Salvation is not just "faith alone"
by Lewis Loflin
Central to Protestant Churches is the claim "faith alone." But is this what the Bible says? In KJV electronic bible with word search I use there is no such term as "faith alone," "by faith only," etc. These all boil down to claims of Martin Luther and for Christian fundamentalists in America, John Calvin.
Both John Calvin and Martin Luther rely heavily on St. Augustine, a 5th century former Gnostic whose unhappy life was mostly spent debating issues such as good versus evil, sin, etc. Both Calvin and Luther lived moral codes that were anything but Christian as Jesus taught in the Gospels. Augustine relied on Paul who never even knew Jesus in the flesh, he just claimed "visions."
Nothing shows this conflict of ideas than Jesus' own words: Matthew 19:17, If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments....
What does Paul have to say? Romans 3:28, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law."
For a list of this conflicting statements see Is salvation by faith or works?
The best we can make out in Scripture is works perhaps works/faith together. "Faith alone" is in conflict with Jesus and is the opinion of others who were not there, not divine in any way, and who were immoral themselves. The claim is a direct contradiction to St. James and to quote Luther:
"Many sweat to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, but in vain. 'Faith justifies' and 'faith does not justify' contradict each other flatly. If any one can harmonize them I will give him my doctor's hood and let him call me a fool." "I maintain that some Jew wrote it [the Book of James] who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any." "We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [the University of Wittenberg]....
Luther knows as I do that without Paul and the Greek writer of John all we have is Judaism. Like Marcion, Calvin/Luther wanted just Paul, not Jesus of the Gospels. Let's take a close look at Scripture.
Another thing to note is the demands for money by many churches is in fact "works" and thus for those claiming "faith alone" makes them utter hypocrites.
Much of the rest of this is taken from an essay at http://www.religioustolerance.org/
Various Criteria to attain Salvation Various Creeds and Bible passages base personal salvation on:
repenting of past sins,
trusting Jesus as their Lord and Savior,
doing good works,
following church rituals and sacraments, and/or
avoiding certain specific behaviors.
But there was no consensus as to the precise combination required. Some passages say that only good works are needed for a person to be saved; other passages seem to contradict this by stating that salvation depended only upon belief in Jesus is needed. Other verses require two or more combinations of belief or actions, often including baptism and/or repentance.
This essay will compare and contrast the writings of five
important Christian writers. These are the five main writers
whose books were incorporated into the Christian Scriptures:
the letters of Paul, and the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke
(We assume that the Gospel of John was written by a single individual. Some theologians believe it was written by multiple authors in the name of John).
The synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) are treated together, because they agree closely. The Gospel of John is treated separately, as are the writings of St. Paul.
Note: this essay left out James, which supports works. John of Patmos or St John wrote the Book of John (and Book of Revelation), by church tradition. John seems to be Gnostic.
The Synoptic Gospels: Salvation by doing good deeds Most Biblical theologians regard Mark as the first surviving gospel. It is obvious from an analysis of Matthew and Luke that they copied major portions of Mark into their own gospels. Thus, Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Synoptic Gospels, show a great internal consistency.
Jesus talked extensively about individuals being saved and
inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. The main path to salvation
that he described is based on good works and attitudes.
Salvation is dependent on what people do and how they behave
towards others - particularly the poor.
Repentance, belief in Jesus or the act of baptism are irrelevant. Actions and attitudes only matter. This path is described very clearly in two passages:
Matthew 25:31-46: This is an important passage, because
it describes the exact criteria which Matthew believed
will be used at the Final Judgment when Jesus separates
all the people of the world into two groups: those who
will enter heaven and those who will spend eternity in
Addressing those on his right, Jesus says that they will "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." He orders those on his left hand to "depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his [fallen] angels." where they will go away into eternal punishment."
The sole criteria for routing individuals to heaven or hell is whether the person gave food, drink or clothing to the destitute, and welcomed strangers and visited the sick or persons in prison.
That is, salvation is totally dependent upon one's treatment of one's fellow humans while on earth. The ancient creeds of the Christian church appear to agree with this concept.
