Bible Study Opportunities
Well Done” or “Faith Alone” - Which?
By Jon W. Quinn
Jesus spoke the following parable:
"For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.' The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.' But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:14-30).
What Does The Bible Say?
The parable you have just read would be meaningless if it is true that we will be judged on the basis of “faith alone” and what we do has nothing at all to do with the outcome at judgment. It is obvious that Jesus did not believe or teach such a thing as “justification by faith alone.” Also, following the parable of the talents Jesus then illustrates the final judgment by using the dividing of the sheep from the goats. Again, the criteria is what a person had done! (Matthew 25:31-46).
The Bible never says we are justified by faith alone. It does say we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1) but not by “faith alone.” It says we are also justified by grace (Romans 3:24) and the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9).
The Scriptures do mention “faith alone” and its connection with justification. It says that the two are not connected at all. “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24). It seems a simple point that if a man could be justified by faith alone that the Bible would not say that he is not justified by faith alone. How can this point be misunderstood?
Martin Luther was probably the most influential of the Protestant Reformers. As a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, he was frustrated with the system that had evolved which used a system of works for salvation.
Luther came to the conclusion that no works of any kind have anything to do with salvation. Now, the Bible does say we are not saved by certain kinds of works. We are not saved by works of the Law of Moses such as animal sacrifices or circumcision. We are not saved by works of power such as climbing mountains or swimming seas. We are not saved by good deeds such as being considerate or generous.
But this does not mean that obedience of the gospel is unnecessary. But this is exactly where Luther and most Protestant Reformers ended up, and most Protestant churches today officially maintain this position, that salvation is by faith alone apart from obedience unto Christ. Nothing we do is involved, they say. But, Jesus in the parable of the talents, said differently.
The Protestant Reformation Speaks
Luther's Catechism: “We are justified and saved by faith alone, without works...” What did Luther say about such plain Bible statements to the contrary such as James 2:24? He suggested that the epistle of James was “of straw.” That is, it did not carry much weight. Is this really how faith approaches the word of God? (Romans 10:17).
The Larger Catechism of the Presbyterian Church: “Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which He pardons all their sins... and is received by faith alone.” John Calvin is the founder of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. He put “faith alone” into his theological system which is known today as Calvinism. Again, notice how the statement of faith is completely opposite from what the Scriptures say.
The Book of Common Prayer: “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.” This is from the creed book used by the Church of England.
These examples could easily be multiplied. Of course, we must be justified by faith. Abraham was, but not apart from obeying God (Hebrews 11:8). The book of Romans was Luther's favorite book because it speaks so much of salvation by faith. But it never talks about salvation by faith alone. It talks about the importance of obedience (Romans 1:5; 16:26) and how we are freed from sin when we “obey from the heart” (Romans 6:17,18) and that at judgment, God will condemn those who do not obey the truth.” (Romans 2:8). The book of Romans is no friend to the doctrine of justification by faith alone! Remember, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17).
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois May 7, 2000