Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are my personal views, which I offer to you as beliefs that are true, but I know for a fact, which is not in dispute, my beliefs, just like yours, may fall short of the truth.

Purpose

Despite some differences, all Christians agree that only God performs the work of atonement. Clarifying how man responds to that work is the purpose of this argument.

Background

Most Christians hold one of two opinions describing man’s role in salvation. Some argue that man receives salvation by ‘faith alone’, but others contend that ‘faith alone’ is not enough: preferring, instead, a ‘faith plus works’ soteriology.

Which is correct?

It’s difficult to say, for it depends on how we define the meaning of faith and the meaning of works. Is faith a mere belief in God, or does faith entail something more? Are works a special class of deeds that merit salvation, or are works concomitant expressions of faith?

Proposition

From the Old Testament through the synoptic Gospels, from the words of James to the epistles of Paul, the standard by which a man receives salvation remains the same: the man of faith who works by love is saved indeed.

Paradox

At first appearance, it seems the Word of God contradicts itself. Compare the following statements from James and Paul.

According to James, Abraham was justified by faith and works.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (Jam.2:21-22)

But according to Paul, Abraham was justified by faith alone:

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Rom.4:1-3)

How do we resolve this paradox?

To begin, let’s first define biblical faith.

Defining Faith

Here’s how the writer of Hebrews defines faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb.11:1)

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb.11:3)

Biblical faith is believing in the word and works of God, trusting that whatever God says or did or promises to do is reliably true.

The writer of Hebrews then proceeds to celebrate the many souls who proved their faith by works they did.

Consider the faith of Noah and Abraham:

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Heb.11:7)

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. (Heb.11:8)

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Heb.11:17-19)

In these and every other case, the faith of men were evidenced by works they did.

On that biblical basis, I propose this working definition of faith:

Faith is believing in that which is known to be true, with concomitant works that shall always ensue.

With faith defined, let’s identify the relationship between faith and salvation.

General Revelation

At the most fundamental level, ‘saving faith’ submits to universal truth that is known to be true.

Here’s one expression of universal truth:

God is the loving Almighty Creator, and men are moral responsible creatures.

So, a man of ‘saving faith’ consents to both the power and the love of the Creator God. In other words, ‘saving faith’ implies compliance to universal truth.

This faithful response to universal truth unites all believers through every dispensation of biblical history.

Today, believers refer to universal truth as the General Revelation of God, and the Scriptures affirm that every man perceives it’s true, for God reveals it unto them.

God reveals Himself by works of Creation:

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (Rom.1:19-20)

God reveals Himself by words upon the conscience:

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) (Rom.2:13-15)

Together, those passages provide sufficiently compelling reasons to believe in God and obey His commands. First, God’s works of Creation provide witness to our flesh of body and soul. Second, God’s word upon our conscience make testimony to our spirit. Together, God’s words and his works confirm to our spirit and flesh that the Creator is a powerful and loving personal being.

Therefore, the universal knowledge of General Revelation gives sufficient cause for ‘saving faith’.

Furthermore, General Revelation alludes to something more profound: not only does God reveal Himself by words and works, but God intends for us to respond by words and works of our own, namely by faith that’s proven by works.

But there’s more to understanding God.

Special Revelation

From Genesis through Revelation, the Word of God discloses additional details about this powerful and loving Creator: the Special Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Behold a prophecy fulfilled,
But into few its words distill;
The author of salvation sealed,
With many drawn to His appeal;
The object of our faith unveiled,
Whose sacrificial love prevails;
The Son of God once thought surreal
Came unto us, God’s Word revealed.

The Special Revelation of Jesus Christ, as contained within the pages of Scripture, is of recent historical origin with limited distribution; therefore, it cannot be the basis by which an individual comes to the knowledge of ‘saving faith’. Again, that’s the purpose of General Revelation.

That said, Special Revelation offers many deep insights into the nature of salvation; and this argument explores just one of them:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (Jhn.3:16)

God’s love for us is front and center in Special Revelation. Given love’s paramount significance, how should we respond to the love of God, as demonstrated by the incarnation of Jesus Christ?

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1Jo.3:16)

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1Jo.4:11-12)

So Special Revelation does more than just reiterate God’s love for us; it actually shows us the meaning of faith which worketh by love, a lesson embodied by the life and death of Jesus Christ.

