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What Demoninations Teach - Part II

What Demoninations Teach
Part II

By Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
September  2008

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Some denominations believe in baptizing by sprinkling water on a person which is false doctrine.  Some do not.  Some believe a person cannot fall from God’s grace and others believe it is possible to fall away.  Some denominations are “premillennialists”, that is, they believe that Jesus will come to earth again to set up His kingdom and reign on earth a thousand years in this kingdom.  Other denominations do not believe this.  But it seems the most widely accepted false doctrine among denominations is that man is saved by “faith alone”.
Have you ever heard someone say that the churches of Christ do not believe in salvation by faith?  May we set the record straight on this point.  The churches of Christ have always believed that a man is saved by faith in the Lord, and we believe that men will be saved eternally by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We believe that and always have believed that because that is what is taught in the New Testament.  If anyone says that the churches of Christ do not believe in salvation by faith, you can set them straight on this point.  We have always believed that “without faith it is impossible to please God” because that is what the word of God declares.  We do not believe in the doctrine of salvation by faith only because it is false.  There is a great difference in the two and we must be able to understand that to get to Heaven.


When Martin Luther was a young Catholic monk in Germany it seems that he began forming this doctrine of “faith only” in his own mind.  Luther’s leaving the Roman Catholic Church resulted in the first so-called protestant denomination.  He fostered and fathered and preached and made popular the idea of salvation by faith only.  It is probably true that several before him believed in or taught the doctrine but it did not become popular until the days of Luther and after that time.

Luther’s protest to the false doctrine of salvation by the works of the Catholic Church truly was the cause of his contenting for salvation by faith only.  What happened was in protesting against one false doctrine he began to father another.  In swinging away from the doctrine of salvation by Catholic works (which the religious world embraced) Martin Luther swung too far in the opposite direction and did not stop with the teachings of the Scriptures on salvation by faith but ended up teaching the doctrine of “faith alone.”


The trouble with Luther’s belief and that of all who continue to hold this false belief is a failure to understand the use of the term “works” as used in the New Testament.  Clearly the misunderstanding of the Bible word, “works,” was the real cause of Luther’s preaching the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.  When He read Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:8,9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.” and James 2:24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only”,  He simply could not correlate the two.  His conclusion was that James was wrong and therefore not inspired, and his writing should be rejected and should be rejected as part of the New Testament.

This conclusion seems to be the reason for Luther’s being driven to this extreme position.  The trouble was not with James nor with Paul, it wasn’t then and it isn’t now.  The trouble is in understanding the inspired writers.  The misunderstanding comes from what the term “works” in the Bible often means.


The word “works” is used in, at least, three senses in the New Testament.  Sometimes the word refers to the works of the Old Testament or the works of the Law of Moses.  Sometimes the term is used to refer to our own personal plans and schemes–ideas fostered and designed by men and their traditions–things originating in the minds of men.  Surely none of us believe that these works will lead us to God, could save us from our sins and save us eternally.  We could call these the works of men or works of men’s righteousness.  And then there is a third kind which the New Testament calls “the works of God.”  If you do not have a clear understanding between these terms as used in the word of God you will always have difficulty understanding the Lord’s plan of salvation by faith in Christ.


In John 6:28 we read of the people coming to Jesus with a question: “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?”  This is one kind–the works of God.  In verse 29 Jesus answers them, “This is the work of God that you believe on him whom He hath sent.”  What did he say?  Jesus told them to believe on Christ is to work the works of God.  Absolutely!  Faith in the Lord is a work of God.  So the person who says he is saved by faith alone and that no works are connected with his salvation is denying even that he can be saved by faith since FAITH IS A WORK.”  This work was not what Paul was addressing in Ephesians 2:8,9.

When God gives the command, and man obeys without reservation he is working a work of God.  The act of obedience to God’s command is not the work of man.  It is the work of God.  Man did not forge it; he did not contrive it.  It originated in the mind of God.  The Lord records it in His book and man simply follows God’s directions that in brief is the work of God.
Therefore, personal obedience to God’s will is the work of God.  Faith is a work of God; Jesus said so.  Who can deny it?  No one can believe in salvation by faith and not believe in salvation by the works of God.  The word of God, however, does teach salvation by faith in the Lord and that salvation does not come by the works of the law of Moses.  Neither salvation by the works of man’s devise nor the works of the law of Moses will save a man from sin.  Nevertheless, salvation by faith in Christ and salvation by the works of God are both true.  The New Testament teaches both.  This is what the churches of Christ submit to and teach in love.


Let us again look at Ephesians 2:8,9.  It reads, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  If you will study the context of this passage and James 2 you can easily see that both inspired writers are teaching the truth, and that each is addressing a different kind of works.  When James says that a man is justified by works in James 2:24 he is speaking of the works of God.  In Ephesians 2, Paul is addressing our own personal goodness.  He means the deeds which we have devised ourselves.

