Salvation by “faith alone” limits God’s grace

Advocates of salvation by faith alone have, in the past, argued that anything else is unbiblical legalism, and so makes void God’s grace. This is entirely mistaken.
The reason it limits God’s grace, is that it removes the crucial change that grace causes. Faith doesn’t simply give us the password to heaven, no matter how good the creeds professed. In God’s grace, we are made Godly. By our faith in God, we let in God’s grace, that proceeds to fundamentally change us. God’s grace takes over us, as we allow Him, and fills us with grace also, so that we can say with Paul,

with Christ I have been crucified, and live no more do I, and Christ doth live in me; and that which I now live in the flesh—in the faith I live of the Son of God, who did love me and did give himself for me;
Galatians 2:20

And,

Not having my righteousness, which is of law, but that which is through faith of Christ—the righteousness that is of God by the faith, to know him, and the power of his rising again, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if anyhow I may attain to the rising again of the dead.
Philippians 3:9-11

Don’t mistake it for legalism. It is through God’s grace that the change is had. It is not by man’s effort that salvation is reached (though each can refuse or accept).

for if by the offence of the one the death did reign through the one, much more those, who the abundance of the grace and of the free gift of the righteousness are receiving, in life shall reign through the one—Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:17

It is God’s gift, that those of the true faith will imitate Him they have faith in. It is only natural. [rereading this post, I feel the need to note that it isn’t “only natural”, but is also supernatural]

Jesus talked a lot about what to do to be forgiven and enter the Kingdom of God. You could argue it was all mere legalism before he had taken our place upon the cross, but that would make him irrelevant to us in all apart from his crucifixion and resurrection; It would be a far shorter good news. But we cannot remove Jesus’ redeeming work from his holy teachings.
Anyway, Jesus had to deal with legalism himself(Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:27). Jesus already acknowledged that a list of dos & do nots was insufficient, and mercy was required, so that God also would be merciful.

‘For, if ye may forgive men their trespasses He also will forgive you—your Father who is in the heavens;’
Matthew 6:14

Jesus explains the way he will be manifested to us,

Judas saith to him, (not the Iscariot), ‘Sir, what hath come to pass, that to us thou are about to manifest thyself, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If any one may love me, my word he will keep, and my Father will love him, and unto him we will come, and abode with him we will make;’
John 14:22-23

That the Son, and the Father, and the Comforter will make abode with us is brilliant news. This requires us to love Jesus, and so keep his word. And the Father, and the Son, and the Comforter, will make us holy.

This idea of justification by faith alone is harmful to the Church, because it ignores God’s holy gift.

But I must make this crystal clear: I am not advocating legalism. It is the God-given, miraculous transformation that saves us, coming through faith.

Having been declared righteous, then, by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have the access by the faith into this grace in which we have stood, and we boast on the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2

Any deeds are the natural [and again, supernatural] effect, and outward manifestation of God’s seed within us (1John 3:9). They are not what earn salvation.
The repentant criminal on the cross at Jesus side did no act to save himself but trust Jesus and be transformed.

Rejoice in God’s gift. He gives you Himself, to make you holy.

God bless you.

P.S.
the reason I felt the need to write about this doctrine is that it is so much less than the truth.
I don’t know how common this Lutheran idea is today, but I have come across it a couple times, and it seemed to have general acceptance. The problem is, it makes God’s grace weak, in failing to make us holy inside; and convenient, in changing little of our lives. Also, it isn’t Biblical.
One time I came across this doctrine was in a church drama, set in the airport to heaven. A man in a suit went to get on the plane and mentioned all his good work, but wasn’t allowed on because of his passport not being good enough. Then a criminal was allowed on, using Jesus’ passport. It seemed nice to get on, but I didn’t get why this is a good system. The point of passports is for accurate ID. It didn’t seem right to me, but I figured it was a bad analogy.
I might have misremembered, as this was years ago, and I didn’t listen in Church much back then.
I didn’t suspect it was maybe wrong for years.

God bless you.

P.P.S.
Earlier today I was reading about sanctifying grace on the Catholic Encyclopedia website, and that really helped clarify this for me, and provide lots of Bible verses relevant to the matter. A lot of thanks to them.
I had been thinking along similar lines on salvation, though I was phrasing it as “Does God believe in you?” which is far less Biblical language. What I had been saying is that if God doesn’t know you, you are turned away, and I took this to mean if God believes you’re good for him. I was also saying that true faith leads to being the kind of person God believes in.
I’m glad I waited rather than publishing that before I was aware of the more complete answer. Thank God because that post could have been very misleading.

God bless you.

