Faith without Works
I recently listened to a podcast wherein the speakers were talking about getting saved. They asked, "How does one get saved? What is the magic formula?" They went on to pronounce what many within Christianity, especially in the charismatic side of the faith, would call "confessing Jesus Christ." These two went on to say that if one had to confess Jesus Christ for salvation, then that is a work -- and we are not saved by works.
Ah, no. That is not a work. It's a confession.
They then went on and asked if Mother Teresa, that wonderful Catholic nun who ran orphanages in India, if she was saved. Then they listed a laundry list of requirements that she, being Catholic, likely didn't do to be saved. Their conclusion was that she was not saved. They even brought up heresay that she was said to have uttered: "I don't know if I've done enough to be saved in God's eyes." Ah, works, they intoned. She's not saved.
In my bible it says:
Calling for lights, the jailer rushed in and fell down trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” -- Acts 16:29-31
That's it. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. No laundry list of requirement. No running to the altar so they can then rush you off to a little room to give you a pamphlet that tells you that you need to tithe now. And no mention of works.
But we certainly are not saved by works, we know that. It is by grace through faith and not of works, lest any man should boast. But in addition to this there is nowhere that says that a Catholic believer can not be a believer just because the Pope seems pompous. The requirement is that we believe in the Lord Jesus. If we do, we will be saved.
So, given this moment of belief, of confession if you will, why would this not be considered a work? For the answer to that let's look at something interesting. Bear with me.
Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. 8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God. -- 1 John 3:7-10
Look at verse 9. If you are fathered by God you do not practice sin. Do you sin? Of course you do. Then are you fathered by God? If you are saved, you are. So what's the deal? Well, it is that little word: practice.
Practice means you are doing this over and over and over. Not only are you repeating it, but you want to repeat it. You clutch it like a child clutches her Teddy Bear. Being saved should mean that the Holy Spirit has taken residence in you and is teaching you to follow God's commandments (it's called sanctification). When the Holy Spirit says give me that sin you are clutching, you turn away because you don't want to give up your sin.
So back to the "believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved": this is a one time thing. You do not "practice" confessing with your mouth. And it is not just the utterance of the words that saves you, as Paul tells us in Romans:
because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. -- Romans 10:9-10
God calls and then you can believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord; then God will regenerate your soul, the Holy Spirit will enter in and guide you, and you will begin to perform works -- maybe a little crude at first, maybe a
little frightened -- but you will. These works lead to your justification.
"Say what?" you might exclaim.
Well, let's see what scripture has to say about it.
But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. -- James 2:20-24 (emphasis in original)
Look at verse 24. A person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Some people teach that you are justified at salvation. You are not. It is the fruits that show your justification, your ability to follow the Spirit's guidance. This also reinforces the earlier statement that you are not saved by merely uttering an acceptance of Jesus Christ.
because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. -- Romans 8:29-30
I'll give you a freebie here: God did not individually predestine you. He predestined those whom he foreknew -- the ones who would come to Christ -- to the image of his Son. He didn't say Tom, you'll be saved; Jim, tough luck. More on that in another blog post.
As believers -- this group that God calls believers who will believe in their heart and confess with their mouth -- this group is called, then justified, then glorified.
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. -- John 3:16
Or as another translation puts it: "For God so loved the world that He gave..." The "world" here is not a subset of the people -- in particular, the subset that are called the elect. Believing like that is putting the cart before the horse.
God so loved the world -- the entire population of the world -- that he gave Jesus so whoever (whosoever) believes in him will be saved. It is a choice that God is giving us. And making that choice -- only once -- is NOT a work. It is a choice. You, individually, have not been chosen before time to either be saved or unsaved (if you are unfamiliar with this, it is what theologies such as Calvinism and the Reformed movement teach; again, we'll cover this in another blog post). You, individually, have been called to make a choice, called to believe in Jesus as Lord so that you can be ushered into the family of God, so the Holy Spirit can come into you and begin the process of sanctification, so that your works may follow your faith, so that you might be justified by God. Also, be careful of the word sanctify. We use it here for what God does to teach us to be righteous -- the Holy Spirit with the new believer, God the Father will sanctify you (Jude 1:1), etc. But the word sanctify is used in other cases as well, like a saved woman who will sanctify her unbelieving husband (1 Cor 7:14); husbands who are to love their wives, that he may sanctify her (Eph 5:26); food and marriage are mentioned (1 Tim 4:1-3), which talks of not refusing food for EVERY creature is good, sanctified by the word of God, and is to be received with thanksgiving. (1 Tim 4:4) So all of these works, and others, work toward your justification. Works cannot save you. This is true. But as James tells us, works are not some evil to be avoided.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? -- James 2:14
This seems to say that you need works to be saved. But it doesn't. Faith does not save you either: grace does. It is a free gift. You are saved by grace through faith.
Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear. 20 But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? -- James 2:18b-20
Faith without works is useless (dead). Faith won't save. Works won't save. But once you are saved by grace and given the faith to believe, your works will follow. It is the fruit of sanctification.
So, to digress, was Mother Teresa saved? Well, her fruit looks pretty good. But works without faith is no good either. She's Catholic, certainly that disqualifies her. Show me that in the bible. (You'll likely be able to show me that some Catholic Church teachings are heretical, but nothing about the individual Catholic.) The question becomes: did she believe in her heart that Jesus is Lord? Did she confess that with her mouth? Anything else that she may have done, such as wondering if she did enough good works to be saved, is simple ignorance. And we are not disqualified on ignorance.
There was a woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus chased the old critics away with something he wrote on the ground in the dirt. Then he looked at this woman and said:
Jesus stood up straight and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” -- John 8:10-11
No one condemns her, not even Jesus. "Go...and do not sin any more." But we all sin. He is telling her to quit practicing this (and all) sin. He's accepting her, but the legalistic "believe in your heart" is not explicitly stated here. Did she believe any Catholic heresies? Oh yeah, the church wasn't there yet.
It likewise is not stated by the the thief on the cross -- but we know that he would be in Paradise with Jesus that day. Jesus didn't lead him in the sinner's prayer. He forgave him. There is no legalistic ritual, certain words, certain actions, certain order of activity, to be saved. Kinda hard when you are nailed to a cross next to Jesus, but this man's works followed his faith. Jesus knew his heart.