Salvation by faith alone debate

First affirmative essay
By Jason Peacock
Originally posted from http://lookinguntojesus.net/ 
 
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Before I begin, I'd very much like to thank Mr. William Stewart for agreeing to this short debate. William and myself have known each other over the Internet now for over a year, and despite some differences we have on some essential Christian doctrines, I do consider Mr. Stewart a friend. He is a minister at the Limestone Church of Christ. William and myself, despite our disagreements ought to be able to openly discuss these differences, which we are doing here in this short debate.


INITIAL PROPOSITION

The New Testament teaches that one is saved by faith alone. What do I mean? I'm sure Mr. Stewart believes I simply mean believing in something, as John 3:16 says. Of course it is true that we must believe historically in Jesus Christ, whom He said He was, and the resurrection. But merely taking verse 16 out of that chapter, and applying a doctrine to it is not taking the context of the chapter into account, something vitally important when interpreting any portion of Scripture. So let's do that.

In context, Jesus is discussing the finer points of salvation with Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again (John 3:3), which can be translated "Born from above." So, when saying all we must do is historically believe in Jesus and for that using John 3:16 as a proof-text, it is incorrect Biblical interpretation. In fact, the Greek word, pisteuo, which is translated 'believe' in John 3:16, literally means 'to put in trust with, to entrust, to commit to trust', and is derived from the word pistikos, which translates as 'trustworthy' or 'genuine.' In other words, a belief in Christ is placing one's life in His hands and trusting Him to take care of it. This implies much more than intellectual belief and actually is more in line with the rest of Scripture.

Further on in John, we can gain further insights into what belief entails by looking at the ministry of the Spirit: "When the Holy Spirit comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." (John 16:8-11)

Verse 9 puts unbelief and sin in a direct causal relationship; sin identifies unbelief, so that those who continue to sin without remorse or repentance are not given the luxury of saying they believe.

This is what I mean when I say faith/believe.


AFFIRMATIVE CASE = "Salvation by faith alone"

From here on out when quoting from the New Testament, I'll use the New King James Version. The New Testament is quite clear in telling how we are to be saved. "Therefore having been justified by faith; we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ", declares Romans 5:1. Justification is the process used by God alone to erase someone's sins and to declare them righteous. Romans 5:1 is one verse of many stating this, by Him, everyone who believes is justified (Acts 13:39), "Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification." (Romans 4:25). "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24).

What justifies us? Scripture makes it quite clear. Faith does!

In fact, Romans 4 and Romans 5 are two excellent faith chapters. This faith is God's gift given to us, apart from anything we do; Ephesians 2:8 makes this clear, "For by (past tense) grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

This faith is a true saving faith. Therefore, having been (past tense) justified. It's not based on us at all; it's based totally and completely on the finished work of Jesus Christ. "So when Jesus had received the sour win, He said, 'It is finished!' And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit." (John 19:30). Jesus said it is finished, not almost finished. In the Greek language, the original language of the New Testament, the word 'finished' is tetelestai. That word in the Greek language of the day was a term used by accountants; it means the debt is paid in full. Faith is the thing which justifies us (Romans 5:1), it is what saves us (Ephesians 2:8); it is not to do with our own works (Ephesians 2:9). This faith is able to do this, as it is not based on anything we do, but what Christ did for us.


ABRAHAM THE FATHER OF FAITH WAS JUSTIFIED BY HIS FAITH

"What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." (Romans 4:1-5).

"Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham before hand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.' So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are the works of the law are under the curse, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law of in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.' Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'" (Galatians 3:7-12).

Faith alone justifies, apart from works of the law.


THE ATONEMENT AND MAN'S CONDITION ISSUES

I do not want to debate on whether Calvinism is Biblical or not, but William, I'd say it is of paramount importance to have a correct understanding of man's condition to a Holy God before we can fully grasp atonement. I realize that to you, William, I'm considered a Calvinist, a follower of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the reformation which occurred in the 16th century. This is simply not true; I follow Jesus Christ and what the Bible says. Let me define quickly what I mean by "I go by what the Bible says." Simply put, I interpret the Bible, always in context, and I do not apply a "wooden literal interpretation" to every single verse. An example of "wooden literalism" is taking the parables of Jesus and applying a "wooden literal" meaning to them, when they were meant to express spiritual truths.

However, I do lean towards Calvinism over Arminianism, but only as far as Calvinism lines up with Scripture. Am I a T.U.L.I.P. five pointer? To be honest, I don't know, and as of now, I have no desire to delve into investigation.

Now, I also realize you deny being an Arminian, and I'm not assuming that my opponent has done any study in the Arminian perspective, yet I think my opponent has taken Arminianism to its logical conclusion. At least I think the Church of Christ has, and you William, as a preacher for the "Limestone Church of Christ" have fully accepted your church teachings. You say the Church of Christ does not have doctrines, they believe 100% the Scripture, yet the Bible contains doctrinal teachings. Nonetheless, you say that the Bible teaches that we are basically good, at least born into perfection, despite Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." And Romans 3:10, saying "...no one is righteous...", or verse 23 of the same chapter, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." All, and no one, does not exclude infants friend.

You think we are able to choose God on our own accord, despite Romans 3:11, which says, "no one seeks God." And the clear teaching of John 6:44, Jesus himself speaking, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."

I don't say humans are born with sinful natures, or that we cannot choose God on our own, Scripture does. A reading of the New Testament will lead one to the conclusion that the state of man is sinful. And it is not me who says that God must draw us, but it is Jesus Christ in John 6:44. William, if you truly believe Scripture 100%, you must believe John 6:44 also.