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13 comments

  1. I’m glad we agree.
    I just mentioned those too young, to see if you saw faith as absolutely the only way for all. In what verse does it say that?

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  2. The Bible is clear that genuine faith in Christ alone is the condition for salvation. Notice I said “genuine”…Because genuine faith will produce good works that according to God’s will, not yours or mine. Even the thief on the cross was able to squeeze out a good work by rebuking the other malefactor. Guess what, he did not have a chance to get baptized (for those who believe you MUST be baptized in order to be saved), yet the Lord said “thou shalt be with me in paradise”.

    There are “good” people who do good things that have no “faith”.

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    1. When you say “genuine faith in Christ alone is the condition”, do you mean the alone to be “Christ alone” or “alone is the condition for salvation”? Just wondering.
      I think we pretty much agree. Would you agree with this statement of Pope Benedict XVI:
      “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).”? (from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2008/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20081119_en.html )
      Catholics (which I now am, though I wasn’t when I wrote this post) believe in what’s called the baptism of desire, for those who die with even an implicit desire for baptism and the forgiveness of sins.
      Do you believe that all “good” people without faith won’t be saved? What about those too young to have faith? (Not seeking to provoke, just understand your position better)
      Thank you for your comment, and God bless you

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      1. I agree with-

        “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary.”

        However we will partake in Holy observances for the sake of honor, respect, love, and devotion. In other words an true exercise of our faith versus a check the block religious act.

        As for those to young. David spoke of his child who did before an age of reason or “accountability”. The Bible states this child is with the Lord.

        This same type of accountability I am sure applies to the mentally handicapped as well. All I know is that God is a righteous and just God who will judge accordingly.

        As for people like you and I who are able to carry on with this type of dialogue- we are without excuse…

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  3. I got a little confused by your post, because it seems to me that you are laying forth all the arguments for Sola Fide, while pupporting to refute it. How does faith

    It is only by faith that we take hold of the grace of God.

    I think that there is some confusion in Christian circles about the terms ‘faith’, ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’

    Here’s my take on it:
    Hebrews 11:1 says (in my loose paraphrase) faith is the ground, the reason, the basis for believing why a certain event will come to pass. It is the basis for having hope.

    In which case there are 2 parts to faith – who is making the promise/claim, what are they promising/claiming.

    The first part is very clear – Hebrews the 1st 3 chs set out clearly who is promising and why we can trust the promise. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit speaking through God the Son Jesus.

    What is being promised?
    – total forgiveness of all sins – past, present, future because the one perfect complete sacrifice has been made – 1 Jn 2:2
    – complete reconciliation to God. That’s what justification is all about– being made right, or being brought back into fellowship with Him.
    – a new parentage – 1 Pe 1:23
    – a new race – genderless, classless, raceless Gal 3:28
    – a new calling – priesthood 1 Pe 2:9, Rev 1:6
    – a new nature – the indwelling Christ/ the Holy Spirit

    This and much more this rests on the death of Jesus, His blood shed for us. There is not one thing we can do to ever achieve it. It is given to us freely as a gift.

    What is faith? Faith is then believing/accepting/recognising that the Triune God who is making these promises and offering these things is able to deliver on His promises.

    If we truly understand His offer and accept it, God immediately makes the down payment of the Holy Spirit into our hearts – the Incorruptible Seed, who takes root in our hearts, rolls up His sleeves and gets to work. And I believe that even that act of understanding is initiated by and completed by God, if I am willing to lay down my pride and listen. :)

    Sanctification is the outworking of our salvation. As James says, true faith will bear fruit. The Holy Spirit at work within us will change us day by day to bring forth the beauty and holiness of Jesus in us. If you read through James – what is he describing but the daily de-throning of self. And that is not possible unless we truly have faith and acknowledge the claims and promises made by God to us through Jesus.

    What is our part in sanctification? To daily be willing to say ‘Lord not my will, but Yours be done’. He will teach us, and we submit to His teaching. If we are doing that, the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be manifest in our lives.

    We are made right with God, accepted, restored, solely by the blood of Jesus, and our lives will bear the fruit of this justification. Sanctification is the fruit our lives bear because of our faith in the finished work of the cross and our daily acknowledgement of the Lordship of Jesus in our lives.

    As it says in 1 Cor 13, it is possible to do a lot of good works but from the wrong source. God sees that, knows that and rejects that.

    Because finally God is not looking for people who will do great things for Him, but for people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. And the greatest act of worship will always be to say, ‘Father, not my will, but Yours be done.’