Luke 10:25-27: This is another important passage,
because it gives Mark's recollection of Jesus' precise
response to a lawyer who asked what one must do to
inherit eternal life; i.e. to attain salvation and spend
eternity in heaven.
Jesus had him recite "The Law" from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) which requires a person to: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. This is a slight misquotation from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (NKJ)
Love their neighbor as they love themselves. This is derived from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself..." (NKJ)
The lawyer then asked the obvious question: who is my
neighbor? The Leviticus passage implied that one's
neighbors are restricted to one's own nation or tribe.
Jesus disagreed with the passage in Deuteronomy, and responded with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan, which indicates that all humans are one's neighbors.
The parable describes a man who had been attacked by
robbers and left half dead. Two Jewish religious leaders
come upon the man: a priest and a Levite.
The Jewish law forbids holy men from touching a dead person; it would be an act of ritual impurity, a serious defilement. They walk on the other side of the road to avoid any contact with the victim. A Samaritan comes by, bandages the man's wounds and helps him to a place where he can recover.
The Jews of the day despised the Samaritans, regarding them as semi-pagan, inferior and persons of little worth. Jesus told the lawyer to be more like the Samaritan than like the Levite and Priest.
That is, to make compassion for others the highest priority in life, and to downgrade religious rules and regulations to a lower level of importance.
Jesus makes clear in this passage that one attains eternal life in heaven by loving God and loving all humans, particularly the poor, needy and broken. Other supporting passages are:
Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." . The Amplified Bible defines "poor in spirit" as being humble and rating themselves as insignificant.
Matthew 5:10: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Amplified Bible defines "righteousness" as being and doing right.
Matthew 5:20: "...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" The Rheims New Testament translates the Greek as "unless your justice abound more...".
Matthew 7:12: "...do onto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." One might assume that by following this "Golden rule", one meets all of the requirements of the Hebrew scriptures, and thus might be saved.
Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." (NKJ)
Matthew 19:16-17 "Now a man came up to Jesus and
asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get
eternal life?'...Jesus replied...If you want to
enter life, obey the commandments."
Jesus then repeated 5 as being of particular importance (Commandments 5 to 9 inclusive from Exodus 20:12-16) and added a new commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" 4 of the 6 involve actions to avoid; the remaining two list who one is to love.
Jesus then goes further and urges the man to sell his possessions, and give the money to the poor, so that he would have "treasure in heaven."
Matthew 24:45-51: In this passage, Jesus tells a
parable about an evil overseer who beats his
fellow slaves. His master comes back at an
unexpected time and "and shall cut him asunder,
and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there
shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth."
This implies that when Christ returns, individuals who treat others with consideration will be rewarded (presumably with access to the Kingdom of God). An evil person who treats others poorly or is a drunk will be punished (presumably by denying them access).
Mark 9:42-48: Jesus recommends that if one's hand or foot or eye cause them to commit a sinful act, then they should cut off the offending member. Verse 47 says: "...It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell..."
Mark 10:17-25: This is essentially identical to Luke 18, which is described below
Mark 12:32-34: A man said that to love God and one's neighbor is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus replied in Verse 34 "...You are not far from the kingdom of God." This implies that if one loves God and humanity, then they are close to salvation.
Luke 7:44-50: Jesus described to Simon Peter how a
woman who had lived a sinful life had treated him
with loving care.
She washed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair; she continually kissed his feet and she anointed them with oil. Jesus said in verse 47-48: "Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, (the same) loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven." The implication is that because of her kind acts, her sins are forgiven; she will attain the Kingdom of God. But then an obvious addition was made to the story in
Luke 7:50: "And he said unto the woman, Thy faith
hath saved thee; go in peace." This verse appears
to be an afterthought, added after the original
gospel was written.
It contradicts the previous verses that based her treatment on her kind acts, not her faith. Perhaps the intent was to bring the story into line with the developing Christian theology, which had begun to emphasize faith over works.
