Salvation by Faith Alone? – Greg Albrecht
How can you justify saying that salvation is by faith alone or as you often say “faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone” when James 2:14-20 says something different?
Some suggest, from the passage in James 2:14-26, that works or deeds in some way conditions of God’s acceptance of us. By way of response:
1. If this passage can be perceived to say such a thing would one passage (a proof text if you like) invalidate the gospel of Jesus Christ and the many passages in the New Testament that emphatically teach that salvation is by Christ alone – faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone? This passage, as I will comment below, says no such thing, but even if it did, what would we then make of the rest of the New Testament? I am not suggesting that proof of a teaching is determined by the majority opinion of Scriptures – on the contrary, I believe that all passages in the Bible at large must be examined in the light of Jesus Christ and his Cross before determining the truth of a matter. The gospel insists we are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-10).
2. This passage speaks of faith and works/deeds, in a similar way that other passages do. That is, works follow our faith and belief. Faith and belief produce good deeds and works. The teaching of this passage James is in concert with all other passages in the New Testament, so that our risen Lord lives within us and produces his life and attributes in us. A person may claim to be a Christian, but without the evidence of the work of God in and through that person, then that “faith” is dead. Authentic faith in Christ is alive, because he lives in us. One can diligently observe religiously prescribed ceremonies and rituals and holy days and prayers but still not be a Christ follower. Eating grass in a pasture with cows does not make one a cow. Sitting in the chicken coop does not make one a chicken. God alone transforms us into a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Religious deeds and observances do not transform a person from the “old” person into the “new” – God alone does that.
3. The only faith that produces the works of God in us is faith in Jesus Christ, by the grace of God. No other “faith” produces salvation – such a “faith” is not alive, it is dead, as James insists. Faith in Christ is alive, Christ-less religion is dead.
4. In Ephesians 2 (cited above) verse 10 says we are God’s handiwork/workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved BY grace FOR works, not BY works in order to earn grace. Our works do not earn God’s grace. Christ-centered faith produces good works in us, works that God prepares for us to do.
5. Placing our complete trust and faith in God for our salvation is not tantamount to lazy faith or, to use a term some use, “easy-believism.” They use this derogatory term in a lame and flawed attempt to “prove” that faith alone is empty and lacking substance. But faith in Christ always leads to a changed life. What we do does not change our lives, only God can do that. When we choose to follow Jesus, we in fact choose a life of serving, giving, self-sacrifice and suffering. We pick up our own individual and unique cross and follow him. Jesus does not follow us. He does not follow anyone or anything. Jesus alone is Savior. Jesus does not wait until we perform at a high enough level, or build enough character, and then he reacts to what we have done. We choose to react to what Jesus has done, is doing and will always do for us and then he is in us and we are in him, the process of maturing in Christ, growing in his grace and knowledge then begins. The works God produce in us follows our faith and trust in Christ. When we choose to follow Jesus he empowers us so that we can be “more than conquerors (over-comers) through him who loves us” (Romans 8:37).
6. We might think of a tree – only God can make a tree, says the poet. A tree produces fruit, both good and bad. In Galatians 5 Paul lists fruit of the Spirit and fruit of the flesh. If we live by faith, we live by the Spirit who indwells us, and as we mature in Christ the tree that God indwells will produce the fruit of the Spirit. We will, to cite another passage in John 15, and to introduce another metaphor, be a branch connected to the vine. John 15 makes is clear that we live as branches in Christ (the vine) because we remain in him, we are attached to him, but without him we can do nothing. Faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone is the foundation of belief, the foundation of our new life in Christ. We are, as several biblical passages make clear, the clay, God is the potter. We do not fashion ourselves into something God can use – he is the Master Potter and he makes us of what he wishes, for his own good purposes. As Paul says, we are his handiwork – his new creation – his workmanship.