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    1. I don’t disagree with any of that.
      I think that the key point is the nature of our reconciliation to God. Sola Fide seems to suggest God accepts us as though we were righteous, because of Jesus, but I believe that we are made righteous by Jesus, and so our own selves are truly reconciled to Him.
      So, our peace to God in Romans 5:1 isn’t something God pretends, it is based on us being genuinely pure, thanks to Him.
      I believe it is faith that leads to God’s grace, that transforms us. It is possible to, like the demons, have faith but without God’s grace and transformation, but this doesn’t save.
      The righteousness we have through the faith is, crucially, truly present and active within us. Hence in Philippians 3:9-10 Paul calls it,
      “the righteousness that is of God by the faith, to know him, and the power of his rising again, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death,”
      I believe that this righteousness saves, and that there can be dead faith which refuses this righteousness.
      I hope that’s cleared up my beliefs.

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      1. Yes that does clear up the tangles. :)

        That is a good point that you brought up about the demons BELIEVING. I dont think they have faith.

        As I have been thinking through things it is becoming increasingly clear that FAITH should actually be a verb, not a noun as it is now. Because Faith is the action that is intiated by our beliefs.

        The demons believe and shudder (James 2:19) but they do not act upon their belief. Faith would be if they recognising that God is one and all-powerful, they gave up their rebellion.

        “Sola Fide seems to suggest God accepts us as though we were righteous, because of Jesus, but I believe that we are made righteous by Jesus, and so our own selves are truly reconciled to Him.”

        Sola Fide as I understand it is more what you have written in the second part of the sentence “I believe that we are made righteous by Jesus, and so our own selves are truly reconciled to Him.”

        Anyway, we can go around in circles dealing with semantics… the great thing is that God has made us righteous through Jesus, accepted us, calls us His own, and dwells in our redeemed humanity to from within us be the source of our righteousness…

        It is a great truth that is sadly not being taught in churches. Instead we have the vapid bootstrap christianity which is producing many confused and defeated christians who are indistinguishable from the world.

        God bless! Thanks for the thought stimulating posts. Keep them coming!

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  4. Should we also touch on the subject of predestination, and the seemingly conflicting passages saying that nobody can come to the Father unless He calls them? I believe this supports your post, as it reinforces the power of God’s grace.

    Also makes me wonder even more about where my own faith and election to believe comes in, since it feels like it was my choice all along…

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    1. Sorry, I don’t know what you mean about seemingly conflicting passages and predestination, and their reinforcing the power of God’s grace. Would you please explain a bit more?

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      1. Sorry myself. That was a terrible comment. All ideas and no meat.

        First, the passage that brings to mind the comment I had said above:

        John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

        The conclusion I draw from this passage is that “come to Me” means “be saved, follow Christ, etc.” Also, “Father… draws Him” says to me that God literally chooses who will follow Christ – and to follow Christ, you must believe in Christ.

        The support for such an idea is two-fold: first, that God, if He really is all-powerful, would not be a worthy God if He did not have this power. To give the power to be saved to Man is silly.

        Second, since Man is a slave to sin, they cannot freely choose to leave sin for salvation. To be a slave is to not be able to will what you do – the owner wills instead. And sin would not will us to salvation.

        Romans 7:14 “…but I am of flesh, sold [m]into bondage to sin.”

        The confusion is that somehow faith is still involved.

        Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

        I see the gift of God – His grace has two primary parts. First, that He sanctifies us to prepare us for salvation, which I think is part of your point. Second, which is my point, that He even elects us to be sanctified – not our call, or else we’d have too much power, and sin wouldn’t want that anyways.

        Yet right in the middle of the passage is “through faith.” I believe I have faith – and I have read many passages on the endurance of faith, and the proof of faith… but sometimes I wonder.

        In conclusion, I agree, by faith alone we are not saved. Much more going on.

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      2. Thanks.
        God’s election is certainly a wonderful gift. Thank you very much for reminding me. The more I think about it, the more wonderful it is, as it is entirely a gift.
        However, I believe that faith is a free choice of ours, as Jesus said,

        ‘but he who is doing the truth doth come to the light, that his works may be manifested, that in God they are having been wrought.’
        John 3:21

        Which also shows that we have choice to disobey sin.
        It seems to me that God’s drawing us in is enticing us to Jesus, and God’s gift of faith is us being, in accordance with His plan, of a nature to accept the faith, and giving us the opportunity needed to accept the faith. I think this deserves more attention and might try to write about it.
        Thank you so much for reminding me of God’s grace in election.

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      3. And thank you for giving me a good reply and sound theology to understand the role of faith. I should never underestimate the role in faith… I think I thought too much haha

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