Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 9, 1950

"Faith Only" Texts In Context -- No. 2

Franklin T. Puckett, Atlanta, Georgia

Advocates of the "faith only" theory of salvation rely much on the gospel of John to sustain them in their false doctrine. They read all the passages in this book on faith, and conclude that faith is the only thing that is either necessary or even important. For instance, Jesus said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:14-16.) And again, "He that believeth on him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (verse 18.) The same chapter tells us, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life and he that believeth not on the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (verse 36)

Denominational preachers gather these passages (and many others like them) together, and declare that salvation is by faith only. But let us emphasize that there is not one word in a single one of these passages that hints of salvation by faith only. All of them speak of salvation by faith—but none of salvation by faith only.

"Hath Everlasting Life"

Men stress the fact that the scripture says the "believer hath everlasting life." (John 3:36.) They declare that it is "hath" and not "will have"; but they fail to take into consideration that Biblical language speaks of things that are prospective as though they were present. Both present tense and past tense are often used to depict future things.

As an illustration of this truth, recall that Isaiah predicted the Galilean ministry of the Messiah in these words, "The land of Zebulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up." Had the light already shined on them when Isaiah wrote?

Why, that statement was made 700 years before Christ was born!

But what, we are asked, is the condition of the believer now? Does not the Bible say of him that he "hath eternal life"; "shall not come into condemnation"; and "will not come into judgment"? Since one is a believer before he is baptized, then all of these statements describe his condition before he is baptized! Thus the advocates of the "faith only" doctrine would think to clinch their argument.

But the answer to that is for every passage which presents the believer as "saved" we can present another passage which presents the believer as "unsaved". There must be some explanation. And there is. The solution is found in the kind of a believer. What kind of a believer is contemplated in the passages which speak of the believer as saved; and what kind of believer is contemplated in the passages which speak of the believer as unsaved? There lies the key to the whole matter.

The Power To Become Sons

John records of Christ that, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." (John 1:12.) That passage is far from saying that the believers are already sons of God. It emphasizes the very opposite, they are not sons of God, but may become sons of God. Believers are the only ones who can become sons of God; certainly unbelievers cannot. But God grants to the believer the privilege of putting his belief to work in obeying the gospel, and thus becoming a son of God. If he were already a son as soon as he believed, then Christ would not have spoken of the "power to become" a son. It is very evident that not every believer exercises the power God gives him; not every believer takes advantage of the privilege extended to him. For there are thousands of believers who are not children of God, and who are not heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

"Believed, And Turned Unto The Lord"

"Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." (Acts 11:21.) Were these people saved as soon as they believed? If so, they were saved before they ever turned to the Lord! The passage affirms two things of these people: (1) they believed, and (2) they turned to the Lord. And the turning to the Lord came after the believing. Turning to the Lord must always follow belief. No unbeliever will turn to the Lord; only the believer will so act.

"Believed. .. . But Did Not Confess"

"Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." (John 12:42, 43.) Now some advocates of "faith only" try to evade the force of this passage by saying that the belief of these chief rulers was merely belief "about" Christ, but that they did not truly believe in him, did not truly trust him, did not truly rely on him. Well, the record says they did believe "on" Christ. They did not merely believe something "about" him—they believed on him. But they would not confess him. Words cannot be any plainer than those used by Jesus, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32, 33.) These chief rulers simply did not have the courage to make their confession of faith in Christ; they were too cowardly; they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

These cowardly rulers clearly came under the condemnation of Christ, believers though they were. Their faith could not save them. Faith alone is not enough. The only faith that will save is the faith that obeys.