What do the rest of Scriptures say?

Loving Faith in Scripture

In the Old Testament, the Scriptures command the love for God and man:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deu.6:4-5)

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. (Lev.19:17-18)

In the New Testament, Christ identifies the greatest of God’s commandments, which fulfill the law and the prophets:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Mat.22:37-40)

To paraphrase: God’s greatest commandments are faith in God and love for man; that is faith which worketh by love.

What does that imply?

‘Saving faith’ is love for God, and if we love God, we also love our fellow man. To reiterate a previous point: we demonstrate our ‘word of faith’ by ‘works of love’: our words and works uniting as one.

Now lest we forget the basis of faith, John the apostle firmly anchors ‘saving faith’ to works of love, which are grounded in truth:

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (Jhn.4:24)

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. (1Jo.3:18-19)

According to Jesus, the highest standard commanded of us is faith in God and love for man. And as the apostle John makes crystal clear, works of love derive from a spirit of faith with knowledge of truth.

Finally, notice the assurance that love provides: by works of love ‘we know that we are of the truth’. In other words, works of love toward other men confirm our faith in God is real.

So, what does James teach: is faith perfected by works of love?

Loving Faith by James

When considering the following passages, notice the relationship between faith in God’s ‘engrafted word’ and the works of love that should emerge:

Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (Jam.1:21-22)

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (Jam.1:25)

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? (Jam.2:5-7)

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (Jam.2:8-9)

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. (Jam.2:12)

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (Jam.2:14)

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (Jam.2:26)

In these passages, James boldy declares that ‘faith without works is dead’. He also affirms that works of faith fulfill the ‘royal law’ of love.

Therefore, James teaches that ‘saving faith’ produces works of love.

But what does James intend by the following?

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. (Jam.2:10-11)

Is James teaching that salvation requires perfect obedience to the law?

I don’t believe so, and I doubt that others believe it either.

However, isn’t that the problem with ‘faith plus works’ soteriology? If salvation requires perfect obedience to the whole law, then who can merit salvation?

So what specifically does James intend?

In his second chapter, James draws a distinction between those who love the rich but hate the poor, who exploit the Royal Law for selfish gain. To his credit, James condemns such behavior as blasphemous, or not consistent with ‘saving faith’.

Therefore, James distinguishes between works that satisfy the Royal Law and others that do not, between works consistent with salvation and works that merit condemnation.

Now what about this Law of Liberty?

To answer that question, let’s first review the teachings of Paul.

Loving Faith by Paul

If Paul teaches that ‘saving faith’ is wrought by works of love, then we can reasonably conclude that Paul agrees with James on the role of works in salvation.

So what does Paul teach?

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (Rom.7:6)

Notice how Paul distinguishes between the ‘letter of the law’ and the ‘spirit of the law’. The distinction informs all of Paul’s teachings.

Let’s continue.

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom.13:8-10)

What a statement: ‘saving faith’ by works of love fulfills the law!

Therefore, Paul agrees with James, who agrees with Jesus, and Jesus agrees with all the teachings of the Old Testament: ‘saving faith’ produces works of love, and works of love satisfy the requirements of the law.

So, do we receive salvation by ‘faith plus works’?

To answer that question, we need to distinguish between different definitions of ‘works’. Are ‘works’ those behaviors done in submission to the standard of love? Are ‘works’ obedience to the Ten Commandments? Are ‘works’ compliance to the 613 laws of Moses? Finally, do circumcision, church attendance, baptism, holy communion, daily prayer, marriage, or any other religious practice qualify as ‘works’ that merit salvation?

Fortunately for us, Paul has answered those questions. In fact, apart from Christ, Paul is preeminently qualified to speak on the matter, for Paul was perfect in his compliance to the technical requirements of the Mosaic Law.

Here’s Paul’s reflection on the matter:

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Phl.3:2-6)

In this single passage, Paul puts to rest the controversy surrounding the works of the law. He does so in two parts.

First, Paul distinguishes the ‘concision’ of the flesh from the ‘circumcision’ of the spirit: the former according to the ‘letter of the law’, the latter according to the ‘spirit of the law’.

