Is Salvation by Faith ALONE?

A common belief among Protestants is that the only thing necessary for assurance of salvation in heaven is for a person to turn to Christ in faith and to simply accept Him as his "personal Lord and Savior." After all, St. Paul clearly says "...If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:9). St. Paul also tells us that one cannot be saved through works: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is a gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9).

The Protestants are very correct in stating that faith is necessary for salvation. Catholics have always believed this! The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

"Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. 'Since 'without faith it is impossible to please [God]' and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'but he who endures to the end."

However, Catholics do not believe that we can obtain salvation by faith alone. The phrase "faith alone" appears only once in the Bible and it is in the book of James: "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). Martin Luther added the word "alone" to his German translation of Romans 3:28, even though the word does not appear in the Greek manuscripts. He even admitted this in a letter to his friend Wenceslaus Link:

"...I know very well that the word 'alone' is not in the Latin or Greek text, and it was not necessary for the Papists to teach me that. It is true those letters are not in it, which letters the jackasses look at, as a cow stares at a new gate... It shall remain in my New Testament, and if all the Popish donkeys were to get mad and beside themselves, they will not get it out."

Please note the the Catholic Church does not believe that a Christian can "work his way to heaven" or "earn his own salvation" apart from the grace of God.

The Bible clearly shows that faith is much more than believing that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. This is a very important first step, but not enough for salvation. After all, even evil spirits recognize and acknowledge who Jesus is. Many Christians today equate "faith" with a "decision for Christ." Faith is not a major decision that happens once, twice, or a few times in a person's life. Faith is a way of life!

Lets take a look at the word "saved" (Greek: sozo) within the context of the entire New Testament.

Past Tense: The Bible uses the word "saved" [Greek: sozo] in the past tense when it refers to the past event of Jesus' death and resurrection that has redeemed humanity (Redemption is "to return to a person a possession that once belonged to him.").

  • In Acts 4:12, we read "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved [Greek: sozo]." (see also: Eph 1:7)

Present Tense: The New Testament also refers to being saved [Greek: sozo] in the present tense.

  • Christians who are baptized have been "clothed with Christ" and can share in the fruits of Jesus' death and resurrection. In 1 Pet 3:21, we read that the experience of Noah and the flood (recounted in the Old Testament)"...prefigured baptism, which saves [Greek: sozo] you now..." (see also Gal 3:27, Rom 6:3-5)

  • Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved [Greek: sozo]." (Mark 16:16)

  • "Through [the Gospel] you are also being saved [Greek: sozo], if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." (1 Cor 15:2; see also: Phil 2:12)

Future Tense: Being "saved" [Greek: sozo] is also described as being a future event that will be experienced only by those who are found faithful to Jesus at the very end of their lives. (The Bible tells us that a person can lose his salvation if found unfaithful at death):

  • "...whoever endures to the end will be saved [Greek: sozo]." (Matt 10:22)

  • "...the one who perseveres to the end will be saved [Greek: sozo]." (Mark 13:13)

Most evangelical Christians use the word "saved" to mean that they have done what Paul asked of us in Rom 10:9: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." After acknowledging their need for God and their faith in Jesus Christ, many fundamentalist Christians believe they have a 100% assurance of salvation. However, the New Testament shows that being saved is not that simple. Among other things, we must:

  • Profess personal faith in Jesus as our Savior (Rom 10:9)
  • Serve the Lord and do what he asks of us. The Bible says that faith alone "is dead." (James 2:12, 17, 24; Rev 14:13; 19:8; 20:13)
  • Be baptized into Jesus's family (John 3:1-5, 22; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:18-21; Gal 3:27; Matt 28:19; Mark 16:16)
  • Cooperate with God's free gift of grace every day until the very end of our life. The Bible tells us that those who don't persevere in their faith will not be "saved." (Mark 13:13; Matt 10:22; Phil 2:12-13; Heb 3:14; 1 Cor 9:27; 10:12; 2 Tim 2:12; 1 Tim 1:18-19; Rom 11:22)
  • Regularly confess our sins and receiving God's forgiveness of our post-baptismal sins. (John 20:21-23; Matt 9:1-8; Matt 16:18-19 and 2 Cor 5:10 for the Bible's instructions on how and to whom this confession should be made.)
  • Regularly receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist (John 6:4, 53-54; Heb 10:23-31; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-26).

Let's take a look at what Scripture teaches about the necessity of performing good works (accomplished by God's grace and assisted by the Holy Spirit):

  • "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matt 7:21)
  • In Matthew, a rich young man asks Jesus, "...What good must I do to gain eternal life?" Rather than saying that the rich young man needed to have faith alone He tells him: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments ... If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." (Matt 19:16-21) (notice that "being perfect" is required of all Christians in Matt 5:48)
  • "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works [Greek: ergon]? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14)
  • "So also faith of itself, if it does not have works [Greek: ergon], is dead." (James 2:17)
  • "...I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works [Greek: ergon]." (James 2:18)
  • "You see that faith was active along with [Abraham's] works [Greek: ergon], and faith was completed by the works [Greek: ergon]." (James 2:22)
  • "See how a person is justified by works [Greek: ergon] and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)
  • " without works [Greek: ergon] is dead." (James 2:26)
  • "...whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20)
  • "...if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing." (1 Cor 13:2)
  • "Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up." (Gal 6:9)
  • "Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds." (Rev 22:12)
  • "...God, who will repay everyone according to his works [Greek: ergon], eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works [Greek: ergon], but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness." (Rom 2:5-7)
  • "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Gal 5:6)
  • At the General Judgement at the end of time, what will distinguish "the sheep" (who will be admitted into heaven by Jesus) from "the goats" (who will be eternally damned by Jesus) will be their loving works (feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the ill, visiting the imprisoned). These loving works will help to exhibit the sincerity and the depth of the Christian's God-given faith life (Matt 25:31-46)
  • "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Cor 5:10)
  • In Revelation we read that the spiritual merits of earthly good works accompany the saints when they enter heaven: "...I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' said the Spirit, 'let them find rest from their labors, for their works [Greek: ergon] accompany them.'" (Rev 14:13). "She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment, The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones" (Rev 19:8).
  • The New Testament tells us that Christians will not be judged by their "faith alone" but by their actual deeds and personal conduct that they exhibited while living on earth. "I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds [Greek: ergon]." (Rev 20:12-13)
  • "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor 15:58)
  • "For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones." (Heb 6:10)
  • " out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work." (Phil 2:12-13)
  • "...The person who acts in righteousness is righteous..." (1 John 3:7)
  • "Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one's works [Greek: ergon], conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning..." (1 Pet 1:17)
  • "...we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him" (1 John 3:21)

Alan Schrek sums it up very well in his book Catholic and Christian:

"The Council of Trent clearly stated that of the two (faith and works), faith was the primary means of accepting salvation ('the beginning of human salvation' from our perspective). 'Good works' or charity is also important for salvation, but as a 'fruit' of genuine faith."

In other words, Christians are justified by an alive faith that is characterized by loving works and obedience to God. A Christian's good works are his loving response to God's free and gracious gift of faith!

For more in-depth study of salvation, please visit the Nazareth InfoWizard.

Another interesting article written by James Akin which handles the question "Are only Catholics saved?" can be found here.