Are we saved by faith alone, or do we need works, too?
Roman Catholics often mention that the Bible never says we are saved by faith alone and that the phrase "faith alone" occurs only once in James where it says that we are not saved by faith alone. If this is so, then why do the Protestants say we are justified by faith alone and not by works? Because the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith alone, and not by works.
The following is a list of verses about being saved by faith. Please take note that faith and works are contrasted. In other words, we are saved by faith "not by works" and "apart from works", etc. The point is that there are only two options. We are saved by faith alone or we are not. Since we have faith and works (both conceptually and in practice), then we are either saved by faith alone or by faith and works. There is no other option.
If we see that the scriptures exclude works in any form as a means of our salvation, then logically, we are saved by faith alone. Let's take a look at what the Bible says about faith and works. Then, afterwards, we will tackle James' statement about "faith alone".
- Rom. 3:28-30, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one."
- Rom. 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,"
- Rom. 5:1, "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
- Rom. 9:30, "What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith."
- Rom. 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."
- Rom. 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace."
- Gal. 2:16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
- Gal. 2:21, I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
- Gal. 3:5-6, "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
- Gal. 3:24, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith."
- Eph. 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. 9Not by works, lest any man should boast."
- Phil. 3:9, "and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
Again, works/Law is contrasted with faith repeatedly and we are told that we are not justified by works in any way. Therefore, we are made right with God by faith, not by faith and our works; hence, faith alone.
James 2:24, not by faith alone
The scriptures clearly teach that we are saved (justified) by faith in Christ and what He has done on the cross. This faith alone saves us. However, we cannot stop here without addressing what James says in James 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone."
There is no contradiction. All you need to do is look at the context. James chapter 2 has 26 verses: Verses 1-7 instruct us not to show favoritism. Verses 8-13 are comments on the Law. Verses 14-26 are about the relationship between faith and works.
James begins this section by using the example of someone who says he has faith but has no works, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14). In other words, James is addressing the issue of a dead faith, a faith that is nothing more than a verbal pronouncement, a public confession of the mind, and is not heart-felt. It is empty of life and action. He begins with the negative and demonstrates what an empty faith is (verses 15-17, words without actions). Then he shows that type of faith isn't any different from the faith of demons (verse 19). Finally, he gives examples of living faith that has words followed by actions. Works follow true faith and demonstrate that faith to our fellow man, but not to God. James writes of Abraham and Rahab as examples of people who demonstrated their faith by their deeds.
In brief, James is examining two kinds of faith: one that leads to godly works and one that does not. One is true, and the other is false. One is dead, the other alive; hence, "Faith without works is dead," (James 2:20). But, he is not contradicting the verses above that say salvation/justification is by faith alone.
Also, notice that James actually quotes the same verse that Paul quotes in Rom. 4:3 amongst a host of verses dealing with justification by faith. James 2:23 says, "and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.'" If James was trying to teach a contradictory doctrine of faith and works than the other New Testament writers, then he would not have used Abraham as an example. Therefore, we can see that justification is by faith alone and that James was talking about false faith, not real faith when he said we are not justified by faith alone.
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