An Exchange on Saving Faith

 

     If you have not read, "Saving Faith," please do so before reading this brief exchange.

     When I published "The Case of Works" to Bible Truths, I notified various Internet lists of the new material.  One list to which I published notification had list members who found fault with the material.  This particular list has about 800 members of all sorts of religious persuasion, many of whom, though, are members of "Churches of Christ."  The discussion shortly turned into an exchange on saving faith.  I offer the following exchange simply to expand the study opportunities of the most important subject of saving faith and to expose the reader to various standard objections, arguments, and positions.  This exchange pretty well covers the gamut of positions relative to saving faith.  Be sure to also read, "The Case of Works" before considering the below.   "Bryan" was the first to respond and object to the material, drawing attention to the matters of "works" in man's salvation.

 

Bryan to Don Martin:

 

Nonetheless, anyone who knows that we're saved by grace through faith will also understand that even the most hardcore Pharisee is saved by God's grace in spite of his own works theology.

 

Don Martin to Bryan:

 

I appreciate Bryan's interest in this most urgent topic of saving faith and the role of "works" in this matter.

Bryan wrote:

Nonetheless, anyone who knows that we're saved by grace through faith will also understand that even the most hardcore Pharisee is saved by God's grace in spite of his own works theology.

Don replies:

It is certainly true that no one will be saved based on his own "works theology." However, man must elect to accept God's grace and not "receive it in vain" (2 Cor. 6: 1). Bryan does not understand this biblical truth. He has gone to an extreme that results in salvation by "grace alone." Carried to its necessary logical conclusion, universal salvation is the outcome. Yet, not all men will be saved, in fact, most will not (Matt. 7: 13, 14). Hence, there is more to God's grace as it involves man that "grace alone" (After all, Godís grace as "appeared to all men," Tit. 2: 11ff.).

I want to, moreover, affirm that the Pharisee who thought he was saved by his own meritorious works was not and, in fact, could not be saved with this understanding of saved by works of merit. (Rom. 11: 6.)  Salvation by grace as taught in the New Testament and salvation by works of merit are incompatible and mutually self-exclusive (Ibid.).  Hence, I seem to object more to "works salvation" than Bryan who accuses me of advocating "works salvation," who then turns around and talks about the Pharisee being saved "...in spite of his own works theology."

 

Don Martin to Harvey:

 

Harvey critically wrote:

You seem to confuse "faith" and "works" in your articles, "The Case of Works" and "Saving Faith."  Saving faith has nothing whatsoever to do with top, side, or bottom works of any kind.  Salvation is by "faith only" and any other kind of faith is works and not faith.

Don replies:

Thank you, Harvey, for sharing your thoughts and for having the interest to point out where you think I have taught error regarding the kind of Faith that saves.  May I kindly mention that such verses that certainly emphasize the role of faith in man's salvation and justification such as Romans 5: 1 and 3: 28 do not say "faith only."  "Faith only," as so used, identifies what we term as mental assent.  The expression "faith only" is used once in the scriptures in the context and milieu of man's salvation and on that occasion, "faith only" is used in the negation circumstance.  James wrote:  "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2: 24).  Even the demons "believe and tremble," but they are certainly not saved (Jas. 2: 19-26).  That is, the demons possess mental assent in that they know God exists.  Such would be "faith only" in the true sense of the expression and when used by contradistinction with an "active faith."



Don Martin to Jack:

 

Jack wrote:

Don, your material is weak in my judgment and falls short of teaching the necessity of works as forcefully as it should.  While you "hint" at works, you seem to be hesitant to come right out and say that works save men; hence, man may and should glory in his works.

Don to Jack:

Jack, I must kindly point out that Paul said the very opposite of what you are saying.  Consider his words regarding Abraham and how Abraham was justified:  "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (Rom. 4: 1-4).  The "works" being considered by Paul are works of merit, whereby man earns salvation.  Salvation in this case would, "...not reckoned of grace, but of debt."  We do know, though, that Abraham had an active faith as opposed to a dead faith (Jas. 2: 21-26).  An active faith, allow me to repeat, is not tantamount to works of merit whereby one earns salvation. Jack, I think you have gone to the opposite extreme of Harvey (above).

