Thomas Allen Robertson
The Bible tells us what faith is. The record states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The American Standard version says, “the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” Faith is the assurance or substance of that for which we hope; it is the conviction or evidence of that which we did not see. Faith is not just a vague feeling which comes in some mysterious, miraculous way at some opportune hour; faith is concrete; it is based on substance or evidence. Faith is preceded by evidence; it is followed by action.
How Faith Comes
Paul says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17) The things for which we hope are a resurrection from the dead and eternal life. The things which we did not see are Christ, His teaching upon the earth, His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. It is concerning these things the New Testament gives testimony or evidence. One must hear or know of these things before he can believe them. That is why we are told it is impossible for him who has not heard to believe. (Rom. 10:14)
What Faith Does
According to the New Testament there are three things attributed to faith in connection with the salvation of man:
1. Justification by faith. Man is freed from the penalty of sin through faith. Paul says, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Again he says, “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 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).
2. Purification by faith. Man is freed from the stain of sin through faith. Concerning the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles Peter said, “And he put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). We believe exactly what this passage says; we do not believe what some have tried to make it say.
3. Sanctification by faith. Men are sanctified, set apart, separated from the world through faith. As the Apostle Paul made his defense before Agrippa, he told that king that God had sent him to the Gentiles that they might “receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18). We believe every word in this passage; but we do not believe what it does not say.
Not by “Faith Alone”
The Bible plainly teaches that men are justified, purified, and sanctified by faith. It does not teach that this is done by faith alone, as the creeds both old and new affirm. The fact is, the Bible teaches quite the contrary of that creedal dogma. James bluntly gives the lie to this denominational doctrine when he asks, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” He answers his question once and for all in the ringing words of eternal truth, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). Between Paul and James there is absolute agreement. By the deeds of Moses’ law, according to Paul, no flesh shall be justified. By faith apart from works, according to James, salvation is equally impossible.
How Men are Saved
The Bible is God’s word. There are no contradictions in it. The apostles, all of them being under the direction of the same Holy Spirit, never contradicted each other in their teaching and doctrine. What one apostle taught, they all taught. If Paul taught salvation by faith, so did James. If James taught “no salvation by faith alone,” so did Paul.
The fact is, the Bible teaches that even faith itself is a work. When Christ was asked, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” He replied, “This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28, 29).
Even though faith is a work, it is not a meritorious work; that is, it does not, within itself, make a man worth saving. There is simply no merit in the act of believing. It is what one does because of that belief that brings him into the sphere of God’s pardoning grace. There is no virtue in the mere act of eating; it is what one eats that sustains life—not the mere act of eating it. So the benefits wrought through faith come not by the mere act of believing; they come because faith causes us to move in obedience to the commands of God.
Throughout the New Testament, salvation is repeatedly attributed to faith (John 3:16; 3:18; Acts 10:43; 15:7; Gal. 3:11; Eph. 2:8-9, and many others). There are also many passages that attribute salvation to works (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46; Acts 2:38; Heb. 5:8, 9; 2 Thess. 1:8). Here we have two groups of passages, one teaching salvation by faith; the other teaching salvation by works. How are we going to reconcile them? Shall we take one, and exclude the other? Or shall we say it is impossible to reconcile them, that the Bible contradicts itself?
The answer is quite simple. Paul gives it in these words, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). Thus if we have faith in Christ, we will love Him enough to do the things He commands. If we do not do the things He commands, we do not have enough faith in Him to save us.
After His resurrection from the dead, Christ sent His disciples to “preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” He commanded them to teach faith, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins. That they understood Him to teach this is very obvious from the way in which they preached in the years following His ascension.
If any man today has a faith that, through love, moves him to obey the commands of Christ as laid down in the New Testament, that man will be saved in exactly the same way that men were saved when they obeyed that same gospel under apostolic preaching.