We were all dead in sin. Some still are.

seekingContinuing the train of thought from yesterday, I’d like to look at how the apostle Paul talked about sin. Think about what he told Titus:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-5)

We were lost. God saved us. Some are still lost. They need to be saved.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5)

Some are disobedient. We were among them. We were dead. In sin. Now God has saved us. The disobedient still need to be saved! They are still dead. They are still in sin.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. (Colossians 2:13)

Dead. Because of sin. Not just the Colossians. Not just the Gentiles. “He forgave us…”

We can’t lose this message. It’s too important. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see. I was a sinner. Dead in sin. Lost. God saved me.

Some are still disobedient. They are dead in sin. They need to be saved. They need the good news of salvation, the hope of eternal life, the message that in Jesus God is offering salvation to the whole world, to all who will obey, to all who will come to him in faith.

Sinners in need of grace

seekingIt’s becoming popular these days to leave sin out of the presentation of the good news of Jesus. Let’s talk about Kingdom. Let’s talk about becoming a member of the people of God. Let’s talk about taking part in the restoration of all things.

But let’s don’t talk about sin. That seems to be the spirit of the day.

As I’ve said before, it’s one of the usual pendulum swings that we get regarding theology and Christian living. One generation emphasizes one thing, so a later generation feels the need to reject that one thing and go to the other extreme. That’s the very tendency we have to fight against.

Many car wrecks occur due to what is called oversteering. It’s an overreaction to a situation that calls for a correction in steering. The panicked driver turns the wheel sharply, worsening the situation rather than helping. Instead of running off onto the shoulder, they veer across the center lane into a headon collision. Instead of sliding on the ice, they throw their car into an out-of-control spin. Instead of hitting a road hazard, the driver throws their car sideways across several lanes of traffic.

Overcorrection in the church is no better. Removing judgment and sin from our vocabulary is not the way to respond to a perceived overemphasis of those themes. Let’s talk about the Kingdom and Kingdom values and restoring a fallen world, but let’s not forget that the Bible teaches that each of us needs the forgiveness of sin.

We will never reach a lost world if we don’t admit that world is lost. We will never reach a lost world if we don’t admit that we were lost until God’s grace reached us. We will never reach a lost world if we delete sin from our vocabulary.

Describing our salvation

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.

James versus Paul regarding faith and works

One major problem with stating that we are saved by faith alone is that the Bible never says that, at least not directly. The only statement made about “faith alone” is negative:

“You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)

Oops!

Does James really contradict Paul? I mean Paul says things like:

“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:28)
“However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)
“So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:5–6)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Yet James insists that faith is insufficient:

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:17–19)

I think James and Paul are using words differently, as biblical writers often do. When Luke speaks of “apostles,” he almost always means the Twelve. When Paul speaks of “apostles,” he is usually referring to those sent out by the church as evangelists.

When James speaks of a faith that even demons have, he’s not speaking of the saving faith that Abraham had. When Paul talks about faith, it’s an active, obedient faith. James is addressing the lifestyle we live as a Christian; Paul is talking about how we achieve justification.

Using James’ terminology, we can’t be saved by faith alone; we also need works. Using Paul’s terminology, works have nothing to do with our salvation; it all depends on faith.

IF we understand how each author uses the words they use, we’ll see there’s no real conflict between their ideas.

Faith alone and the response of faith

Yesterday I asked these questions:

Do you think that most people think “faith alone” excludes the thing the commenter mentions? Or do most people think that saving faith includes a certain response?

The commenter I referred to had listed “repentance, confession, baptism, or anything else.” I would argue that I have yet to meet anyone who felt that “faith alone” didn’t require some response. Most base that belief on verses like Romans 10:9

“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”

I’ve generally heard it taught that there needs to be some response, be it a praying of the sinner’s prayer or a public confession of faith. Few would believe in salvation of an unrepentant person. Believing in Jesus involves some change, some response.

Where the debate comes in, in my experience, is what form that response needs to take. I’m among those who believes that the biblical response includes immersion; that view is not held by all, and is, in fact, rejected by many.

Is a faith that doesn’t respond truly faith? If you strictly believe that it is, then your view of “faith alone” excludes the need for the things listed above. If you feel that faith that doesn’t respond is sterile, then I would guess “faith alone” doesn’t mean “intellectual assent alone” to you.

I want to keep unpacking these ideas. What are your thoughts on the subject?