Shelby G. Floyd
In almost every standard translation of the New Testament, the phrase “faith alone” or “faith only,” is “only” found one time. And in this case it is preceded by the negative “not!” James writes,
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24 ESV).
Therefore, salvation from sin by “faith alone” is not a New Testament subject for discussion. It has been concocted and invented in the minds of those who have a human creed to uphold. Therefore, lovers of the truth must refute this false doctrine. And that is what I intend to do! But we must not take this text out of its context and make it a mere pretext. Some will deny the plain statement of scripture quoted above, and will affirm that one is justified by “faith alone!”
THE “FAITH ALONE” PROPOSITION
For instance, someone today will say,
“I am concerned over your understanding of water baptism and the gospel. The benefits of the gospel come to the person who has faith alone in Christ. The blood of Christ is applied to the sinner upon faith alone in Christ and not at baptism.”
In answer, first let me say that the faith that saves is never alone apart from obedience. The proverb, “The faith that saves is the faith that obeys” is certainly true. “Faith alone” is only the intellectual and emotional faith of demons and sinners that are lost. And they will stay lost until their faith is active in obedience. Let us define biblical faith based on the text in James 2:14-26.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
In the immediate context James lists several illustrations demonstrating that faith without works is useless for either the saved or unsaved:
1. Faith without works cannot save someone (James 2:14);
2. Faith without works cannot feed the hungry or clothe the naked (James 2:15-17);
3. Faith “by itself” without works is a “dead” faith (James 2:17);
4. Faith without works cannot be seen by others. But faith with works can be seen by all (James 2:18);
5. Faith that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) without works is a demon faith (James 2:19);
6. A “foolish person” must be shown that faith apart from works is “useless” (James 2:20);
7. Abraham “the father of the faithful” was justified by works when his faith led him to offer up his son
Isaac on the altar as God commanded (James 2:21);
8. Abraham’s faith was active and completed by his works (James 2:22);
9. By Abraham’s active and completed faith in offering up Isaac, he fulfilled the scripture in Genesis 15:6 that said “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Notice that Abraham’s faith that was imputed unto him as righteousness was not fulfilled until he offered up Isaac! And by this active and completed faith Abraham was called “a friend of God” (James 2:23). It is at this point that James draws an incontrovertible conclusion that both the wise and a “foolish person” should see: “YOU SEE THAT A PERSON IS JUSTIFIED BY WORKS AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE” (James 2:24). But not even at this point is James willing to stop his demonstration that “faith alone” without works is “no good,” “useless,” and “dead.” He has two more illustrations to clinch his argument.
10. Even the unseemly Rahab the harlot was justified by her faith and works in receiving and sending out the messengers of Israel when God was ready to destroy the city of Jericho. By her active faith she was justified and is in the family genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5);
11. And in conclusion he compares a dead body to a dead faith: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). And yet after all of these proofs we still have people today who will argue for “faith alone” or “faith only” as the only condition of salvation from sin.
BIBLICAL FAITH DEFINED
“Faith” or “belief” as a noun translates the Greek term pistis—πιστiς. In the New Testament this faith is the conviction or belief of the truth “respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things.” It generally includes the idea “of trust and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it.” It is used of the religious belief of Christians in acknowledging the claims of Christ and divine things. But this faith according to James is dead without works.
In another article we will notice how one is “justified by the faith of Christ” and thereby becomes a child of God. It definitely is “not by faith alone!”
Copyright © 2012 2019 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142