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by Lloyd I. Castro

This is an article that appeared in the December 2002 issue of the God's Message Magazine

PROTESTANTS UPHOLD THE doctrine that man "can be saved only by faith in Christ, not by good works" (20 Centuries of Christianity, p. 32). This has led them to reject the necessity of joining a particular church to attain salvation.  They are convinced that there is a biblical basis for the faith-alone concept, one of which is Ephesians 2:8-9.   According to the Protestant book Witnessing to the Cults: A Practical Study Course For Christian Workers:
"... Perhaps you have not read Eph. 2:8-9, 'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith ... not of works'." (p. 123)
Here is Ephesians 2:8-9 quoted in full:
"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." (New International Version)
They also cite Romans 3:20 and 28 to prove that the sola fide or faith-alone doctrine is biblically valid:
"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." (Ibid)
We will analyze these verses in this writing.
Not by man's own works
That salvation is by grace of God is a biblical truth.  It is a grave mistake, however, to think that in Ephesians 2:8-9, Apostle Paul is advancing the idea that man can be saved by faith alone without good works.  In the same passages, he makes his meaning clear. "this [salvation] is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." Hence, man by himself alone - by his own righteous works and apart from the mercy of God - will not be saved.  In Titus 3:5, the apostle explicitly states:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." (New King James Version)
There are acts that can be considered as righteous, but by themselves cannot save man.  For instance, helping the needy and the oppressed and taking up such other humane causes, as well as leading a well-disciplined, vice-free life are not only perfectly all right but are also virtuous.  But doing these, even if wholeheartedly and with noble intent, does not ensure salvation without God's mercy.
Being subject to divine mercy, however, does not amount to being automatically saved  without doing anything other than having faith.  On the contrary, God's statutes are the works that give man the basis for receiving the true life.  Indeed, Apostle Paul's instruction to Timothy concerning the Christians was to:
"Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold eternal life." (I Tim. 6:18-19, Ibid.)
Being subject to divine mercy, however, does not amount to being automatically saved without doing anything other than having faith.
He commands man to "come into the fold" or join the Church of Christ, which is God's kingdom on earth.
Some of the works the Lord seeks in man are the giving of voluntary offerings and sharing the true faith.  However, good works lead to salvation only if done within the bounds of grace and in accord with God's commands.  Needless to say, religious works that transgress the Lord's ordinances surely lead to eternal perdition, not to salvation.
If it were true that the Bible teaches that faith without good works is enough, Apostle Paul would not have admonished believers to do good or to do God's commands (Rom. 7:12)
Why then did he say in Romans 3:28 that man is justified by faith apart from the law?  By what law can man not be justified even if he strictly complies with it? To the Jews, "the law" or Torah means the law of Moses.  This is exactly what Apostle Paul means as proven by his sermon to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia where, in part he said:
"And by Him everyone who believes is justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:39, NKJV)
What Apostle Paul was pointing out in Romans 3:28 is that in the Christian era, man cannot be justified by observing the Mosaic Law.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has declared that the law of Moses was "... in effect up to the time of John the Baptist since then the Good News about the Kingdom of God is being told, and everyone forces his way in". (Lk. 16:16, Today's English Version).
The kingdom where all must enter to be saved is "... the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:13-14, NIV).  The Church of Christ is the one purchased or redeemed by Christ with his blood (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation) - the kingdom where all must enter to be saved.
The law of Christ

The veracity of the verses we are discussing is not in question, but rather the Protestant understanding and interpretation of the verses, which cause some verses to contradict other biblical passages.  For instance, Apostle James said:
"Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
"Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
"And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness'. And he was called the friend of God." (Js. 2:21-23, NKJV)
Abraham's obedience proved his faith in God.  The apostles testify that he was justified by works and not by having faith only.
In the Christian era, it is not enough to merely have faith in God and in Christ, for the Savior commands:
"I am the door; anyone who comes into the fold through me will be safe." (Jn. 10:9, Revised English Bible)
The fold or flock is the Church of Christ (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation). The Lord does not say that faith in Him is enough for man to be saved.  He commands man to "come into the fold" or join the Church of Christ, which is God's kingdom on earth.  Thus, the belief that man is neither justified by becoming a member of the Church nor by following God's commandments is unbiblical.
True believers are expected to "Bear one another's burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2, NKJV). If faith without good works were enough, the Bible would not mention the law of Christ everyone should fulfill. Man is justified by faith apart from the law of Moses but not apart from the law of Christ.
That man needs to join the Church of Christ to be saved is embodied in the law of Christ.  Also called the law of faith (Rom. 3:27), the law of Christ requires those who believe in Him to fulfill His command, one of which is to enter His true Church.
If Protestants would put into practice their idea that good works are the outgrowth of faith, the result of their belief in Christ, granting that it is based on the true knowledge (Rom. 10:2-3), would be their membership in the Church of Christ. However, this is not to say that merely believing in Christ automatically makes one a member of His Church, because joining the true Church requires diligent effort on the part of the believer (II Pt. 3:14; Col. 3:15; 1:18).
But unfortunately, Protestant efforts are wasted on their insistence that faith is enough - that they have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior - meaning that they refuse to do the things Christ says. Christ questions their faith:
True believers are expected to bear one another's burden, and so, fulfill the law of Christ.
"But why do you call Me "Lord, Lord', and do not do the things which I say?" (Lk. 6:46, NKJV)
Christ's true disciples

Jesus Christ seeks more than just faith in Him:
"Jesus told the people who had faith in him, 'If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples'." (Jn. 8:31, Contemporary English Version)
Clearly, the Lord expects people who believe in Him to obey His words.  Obedience is the quintessence of any discipleship, but most especially when it comes to following Christ.  Nobody can claim to be a disciple while giving no importance to Christ's commands concerning salvation.  The apostles find it foolish for one to say that he believes but does not have works.  Take note of Apostle James' teaching on faith:
"In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
"You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?" (Js. 2:17, 20, NIV)
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" (Js. 2:14, NKJV)
Although necessary for salvation, faith, if without deeds, is dead and useless - it cannot save man.  Membership in the true Church of Christ is necessary for man to be justified.
God sent His Son that whoever believes in Him will be saved having been justified by His precious blood.  To believe is to obey Christ's command to enter the Church of Christ, the one He redeemed with His blood.  This is one of the works that must go with one's faith in order to receive God's gift of salvation and to enter the kingdom of heaven, for it is the will of God (Mt. 7:21; Eph. 1:9-10, 22-23).  Man must join this Church not because it saves, but  because it is the one Christ will save.  The grace of salvation then is received only through and in the Church of Christ.  This is what the grace of salvation through Christ is all about.
But just as faith without works is incomplete, so is merely joining the true Church of Christ. Apostle Paul advises Church of Christ members to obey, now more than ever, and instructs them to keep on working to complete their salvation (Phil. 2:12).
The door is open to our Protestant friends - and to everyone - to join the  one true Church of Christ and to experience what Christian living truly means.
God's Message/December 2001