For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
This passage teaches us quite a bit about the salvation experience. It teaches us that salvation is by grace. Nobody deserves to be saved. It teaches us that salvation is through faith. It teaches us that salvation is not from ourselves which would be super boastful! It teaches us that God made us and He made us with a purpose; to do good works, which we surmise should happen after we are saved. And finally, it inspires us with the fact that God is intimately connected to us because He has actually prepared things for us to do!
Once again, a scripture which has nothing to do with baptism is introduced to convince us that since baptism is not mentioned, it must not be important. To make this scripture work as an anti-baptism proof text, we must employ the “all/only” error and buy into the notion that baptism is a work.
Special Use Case
But this scripture also holds a special purpose in evangelicalism. It is the well-spring of three extremely popular phrases created to reinforce their position of “faith alone.”
The first popular phrase is, “We are saved by faith alone.” We have all heard this. The second phrase is, “We are saved by grace through faith plus nothing.” And, the third phrase is similar, “We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”
I have heard some of the greatest Bible expositors and preachers in our modern era confidently make these claims. They are frequently brought to bear when the topic of baptism is being discussed. All of these statements sound really good.
What I am about to say might surprise you… but just consider carefully what you hear. If I am wrong, please show me where I am wrong.
When we hear someone say, “We are saved by faith alone,” we really should think about this because… they are actually misquoting scripture.
The Bible explicitly says we are not justified by faith alone in James 2:24. Let’s listen to it.
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
When someone says we are saved by faith alone, we know they are misquoting scripture because this passage in James is the only place in the entire Bible where the phrase “faith alone” is used. The Bible can not contradict itself so… it will not say in one place, as it does here in James, we are not justified by faith alone and then somewhere else say we are justified by faith alone. Justification is salvation. They mean the same thing.
Keep it Simple
Ephesians 2:8 teaches that we are saved by grace, through faith. That is an accurate and honest presentation of the scripture. When we add the word “alone” to Ephesians 2:8 in order to gain a foot-hold for some other issue, we are being disingenuous with the scripture. It puts us in a position of misquoting the Bible.
Nowhere does the Bible explicitly say, “We are saved by faith alone.” And it can not say it implicitly because that results in a scriptural contradiction Folks, if you’ll permit me to mix my metaphors, this is not rocket surgery? We must not say we are justified by faith alone when the Bible never uses that phrase but does say we are not justified by faith alone.
And by the way, faith is never alone. Even in our Ephesians scripture, it is accompanied by grace! At A Faith that Obeys, we argue that true saving faith is always accompanied by grace and obedience.
The Three Legged Stool
The illustration we have made is that of a three legged stool. The modern evangelical world embraces the first two legs, grace and faith but has all but forgotten the third leg, obedience.
I was stunned when it finally dawned on me this phrase “we are saved by faith alone” was not in the Bible. I was not stunned because I had missed it. I was stunned because I had somehow blindly accepted that statement as a valid argument in the debate for so many years. In the multitude of discussions I have had with my evangelical friends over the years, this is often the tower to which they retreat; they confidently claim, “No, we are saved by faith alone!”
It was very difficult to provide a cogent response, especially when the statement came from pastors who had been in the ministry decades longer than me. And, let’s not forget the overwhelming chorus of supporters for this doctrine who sing their song from the various and popular radio and television ministries. Like everyone else, I just accepted it as true. After all, it was the late, great Martin Luther who coined the phrase, “Sola Fide.” How could he be wrong? You know what, I don’t think he was. After digging into his writings a little bit, I think we are mis-interpreting him. Luther understood the importance of obedience in the plan of salvation. I tell you all about that in a future Podcast.
Any way, It really bothered me that I could not provide a sound, biblical rebuttal. Then I realized, the reason I could not provide a reasonable response is because I was beating the air. You can’t hit a target that’s not in there!
“Saved by Faith” is not in the Bible either. Yikes!
It amazes me that the whole world, just like me, accepts this “Faith Alone” phrase as Gospel. I was doubly shocked when, during my research on this topic, I realized that the Bible never even uses the phrase, “saved by faith,” even though, the concept is there. Other phrases are used, such as “sanctified by faith” in Acts 26:18, and Galatians 2:16, but never, “saved by faith.” The only sound and truthful statement we can make like this is, “We are saved by grace through faith.” That’s what our Ephesians passage says and we must not go beyond what it says.
When we hear the claim that we are saved by faith alone, perhaps we should humbly ask the speaker… “Who taught you that?” or “Where is that in the Bible?”
The second popular phrase is, “We are saved by grace through faith plus nothing.” While we are on this phrase, let’s tackle the third phrase as well, “We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”
These last two statements are common phrases crafted to combat the addition of water baptism to the plan of salvation. The “plus nothing” and “alone” add on, refers to baptism or works of merit. The phrases sound good until we realize that obedience to the Gospel is critical. Maybe we can update these phrase a bit. How about, “We are saved by grace, through faith when we obey.”
Folks, we are not saved by faith alone. We are saved by A Faith that Obeys!Enjoy!