Will Faith Only Save? --- (V)
As was promised in the last article on the above theme, this article deals with arguments made by the advocates of the salvation-by-faith-only theory.
"Not Of Works" — Eph. 2:8,9
Paul's statement recorded in Eph. 2:8,9 is often misused by the salvation-by-faith-only advocates in an effort to establish their doctrine. The apostle said, "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."
Let it be clearly understood that I do not deny one thing this passage says. I believe, as strongly as I know how, everything the apostle here declared. In a one, two, three fashion, notice the points here affirmed by Paul: (1) Salvation is by grace. Only an infidel would deny that truth. Every person who has been saved from past sins has received that salvation by the grace of God. Every person who will be saved eternally in heaven will be thus saved by the grace of God. (2) Salvation is through faith. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a case of salvation apart from faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6.) All who believe not the gospel are to receive damnation. (Mk. 16:15,16.) The person who refuses to believe that Jesus is the Christ shall die in his sins. (Jno. 8:24.) Unbelievers "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death," (Rev. 21:8.) (3) Salvation is 'not of yourselves." That is, man is unable to save himself independently of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God's word. This I firmly believe, and to this agree the words of Jeremiah recorded in Jer. 10:23. He said, "0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (4) Salvation is the gift of God. That is, man cannot merit his salvation; man cannot make God indebted to him to save him. In order to do that, man's works would have to be perfect. He would have to live in such a manner as to never incur any guilt at all. This no human being can do. "There is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good and sinneth not." (Eccl. 7:20.) Paul said, ". . . for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one." (Rom. 3:9,10.) He further declared, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23.) When a man sins one time, salvation can never come to him as payment of a debt. If it comes at all, it will come by the grace of God and as a gift of God to him who believes, loves and obeys the Lord. The fact that salvation is a gift certainly does not mean that there are no conditions with which man must comply. This will be discussed more fully later in the article. (5) Salvation is "not of works, lest any man should boast." This I firmly believe. Man cannot be saved by works of his own device, nor can he be saved by works of the law. If man could devise a plan of salvation, independently of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the word of God, and enter heaven by complying with said plan, he could boast of his attainments. But Paul declares that salvation is 'not of works, lest any man should boast" — salvation is not of boastful works, works of which man can boast, Furthermore, one could boast if he could be saved by works of the law, for such salvation would require perfect obedience to the law. Again, therefore, salvation is not of works — works of which man can boast.
The salvation-by-faith-only advocates try to make it appear that the word "works" in Eph. 2:9 includes ALL works. It does no such thing! They often say, "Salvation is not of works. But baptism is a work. Therefore, baptism has nothing to do with man's salvation." The same logic, however, by which they try to rule baptism out of the plan of salvation could also be used to rule out faith! Jesus himself plainly said that faith is a work. Speaking to certain ones who were following him during his personal ministry, he said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." Thus, according to the Lord, faith is a work! If Eph. 2:9 excludes all works from the plan of salvation, it most certainly excludes faith! Who will accept such a conclusion? Not I!
But this is only one of the predicaments that these false teachers get into when they attempt to pervert Eph. 2:8,9.
