Salvation by faith alone debate
 
Second affirmative essay
By Jason Peacock
Originally posted from http://lookinguntojesus.net/ 
 
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I too am very happy to be discussing this important issue with William, I also hope that this debate will help both participants in their future walk with the Lord as well as readers to it. I agree with my friend that God's truth must come from His objective word (39 books of the Old Testament & 27 of the New Testament), nowhere else!


JOHN 3:16 AND CONTEXT

William asked what the water in verse 5 is. It's not a secret to know what William thinks the water in John 3:5 is (the water of baptism). He never came right out and said it is baptism, but what else could he mean? Well, the water of verse 5 could mean baptism. Those who hold to the essentialness of baptism for salvation logically would believe this to be baptism. William said it cannot be physical birth, he's mistaken. I happen to think it is unlikely that Jesus is referring to physical birth, nonetheless He could mean this. Actually, physical birth and water baptism are only two possible interpretations of six. The other four are:

  • a synonym for the Holy Spirit (born of water even the Spirit);
  • the Word of God;
  • John's baptism (repentance); or
  • a symbol along with the "wind" for the works of God from above.

 

The most likely view is position 4, considering the context. Jesus tells Nicodemus, who, being a Jewish teacher ought to be able to recognize the fulfillment of biblical truth (3:10). In 3:2, Nicodemus acknowledges Jesus as a teacher from God. Jesus wanted him to recognize Him as God's Son (3:15-16), not just a teacher. Jesus also tells Nicodemus he must be born again / from above, [1] to enter heaven (3:3). Nicodemus thinks of natural birth; Jesus corrects his error by contrasting the birth Nicodemus refers to with a birth from God. In His teaching, Jesus picks up on two renewal themes of the Old Testament, the "wind" of Ezekiel 37:9-10, and the "water" of Isaiah 44:3. Nicodemus should have compared the imagery of this to the riddle in Proverbs 30:4, "Who has ascended into heaven or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know?" Nicodemus, being a Jewish teacher should have known that God gives spiritual renewal from above and that Jesus as God's Son brings this spiritual renewal. This is why Jesus continued in His discourse with Nicodemus to interpret the riddle of Proverbs 30:4, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man (Son of Man is used in Judaism as a term for deity, Daniel 7:13; Mark 14:61-64) be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:13-15).


ROMANS 5 AND EPHESIANS 2

I wonder why William felt it necessary to count the number of times I used Ephesians 2:8-10 and Romans 5:1. He said, "The count is presently Romans 5:1 (6 times), Ephesians 2:8-10 (9 times)." Frankly, I find it kind of funny; nonetheless William says the two verses do not say we are saved by faith alone. Granted they do not expressly tell us we're saved by faith alone. However, I think William interprets Romans 5:1 as "...it is by faith (a) you have been justified..." and that little (a) at the bottom of the chapter says "and works", but there is no such a, b, c, d or any other letter or number. It says "by faith".

No, there's not a period, but to conclude that because there is none, it means faith and works is an argument from silence. What does the verse say? "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (7th time for those counting). What is it that justifies us -- faith does. Justification is God's way to erase someone's sins and declare them righteous; something done by God through or in Christ Jesus. Thus, Romans 5:1 does say faith saves us. As for Ephesians 2, well, does God's grace have a hidden agenda of works? No, God's grace is God's undeserved favour and gift to us as Ephesians 2:8 says, it is His gift, can a gift be earned? 2:9 makes it clear, no it cannot. Furthermore, Romans 3:24 says this grace justifies us like Romans 5:1 says faith justifies us. Obviously grace and faith can be used interchangeably. Again, like Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8-10 does not have the word "alone". But it ought to be obvious when the following verse says not by our works. Thus, Ephesians 2:8-10 does state that grace/faith saves us, not by anything we do, and God prepares our works for us. William gave various verses. Considering the space problem...bottom line, if it is genuine faith, faith that justifies, acts of obedience, humility, generosity, kindness logically follows.


FAITH AND WORKS

In my first affirmative, I said that faith is God's gift given to us apart from anything we do. By that I simply mean that we do not work for this gift of God, and in fact, that is what Ephesians 2:8-9 says. I do not disagree with William's use of Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 16:29-31; Colossians 1:4-6 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13 to say faith comes about by hearing. Of course, but this fact does not mean that the hearers of the word must work for faith, neither does it mean that faith does not save.