Luke 13:27 "Away from me, all you evildoers" The Amplified Bible renders this word as wrongdoers. The verse describes how people will be turned away from the Kingdom of God, because of their evil behavior and wrongdoing.
Luke 18:18-22 This is similar to Matthew 19, except that the advice to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor is not an optional add-on but a requirement.
Luke 19:8-9: "And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto
the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I
give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted
aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus
said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this
house, for as much as he also is a son of Abraham."
(ASV) Zacchaeus cares about others, giving half of
his possession to the poor.
And he is honest: if he shortchanges anyone, he returns the shortage four times over. Jesus indicates that because of these two acts of kindness and generosity, he has been saved.
Jesus seems to have recognized that his strict instructions for living a life of justice and caring for others is very difficult for most people; few will attain salvation:
Matthew 7:14 "...small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
Matthew 19:24 "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God"
Luke 13:23-30 "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?...many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to."
The disciples were distressed at Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:24. They asked who can be saved. He replied that an individual trying on their own to do good and attain salvation will always fail. But with God's help, they will be able to achieve salvation through this route.
The Synoptic Gospels - additional method: Salvation by changing one's lifestyle The second, minor, path to salvation in the synoptic Gospels involves poverty and following Jesus. This requires one to abandon their family, give away their possessions, accept a life of poverty, and follow Jesus. There are major anti-family aspects involved. This path is mentioned in the following passages:
Matthew 19:27-30: Peter had said that he and the rest of
the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. He
asked what would happen to them. Jesus replied that his
followers would sit on twelve thrones, judging the
twelve tribes of Israel.
Verse 29 continues: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Some ancient manuscripts of Luke said "everyone who has left...mother or wife")
Mark 10:28-30: This is similar to Matthew 19:27-30
Luke 9:59-62: "Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But
he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.'
Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead,
but you go and preach the kingdom of God.' And another
also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go
and bid them farewell who are at my house.'
But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (NKJ) Jesus seems to be implying that to attain the kingdom of God, one is expected to drop everything and follow Jesus. This was so important that a person should violate a Jewish laws by not giving priority to burying their father.
The Gospel of John: Salvation by faith in Jesus as the Son of
The main message of the writer(s) of the Gospel of John is
that salvation is attained only by faith and trust in Jesus as
the Son of God. The author(s) have largely ignored the
messages of the synoptic gospels, which taught that salvation
is results from good works.
John does not mention baptism as a requirement for salvation. Many liberal theologians believe that this gospel represents a very different belief system in the early Christian movement from that described in the synoptic gospels.
Some supporting passages from the NKJ version of John which support salvation by faith alone are:
John 3:18: "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
John 3:15-16: "For God so loved the world that He gave
His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:36: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 6:47: "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.
John 8:24: "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."
John 11:25-26: "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die..."
John 12:48: "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him-- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day."
John 20:31: "...but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."
The Gospel does contain some conflicting passages which state that salvation requires other factors instead of or in addition to faith in Christ as the Son of God. For example: Hearing the Words of Jesus and Believing in God the Father:
John 5:24: "...he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." This passage implies that some Christians may be able to avoid the final judgment.
Doing Good Works:
John 5:28-29: "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth-- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." This passage clearly states that: everyone who has died will be judged. This contradicts Verse 24 which implies that believers in Christ will not be judged.
A person's salvation will be determined only on the basis of the good and evil works that they performed during their lifetime.
These two verses are so inconsistent with the rest of the Gospel that one wonders whether they could have been a forgery inserted into the original text by a later copyist. This is possible, however even the earliest manuscripts of John appear to contain the passage. Remaining with Jesus:
John 15:4-6: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch
cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you, unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you
are the branches.
He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned."
This verse seems to imply that one can lose one's salvation by neglecting to maintain a close relationship with Jesus.
The Writings of Paul: Salvation by faith in Jesus' resurrection There are two salvation threads that run through Paul's writing:
Salvation By Faith: Paul agreed with the author(s) of the Gospel of John. He apparently believed that personal salvation was dependent solely upon faith, not on good works. But it was belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus which seems to have been of paramount importance to Paul.