Therefore, since we do not come to Jesus on our own accord, but by God drawing us initially, and by faith in Jesus Christ, which is a gift given by God (Ephesians 2:8), salvation then is all God. It's not like building a bridge, we build 10% of the bridge and God builds the other 90%.

I'll tell you right now William, that any verse you show me from the Bible which says we seek God, I have no conflict with. Jeremiah 29:13, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." is a prime example. As I take the entire Bible in context, Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" Obviously this verse is referring to an unregenerate heart. Thus, I simply conclude that God must draw us first, prior to us seeking Him, and we must have faith in God to seek God. Well, faith justifies (Romans 5:1).


DO WORKS HAVE A PLACE IN CHRISTIANITY?

Definitely, the Scripture makes that clear, but these works do not add to justification; they are not meritorious. Ephesians 2:10 tells us from where these works come, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-9 should never be quoted without verse 10, but that's exactly how it works; grace through faith saves, not by things which we can do, so we cannot boast. Yes works do play a part, however they are not works of our own, but works which God has planned for us. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 1:4 tells us we can only do God's work by faith. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we cannot do any works without Christ, John 15:5, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Apart from Christ we do nothing. 1 Corinthians 2:14, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." We cannot even know what works we should do without God's Spirit, and we do not get God's Spirit, without faith, which saves (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 5:1).


THE ROLE OF REPENTANCE TO GOD

Repentance of course is necessary for salvation, I will not deny that, but we cannot repent to God until we are justified by faith. The exact same thing goes for being obedient to Christ, something we cannot do without being justified by faith first. In fact, we can do nothing pleasing to God without faith. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6). I will use myself as an example. I became born again at age 24, but repentance towards God did not come till I had faith in God and His Son, likewise with obedience. There was just no way I would've repented to God and done works of obedience unless I was justified by faith in Christ. In fact since repentance comes after faith in Christ, and faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), thus it follows that repentance is God's gift to us, and that is what 2 Timothy 2:25 tells us, "in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth." And the teaching of Romans 2, especially verse 4, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" Yes, we must repent, and those who have saving faith in Christ, the kind Paul refers to in Romans 5:1, will repent.


HOW ABOUT WHAT THE BOOK OF JAMES SAYS CONCERNING FAITH AND DEEDS?

I did not forget about James, Mr. Stewart. You might think that James is saying, faith and works together justify, which is not too different than the position held by Roman Catholicism. They believe that faith saves, but that faith is infused with works, which are meritorious. Concerning James though, remember who James is writing to, people who already have faith, or he would not have began his letter with "My brethren, count it all joy..." (James 1:2-3). But I do not think this fact you will dispute. The real issue is what does James mean by 2:14-26.

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

I agree 100% with what James is saying. If we claim the name of Christ, yet do not show it by good works, then that faith is not justifying; not only that, but it is not the faith that Paul describes in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

James is saying the same thing just using different words. The way you, William, likely interpret what James is meaning, logically means he is contradicting what Paul is saying in Ephesians 2:8-10, that we are saved by grace through faith. This salvation is a gift of God. It's not due to anything we do. And then after we are justified, if it's real God given faith, it will produce works. God beforehand prepares these works for us.

If you're right William, and James does mean that we combine faith and works for our justification, then James would seem to contradict Paul in Romans 3:28, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." James is not in contradiction with Paul. Neither are Paul and James debating the issue of how we are really saved as you and I are doing. Carefully examining what James is saying will show that James is drawing the contrast between an empty faith, which simply professes a belief in God, and a living dynamic faith that truly trusts in God.

When James spoke of "deeds" he was not speaking of things we do to win God's favour, but rather having a living faith that permeates good deeds, out of a genuine faith in Christ. Faith that does not produce acts of kindness is useless (verse 14), neither is simply having correct doctrine (verses 18-19), even demons believe correctly (head knowledge), but they don't allow that correct belief to correct their behavior. To illustrate his point further, verses 20-25, James refers to Abraham who offered his son, Isaac, to God, and Rahab, the prostitute who hid the Israelite spies, who both made their faith complete by what they did.


GRACE THROUGH FAITH

Throughout the New Testament and the Old Testament as well, the message is clear, we're saved by God's undeserved grace. Something God has given us, as a result of his mercy and kindness, we cannot earn this salvation by works. If this salvation was not gained by God's grace through faith, as God's undeserved gift to humanity, as Ephesians 2:8 says, then this salvation would cease to be a God given gift, we'd gain it by works, and then we'd be able to boast. But that is not what Ephesians 2:9 tells us; it is not gained by works, specifically so we cannot boast. Of course works have a place in Christianity, as Ephesians 2:10 states. The point is, these works are not meritorious, furthermore God prepares these works for us to do beforehand. Moreover without being justified/saved by faith, we are not able to do these works. "I do not set aside the grace of God; for it righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Galatians 2:21).


CONCLUSION

My conclusion, which is based on Sola-Scriptura (scripture alone), is: salvation is gained by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone! To deny what Jesus said on the crucifix, "It is finished!" is to play the role of the spirit of the anti-Christ that John wrote about to the church in the area of modern day Turkey, because it is essentially denying that the Messiah has actually come to fulfill all requirements of the law, and that we do not need to add to his finished work. It's not fully trusting and relying on Jesus alone for the salvation of your soul. It's like telling God, "God, oh Sovereign Lord over all, thank you so much for the gift of your Son...your atonement on the cross, well it almost was enough to remove the filth of sin on me, I just need to do one last thing..." It's depending on yourself to perform at least part of your salvation, that's not the gospel message.

"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:1-5)