Is it by Faith Only, by Works Only,
Or by Faith and Works Together?
Aaron M Shank
The modernist has a works only religion. He denies the divinity of Christ, the necessity of blood atonement, and the need for a new birth experience.
The Calvinist and the Free Grace proponent have a faith only religion. They believe in the deity of Christ, blood atonement, and the necessity of the new birth but that salvation is by faith alone without any conditional works on the part of man. Modernism says, “Works only” while Calvinism and Free Grace say, “Faith only.”
Many conservative Mennonites believe that “good works are not even a consideration in the first step of salvation” and that “we are not saved by faith and works but only by a faith that works.” Good Gospel works, they say, are only the fruit of salvation and are necessary for continued salvation but not as a condition for initial salvation.
This article will contend that the experience of salvation is not by faith only, neither by works only, but that experiential salvation embodies both faith and works in both the initial and continued experience of salvation.
Although the terms of our title are simple, defining some of the words might be helpful.
Salvation: In the angel’s explanation to Joseph about the birth of Jesus, he told Joseph that Jesus would save His people from their sins. Salvation then is a saving from something bad to something good, a saving from a sinful life to a holy life, a saving from a worldly society to a holy society, a saving from a disturbed mind to a mind of peace and rest, a saving from the horrors of hell to the glories of heaven.
Faith: A simple home-made, easy-to-understand definition is, “Believing God in everything and acting accordingly.” Half believing in God or choosing to obey only a fraction of the known will of God can hardly be said to constitute saving faith. (Matt 7:21, Heb 5:9, 11:6)
Works: Work is any activity that requires energy or effort to accomplish a given end. Accomplishing a given end may take muscle work, mind work, word work or the combination of all these. Mind or word work is sometimes more difficult and requires more energy than muscle work. Some of the greatest accomplishments in the world are done by mind and word work. Hebrews 11:3 says that, “The worlds were framed by the word of God.” At the beginning of each day’s creation it is stated, “And God said…” (That was both mind and word work). Gen 2:2 describes what God did as “work” from which He rested on the seventh day. Solomon with all his exclusively above-the-average wisdom declared that much study is a weariness (hard mind work) to the flesh. Working the mind properly takes both effort and energy.
With this concept of mind and word work some questions might well be asked concerning the experience of salvation. Is there no mind or word work needed for sinners to call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Rom 10:13)? Is there no mind work needed for unbelievers to do the work of God in believing in Jesus whom God hath sent (John 6:9)? And is there no mind or word work embodied in confessing “with they mouth the Lord Jesus” (Rom 10:9) etc.?
Does living a life of holiness without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14); living a life of self-denial and cross bearing without which we cannot be Christ’s disciple (Luke 14:27); coming out from among the world and being separate without which we will not be received as sons and daughters of God (2 Cor 6:17,18); and obeying God’s commandments so that we may have right to the tree of life and enter in through the gates into the city (Rev 22:14) take place as automatically as breathing the air about us, or is there some effort embodied in doing these Bible conditions for salvation?
One fallacy of unconditional salvation theology is that the whole experience of salvation is based on effortless faith alone. In reality, faith is only one of the conditions given in the New Testament. Genuine faith – believing with all the heart.
The above referred to Scriptures are all embodied in both initial and continued salvation. All of them are equally inspired requirements for being saved and keeping saved. If only one of these conditions is required, who is qualified to say whether it is repentance, faith, calling on the Lord, confessing our sin, confessing Christ, or obedience, etc?
As the above references clearly indicate the New Testament repeatedly associates both divine and human action as being inseparable in experiential salvation.
It is in the area of God providing salvation for us “that the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared…not by works of righteousness that we have done… which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In the provisional works for our salvation it can never be said that divine and human action is inseparable. Only God could provide for us through grace.
Meeting the Bible designated conditional works is the only way to have the God-provided supernatural works to effectually work in us an experience of salvation. By doing conditional works we do not add one single, tiny aspect to the miraculously, previously provided works of God. The provisional works were already designed, planned for, and promised before the world began (Titus 1:2). They were not provided for by any works of righteousness which we have done or ever could do.
Some of the New Testament references that speak of not being justified by works relate primarily to the ceremonial works of Old Testament times (Gal 2:16, 5:2-7). These ceremonial works were all fulfilled in Christ and were to be practiced by God’s people only for the time then present (Col 2:14).