Second, Paul boasts that, in the flesh, he was ‘blameless’ concerning the ‘letter of the law’. But while keeping the ‘letter of the law’, Paul insists that he fell woefully short, as he explains:

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phl.3:7-11)

Paul failed the rightousness of God for he endeavored to earn his own righteousness by strict compliance to the ‘letter of the law’. All of Paul’s religious works were devoid of loving faith. He learned that the righteousness of God is through faith which worketh not by the ‘letter of the law’ but by the ‘spirit of the law’. And the ‘spirit of the law’ involves partaking in the ‘sufferings’ of Christ, who embodies the sacrificial nature of love.

In other words, as Paul attests in his first letter to the Corinthians …

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1Co.13:3)

You see? One cannot satisfy the ‘spirit of the law’ by merely following the ‘letter of the law’.

Why? Because the purpose of spiritual law is not about earning salvation for oneself; it’s about serving the lives of others, and that requires a spirit of love, which only derives from ‘saving faith’.

In summary, while James argues that ‘faith without works is dead’, Paul argues that ‘works without faith’ is also dead:

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom.10:2-4)

In other words, professing God is not enough; performing works are not enough; but saving faith is knowledge of truth with concomitant works of love that ensue.

Now let’s answer a previous question: what are ‘works’?

Defining Works

According to previous passages, works have two completely different meanings. On the one hand, works are religious activities, done by strict compliance to the ‘letter of the law’, for the purpose of earning oneself salvation. On the other hand, works are acts of love, performed by the ‘spirit of the law’ and done for the benefit of other men. The former are called ‘dead works’ while the latter are called ‘good works’.

Here’s an example:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph.2:8-10)

Let’s interpret the passage:

Salvation is a gift of God that we receive through faith, for we can never earn ourselves salvation by performing ‘dead works’; but we shall always prove our faith by ‘goodly works’ of love for others.

Therefore, the Scriptures describe two types of works: ‘dead works’ done according to the ‘letter of the law’ and ‘good works’ done according to the ‘spirit of the law’: the former done to earn salvation, the latter done to benefit others.

To be complete, the Scriptures also describe a third type of work, known as evil or wicked works; but these are not germane to this argument.

What if we fail to love one another? Are we still saved?

To help answer that question, let’s now review the Law of Liberty.

Law of Liberty

Remember what James says about the ‘perfect law of liberty’?

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (Jam.1:25)

So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. (Jam.2:12)

James is clear: if we profess the word of faith, then our works should reflect our words, for the ‘perfect law of liberty’ shall be our judge.

The whole of Scripture describes the life-giving liberty that we experience when freed from the bondage of establishing our own salvation.

In the next two passages, King David celebrates the liberty afforded by the law of God, which makes him alive:

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments. So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. (Psa.119:43-45)

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. (Psa.119:93)

In the following passage, Isaiah prophesies, and Jesus fulfills, the role of the Redeemer, who delivers men from bondage to ‘dead works’ and frees them to enjoy the righteousness secured by faith in Christ’s atoning works:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, (Isa.61:1; Luk.4:18)

Those verses allude to the renewing of the spirit, the regeneration of the soul, and the resurrection of the body that God bestows upon the poor in spirit, who depend on Him for justification, sanctification, and glorification.

Once again, Paul puts it all together:

And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (2Co.3:4-6)

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2Co.3:17)

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Gal.5:1-4)

Can Paul’s message be any more clear?

Performing ‘dead works’ leads to bondage unto death, but ‘saving faith’, by works of love, leads to liberty of the Spirit unto life. To serve under the ‘letter of the law’ creates bondage; to serve under the ‘spirit of the law’ creates liberty, and the ‘spirit giveth life’.

In other words, ‘good works’ are not intended to earn salvation; Christ has already accomplished that feat, as only the Son of God could do. Instead, ‘good works’ signify a ‘saving faith’ that already exists.

So, if we fail to love one another, can we lose our salvation?

Addressing this concern, Paul writes:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Rom.7:18-20)

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Rom.7:21-23)

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom.7:24-25)

So, by the spirit, we commit to faith in God, but by the flesh, we succumb to sin. This inconsistency between the spirit and the flesh offers insight into the nature of man and the work of God’s atonement, but let’s stay focused on the question at hand.

