Franklin T. Puckett
In the world today there are a multiplicity of doctrines being taught. It is essential that we be able to draw a line of distinction between the doctrine of God and the false doctrines of men. We must know the doctrine of God in order to be made free from sin and to inherit eternal bliss in the life to come. But we cannot recognize that doctrine of God, and distinguish between it and the doctrines of men, without a most diligent and careful study. That is why it is always appropriate and in order that truth should be contrasted with error, the teaching of God with the teachings of men.
The doctrine of salvation by faith only is one that came to prominence and wide acceptance through the influence of Martin Luther in the reformation of the 16th century. Luther inserted the word alone into his translation of Romans 3:28, making it read, “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law.” Realizing that the book of James squarely contradicts this idea, Luther rejected James entirely, declaring it not canonical, and describing it as “a book of straw.” From the days of Luther to the present, prominent denominational bodies have included the doctrine of “salvation by faith only” in their creeds, church manuals, and confessions of faith. Their preachers contend that justification is secured the very split second one believes in Christ.
The Bible clearly teaches, however, that man is saved by faith when faith obeys. Apart from obedience there can be no salvation, no justification. The doctrine of salvation by faith only is not taught in the Bible, is contrary to the Bible, and gives the lie to the express statement of James, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). The only kind of faith that will save a man is the kind which Paul described as “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Faith without such work, without such obedience, is dead; it is unprofitable; it does no good whatever.
Paul makes the matter plain for us when he says, “For ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). It is here, in and through faith, that one becomes a child of God. But how did Paul know that these Galatians, to whom he was writing, were “children of God through faith”? He explains it in the very next verse, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Here is the cause or reason for the preceding statement.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains exactly how justification had come about: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Paul includes himself in the number of those who had been thus justified. A brief study of his justification will show what it means to be “justified by faith.” As a persecutor of the church, Paul was on his way to Damascus with letters of authority that he might arrest the saints and bind them and bring them back to Jerusalem. The Lord appeared to him in the way, and said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4). Was Saul saved at this point? Certainly not, for he didn’t even know who the Lord was. He asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Up to this point in the encounter Saul was not a believer in Jesus Christ; he still regarded Christ as an imposter and a fraud. He was still convinced that he “ought to do many things contrary to” this same Jesus.
In response to Saul’s inquiry as to his identity, the Lord answered, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” When Saul heard this heavenly voice declare that the speaker was the One he had been persecuting, he believed. For the first time he realized that he had indeed, and in truth, been opposing the Son of God. This leads Saul to think of his own terrible plight. “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). The Lord did not respond by telling him what to do to be saved, or how to be converted. Rather He said, “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”
Was Saul a saved man at this point? Well, hardly! He is not at peace with God. Far from it. He recognizes the fact that something must be done; he is merely waiting to be told what that “something” is. The Lord sends Ananias, a certain disciple in Damascus, to him. When Ananias comes, he finds Saul praying. Many preachers would have said that was the way to do it; they would have encouraged Saul to pray on, and on, and on, and on. They might have told him he would certainly “come through” if he would only persist in prayer. But that was not what this New Testament preacher told Saul, the penitent believer. Paul was already a believer; and he was penitent. So Ananias said to him, “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
When Paul heard these words from Ananias he “arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:18-20). This is the conduct of a man at peace with God. This is the behavior of one who has been justified. Gone now are the three days of darkness and hunger and thirst; gone are the fears, the trembling, the remorse and gnawing anxiety. Saul has been justified—justified by faith. But when was he justified? When was he pardoned? When did he “have peace”? Was it on the Damascus road when he became a believer? Of course not.
Paul was justified and “had peace” when he obeyed God, and not before. The whole story of his conversion emphasizes that point. The doctrine of salvation “by faith only” would have had him justified, pardoned, forgiven, and “at peace” out on the Damascus road when he became a believer. But Paul knew better than that; and so does every one who reads the story of Paul’s conversion with understanding. Paul was saved by faith, but not by faith only.