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     Can Faith Alone lead to Salvation?

 

St Paul says “I have complete confidence in the Gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. For the Gospel reveals how God puts people right with Himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the Scripture says, ‘The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.’”(Romans 1:16-17 TEV) St Paul says "For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith---and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8 TEV) No amount of our own good deeds will be able to save us. For "it was not because of any good deed that we ourselves had done, but because of His own mercy that He saves us, through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life by washing us" (Titus 3:5 TEV).

Salvation according to St Paul is: "If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved." (Romans 10:9-10 TEV) and “God puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26 TEV) Again St Paul says “God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with Him through Christ Jesus, who set them free.” (Romans 3:22-24 TEV)
     According to Jesus “those who hear My Words and believe in Him who sent Me have eternal life.”(John 5:24) ”And eternal life means to know You, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ whom You sent.”(John 17:3 TEV) Furthermore, Jesus assures us “I tell you the truth: whoever obeys My teaching will never die.”(John 8:51 TEV) It is through the love of God and our faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved: "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 TEV)
     Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die.” (John 11:25 TEV) Could Jesus be talking about the spiritually and emotionally dead? Aren’t people who are filled with hatred, anger, envy, bitterness, revenge and self-centeredness are in a way dead? But when they believe in Jesus they can be slowly transformed into being kind, patient and loving. Isn’t that being alive?

 

All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “It’s not about me,” published in 2004 by Integrity Publishers, Nashville.

 

A large American food company released the perfect cake mix.

It required no additives. No eggs, no sugar. Just mix some water with the powder, pop the pan in the oven, and presto!

Prepare yourself for a treat.

One problem surfaced. No one purchased the product! Puzzled, the manufacturer conducted surveys, identified the reason, and reissued the cake with a slight alteration. The instructions now called for the cook to add one egg. Sales skyrocketed.1

Why are we like that? What makes us want to add to what is already complete? Paul asked the same questions. People puzzled him by adding their work to a finished project. Not eggs to a recipe but requirements for salvation. Not much, just one small rule: You must be circumcised to be saved.

Such talk rankled the apostle. “We . . . put no confidence in

the flesh:’ he declared (Philippians 3:3 NIV). “God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith--—counting on Christ alone” (3:9 TLB, emphasis mine). Paul proclaimed a pure grace: no mixtures, no additives, no alterations. The work of Christ is the bungee cord for the soul. Trust it and take the plunge.

We quickly side with Paul on the circumcision controversy. The whole discussion sounds odd to our Western ears. But is it so strange? We may not teach Jesus + circumcision, but how about:

Jesus + evangelism: How many people have you led to Christ this year? Or:

Jesus + contribution: Are you giving all you can to the church? Or:

Jesus + heritage: Were you raised in “the church”? Or:

Jesus + doctrine: When you were baptized, was the water running or still? Deep or shallow? Hot or cold?

Legalism. The theology of “Jesus +. . .“ Legalists don’t dismiss Christ. They trust in Christ a lot. But they don’t trust in Christ alone.

We’re tempted to dismiss legalism as harmless. After all, legalists look good. They act religious. They promote morality and decency and good living. Is there any harm to their teaching?

Paul responds with a resounding “yes!” He reserves a biting tone for the legalist. “Watch out for those who do evil, who are like dogs, who demand to cut the body” (Philippians 3:2 NCV). Ouch! Can you hear the intolerance in those terms? “Evil.” ”Dogs.” Those “who demand to cut the body” or, as one paraphrase renders it, ”knife—happy circumcisers” (MSG).

Why the bared fangs? Why the hot ink? Paul didn’t go bare fisted with others this way. Though anti-adultery, he didn’t call two-timers names. He was intolerant of homosexuality, but he didn’t blast the gay crowd with a verbal blowtorch. He preached against drunkenness, but did he ever call drunks “dogs”?

And if you think he’s ticked off in this passage, read his wish for the legalists of Galatia. “I wish the people who are bothering you would castrate themselves” (Galatians 5:12 NCV).

Why the intensity? Why so strident against legalists? Simple. Self-salvation makes light of our problem.

