of the leading statement as to exactly what we are searching an answer to.
The subject at hand has to do with salvation from sin. Jesus Christ came into the world to secure for humanity the means of redemption, remission of sins, or salvation. The “doctrine of faith only” has a particular slant on how to obtain such, and, therefore is the teaching that I find erroneous and shall attempt to show why it is wrong.
Is there such a thing as the “doctrine of salvation by faith only? Yes, there are at least two ideas often taught that leads one to this conclusion. However, one of these, strictly speaking, is not “salvation by faith only.”
(1) From the Book of Discipline (Methodist), Article 9: “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.”
(2) Another prominent denomination, in all the teaching of her preachers, exhorts sinners, “Only believe and thou shall be saved.” Yet in all fairness, these believe that “repentance” must precede “faith,” so, salvation is not by “faith only,” but does come at the point of believing. You might say that such is symmetrical, which I shall not pause to discuss, but I do wish to be fair in representation of the matter.
(3) These are the same in that they agree that “faith” is the point of salvation, without anything else being required by the Lord or done by the one believing.
THE NEW TESTAMENT ADDRESSES FAITH ONLY
Our subject does not require us to look through the glasses of implication. The “Spirit has spoken expressly.” Presenting the case of Abraham’s righteousness, James stated, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Hear it, please! We are not justified by “faith only.”
FAITH IS AN ABSOLUTE TO SALVATION
It is not to be assumed that faith is not necessary to salvation nor that those who contend that one is not saved the “moment he believes,” teach that one can be saved without faith. The Scriptures declare that we cannot please God without faith (Heb. 11:6), that the gospel is God’s power to save everyone that believeth (Rom. 1:16), and that the one who believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16: 16). Other thoughts could be marshaled in; these should be sufficient to declare the necessity of faith.
FAITH IS NOT THE POINT OF SALVATION
Other things as well as faith are affirmed necessary to salvation, yet one is not saved the moment these things occur. For example, “repentance” is deemed a part of man’s redemption. Without “repentance,” Jesus said, one will perish (Luke 13:3,5). Should we go about proclaiming that man is saved by repentance only? That would constitute false doctrine, although one cannot be saved without repentance. Why so? Because repentance is not the point of our sins being taken away. Another example is “confession of Christ.” The Lord affirmed that a failure to confess Him would result in being denied (by Christ) before the Father (Matt. 10:32,33). Should a person build a doctrine called “Salvation By Confession Only,” would that be right? Certainly not! While faith, repentance, and confession of Christ are all necessary to be saved or to have the remission of sins, none will save alone. None are the point of salvation.
AT WHAT POINT DOES OBEDIENCE SAVE US?
Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16: 16). We are told of the jailer at Philippi who believed (Acts 16:32). Upon being instructed in the word of the Lord, he was baptized the very same hour of the night (vv. 33,34). If faith alone would save, why the urgency of baptism? It appears that faith worked in baptismal obedience.
After Jesus resurrected, Peter responded to the question of those on Pentecost wishing salvation, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of, sins . . .” (Acts 2:38). Those receiving his word were baptized the same day (v. 41). If one is saved at the point of repentance, why the rush to be baptized?
Philip, preaching to a nobleman who had been studying the ancient prophet to make a decision about Christ and being assured the prophet spoke of Jesus, confessed Christ, saying, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). The preacher and the man both went into the water where baptism took place and the man went on his way rejoicing (vv. 38,39). Surely the preacher rejoiced at hearing the confession, yet the nobleman rejoiced only after being baptized. Why the delay in rejoicing?
Saul of Tarsus had seen the Lord, had been struck blind, and was led into Damascus where he engaged in prayer and fasting for three days. When a preacher came to him, he said, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Why had his sins not been removed? Clearly, baptism is necessary to new life (Rom. 6:3,4).
THESE EXAMPLES ALL AGREE ON THE POINT OF SALVATION
The point at which salvation is obtained is when one obeys the Lord in baptism. This does not lessen faith, or repentance, or confession of Christ. Nor does it magnify baptism. It is simply the Lord’s plan. Thus Peter states, “The like figure where unto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH ONLY?
It is in the word “only.” When one is told “only believe,” that is false teaching because it excludes other things that are necessary in God’s plan to save the human race.
[This is from the July 1999 issue of the OPA]