So we know that Paul understands the problem; but when a genuine believer acts against his spirit’s desires, what’s the effect on his salvation?

Let’s keep reading:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Rom.8:28-30)

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom.8:31)

These passages, alone, do not specify how God forgives the sins of man, but Paul’s words affirm that He does, for ‘whom God justifies, them He also glorifies’.

This is not to suggest that Scriptures provide vague answers to this question. That is not the case, but the precise and unambiguous answer depends on understanding the nature of God’s atonement, which is another discussion for another time.

For now, it’s enough to know that God has atoned for the sins of faithful men in a legally sound and morally righteous manner.

So while leaving the question of atonement for another time, let’s remember these encouraging words:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James.1:5)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo.1:9)

So what, precisely, is the Law of Liberty?

The Law of Liberty is not a list of dos and don’ts, but a license to choose whatsoever we please, as long as we act in a spirit of love by a faith which is grounded in truth.

Christ completed the work of salvation; Christ gave us an example of sacrificial love to follow; and God gave each of us unique skills and abilities to deploy as we choose. That’s what it means to be free in Christ.

But this freedom from the ‘letter of the law’, if exercised carelessly, may harm those of weaker but genuine faith, who remain committed to certain practices prescribed by the ‘letter of the law’. Bear with me …

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (1Co.8:9)

This is very important: not every believer will express his freedom equally.

Messianic Jews, Traditional Catholics, and Orthodox Christians continue to practice some form of work-based salvation. Are they saved? It depends: are they relying on ‘dead works’ to justify themselves, or are they simply formalizing opportunities to perform ‘good works’ in service to God and men?

If we carefully listen to Orthodox Christians defend their un-Protestant traditions, some argue for the latter case.

Who am I to judge, not knowing their hearts?

After all, if my liberty frees me from the ‘letter of the law’, are not others also free to serve the ‘spirit of the law’ by practicing the ‘letter of the law’?

If liberty is indeed free, then are we not free to express our love by different means?

Again, Paul has already said so much:

Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? (1Co.10:29-30)

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1Co.10:31-33)

Yet some would use this liberty to excuse their fleshly pursuits, to which Paul offers these convicting words:

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. (Rom.6:15)

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Gal.5:13)

And Peter echoes Paul’s admonition:

As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (1Pe.2:16-17)

Therefore, the Law of Liberty frees us from the work of earning our own salvation; so we can work in the service of others instead.

To God be the glory!

Resolution

How should we characterize the role of man in salvation: by ‘faith alone’ or by ‘faith plus works’?

As James argues, ‘faith alone’ offers no protection against the Law of Liberty when used to justify sin; that is, faith without works is dead.

As Paul argues, ‘faith plus works’ offers no protection against the Law of Liberty when used to justify self-righteousness; that is, works without faith is also dead.

Rather, ‘saving faith’ is this:

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. (Gal.5:6)

Now if ‘faith which worketh by love’ fulfills the ‘spirit of the law’, then what does such a faith look like?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (Gal.5:22-24)

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1Co.13:4-7)

For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. (Eph.5:8-10)

Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that James and Paul agree: ‘saving faith’ is believing in that which is known to be true, with concomitant works of love that ensue.

Conclusion

‘Faith which worketh by love’ perfectly describes God’s atoning work, which is the model for us to follow. It is love that establishes the faith of Paul. It is love that motivates James’ appeal to works. It is love that permeates the teachings of Jesus. It is love that satisfies the spirit of Moses’ Law. Finally, it is love that secures the salvation of Adam and every believer from him to the end.

From Adam Eve and Noah thru,
Both Abraham and Moses too,
Beyond the cross or pentecost,
Or book of Revelation’s plot,
A faith by love is true to God,
Transforming men of low regard:
Without beginning, never ends,
An everlasting love, Amen.

Therefore, men receive salvation neither by ‘faith alone’, nor by ‘faith plus works’, but by ‘faith which worketh by love’.

That concludes the main argument, but there are two related topics that I would like to address.

Two Gospels

Previously, we interpreted the meanings of faith and works to argue that, throughout the Scriptures, men receive salvation by faith which worketh by love. But some may still inquire:

But the Jews had to keep the ‘letter of the law’ to be saved, and that is not the case for Christians. Right?