Perhaps it would be helpful to look at how the early church responded when people wanted to be saved. Under Christ the apostles were God’s special foundational agents for planting the church in the world (Eph 2:20-22). We would hardly dare question the rightness of their method in saving souls.
On the day of Pentecost, when under deep conviction of sins, the people cried, “…What shall we do?” peter responded forthrightly with something to do. “Repent and be baptized everyone of you fo the remission of sins…” Now if one of the faith-only, do-nothing Free Grace preachers would have been on the floor he would have probably responded to the effect, “You men have a false concept of salvation. You will have to realize that there is nothing you can do to be saved. It has all been done. Simply believe in your heart that Christ has done it all for you, trust Him and you’ll be forever saved.”
But Peter, who was by no means a man of modern theology, told them to do something. The people responded in repentance and were baptized. They continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and the Lord added them to the Church.
When Saul, trembling and astonished said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Jesus did not tell him, “nothing at all” but rather, “Go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” (Was this a big mistake that Jesus made?) When the Lord told Ananias to go and help Saul, He said Saul is doing something, “Behold he prayeth.” Saul was doing exactly the same thing he said later that the people must do to be saved. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom 10:13)
When Cornelius was doing prayer and fasting works in seeking salvation, he was told by an angel of God to send for Peter who “shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do”. (Did the angel make a mistake?) When Peter found Cornelius earnestly seeking salvation by prayer and fasting his response was that “in every nation he that feareth him (God) and worketh righteousness is accepted of him.” Peter was not a faith-only, do nothing preacher.
When the Philippian jailor, under deep conviction said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he was told, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. He was to believe not only on a “Jesus Christ salvation” but on a “Lordship salvation.” This meant that Jesus Christ must also be the ruler of his life in order for him to be saved. “He that saith I know him and keepeth not his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4)
In the foregoing examples Jesus, an angel, and the apostles all told seeking people they needed to do something to be saved. Never were people told, “Nothing at all – it’s all been done, you only frustrate the grace of God when you think you must do something to be saved.” Shouldn’t these infallible answers help us believe all that the Bible teaches about salvation and to properly divide between a no-works, provisional salvation and a responsive conditional-works salvation? It may be significant too that all of these inquirers knew they needed to do something to bring about the change that needed to be made in their lives to be saved.
When the Bible says, “nor of works,” it must have reference to the provisional works of Christ which man can never do (2Tim 1:9, Titus 3:4-6), or the ceremonial works of the law which were all fulfilled in Christ (Gal 2:16), or to the supernatural work of regeneration (john 1:13), or to the self-righteous works like the Pharisees of Luke 18, or to the apostate, immoral, idolatrous, backslidden, filthy-rages works as in Isaiah 64:6. It never means that the conditional, good works of faith, repentance, calling on the Lord, confessing our sins and confessing Christ or a commitment to a life of holiness and obedience are null and void in experiential salvation. These works are never referred to as filthy-rag works.
These conditional works for salvation are not nearly as great or wonderful as the supernatural, superhuman, provisional works of God through Christ but they are just as vital and essential in experiential salvation for all accountable persons. If God would not have moved first, apart from any work man can do, we couldn’t move at all.
To use Scriptures that refer to the fulfilling and annulment of the ceremonial law, or to use the humanly impossible, God-provided works of Christ, or references to the worthless, self-righteous or wicked works of men to nullify the good conditional Gospel works for salvation is an injustice to sound interpretation and endangers promoting a religion that says, Lord, Lord and does not the things He says and endangers a possible ultimatum, “I never knew you – depart from me.”
This writer has an overwhelming appreciation for the grace of God. I serve the Lord out of love and appreciation for Him who first loved and provided for me, but at the same time I am giving diligence to make my calling and election sure (as Peter admonishes in 2 Peter 1:10). I am also endeavoring to “keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means after I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway” (as the Apostle Paul needed to do). A castaway according to Strong’s Greek Concordance is a worthless and rejected one.
The book of Hebrews presents a number of imperatives that might well sum up this message.
“And without shedding of blood is no remission.” Heb 9:22
Without an active faith it is impossible to please God Heb 11:6
Without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14)
Faith without faithfulness is a dead faith which can never save the world.
“Wherefore the rather…give diligence to make your calling and election sure…For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10&11)