On our own, we’re spiritually sunk, my friend. As sunk as the Kursk. Remember the nuclear submarine Kursk, the pride of the Russian navy? August 12, 2000, was to be her banner day. Five high-ranking naval officers journeyed to sea to witness a demonstration of her strength. But then came two explosions, enormous thundering booms that registered 1.5 and 3.5 on the Richter scale. Something had gone dreadfully wrong.

The seven-ton vessel immediately took on water and plunged 350 feet to the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. Most of the 118 crew members died instantly. Others were left to spend their last hours in freezing, horrid conditions.2

Are we not like the sailors? Are we not equally helpless and hopeless? Like them, we are submerged---not in salt water but in sin. We need to be lifted up---not out of the ocean but out of our failures. “There is no one who always does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:10 NCV). Like the sailors, we’ve hit bottom.

But suppose one of the submerged sailors thought of a solution. Suppose he declared to his fellow crewmen, “I know what to do. Let’s all press our hands on the ceiling and push. We will shove the sub to the surface.” Can you imagine the looks the crew would give him? Push a seven-ton vessel up through 350 feet of water? If they said anything, they would tell him to come to his senses. “You don’t understand the gravity of the situation. We don’t have what it takes to save our lives. We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t big enough. We don’t need muscles; we need a miracle.”

Paul’s point precisely. Separating you and God is not 350 feet of ocean water but an insurmountable flood of imperfection and sin. Do you think that by virtue of your moral muscle you can push this vessel to the surface? Do you think your baptism and Sunday attendance will be enough to save you?  

Legalists do. They miss the gravity of the problem. By offering to help, they not only make light of sin, they mock God.

Who would look at the cross of Christ and say, “Great work, Jesus. Sorry you couldn’t finish it, but I’ll take up the slack”?

Dare we question the crowning work of God? Dare we think heaven needs our help in saving us? We’re stuck on the bottom of the ocean. We can’t see the light of day! Legalism discounts God and in the process makes a mess out of us.

To anyone attempting to earn heaven, Paul asks, “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? . . . What has happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:9, 15 NIV).

Legalism is joyless because legalism is endless. There is always another class to attend, person to teach, mouth to feed. Inmates incarcerated in self-salvation find work but never joy.  How could they? They never know when they are finished. Legalism leaches joy.

Grace, however, dispenses peace. The Christian trusts a finished work. “Gone are the exertions of law-keeping, gone the disciplines and asceticism of legalism, gone the anxiety that having done everything we might not have done enough. We reach the goal not by the stairs, but by the lift... God pledges his promised righteousness to those who will stop trying to save themselves.”3

Grace offers rest. Legalism never does. Then why do we embrace it? “Those who trust in themselves are foolish” (Proverbs 28:26 NCV). Why do we trust in ourselves? Why do we add to God’s finished work? Might the answer include the verb boast?

Saving yourself is heady stuff. Even headier than a high school varsity football jacket. I still own mine. I wore it every day of my senior year. Who cared if the temperature was in the nineties? I wanted everyone to see what I had accomplished. If making a football team feels great, how much more would earning a spot on God’s team?

But the truth is, we don’t. If we think we do, we have missed the message. “What is left for us to brag about?” Paul wonders (Romans 3:27 CEV). What is there indeed? What have you contributed? Aside from your admission of utter decadence, I can’t think of a thing. “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Salvation glorifies the Savior, not the saved.

Your salvation showcases God’s mercy. It makes nothing of your effort but everything of his.”I---yes, I alone---am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again” (Isaiah 43:25 NLT, emphasis mine). He saves us for the same reason he saved the Jews:

For my own sake and for the honor of my name I will hold back my anger and not wipe you out. I refined you in the furnace of affliction, but found no silver there. You are worthless, with nothing good in you at all. Yet for my own sake---yes, for my own sake---I will save you from my anger and not destroy you lest the heathen say their gods have conquered me. I will not let them have my glory (Isaiah 48:9—11 TLB).

 

Can you add anything to this salvation? No. The work is finished.

Can you earn this salvation? No. Don’t dishonor God by trying.

Dare we boast about this salvation? By no means. The giver of bread, not the beggar, deserves praise. “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31 NASB).

It’s not about what we do; it’s all about what he does.(99-106)

 

Notes

1. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 222.

2. James O. Jackson, ”The Fatal Dive:” Time, 28 August 2000, 30.

3. J. Alec Mower et at, The Message of Philippians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 166.

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