Some liberal theologians believe
that Paul died before belief in the Incarnation (Jesus
as the Son of God), or in the virgin birth had developed
within the Christian movement. There are indications
that Paul was unaware of those two beliefs. 1
These verses are frequently read in conservative churches. Some passages from the NKJ version of the Bible which show salvation by faith are: 1 Corinthians 15:21-23: "For since by man [Adam] came death, by Man [Christ] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive."
Romans 5:18-19 "Therefore, as through one man's
offense judgment came to all men, resulting in
condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous
act the free gift came to all men, resulting in
justification of life.
For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous."
Paul rejects salvation by good works, as described in various places in his writings. Two of the passages indicating this are: Romans 3:28: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law."
Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
One passage in Romans is given great weight by some
Christian denominations. It implies that thinking is
insufficient to gain salvation: that one must actually
speak the thought in words. Romans 10:9-13: "That
if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord
Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God
hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation...For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Salvation By Law: Paul also held a second belief: that
salvation had once been attainable through adherence to
the system of Jewish laws in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
However, it only applied to people who had previously died. In Galatians 3:23-26, Paul writes: "But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ,
that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has
come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all
sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (NKJ)
This implies that individuals could have previously been saved by strict adherence to the law. However, after Jesus came, salvation was by faith in Christ only.
seems to have assumed that people everywhere had been
exposed to the Gospel. In Romans 10:18 he wrote: "But I
say, have they not heard [the Gospel]? Yes indeed:
'Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their
words to the ends of the world.'" (NKJ)
He was wrong, of course. Christianity at the time of Paul's execution circa 65 CE had extended through much of the Roman Empire, but had not made significant inroads into the Far East or Northern Europe.
The inhabitants of the Americas and of most of Africa had not heard the gospel message at all. There are countries in the world even today in which Christianity has made no significant inroads.
The synoptic Gospels teach that salvation is achieved by doing good works: helping the poor, visiting people in jail, supporting the ill, giving up ones possessions and following Jesus, etc.
The Gospel of John teaches that salvation comes as a result of one's faith in Jesus as Son of God St. Paul's writings teach that salvation may have been once attained by strictly following Jewish law. However, since Christ's ministry, it is dependent upon one's faith in the saving power of Jesus' death and resurrection.
There appears to be no allowance in the Gospel of John
or in the writings of St. Paul for individuals who were
born in the wrong place or the wrong time. These are
people who lived in areas of the world which have not
been exposed to the Christian message. Or perhaps they
were born at a time when the Gospel had not reached
Many passages in the Bible imply that such individuals will be lumped together with those who had heard and rejected Christ's message. They would remain unsaved and will spend eternity in Hell, because salvation is only through faith in Christ.
The synoptic gospels appear to allow for non-Christians to be saved, if they follow a lifetime of service to humanity.
Those Christian denominations which believe in a literal
Hell of eternal punishment are faced with a serious and
growing conflict: It is difficult for them to
continue with the traditional belief that
non-Christians will be sent to eternal punishment
A growing percentage of people believe that this is incompatible with the concept of a loving God and elementary justice. They ask how a person in India or Africa who has never heard of Christ or of Christianity be tortured for eternity, mainly because they lived in the wrong part of the world.
On the other hand, it is difficult to devise an alternate path whereby such non-Christians can be saved without reducing the significance of Jesus' incarnation, death and resurrection.
Michael Martin, "The Case Against Christianity", Temple
University Press, Philadelphia PA, (1991), Page 202.
- Notes on Neoplatonism
- Pelagius and why he was right.
- Defense Of The Freedom Of The Will
- How Christianity drew on Philo's synthesis of Judaism and Hellenism
- A discussion of Pantheism and Deism
- Overview of Gnosticism
- Gnostic Terms
- Alexander, the Jews, and Hellenism
- Hellenistic period
- Platonism and Christianity
- Who are the Cathers?
- Allegorical Interpretation
- Marcion's Church Not Really Gnostic?
- Jewish Origins of Gnosticism
- Original Sin
- Original Sin as seen from Judaism