If "works" in Eph. 2:9 refers to ALL works that might be done by man, a number of ridiculous conclusions would necessarily follow: (1) We would have to conclude that Christ taught error in Jno. 6:27. He said, "Labour not ("work not," marginal reading) for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life... "The Lord was here telling the people to work in order to have everlasting life. Therefore, if Eph. 2:9 excludes all works in the plan of salvation, the Lord was teaching error. Who believes it? (2) We would also have to conclude that Paul contradicted Paul. In Phil. 2:12, he told the Philippians to "work out" their own salvation with fear and trembling. But, according to the construction put upon Eph. 2:9 by salvation-by-faith-only advocates, the same apostle excludes all works that man might do in obtaining salvation. If that wouldn't be a contradiction, what would be required to make a contradiction? Of course, Eph 2:9 doesn't contradict Phil. 2:12, but their construction (rather misconstruction) of it certainly does! (3) Likewise, we would have to conclude that Peter was wrong in his statements recorded in Acts 10:34, 35. He said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Is Peter's statement true or false? Let the faith-only advocates step up like men and answer that question! If they say that it is true, down goes their contention based on Eph. 2:9. On the other hand, if they say that Peter's statement is false, they automatically brand themselves as skeptics, infidels, unbelievers. If they are unwilling to give up their position on Eph. 2:9, let them try to harmonize that position with Acts 10:34, 35. I predict that such an effort will not be forthcoming. (4) Again, it would be necessary to conclude that James told a downright falsehood in Jas. 2:24. He said, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?' James did not say that justification is by works only, and it is not by works only. Yet, there are some works which are necessary — works to be done by man — according to James. I believe James told the truth about the matter. What do you believe? And, because I believe James told the truth in the passage under consideration, I am forced to reject the construction given Eph. 2:9 by faith only advocates.
To understand Eph. 2:9 it is necessary to keep in mind the fact that at least three classes of works are mentioned in the New Testament. (1) Works of the law are mentioned, and Paul plainly says that salvation is not of such works. In Rom. 3:28 he said, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Again, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal. 2:16.) So, works of the law of Moses are excluded in the salvation of man. (Notice that Paul does not say they were justified the "very split second" they believed in Jesus. He said, "... we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ..." To be "justified by the faith of Christ" is to be justified by the gospel of Christ, that is, obedience to that gospel.) Salvation is not by the works of the law of Moses. (2) Works of man's righteousness are also mentioned, but salvation is not of such works. Of Jews of his day, Paul said, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." (Rom. 10:3.) They had rejected God's way for their own. Of course, by such works they could never be saved, nor can man be saved by such works today. If a man were to set aside God's plan of salvation, set up a plan of his own and follow it to the letter, he could never be saved by that kind of works. Salvation is not by works of man's righteousness — not by works of man's own device! (3) The New Testament mentions also works of God's righteousness. These are the works Peter referred to in Acts 10:35 when he said, "But in every nation he that feareth him, and WORKETH RIGHTEOUSNESS, is accepted with him." These are the works to which the Jews of Paul's day had not submitted. (Rom. 10:3.) Works of God's righteousness are works which are done in obedience to God's commands, for the Psalmist said, "My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness." (Ps. 119 :172.)
So, works of the law of Moses and works of man's righteousness (works of man's own device) are excluded, whereas works of God's righteousness (works done in obedience to God's commands) are included in the salvation of man. In view of these facts, I ask, Where does baptism classify? Is it a work of the law of Moses, a work of man's righteousness (man's device), or is it a work of God's righteousness (a work done in obedience to God's command)? Surely, all Bible students know the answer. Baptism is not a work of the law of Moses; it is not a work of man's device; it is a work of God's righteousness to which man but submits. When the sinner hears the gospel, believes it, repents of his sins, confesses his faith in the risen Lord, and is baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins, he has not done works of which he can boast for he is not the originator of that plan. God originated it, and in complying with it the sinner has simply submitted himself to the will of God.
But some contend that if there are any conditions (referring especially to baptism) with which man must comply in order to be saved, salvation would not be a gift. The fallacy of that contention should be apparent to all thinking persons. That logic (?) would rule out faith as well as baptism, for the Lord said that faith is a work that man is to do (Jno. 6:27), and unless man does it he will be damned. (Mk. 16:16.) Does the fact that faith is a condition — a work which man must do in order to be saved — mean that salvation is not a gift? Certainly not! Just so, the fact that man must be baptized in order to be saved doesn't mean that salvation is not a gift. The same Lord who commanded faith also commanded baptism, Mk. 16:16, and no man nor group of men have the right to set either aside. Furthermore, in Josh. 6:2 we are told, "And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour." Thus, the Lord referred to Jericho as a gift to Joshua and the Israelites. Yet, they had to march around the city once every day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. So, there is nothing strange about conditions being attached to gifts.