In other words a man, on his own, cannot figure out what to do to please God.  Men’s plans, men’s traditions, nor righteous ceremonies will ever save anyone from sin.  These cannot make anyone worthy of salvation.  It is because of the grace of God and your faith in the Lord that God saves you.  Paul, in Ephesians 2:8,9, is talking about the works of men and not the works of God.  How do we know?  Because in verse 10 he says, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, that we should walk in them.”  That is the clear contrast.  We are not saved by works.  True!  But he is talking about works of men–plans, schemes and traditions by which we could save ourselves.  We cannot be saved by these.  Why?  “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, that we should walk in them.”   God directs.  God commands.  Man obeys.  These are the kind of works the apostle Paul calls “good” and these are the kind of works by which we will be saved.
Being ignorant of what the word of God teaches on salvation, you could not sit down and devise a plan of redemption by which you or anyone else could be saved.  Man cannot be saved that way.  You can’t be saved by your own works no matter how good they may seem.  God’s grace, His unmerited favor, is given to you by His sending His Son to die on the cross, Christ shedding His blood there as the sin sacrifice, your faith in the Lord and submission to His will and works.  We are created to do these works and by these we are saved.


The fourth chapter of the book of Romans is a passage popular with those who argue for justification by faith only.  The context shows Paul discussing Abraham and his justification by God before the law of the Jews was given to them at Sinai.  He is proving that Abraham was not justified by works but rather by faith in God.  If you read carefully this passage you will find that the apostle here is addressing the idea that some held which was that keeping the WORKS OF THE LAW OF MOSES would justify them.  But Paul says, “For by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20).  Some Jewish Christians in the early days of the church held that the keeping of the Law of Moses and belief in Christ were both essential to salvation.  The expression “By the deeds of the law” simply meant by obedience to that law you cannot be saved by God.  He is showing that Abraham was saved by that old law.

There were those in Rome who continued to cling to the rites and ceremonies and traditions handed to them by their fathers and received from the law of Moses.  By keeping these works some believed they would gain salvation.  Paul shows them that Abraham was justified, but not by that law.  He died centuries before that law was given.  So the fourth chapter of Romans does not give any encouragement or comfort to the denominations which teach the false doctrine of salvation by faith only.


When you read in the New Testament that faith saves, or the expression saving faith, it always means obedient faith.  Saving faith is obedient faith.  Whenever you read of a believer who is saved you always find an obedient believer.  His obedience is always included in the expression or idea of faith.  If the believer is saved the believer has obeyed.  There is an example found in Romans 13:11 where Paul mentions that it was time for them to awake out of their sleep for they were nearer their salvation than when they believed.  These Roman Christians were nearer to that, or heaven, than when they first started out, or believed.  Paul used the expression “believed” in reference to their becoming Christians.  Nobody would deny that.  It simply means when they were converted.  It refers to the time when their God forgave them of their sins and added them to His kingdom.  That was when they believed.  What does the expression “believed” include?  Does it not include obedience?  What did they do in Rome to believe?  What constitutes Scriptural belief unto salvation? 

Let us look at Romans 6:3,4.  Here Paul says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death...”  In chapter 13 Paul says that they believed when they became Christians.  Now in Romans 6 he tells us very plainly that these same persons had been baptized and that is when their newness of life began.  This is very clear.  Paul refers to their becoming Christians as when they “believed” in chapter 13 referring to an “obedient faith” and in chapter 6 he says they were baptized; thus believing included their being baptized.
Continuing on in Romans 6 on down to verse 17 Paul says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart” [there is obedience to the commands of God] “that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  Being then made free from sin” [that is when they believed and did something besides merely believing] “ye became the servants of righteousness.”  That’s it!  They believed when they obeyed the Lord and came into God’s family.  Saving faith always includes obedience.


In chapter 19 of the book of Acts we read that Paul went to Ephesus and there found twelve disciples who knew only the baptism of John, and Paul said to them, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”  Look at their answer, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”  Which led Paul to ask, “Unto what then were ye baptized?”  They answered, “Unto John’s baptism.”  Obviously, when Paul used the term “believed” he is referring to the time when they started out to be disciples of Christ.  But when Paul discovered that they didn’t know anything about the Holy Spirit it was clear to him that their baptism was not according to the great commission given by the Lord.  Jesus commanded the disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost...” (Mathew 28:19).  By all this we see that Paul’s use of the term “believed” included baptism.  Baptism is a command of the Lord.  Repentance is a command of the Lord therefore repentance is included in a faith that saves.  Saving faith is obedient faith.

Jesus demanded that men confess Him to be the Son of God to be saved.  He said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).  When the Ethiopian in Acts 8:36 asked, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”  Phillip answered, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.  And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”   You see, the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion included a faith that not only believed the gospel message, but included his confession of Christ and baptism.


In John 12:42,43 we see an example of the kind of faith that will not save.  It says, “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.”  Someone might say they didn’t really believe.  Wrong!  The Scriptures say they believed.  Who can contradict it?  However, nobody will claim those chief rulers who would not confess Christ were saved.  They believed but they were not saved.

The denominations who teach salvation by faith only are wrong.  They need to remember James 2:19,20 which says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”