William says that my use of the phrase, "it is finished!" in John 19:30 by Jesus, to say that salvation is not based on our work but based totally and completely on Christ's finished work is reading into the text. How does William refute my stance? He uses Philippians 2:12. Well, here is that verse in its context. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." Verse 13 says it all. I do not fully understand why William thinks that the verses he used undermine my position that faith alone saves; scripture spells it out in plain language, works are necessary. But the fact is "...for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13). To will and to do, how then can the sovereignty of God be denied, especially in the act of salvation. God even wills us to do the works which He prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). William says space limits us to show our role in God's plan in our salvation. Amen! I'll accept that we do have a role, but it's according to God's sovereign plan.

In my first statement, I quoted 1 Corinthians 2:14. Paul writes, "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." I used it to say that we cannot even know what works we should do without God's Spirit. William says that even with God's Spirit, some still do not understand. I see no problem with that, and to back that interpretation, William appeals to 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Granted, but then William says that Paul's point in 2:14 is that we must look through spiritual eyes rather than carnal eyes to know God's will. This does not make sense to me. To begin with the 1 Corinthians 2:14 context consists of verses 10-16. The 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 context is not part of it. Secondly, if 2:14 does not mean what I said, then why does 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 say, "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual."

Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator says this regarding the 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 context,

"God has revealed true wisdom to us by his Spirit. Here is a proof of the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, 2 Pe 1:21. In proof of the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, observe that he knows all things, and he searches all things, even the deep things of God. No one can know the things of God, but his Holy Spirit, who is one with the Father and the Son, and who makes known Divine mysteries to his church. This is most clear testimony, both to the real Godhead and the distinct person of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were not guided by worldly principles. They had the revelation of these things from the Spirit of God, and the saving impression of them from the same Spirit. These things they declared in plain, simple language, taught by the Holy Spirit, totally different from the affected oratory or enticing words of man's wisdom. The natural man, the wise man of the world, receives not the things of the Spirit of God. The pride of carnal reasoning is really as much opposed to spirituality, as the basest of sensuality. The sanctified mind discerns the real beauties of holiness, but the power of discerning and judging about and natural things is not lost. But the carnal man is a stranger to the principles, and pleasures, and acting's of the Divine life. The spiritual man only, is the person to whom God gives the knowledge of his will. How little have any known of the mind of God by natural power! And the apostles were enabled by his Spirit to make known his mind. In the Holy Scriptures, the mind of Christ, and the mind of God in Christ, is fully made known to us. It is the great privilege of Christians, that they have the mind of Christ revealed to them by his Spirit. They experience his sanctifying power in their hearts, and bring forth good fruits in their lives."


ABRAHAM JUSTIFIED BY FAITH

William has mystified me here. He quotes Romans 3:28, "...we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." But according to William, Paul does not exclude works, despite it saying apart from deeds of the law. Why does William conclude this? Because the word alone is not present. Now, I have to wonder is this a serious debate discussion on a vital issue concerning Christian salvation, or words and arguments from silence and secret meanings? Whether William believes Paul or not, Paul concludes faith justifies us apart from deeds of the law. William says we must be obedient to the faith. Okay. I have no problem with that, but you must have faith before you can be obedient. My point is simple, if we are saved by faith, justified by it, we will be obedient to the faith. I get the impression that my opponent would like to put the cart in front of the horse.

Genesis 15:6 says, "And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." Righteousness is being in the right relationship with God, not guilty before God. But Abraham did not offer Isaac till the 22nd chapter of Genesis. So did God lie when He tells Abraham that He accounted his belief to him as righteousness, but does not fulfill that promise for 7 chapters afterward? I kind of prefer to take the Lord on His word. I also think a question needs to be asked here, did God know what Abraham would do? Well Philippians 2:13 makes it clear He does.


THE ATONEMENT AND MAN'S CONDITION TO A HOLY GOD

I told William I did not want to turn this debate into Calvinism vs. Arminianism, but he has turned it into that. I don't want to talk much about Calvinism here, but I'll make one thing clear. William says I must accept all five points that make up Calvinism or reject it for the Bible. Okay, we agree. But if William closely read my first affirmative he'd know I hold to this also. However, I do not agree with William's conclusion that faith alone is essential to Calvinism, and thus depravity. The doctrine of depravity is not limited to Calvinism but also Arminians. Why? Simply because it is not a Calvinistic or Arminian doctrine, but a Biblical one.

The Bible teaches this concept of total depravity in many places. The Lord recognized good people (Matthew 22:10), yet He labeled His own disciples as evil men (Matthew 7:11). The mind is affected (Romans 1:28; Ephesians 4:18), the conscience is unclean (Hebrews 9:14), the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and by nature mankind is subject to wrath (Ephesians 2:3). God sent the flood as a judgment on mankind's depravity (Genesis 6:5). Depravity, according to the Lord, is in the inner being and is the root of evil actions (Mark 7:20-23). With a string of Old Testament quotations, Paul also shows it is deep-seated, universal and total (Romans 3:9-18).

