Salvation by Faith Alone

I’m a product of the evangelical, reformed, protestant empire. Not only did I grow up in mainline protestant traditions, I attended a well-established, confessional bastion of theological training. It proudly proclaimed the “Five Solas of the Reformation” and believed the essence of the gospel was explained in those five simple phrases. Years out of grad school and into real life has shaken the foundations of that education rather forcibly. One particular “Sola” I’ve pondered a great deal lately is how we are saved by “Faith Alone” (Sola Fide).  Are we sure about this? To put it another way: what if our hearers understand us to say that our belief in Jesus is all that matters, and our behavior is inconsequential.

I have questions that I’d like to put down on “paper”. These are questions. I don’t claim to have the answer. I do know how poorly we reformed Christians communicate our belief is “salvation by faith alone” evidenced by our hearers understanding of salvation.

Onto the issue: We reformed, protestant, and evangelical Christians hold to a belief that humanity is saved not on the basis of any contributed work of our own (except sin, which is the malady from which we need remedy). We are saved only on the basis of Jesus’ completed work on the cross. On the contrary, we are saved simply by believing in His name, confessing we are sinners and needing a savior, confessing Jesus rose from the dead, and confessing He will come again. We would say that our works are important after salvation as a means of demonstrating our change of status. But, nonetheless, we are actually saved only be our confession of faith.

Let’s again consider what we are to confess we believe (1 Cor. 15:1-4):

  • We are sinners destined for judgment.
  • Jesus is God’s Son, the one who can remedy our malady.
  • Jesus rose again and will come again in judgment.

Admittedly, this is is over-simplified.

Okay, if that’s so, here’s my beef. This is essentially what the demons believe, right?

We are probably familiar with what James says about the demons’ belief.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. (James 2:19) But, that’s not the only passage where we seem to see their “confession of faith.”

Consider this “statement of faith” made by demons from Matthew 8:29:

“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

On the surface, it seems there’s quite a confession here. The demons seem to know the identity of Jesus. He is no ordinary man, but the “Son of God.” The depth of their understanding of this title might be debated, but I’d be willing to wager no Christian has exhaustive knowledge of the range of meaning and significance of Jesus being the “Son of God.” At minimum, I’d be willing to guess they know as much as the religious leaders do about this title. Read what St. John says in Jn 5:18, “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (emphasis added)

The religious leaders understood the implication of Jesus claiming to be God’s Son, which was made more than once. (cf. Jn 2:16; 3:16; Jn 19:7) Jesus knew what he was saying when he claimed such a title. And, since we typically believe demons have more knowledge than humans, though not all-knowing, wouldn’t it be safe to assume they “believed” Jesus was not a mere man, but the divine-man, the “Son of God” come down from heaven? I think so.

What did Jesus come to do? Well, the demons confession includes a question about final, divine judgment. They seem to know that Jesus, as the “Son of God” will mettle out final judgment on evil. What’s even more wild is they know they’ll not favor well on the final day. They say “have you come to torture us before the appointed time?” (emphasis added) To put it another way, they know they are sinners!

Okay… they know who Jesus is, the know from whence he came and why he came from that whence, they know judgment awaits them because they are guilty and deserve such judgment. I work at a Christian school and I’d bet there are a good many “Christians” who have this exact same “statement of faith.” I bet the demons one-up them in that they shudder because of their knowledge, and we don’t.

Alright, why aren’t demons saved by “faith alone”?

Maybe it’s because their knowledge is only head based, and not a heart issue? I can see someone say this, but I’d then have to ask, “how do you know that?” Wouldn’t the fact they shudder in fear demonstrates a heart response to the truth of who Jesus is? Or, maybe its’ because they aren’t trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. Again, I’d ask, and maybe rather ridiculously here, how do you know for certain they aren’t trusting in Christ?

Because they are workers of evil, like their father the devil…(Jn 8:44)

Their works are clear. Their works show what they believe. That’s what behaviors do. They reflect the belief system driving that behavior. That’s why James says “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17) James asks a question that he doesn’t answer. It appears to me James doesn’t answer the question himself because his readers will intuitively know quickly the answer. He says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (emphasis added).

The answer seems to be “No”, right? Our young people need to understand what we mean when we say we are saved by “faith alone.” Paul tells the young Timothy to “watch your life and your doctrine closely.” (1 Tim. 4:16) Why such an emphasis on “your life” if you are saved by our “doctrine” or “faith” only?

Scripture is replete with warnings about persevering in the faith until the end to be saved. Why the warnings if all you need to do is “don’t stop believen’, hang on to the feeeeeling..”? (Thank you, Journey) The Scripture warns because faith and life matter.

We confess salvation by “faith alone” because no work of ours could ever earn a perfect score. We are without the ability to save ourselves from our condition. We need cleansing and redemption, but we cannot do it. Jesus not only can, but does. His perfect life, his death, and his resurrection satisfied the law’s demand, secured the freedom of sins’ prisoners and guaranteed life for his people. His people need to know their salvation was won for them by Christ. No our works don’t save us. Our works do demonstrate what we really believe, though.

I conclude. In my estimation, demons are a good example showing how “faith alone” is actually a problematic summary of how salvation works, as if it were simply a one-time event. We need to carefully explain how our profession of “salvation by faith alone” is not mere intellectual assent, but much more than that. We must clarify “faith alone” is a head and heart combination whereby the head confesses truths about Christ and the heart (emotions and actions) demonstrate the head knowledge in real ways. Galatians 5:6 is a statement which affirms (I believe) what I’m trying to clarify. St. Paul writes, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” In essence, when you grasp the love, mercy and majesty of Christ and his work for you, your response will not just be intellectual gratitude, but a whole-life commitment.

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