A very familiar subject, faith, needs clarification among those who follow the Lord. In my experience, I find there exists an appalling ignorance of this fundamental Christian element Anyone misunderstanding faith will not succeed in his endeavor to serve Christ. Hopefully, the following will help humble truthseekers put away sectarian notions and come to a more complete and precise knowledge of the subject of faith as revealed in the Scriptures.
Faith is not a vague, unrealistic confidence that in the future all will be well. It has a very definite and fully understandable definition. It means believing God. This is plainly revealed in Romans 4:3; " ...Abraham believed God, and it [his faith] was counted unto him for righteousness." We know that Abraham's "believing God" was his faith in God; "...For we say that faith was reckoned [counted] unto Abraham for righteousness" (v. 9). Faith, then, is believing God. The man of God is fully persuaded that our God is not only all-wise and all-powerful, He is also completely trustworthy. He is faithful and true and His every word can be fully believed and trusted. This is the Scriptural definition of faith.
But another question arises. Why is faith so elemental, the very. bedrock of truth, the foundation of a Christian's life? We answer with a statement. No facet of one's character is ever acceptable to God unless it is built on faith. Any act of obedience or service to God is in vain unless it springs from faith. The Hebrew writer tells us that "...without Faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 11:6). Peter tells us that the necessary characteristics of virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love must be added to faith -- the foundation. The importance of the subject is thus established.
What part does faith play in salvation? The Scriptural answer, though complex, lies in contrast to man's notions. There are two contradictory doctrines in evidence. The first is salvation by faith alone. The other, salvation by faith and works. Neither is correct.
The Apostle Paul is one of the great teachers concerning the role of faith in salvation. He says in Romans 1:16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth...For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith;" or "therein is revealed a righteousness of God...(ASV);" or "...in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed...(NIV)." It means precisely this: In the gospel which is God's power to save human beings, a righteousness from God is made known. It does not come from man's own goodness but it is freely given by God to those who exercise faith. Thus, "The just shall live by faith" (v. 17). This "righteousness" is not one of God's attributes but rather it is something that He bestows on those who exercise faith.
Further examination of companion passages bears out this idea. Romans 1:18-3:20 shows that no man saves himself by his own righteousness. He sums up his argument in 3:10, 23 by stating that "There is none righteous, no, not one...For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." A righteous law had been given to the Jews, for in verse 20 Paul says, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." What is sinful man to do?
How he can be saved is soon answered. "But now the righteousness of God [without perfectly observing law] is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by Faith of Christ [revealed in the gospel and earned for us by Him] unto all and upon all them that believe"(v.22). Man could not prevail on his own, and so our Great God provided a righteousness for him which is revealed in the gospel and bestowed upon all those who believe. In this way, "the just shall live by faith."
It is true, then, that the righteousness enjoyed by Christians comes to them from without; it is an extraneous gift. given to them by our merciful God of Heaven. "For if by one man's offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17). Righteousness is freely bestowed upon those who believe. Thus, "the just shall live by faith."
To confirm this, Paul cites an example, Abraham, removing all doubt about the nature of faith. "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works [obedience], he hath whereof to glory: but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:1-3). What was it that brought about Abraham's justification? Was it his works? Abraham was obedient; Hebrews 11:8 plainly states: "By Faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed." Never did he say or act to the contrary. His obedience was exemplary, but none of it was counted unto him for righteousness. Rather it was his faith which was imputed unto him for righteousness (Rom. 4:22). Romans 4:23ff tells us that if we exercise faith as Abraham did, our faith will be imputed unto us for righteousness. Verily, "the just shall live by Faith."
James 2:22ff offers more on this subject. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the alter?" And consider this: Abraham's works to which both Paul and James refer could not have been works of law, for it was not yet given. They were nevertheless works of obedience, deeds that Abraham performed in response to the will of God. Yet, James seems to be saying that if Abraham were justified by his obedience he would then have "whereof to glory." Did he win salvation by his deeds? Some would have us believe that the Bible teaches that Abraham was saved by "faith and works." This, however, cannot be true. Rather, if James said that Abraham was justified by his works, a contradiction exists, and God's pure word never does this.
Let us take the problem directly to the text. James 2:14 says, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can [that sort of] faith save him?" Can a faith that neglects or refuses to obey God justify a person? The implication is that it cannot. It is faith that saves, carrying out God's commands regardless of the consequences. This idea is set forth throughout James 2:14-26. The faith that saves is an active faith.
James, as did Paul, offers an example. If a Christian were hungry and cold and one said, "Be ye warmed and filled" but no food or clothing were given, would there be any profit? The answer, of course, is no. Those words would be empty and vain since they were not accompanied by deeds. "Even so faith, if it hath not works. is dead. being alone" (v. 17). It doesn't matter how loudly a person might proclaim himself to be a man of faith, he is not if obedience is lacking. Faith without works is dead! James then says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the alter?" In what way did works play a part in Abraham's justification? James answers, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" What a beautiful answer!
Abraham's faith wrought, performing deeds of obedience, even to the offering of the son whom he loved. In this way his faith functioned perfectly. "And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, 'Abraham believed God, and it [his faith] was imputed unto him for righteousness'." (v. 23). What was imputed unto Abraham for righteousness? It was his faith -- trust and confidence in God that obeyed regardless of the consequences. This agrees with Paul's teaching perfectly. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6). The truth is magnified, "the just shall live by faith."
The denominational concept of salvation by "faith alone" is obviously false. A so-called faith that says that baptism has nothing to do with salvation is not right. A faith that adds to God's revealed way and minimizes His commands is not Bible faith. On the other hand, a salvation by "faith and works," is equally wrong. Does not Paul say, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9)? It is erroneous to plead that "works" in this passage does not mean obedience. Verse 10 tells us we were created, made new, in Jesus in order to perform good works of obedience before the God whom we serve. But we are not saved by these. Rather, we are saved by the faith that produces them.
Those who teach salvation by "faith and works" will find it difficult to relate baptism to the above. Jesus says, "He, that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Peter told believers to "Repent and be baptized..." (Acts 2:38). On other occasions baptism was required before salvation was a reality. Some say that baptism is not really a work; nevertheless, it is something done in response to a command.
This teaching on baptism harmonizes with Paul's statement that salvation is "Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul explains this in Romans 6:lff. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound: God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" Before we became Christians we were spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1-3 makes this clear. We are sinners having incurred the penalty of death and there is no recourse. It was so with Adam -- it is so with us. But in the great and good mercy of God a way has been arranged for us to die vicariously, in the death of Jesus. He actually died and we are baptized into His death. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?" Thus, the debt has been paid. Death's penalty is no longer under consideration because when we went into the watery grave we were united with Christ in His death. But we did not remain dead. We came forth just as He came forth, gloriously alive, to walk henceforth in "newness of life." We are now dead to sin, no longer under its power. What a gloriously refreshing comfort! Now, what brought this union about? The answer is faith wrought. Faith worked in obedience to God's command for baptism, thus making faith perfect. And it can be said of all of us. We believed God and our faith was imputed unto us for righteousness. We were not saved by "faith and works;" but rather, "faith that works." This harmonizes perfectly with both James and Paul.
Christians receive the truth and reject all error. Jesus affirms, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). The so-called "Christian world" ignores Jesus' word and follows the doctrines of men because they really do not belong to Him. They are not His sheep. If your heart is true, check yourself and see where your priorities are. If you find that your loyalty is to a denominational concept of the "church of Christ," then you must change your thinking. Hopefully, this article has motivated you to engage in serious introspection about the nature of faith.