H. Osby Weaver
Grammatically, faith is a noun and believe is a verb but insofar as the mental act is concerned, the two are the same. If one has faith, then he is, of course, a believer. The two words are used interchangeably in the scriptures. Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” Here we see that to be faithless is to fail to believe or the opposite to believing, hence faith and belief are used synonymously. When we talk about salvation by faith, we are talking about salvation by believing.
Salvation or justification by faith is so clearly taught and emphatically stated in the Bible, that none but infidels would dare deny it. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It would be difficult to frame a sentence more explicitly than this one. John 3:36 expresses it after this fashion, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” These passages are easy to understand and need to be believed and practiced, but we also need to be careful lest we be found reading between the lines in an effort to prove some preconceived idea and come up believing something which the passages do not say. The New Testament further says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Here salvation is conditioned upon two things one of which is faith. Galatians 3:26 teaches that we are “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” This passage emphasizes both the place and means of salvation. Where are we children of God? In Christ Jesus. How? By faith. Outside of Christ, no one can be a child of God, and without faith, no one can be a child of God. The faith that makes us children of God is the faith that leads us into Christ. Many other scriptures could be given which teach salvation by faith, but these are sufficient for this time and ample for those who have proper regard for God’s word. If one does not have proper respect for God’s word, he would not be convinced if we introduced a hundred such scriptures. From these we can learn that one is “saved by faith,” “Justified by faith,” and becomes a “child of God by faith.”
What About Those Without Faith?
Not only does the Bible teach the necessity of faith, but it also points out the hopelessness of those without it. We read in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We must not only believe that God exists, but we must also believe that He keeps His promises. There is no avenue by which one who has no faith can come to God. It matters not what else one may claim or be, he cannot please God without faith. It is impossible! Mark 16:16 says, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” John 3:18 says the unbeliever is “condemned already.” Jesus said, “If you believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24) and in verse 21 he said “I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.” So the unbeliever cannot come to God, cannot please God, cannot see life, stands condemned already, and shall be damned! A more hopeless condition could hardly be described.
Salvation Not by Faith Only
Many people will read the passages to which we have thus far referred and conclude that salvation is by faith only. That is seeing something that isn’t there. While we have introduced a number of scriptures that teach that we are saved by faith, not one single one even hints that we are saved by faith only. It is assumed that faith only is meant, since nothing else is mentioned in the passages as prerequisite to salvation. But such an assumption is unwarranted since there are many other scriptures which ascribe salvation, not only to faith, but also to grace, mercy, hope, blood, baptism, etc. To pick out one of these scriptures which attributes salvation to faith and conclude that “faith only” is meant, since nothing else is mentioned in the passage, is about like concluding that one lives by “breathing only” since it can be said that one lives by breathing without making mention of eating, drinking, exercising and sleeping. To say that one lives by breathing, does not mean that he lives by breathing only. In like manner, to say that one is saved by faith, does not mean he is saved by faith only.
Martin Luther was one of the first to emphasize the doctrine of salvation by faith only. In his translation of the Bible, when he came to Romans 5:1, it is said that he added the word only making it read, “Being therefore justified by faith only. . .” When his contemporary, Ulrich Zwingli, asked him why he had added the word only seeing it was not in the original Greek manuscripts, Mr. Luther’s only defense was, “It is my translation. If you don’t like it, don’t read it!” The Bible condemns adding to the scriptures as severely as it condemns lack of faith. If this were said for Luther’s benefit only, it would be a waste of time, for he has been dead hundreds of years. But there are other “Luther’s” very much alive today who are making the same mistake which he made. According to the American Standard Version, Paul admonished the Corinthians to “learn not to go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Those who add to the word of God or read into a passage something which is not there, have gone beyond the things which are written. 2 John 9 informs us that “whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God.” Those who add to the word of God have gone onward and are not abiding in the teaching of Christ, therefore they have not God! In the last chapter and the last book of the New Testament, there is a warning against adding to God’s word. Hear it: “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18). Those who add the word only to scriptures which teach salvation by faith and try to make them teach salvation by faith only, stand condemned. Despite this warning, there are those who continue to teach and publish in their creeds additions to the word of God. For example, Article IX of The Methodist Discipline says in part, “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.” Now look at a verse from the Bible along side of this article from the Methodist Discipline: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). The Methodist Discipline says that you are justified by faith only—the Bible says you are not. Both of them can’t be right. Somebody is wrong, and I think I know who, and I believe you know! The Methodists, however, are not in a class by themselves in this regard. Most all Protestant denominations among us teach salvation by faith only. The only time that the doctrine of justification by faith only is mentioned in all the Bible is in James 2:24, and then it says that it is not so! Yet, in the face of this plain statement, religious bodies continue to teach justification by faith only as a “wholesome doctrine and full of comfort” and misguided though perhaps honest people continue following it to their own spiritual destruction. Jesus said, “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). The fact that people do not know they are being misled, will not soften the fall.
In order that it might be seen that salvation is not by faith only, your attention is called to certain believers to whom the Bible refers as believers, yet leaves no question as to their lost condition. James 2:14 raises the very question that now challenges us: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” That is, can faith without works, faith only, save him? In verse 19 he introduces some believers to emphasize his point and makes the following argument: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Now, are devils saved? The Bible says they were believers. If faith only saves, why aren’t devils saved, seeing they have at least that to the point of trembling? Someone says, “Well, God has no plan by which to save devils, even believing devils.” Just so, neither does God have a plan by which to save by faith only those who are not devils. James’ whole argument is that if your faith has not led you into obedience to the will of God, it is faith alone, and you are no better off than a devil.
Now let us take a look at another group of believers found in John 12:42-43: “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Here you will notice it is specifically said that “many believed on him” and this is as strong an expression with reference to faith in Christ as is used anywhere in the Bible. It is not enough, then, to say that they were not genuine believers, for the Bible says they were. Yes, they were believers, but they would not confess Christ. Jesus said, “Whosoever shall deny (refuse to confess) me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Is there one who would insist that these believers were saved while Christ stood before the Father denying them Furthermore, they loved the praise of men more than the glory of God, hence their attitude did not change—they did not repent. In Luke 13:3, Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall perish.” These believers did not repent, therefore, instead of being saved, they were in a perishing condition. These believers did not love God but had more regard for the applause of men. These chief rulers would not confess Christ, they did not repent, they did not love God, yet of them it is said, “They believed on Christ.” Of course they were not saved, but they were believers. They had faith without works—faith only. If faith only did not save them, why do some think it will now? Faith without obedience has no more of an appeal to God now than it did then.
James 2:22 says, “By works was faith made perfect.” Faith apart from works is faith only. Faith apart from works is an imperfect faith, hence faith only is an imperfect faith. If one can be saved by faith only he can he saved by an imperfect faith. James 2:26 says, “Faith apart from works is faith only.” Therefore faith only is a dead faith. If one can be saved by faith only without further acts of obedience or good works, he can be saved by a dead faith. How can a dead faith operate to save? If it is dead, it is powerless. We read in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” A faith that doesn’t work is faith only, therefore faith only is an unavailing faith. If one can be saved by faith only he can be saved by an unavailing faith. If faith is unavailing, then it couldn’t avail one of salvation. But the faith that avails is the faith that works. Faith only does not work, therefore faith only does not avail!
Yes, salvation is by faith and without it we cannot come to God and cannot please God, but salvation is not by faith only. The kind of faith that saves is the faith that leads us to obey the whole will of God. Acts 2:38 says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” If you have not the faith that will lead you to repent and be baptized, not because you are already saved, but in order to obtain the remission of sins, you have not the faith that it takes to save.