 

Don Martin to Van:

 

Van wrote:

James explains how faith appears to man and whether it has any benefit to man without works; the evidence of faith. BUT, does the lack of the evidence prevent faith from existing? That is the real question. And when it comes to salvation, can God know faith without the evidence? Those are the two questions that must be answered. "What does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteous" (Rom. 4:3). Paul goes on to explain to the Ephesians that they were saved grace through faith. And not because of anything they had done, "Not from yourselves".

Don responds:

Van raises some good questions and prompts us to think. Thank you, Van. There can be in an isolated region an instance of faith not providing any visible proof as to its existence due to no circumstance calling for action (see James 2: 19-26 for the general case). The case sited by Van seems to qualify for such an instance. However, Abraham had already demonstrated the type of faith he possessed and it was simply "anticipated" by God that in another given specific, Abraham would again exercise the same faith in response to a directive from God. This specific and isolate area of one not being given a specific act to perform, but, yet, having demonstrated an active faith in general certainly does not authorize any to say that a dead faith saves. What we said in the immediately above is precisely the point James is making in regards to Abraham and faith. I shall close by inserting the text in James. Ephesians 2: 8-10 is showing how "works of merit" do not save man. However, it is a combination of "grace" (Godís part) and "faith" (manís part). An active faith that humbly manifests itself in subservience to God does not constitute salvation "of ourselves." Once again, thank you, Van, for your comments:

"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2: 21-24).

 

Don Martin to the list:

 

I have heretofore written some material on saving faith that I want to inject at this time. The point made is that "faith" and "obedience" are tantamount. If one, then, argues that one can be saved without obedience or that "obedience salvation" is necessarily "meritorious works salvation," one is really contending for salvation without faith. For your consideration, here is what I wrote:

"The presence of obedience in the case of faith that saves. Many, alas, do not realize that humble obedience to God's commands is simply faith in action. This is precisely the truth James is presenting in James 2: 19-26. 'Obedience' is the element of faith that always renders faith active and operative. In one sense, 'obedience' and 'faith' are tantamount or the same. Consider Jesus' statement: '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' (John 3: 36, KJV). Two matters are set forth as antithetical or opposites, 'believeth' and 'believeth not.' In the case of 'believeth not,' the Greek word is apisthon. Many translate apisthon, 'obeyeth not' (see American Standard Version). Hence, Jesus is teaching that belief and obedience are equal terms, if you will, and disbelief and disobedience as equivalent. The writer of Hebrews does precisely the same. 'And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief' (Heb. 3: 18, 19, ASV). Notice how 'disobedient' and 'unbelief' are synonymous. Hence, it would follow that 'obedience' and 'belief' are equal. It is understood, however, that more is involved in faith that saves than simply mechanical conformity (cp. Rom. 6: 18, 18)."

 

Don Martin to Bryan and the list:

 

Bryan wrote:

Don, how can you distinguish in the matter of works. Works are all grouped together and all works of any sort merit salvation.

Don Replies:

Notice carefully what Paul penned to Titus regarding works and salvation: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit. 3: 5). After affirming salvation is not the result of "works of righteousness," Paul then stated, "Öbut according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Just about every Bible scholar of whom I am aware agrees that the "washing of regeneration" is water baptism. What else can it be in view of what the New Testament teaches about baptism? (Cp. Acts 2: 38, I Pet. 3: 21, Rom. 6.) I know, then, that baptism is not such a work as merits salvation. In fact, any matter that God requires, whether it be faith, repentance, confession of Jesusí deity, or baptism is simply the means of reaching out and obtaining Godís grace (cp. 2 Cor. 6: 1). Furthermore, there is not any thing about faith, repentance, confession, or baptism that glories man, all the glory is to God. Hence, I am able to distinguish in the "works." Notice the emphasis in Titus 3: 5 even regarding "works of righteousness." It is not works of righteousness which we have done. The emphasis is on Godís mercy and not any thing man has done. Still, as to manís involvement, it is, "by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."

As this brief exchange illustrates, we must avoid extremes and doctrinal reactions. Saving faith is always viewed in the scriptures as a faith that consists of knowledge, assent, trust, and obedience. These elements, if you will, are static and co-existent (they are all equally necessary and indispensable). The contemplated obedience is whatever is demanded in the particular circumstance. Any doctrine or theology that presents a different "faith" is not presenting the saving faith of the scriptures.

I do once again thank Bryan, Harvey, Jack, and Van for their contribution in this discussion of faith. Such has allowed us to examine more critically this fascinating Bible subject.