FAITH ALONE? (EXCERPT OF THE BOOK OF FIRST JOHN)
From The Book of First John
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
There are Bible teachers who claim we are saved by “faith alone.” This doctrine is neither scriptural nor constructive. Numerous Christian people have the impression that their behavior is not a critical part of their salvation. They have been deceived.
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (I John 5:3-5)
We might stop and think, at this point, about the entire question of “faith alone,” the concept that by holding a certain belief system in our mind we are counted righteous apart from any actions on our part.
We must recognize that there are some things we can acknowledge as truth but that make no demands on us to do anything. There is other information we can acknowledge as truth but that makes severe demands on us. In this latter instance we cannot say we actually have acknowledged the truth, except in some purely mental sense, unless we meet these demands. It would be as though our acknowledging the truth has made the truth a real experience in our life even though we have done nothing about the accompanying demands.
There are facts we acknowledge and believe. Some of them demand practically no response at all. I am referring to these as having minimum severity of consequences, meaning if we choose to believe these facts and yet not act on what we have been taught there are practically no consequences.
An example of this would be the concept that heat is associated with the motion of molecules. You can choose to believe this. There are few if any consequences if you believe this and yet do nothing about your belief.
Then there are other areas of information we might acknowledge and believe that have moderate severity of consequences if we do not act on them. For instance, the weather forecast might be for light sprinkles tomorrow. We may choose to wear a raincoat or not. If we do not, and it sprinkles, we might get a little wet; but this is not a severe consequence.
Finally there is information we might acknowledge and believe that has maximum severity of consequences if we do not act on it. We might have been informed that a fire near us is burning out of control and is approaching our house. If we choose not to respond appropriately the consequences may be severe.
When the doctrine of “faith alone” is emphasized, we may have read in the Bible of the consequences of not doing what the New Testament commands. But because of the unscriptural doctrine of “faith alone” we may choose not to pay heed to the several warnings concerning living in our sinful nature. We may do nothing about the warnings although we believe the Bible is the Word of God.
There are very severe consequences for believing the New Testament is the Word of God and then not doing what it commands.
If we believe certain information is true, and this information makes demands on us, and yet we do not meet those demands, the fact that we believe this information is true and factual does not benefit us. If we do not meet the demands outlined in the information there may be severe consequences. This especially is true in the case of the Word of God.
Now let’s think for a moment about the above verse—“He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God overcomes the world.” You know, there is a teaching today that the rewards to the overcomer, set forth in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation, automatically are assigned to every individual who “believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” No actual overcoming of sin is required. It is enough to believe Jesus is the Son of God.
I would suspect that this teaching of “faith alone” is derived from the Apostle Paul’s statement that Abraham was judged righteous because he had believed the fantastic promise of God. Therefore we can be counted righteous by believing in Christ apart from any action on our part.
Before I probe more deeply into this, let me remind the reader that Paul’s purpose in placing so much emphasis on Abraham receiving righteousness apart from works is to prove God can call people righteous apart from the Law of Moses. Paul would be astonished, I guess, if we Gentiles were using his argument to prove we can be termed righteous while believing in Christ and continuing to live according to our sinful nature.
However, there is some indication that even during Paul’s lifetime people were wresting his teaching of grace to their own destruction. This probably is why the sixth chapter of Romans begins with the question (and I sense Paul’s indignation in this question), “What are we to conclude? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”
But let’s probe a bit, as I said.
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5,6)
What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
Abraham believed God when God told Abraham that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars.
What took place when Abraham believed?
First of all, God counted Abraham’s belief, in the face of the impossible, as righteousness.
Second, Abraham’s belief made it possible for God’s promise to be activated. We remember that the Lord Jesus did not do many miracles in His home town because of their lack of faith. Belief opens a channel through which God can work.
Third, Abraham had to make an effort to believe; so Abraham’s belief was an act of obedience. Therefore, what brought righteousness may have been obedience.
In today’s preaching, the reason we obtain righteousness through faith (we think) is not that we look up in actual faith and exercise hope in the faithfulness of God, but that our belief that God has said it—apart from any love for God or hope in God’s faithfulness—ensures the fulfillment of the promise.
What we have today is a kind of mental magic: “I believe in the facts of theology as presented in the Bible and then analyzed and systematized by the human mind. It is my acknowledgment that God actually has said these things that brings righteousness to me.”
Now let us think about God commanding Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering. Abraham had to make the effort to believe God said this. He could have thrust it out of his mind. I think obedience began when Abraham chose to receive God’s Word.
Now, suppose Abraham had said to himself: “I know I am held to be righteous because of my faith in God. I know God has told me to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. I believe this. Therefore I am righteous.”
And then did nothing about it. Would Abraham have been righteous on the basis of his belief that God had spoken to him? Of course not! So belief is tied closely to obedience, isn’t it?
We know Abraham would not have been counted righteous in this case. Why? Because his faith did not result in obedience. His faith alone would not have brought righteousness to him.
Is this true of us? When we believe Jesus is the Son of God, does our belief alone overcome the world?
We believe an atonement has been made for our sins through the offering of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Our faith activates the promise of God and we are justified in God’s sight. There is nothing we are to do but believe.
Then the Lord Jesus, through the Apostle Paul, commanded us to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
Does the fact we believe what the Apostle said is God’s Word bring righteousness to us? Or does obeying what Paul said bring righteousness to us?
So we see that in some instances, it is sufficient to acknowledge that God has spoken, and then to rejoice in hope because we know God is faithful and what He said is true, even though there is nothing we can see and nothing we can do about it. This is true in the case of the blood atonement.
Then in other instances it is not sufficient to acknowledge that God has spoken. Rather, we have to prove our faith by doing what God has commanded.
We understand then that in one instance faith does not require anything more than belief in the faithfulness of God. But in another instance faith requires action on our part.
How do we overcome the world? Is it by acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God? Did not the demons do this? Or is it by following Christ as He leads us from victory to victory over the dark forces in the world? We follow Christ like this because we believe He is the Son of God.
We are not teaching justification by faith today. Rather we are teaching justification by a sort of magical application of a formula—a formula devoid of love for God and hope in the faithfulness of God. It is a mindset, a belief system, not faith.
There is no righteousness or salvation in a belief system, no matter how scriptural it may be. The righteousness and salvation are in a Person, in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not enough that we believe He is the Son of God. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him at all times if we are to pass from death to life.
What we have today is a philosophy like any other philosophy. It is not a living interaction with a living Person. There is no eternal life in it.
(“Faith Alone?”, 3835-1)