One reason that people use the phrase “faith alone” when talking about salvation is a reaction to the idea that people somehow earn salvation by doing certain things. In the same way, people in my fellowship often reject the phrase “faith alone” out of a desire to emphasize the role of baptism in salvation.
Some of the discussion is mere semantics. Some reflects essential heart issues behind the words. Let me lay out some thoughts on the subject in general:
- We are saved by the grace of God. We do not earn salvation, deserve salvation, nor anything of the sort. Salvation is a free gift from God.
- Only God will ultimately decide who is saved and who is not. Modernism makes us want to be able to define everything in terms of lists, formulas, steps, and procedures. My list is short: God saves.
- Salvation comes to us through Jesus Christ. I think Jesus’ words leave little wiggle room. If we believe in him, then we have to believe that he is the only way to the Father.
- We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
- The word faith in the New Testament can usually be translated as faithfulness; it is not mere intellectual belief. It is a choice to believe and live in accordance with that belief.
- The Bible includes a number of things within what I call the faith response. These include repentance, confession, and baptism. Our ongoing response must be a life of love toward others; the Bible makes it clear that no one is saved without love.
- Someone who refuses to do the things that God tells us to do cannot be seen as having faith. I compare it to someone who says they believe in their doctor. That doesn’t mean they believe their doctor really is certified to practice medicine (though that’s included). It means they trust and follow their doctor’s indications. In the same way, if we don’t want to do what God says, we don’t have faith in him.
- I hesitate to qualify anything as “essential” for salvation. God can save anyone. He can save everyone. He is God. As someone once said, the Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do.
- Salvation is by faith through grace.
Not an exhaustive list, but enough to show you some of my thinking on the subject.