We will be developing this subject and referencing it to articles on BibleThought as time goes on. It is a work in progress and under construction.
paradox – (logic) a statement that contradicts itself; example: “I always lie” is a paradox because if it is true it must be false.
Consider the following which seem, taken collectively, to be paradoxical statements:
Rom 4:3-5: But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
Phil 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.
James 2:24: Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
We urge those who are in biblical discussions: please do not just throw passages at each other thinking that you have the silver bullet that will resolve the issue. The subject of faith and works, along with many other controversial biblical topics, requires intensive considerations of not only the passages above and their contexts, but at least a dozen other passages from the New Testament on this subjet. We ask readers to please suggest some in the comments, recognizing that the entire bible deals with this subject.
To get us started, let us make an assertion that should be easy for you to check out. From almost the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation the bible shouts out that each one of us has a personal responsibility for our actions, and that we will be rewarded for our faithfulness in our obedience to God’s will as given in His word. James 2 makes it clear that we absolutely cannot have the type of faith that God wants us to have unless it motivates us to produce the righteous works that glorify God.
Salvation is conditional — there is something required on our part. Even if it could be “faith only,” that would still be a requirement, and even fulfilling this requirement would be a work (John 6). Hebrews 11:6 states that “those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after him.” Those who profess to have “faith only” (whatever that could be), can be just as proud of this work (or lack thereof) as those who are convinced that they are saved by keeping the Law of Moses. Both attitudes are laden with pride, and neither will lead to salvation.
Certainly considered objectively, “faith only” is not a biblical concept — these words only appear together in one place in the bible (James 2:24; see above), and there the concept is condemned. It is an undefineable concept because it is not defined in the scriptures. It has two fatal flaws: (1) It can give a person the feeling that he is saved when, in fact, he is not; and (2) It can encourage disobedience to God’s will for us. Neither of these outcomes can possibly be good.
Why then does the apostle Paul in several places declare that we are not saved by works? We know of several reasons for this, depending on the context:
- Quite often Paul used the word “works” to refer to the Old Testament law in general or to the Law of Moses in particular. Please read the context carefully to see if this is the case. It is clear from New Testament teaching that we are not under the Law of Moses and even if we could keep it perfectly today (which the bible clearly teaches we cannot), it still would not have the power to save. Jesus kept the law for us and salvation is only through his blood.
- Apart from the law of Moses, there is no way that we can be justified by our own works even if they were totally consistent with God’s will for us today (i.e., the New Testament), mainly because we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23), and there are no actions on our part that can wash away our sins — only the blood of Christ can do that. This does not, however, mean that there are no actions on our part that would enable us to receive the grace of God.
- If we believe that we are justified by our own acts of righteousness, then we glorify ourselves, and thus we fail to glorify God. This is as true of “faith only” as much as it is of any other work that we might do. John 6:29: Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. Being proud that we have earned our salvation by “faith only” is equally as bad as earning it by any other action or attitude.
This last point presents a paradox that seems impossible for us to overcome. We cannot be saved by our own works, and yet God has commanded certain things of us that are conditions of salvation, and these could in the broadest sense of the word be considered to be works. Baptism, for example, is not even something that we do — it is something that is done to us. And yet many people put it into the classification of being a “work.” In the broadest sense of the word works, it is. But will God condemn us for obeying his commands?
The solution to this dilemma lies in our attitude. If we realize that the meager things that we do are negligable compared to what God has done for us, then we will be able to truly say and believe that “I am not saved by my works” while at the same time devoting our lives to doing God’s works, i.e., becoming a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). On the other hand, if we look down on others and hold ourselves up to be better than they are, and exahalt ourseves because of our knowledge of, and obedience to, God’s word, we have defeated ourselves already and the devil has won our soul.
Please consider the fact that “faith only” is both a paradox and an oxymoron. If the biblical definition of faith is applied, then “faith only” absolutely cannot exist, since faith cannot exist separately from the works that it will motivate.
We will be adding to this article as time goes on. Your participation in making it more effective in better conveying the truth of God’s word will be appreciated. Please comment on it and give us an opportunity to respond to your questions and comments.