Denominations have long debated the relationship of faith, works, and grace in man’s salvation. Some argue that salvation is by faith alone while others argue the necessity of works. Some turn their attention to grace and argue that grace alone saves men. The problem has always been that various adherents have focused on a limited set of passages.
For example, most Protestant denominations focus on Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:22-24, and Romans 4:2-5 but they will avoid passages such as James 2:14-26. Martin Luther went so far as to express doubt as to James authenticity because of what James 2 contained.
Yet those who oppose the faith alone view often will focus on James 2:14-26 and ignore the “problem” texts such as Romans 4:5 The issue can be understood if we simply dump the baggage of the past several centuries and concentrate on what is actually stated. There is a science of understanding the meaning of what someone writes called hermeneutics (a method or principle of interpretation).
One basic principle is a general assumption that every author’s writings are in harmony, unless it is clearly established otherwise. Authors write to be understood, hence we would expect consistency in their individual messages. We would expect a theme or purpose behind the writing with points supporting the theme.
Some suggest that one of two contradictory statements must be false, unless corresponding terms have different meanings or applications. In biblical hermeneutics, this general principle becomes an absolute law. Since God is the expressed author of the Bible and God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then there is no contradiction in work of God. As Paul said, “As God is true, our word toward you was not yes and no.” 2 Cor 1:18
When we run into an apparent contradiction in the Bible, we need to examine the context of the statements to see if there are terms being used in different senses of meaning or application. This principle was used by Jesus in his temptation – Matthew 4:6-7 Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 where God promises protection. Jesus countered with Deuteronomy 6:16 by stating “Again it is written.” By pointing out an additional verse that appears to contradict the interpretation given to another verse, Jesus is pointing out that an error was made. Psalm 91:11-12 must be in harmony with Deuteronomy 6:16 since God wrote both passages.
When Romans 4:5 held up against James 2:24, a contradiction does not exist. To claim so is to claim that the text is not inspired. Instead, we need to examine the context of the two passages to see how the terms are being used. In particular we need to know if they are being used with a different sense of meaning or application.
There are several terms being used: Faith, works, and justification. Are there multiple faiths? Most realize that the faith exhibited by demons (James 2:19) is not the faith talked about in Hebrews 11:6, though they are worded similarly. James’ point is that the faith of demons is missing an essential element. Are there multiple works? There are works of God – John 6:28-29; 9:3-4 There are works of the devil – I John 3:8 There are works of man’s hands – Acts 7:41 There are works of the Law – Romans 3:20, 27-28; Galatians 2:16 There are good works – Ephesians 2:10; I Timothy 2:9-10 There are dead works – Hebrews 6:1 Just these two terms shows that we can’t make blanket statements about faith or works without defining the kind of faith or the kind of works with which we are dealing.
When baptism is mentioned as saving, as in I Peter 3:21, many object and hold up John 3:16 The line of argument is in error. All they are claiming is that “my favorite verse is better than your favorite verse.” The reality is that all verses in the Bible come from God.
As Jesus pointed out to Satan, you cannot use a select set of verses against the rest of what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, the denominational world does not look to harmonize the Scriptures. Instead, they search high and low for ways to dismiss the verses that do not agree with their preconceived notions.
In order to understand any writing, including God’s Holy Word, we must be willing to seek the harmony of what is stated. We cannot pull a passage out of its context because the context defines how the words are being used. We cannot pit one passage against another without denying the inspiration of the Scriptures.
As David said: “The entirety of Your word is truth” Psalm 119:160 Or as Paul stated: “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…. ” II Timothy 3:16-17
Therefore, let it be said, that mankind is saved by grace, by faith and by works and the scriptures prove such.
Man Is Saved By God’s Grace
The Bible in a number of passages teaches men are saved by God’s grace. (Tit 2:11-12; 3:7; ff Eph. 1:7; 2:79; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:24; 5:20-21; 6:14). Briefly defined “grace” is the “unmerited favor” of God extended to man. If God did not extend man his grace, man could not be saved. A convict could not be pardoned unless the governor was willing to extend his grace to him.
