Is Salvation by Faith Alone?
On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg Germany. This monumental occasion would serve as the unofficial beginning to the Protestant Reformation. While the documents main thrust was in objection to the selling of indulgences, Luther is most famous for popularizing the doctrine of salvation by “faith alone”. Faith alone would become the foundation of many protestant denominations that formed out of the reformation.
Faith alone, when viewed in its historical context makes sense. The world was Catholic. The Catholic Church had abandoned the Ancient Order of the scriptures long ago. As the printing press was created and the Bible became more available, people began to see some discrepancies between scripture and the Papal system. One of the great problems of the Catholic system is it has a work based salvation to a degree where faith is irrelevant.
No greater example of this is seen in the practice of infant baptism. To a Catholic, a baby is saved by being sprinkled without ever having faith. When you view the practice of infant baptism in the light of Hebrews 11:6 “without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to God”, you are left with a big problem.
Unfortunately, people tend to overcompensate when they are trying to correct a problem. This is precisely what Luther did when he affirmed that salvation is by faith alone. He took something that was missing from the mainstream of Christianity (salvation is by faith), but he took it a gigantic leap in the wrong direction by adding one little word (alone).
Luther even took it so far as to add the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 changing it from “justified by faith apart from the works of the law” to “justified by faith alone apart from works of the law”. He defended his addition in a letter on his translation. However, I checked 44 English translations and from the most conservative and literal to the most easy-to-read versions, and none of them add the word “alone" to the text.
While faith alone’s origins may make sense from a historical standpoint, it doesn’t find it’s origin in scripture. And for that reason it is as detestable as the corruptions of the Roman Church.
The only time the Bible mentions “faith alone”, it is actually speaking of this terrible doctrine. James 2:24 says “man is not saved by faith alone”. Luther struggled greatly with this passage and it is easy to see why isn’t it? It goes against the core of what he taught. Luther offered his doctors cap to anyone who could reconcile this passage with Romans 3:28. Eventually he would say of the book of James, there is “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it”. Because of his own doctrine, he would insult a letter inspired by God himself (2 Tim 3:16)! Jesus said in Matthew 15:6, that through their own traditions people “make void the word of God”. Luther gives us an excellent illustration to what that means.
It is easy to be sympathetic to Luther for trying to right a wrong in the Roman institution, but he fought error with error. We learn from an early age that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Faith alone is celebrated as the ultimate protestant theology. But it is not something that should be celebrated. James 2:24-26 says that a faith alone is a dead faith. We don’t rejoice at dead things. We mourn and bury them. Faith alone needs to be mourned and buried.
Romans 3:28 was never talking about what we need to do to be saved. It was talking about ONE thing we don’t need to do… keep the old law. “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
Without the “faith alone” glasses on, this passage is easily reconciled with our need to “obey the gospel” 2 Thess 1:8. Faith that saves is never “alone”. It always includes obedience.
Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith and it gives us numerous illustrations of what the faith of Romans 3:28 and Eph 2:8 actually is. It is a faith that is based on what God has said, a belief that he would actually do those things, and then obedience to the instruction.
In Hebrews 11:7, Noah was “divinely warned”, he was “moved with godly fear”, and “then prepared an ark”. Was Noah saved by faith or works? Noah’s faith included everything that he was instructed to DO to be saved, namely build an ark. Noah could have believed all day long that a flood was coming, could have preached to the whole world that a flood was coming, could have said that he was going to be saved on an ark, but if he didn’t build that ark…
A dead faith never saves anyone. The faith that saves can never sit alone apart from obedience (Heb 5:9, 2 Thess 1:8, Rom 6:17).
The Catholic Church through their doctrine/practices takes a verse like Mark 16:16, and changes it to “he that is baptized shall be saved”. But then faith alone came and essentially changed it to “he that believeth shall be saved”. Neither of these doctrines and traditions are right!
The word of God hasn’t changed. It still says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned”.
Faith alone removes the need to do what God said to do. Please explain to me how one can honestly say they have faith in God, when they don't simply trust what His word says to do?