As for Paul using a hyperbole in 1 Timothy 1:15, referring to himself as the chief of sinners, is he? No, of course not, because from Paul's human perspective he is. The more filth of sin on a person who received Christ, the more obvious sin becomes, and Paul recognized this. A hyperbole is a statement that is excessive. Jesus brought the essence of this command out by saying, "if you come to me and do not hate your father, mother, wife, children and even life itself or put them before me, you are unfit to follow me." (Luke 14:26). Not literal hate, this is know as 'hyperbole'. It contrasts love with hate for emphasis. I won't doubt that Paul used a hyperbole and David also, but William is saying they were using irony, saying something opposite. The hyperbole both used was to contrast their sin before a holy God, His patience, love and faithfulness.

As to the rest of what William says, well my last character count does not give me a lot of space, so they'll have to wait till next time.


WOODEN LITERALISM AND ARMINIANISM

'Wooden literalism' is not the same as literal. 'Wooden literalism' interprets the biblical figures of speech literally. What is meant to be symbolic and what should be taken literally should be based on the biblical context -- such as when Jesus used figurative parables to communicate spiritual truth.

A literal approach to Scripture recognizes that the Bible contains a variety of literary genres, each of which have certain peculiar characteristics that must be recognized in order to interpret the text properly. Biblical genres include the historical (e.g. Acts), the dramatic epic (e.g. Job), poetry (e.g. Psalms), wise sayings (e.g. Proverbs), and apocalyptic writings (e.g. Revelation). William, an incorrect genre judgment will lead one far astray in interpreting Scripture.

One thing that William and I agree on is that we both claim to follow Jesus Christ. Neither am I a Methodist, a Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, a Calvinist nor Arminiam, or a member of a building like "the Church of Christ", I'm a member of the Church all right, and Christ is the head.


REPENTANCE, OBEDIENCE AND JUSTIFICATION

In my first affirmative, my point was simple, that true genuine faith will produce repentance and lead to obedience. The faith I mean is simply the faith that justifies, it only is logical, people do not repent to God nor are people obedient without faith. That's why it is impossible to please God without faith. This is why I used myself as an example, but I doubt William considers me a Christian. William said Scripture places repentance before the forgiveness of sins, right, but still if it is true genuine saving faith it will produce repentance and obedience. This is common sense, I mean what are we repenting to and obeying without believing and relying and trusting in Christ.

William used Hebrews 5:9 to show that we must obey for salvation. So if William is right, then we obey Christ without true genuine faith, this does not make sense, and who is willing us? Philippians 2:13 says God is.


JAMES ON FAITH AND WORKS

Mr. Stewart, all I meant was:

  • James is talking with people who have faith,
  • True justifying faith produces good deeds,
  • No works to show for this faith, then obviously it won't justify, as Jesus said, "by their fruits you'll know them", and
  • Don't forget Philippians 2:13, according to that it is not by our own means which we do God's works.

 


GRACE THROUGH FAITH ... NOT OF WORKS

Certainly, I agree with William that we do not earn salvation, to illustrate his point he quoted Luke 10:17. Simply it means when we do everything we're commanded to do, don't start bragging, as we're only doing that which is our duty. But these works are not ones we prepare, but Ephesians 2:10 says God has. Furthermore, who does God's good pleasure in us, well Philippians 2:13 makes it clear that God does.

As for your analogy William, I'd say well God chooses us. "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will." (Ephesians 1:11).

The next paragraph interests me. William uses his analogy to demonstrate to me how God works out salvation. It is a good analogy, but it has two flaws,

  • Well it is an analogy based on a human perspective, and
  • It does not take into account the sovereignty of God, the right of God to do as He wishes (Psalm 50:1; Isaiah 40:15; 1 Timothy 6:15) with His creation. This implies that there is no external influence upon Him and that He also has the ability to exercise His power and control according to His will.

 


CONCLUSION

I get the impression that it was a mistake on my part to defend the presupposition that faith alone saves, because William is right, I cannot find that word alone, but if I did, then we could conclude that a mere historical belief would save us. Thus, even the demons would be saved, and that's why James used them as an example. Nevertheless, by faith we have been justified and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1).

"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 the 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 15:1-4).


Endnotes:

  1. The Greek word anothen has been translated as "again" (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, TEV) "anew" (RSV, Darby), and "above" (NJB, NRSV, Young's, NAB).