Man Is Saved By His Faith
The New Testament teaches that man is saved by faith in a number of passages. (Heb. 11:6; Jno. 3:16; 3:36; 5:24; Rom. 5:1 ff; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 16:31; Jam 2:24).
While the New Testament teaches men are saved by faith, the Scriptures nowhere teach that man is saved by “faith only” or by “faith alone.” In fact, the only time the Bible uses the term “faith only” it says ..”You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone.” Yet, in the light of what the Scriptures say, men still teach that one is saved by faith only. (eg. Baptist Manual or a Methodist Discipline) As grace is God’s part in redemption, so faith is man’s part. Men believe unto salvation. (Rom. 10:9-10) In relation to salvation never do we read of God’s faith, but always man’s faith.
Man Saved By Works
The same New Testament that teaches that grace and faith save, teaches that man is saved by works. Consider these passages that so teach: Acts 2:40; 10:34-35; Phil. 2:12. The religious world has had great trouble understanding the Bible teaching on this point. A passage will be read that says man is not saved by works, while others are found that declares man is saved by works.
Every time the New Testament mentions works, it does not mean the same kind of work. A failure to consider the different kinds of works mentioned in the New Testament is the reason for much misunderstanding. Consider the works mentioned in the New Testament.
(1) Works of man’s righteousness. These are mentioned in Rom. 10:3, Titus 3:5 and Eph. 2:9. By this kind of works no man is saved.
(2) Works of the law of Moses. Read Rom. 3:28 and Gal. 2:16 to see that man is not saved by the works of the law.
(3) Works of faith. Paul mentions “works of Faith” in I Thess. 1:3. Since faith comes by hearing the word of God, Rom. 10:17, the works of faith are those that come by hearing God’s word.
(4) Good works. Christians are taught to maintain good works. (Titus 3:8-14) These good works are ordained of God and are not left to man’s judgment. (Eph. 2:10)
(5) Works of God. There are those works mentioned in Jn. 6:28-29 as being the “works of God.” These are the works authorized by God for men to do in obedience to his will.
(6) Works of God’s righteousness. These works are mentioned in Acts 10:35; I Jn. 2:29; 3:7, 10. We are charged to work or do these.
The New Testament passages that teach that men are not saved by works are passages teaching man is not saved by the works of the law of Moses or the works of man’s righteousness.
The New Testament passages that show man is saved by works are those which teach man is saved by the works of God’s righteousness. These are called the works of God because God authorizes them. When worked by man they are called the works of faith for it is man’s faith that causes him to do them. They are called “good works” because God authorizes them, and good comes from God.
Baptism Is A Work
Some object to baptism calling it a work and quoting Eph. 2:9, Titus 3:5 or some other passage that says man is not saved by works. The mistake that is made is in failing to understand the, kind of works by which man is saved.
Man is not saved by works of which he can boast. (Eph. 2:9; Titus 3:5) Baptism is a work of God for Christ commanded it. (Mk. 16:16) Man ban not boast of being saved by his works when he obeys what God said and is baptized.
Belief Is A Work
Those who teach that men are not saved by any kind of works involve themselves in great difficulty. While objecting that man is saved by any kind of work, they teach that man is saved by “faith only.” And the Bible teaches that faith is a work. (Jn. 6:29) “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Faith is a work of God; they teach man is saved by “faith only” without any kind of works, so they deny man is saved by that by which they say he is saved.
The Universalist teaches man is saved by grace only; The Calvinist teaches man is saved by faith only and the Catholic teaches man is saved by works. The Bible teaches man is saved by God’s grace with man appropriating that grace by his faith in working or obeying what the grace of God teaches him to do to be saved. No, the bible doesn’t contradict itself. It proves itself!