Author: Ron Graham
Busting the “Faith Only” Myth
—Neither Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, or John believed it
The idea that we are “saved by faith alone” is a widespread myth. We are not saved by faith alone. Your salvation depends on busting this myth and knowing the truth.
In December 2011, the Myth Busters (TV show) fired a cannon ball to test its velocity. The ball missed its safety target; bounced off a footpath; smashed through a front door; shot up the stairs; punched through the stucco wall; sailed across a six-lane road; ricocheted off a roof; and crashed through the window of a parked minivan. The crazy ball finally stopped, and incredibly didn't hurt anybody! A lot got busted, but whether any myth was busted I don't know.
In this lesson, we are going to bust a myth that's commonly believed among professing Christians. We'll aim our cannon acurately, and make sure we bust the myth without hurting anybody or damaging anything but the myth.
The myth we are going to bust is that “we are saved by faith alone”. The doctrine of sola fide (only faith) means that we are saved from the consequences of our sins by one thing only: faith in Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself for us. We are not saved by any works that we do, even works connected with that faith. This is the teaching of the majority of Protestant churches.
There are four ways you could approach God:
- 1. Without either faith or works.
- 2. With works but without faith.
- 3. With faith but without works.
- 4. With both faith and works of faith.
In spite of all the millions of words that have been written and spoken about those four possibilities, the 4th one is God’s and the devil has the other three.
1 What Jesus says
The words of our Lord Jesus are the first place we should look to know which option is the true one of the four listed above. Jesus died for us; and he will judge us. A few words from him are worth more than ten thousand from those who preach “faith alone”
Jesus says, "Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21). Jesus later says, "Therefore everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rock." (Matthew 7:24).
The people who called Jesus “Lord” certainly seem to have had faith in him; but it was faith alone without the doing of what he says (Luke 6:46).
What is Jesus calling for here? Surely he is calling for people to heed his words not with faith alone, but with faith and obedience.
2 What Paul says
Romans 1:5, Romans 3:27-28
The words of Paul are cited as teaching justification by faith only. Paul, however, never states that we are saved by “faith only”. When he teaches that we are saved by faith and not by works, he has in view works done without faith in Jesus Christ (option 2 above). Do you imagine that Paul commends a faith in Christ that works no obedience to Christ (option 3)?
When Paul talks about being saved “without works” he is consistently, in every place he alludes to it, talking about works of obedience to law without faith in Christ (option 2 above). He is not denying "the obedience of faith" (option 4) which was at the heart of his ministry and his understanding of grace (Romans 1:5, Romans 16:25-26).
If Paul speaks of "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5), and being "justified by faith" (Romans 3:28), do you conclude that justification has nothing to do with obedience? Nobody can be justified (considered righteous) by works of law alone without faith (option 2). Likewise, nobody can be justified by faith alone without obedience (option 3). The truth is that one can be justified only by obedience to one’s faith in Christ (option 4).
Paul did not acknowledge any such thing as “faith alone” What he recognized was "work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Thessalonians 1:3).
3 What James, Peter, and John say
James 2:17,24, 1John 2:4, 1Peter 1:22
James: "Faith, if it has no works, is dead —being alone... A person is justified by works [of faith] and not by faith alone" (James 2:17,24). All efforts fail to harmonize this with the doctrine of faith alone. And it is, incidentally, the only place in scripture where the term “faith alone” appears.
Peter: "You have purified your souls by obedience to the truth" (1Peter 1:22). I'm quite sure that Peter here is not teaching that we are saved by works and not by faith. But I'm equally as certain that he is not teaching “faith alone”. Peter’s "obedience to the truth" is no different to Paul’s "obedience of faith."
John: "By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, “I have come to know him”, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him." (1John 2:4). John maintains you cannot know God without obedience. How then can anyone rightly say we are saved by “faith alone”?