To answer that question, let’s briefly compare a few important religious practices of the Old Testament Jews and the New Testament Christians.

Notice the similarities between their respective practices:

The Jews offered animal sacrifices for forgiveness of sins. Christians participate in holy communion, in remembrance of Christ’s vicarious death for sins of man.

The Jews practiced diverse washings and cleansings as part of their purification from sins. Christians get baptized to symbolize the washing away of sins and their resurrection unto life.

The Jews kept the Sabbath Day of Rest. Christians attend weekly services to rest from their daily labors and to celebrate their trust in God’s provisions.

The Jews circumcised all male children as a sign of their covenant with God. Christians also practice circumcision, to signify their faith in God.

The Jews obeyed the Ten Commandments, as do faithful Christians.

All of these religious practices center around the role of Jesus Christ and His atoning work for man. Unbeknownst to Old Testament Jews, their religious practices foreshadowed the atoning work of Christ. As Christians, we knowingly do these things in memory of what Jesus has already accomplished.

Therefore, Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians share very similar religious practices that serve the same purpose: identifying the object of our faith and the author of our salvation.

Okay, so we share similar practices, but the Jews were required to do those things, for if they failed, the law prescribed punishment by death. That is not the case for Christians. Right?

Technically speaking, that is true: if Jews didn’t keep the Sabbath Day, the Law prescribed death, and if Christians don’t go to church on Sunday, there is no such law. However, if Christians don’t rest in the works of Christ, and instead work to establish their own salvation, do they not also face eternal judgment of death?

But consider something more obvious:

The Mosaic Law prescribes death for violations of the Sabbath, the law of circumcision, and several of the Ten Commandments. Also, for any sin done ‘presumptuously’ there was no forgiveness of sin.

Now consider the sins of King David, who was a Jew and subject to the Mosaic Law. David, being a ‘man after God’s own heart’ committed adultery with Bathsheba and schemed to have Uriah killed. Since adultery and murder are punishable by death, David should have been put to death. Moreover, most argue that David’s sins were done presumptuously, and if that is true, David could not receive forgiveness, implying that David could not be saved. But David was not put to death; his sins were forgiven; and everyone believes he was saved. So were the Jews actually required to keep the ‘letter of the law’?

For these purposes, it doesn’t matter how David was forgiven. All that matters is that he was; that’s the salient point.

If David, or any other Jew, can receive forgiveness for violating the ‘letter of the law’, then how can ‘faith plus works’ soteriology apply to the Old Testament Jews? It doesn’t seem possible, for if works are required for salvation, then failing to perform a single work should preclude one’s salvation.

However, if men can be forgiven for violating the ‘letter of the law’, then works associated with the ‘letter of the law’ cannot be necessary conditions of salvation, for salvation follows in their absence.

And if that is true, then what distinguishes Jewish soteriology from that of Christians?

It seems that David’s experience supports the argument that Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians share the same soteriology, which is something other than ‘faith plus works’.

Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians share similar practices and the same soteriology.

Death-Bed Confessions

Some argue that the thief on the cross was saved by ‘faith alone’ for he performed no ‘good works’. Is that true?

Let’s read the relevant passage, which begins with the unbelieving thief who is mocking Jesus:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luk.23:39-43)

We can identify five behaviors of the believing thief: 1) he respected God’s righteous judgment; 2) he confessed his sins; 3) he acknowledged that Jesus was free from sin; 4) he believed that Jesus had power to save him; and 5) his words to Jesus and the other thief provided truthful testimony to all the witnesses.

Therefore, the thief was saved by faith which worketh by love: a love expressed by his testimony of truth.

What about the confession by a man who dies alone? Can such a faith perform ‘good works’ of love toward other men?

Yes, indeed!

Here’s the logic:

Assume a faith in God.
Faith in God is love for God.
To love God is to keep His commandments.
God commands that we ought to forgive one another.
Asking God to forgive those who sinned against us is love.
And loving one another demonstrates ‘good works’.
So ‘good works’ are possible by prayer alone.

Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that all death-bed confessions can be understood as ‘saving faith’ which worketh by love.

I hope this argument challenges you as much as it inspires me.

—Natagan