Covered: Acts 15-18:17; Galatians 1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1-2
Scripture Memory: Perfectionism – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
The book of Galatians was written by Paul because the churches in the southern area of Galatia, modern-day Turkey, were facing a theological crisis. Is salvation by faith alone, or faith plus works? Many of the Jews insisted on circumcision as a requirement for Gentiles who wished to be saved. Many of these Jews said that Christians must also continue to keep the Mosaic Law. When Paul learned about these false teachings to the Galatian churches, he immediately wrote an adamant letter to counter the perversion (false gospel) that was being taught. Paul was insistent that the law would not save any person – faith in Christ alone saves. Not only were these teachings an issue in Paul’s day, but we also see this being taught in many religions and cults today.
This question of faith alone or faith plus works is also the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant and Catholic Church. This is also a key difference in Christianity and almost all other religions and teachings. Most religions and cults teach that works (human achievements) are what saves or delivers you. However, the Bible teaches that we are not saved by works, but by God’s grace through His gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Another important thing to remember about salvation is that it is God’s plan, not man’s plan. Some religions think that observing religious rituals, saying certain prayers, or achieving certain levels of spiritual enlightenment will produce salvation, but none of those things are part of God’s plan of salvation.
Sola fide, means faith alone apart from works. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said that Sola fide is so important to the Gospel message and a Biblical understanding of salvation, that those who reject it are embracing a false gospel. Paul also says in Galatians 1:9, ‘If anyone preaches to you a false gospel contrary to what you have received, a curse be on him!’ The doctrine of justification by faith alone and not by works is something we see taught many times in Scripture. One example is found in Romans 4:2-5, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to brag about – but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, pay is not considered a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness.” Galatians 3:11 tells us that “the righteous will live by faith.”
Think about it, if we could be saved by our works (something we could do or earn), then why did Jesus need to die on the cross for us? The thought that our good works could ever be enough to balance out our bad works is totally unbiblical. The Bible teaches that God’s standard is perfection, and Jesus was the only perfect one. In James 2:10 we are taught that “if we stumble in keeping even one part of God’s righteous law, then we are guilty as if we had broken all of it.” So, there is no way that we could ever be saved if it depended on our works. Our works would never be good enough because we are not perfect.
So then, why is salvation by works the predominately held viewpoint among other religions? Well, works seem right in the eyes of man. We have a basic desire to control our destiny. Works appeals to our pride and need for justice. Also, man does not really understand the extent of his own sinfulness. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “our heart is deceitful above all things.” The deceit of our heart prevents us from seeing our true state before our Holy God. We think we aren’t that bad. We justify to ourselves that we are a good person and will try to do good things for others. We compare our sins to others, and maybe think our lives seem much better than theirs. Proverbs 14:12 says that “there is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.” The problem is that we can not compare our lives or sins to others. We should be comparing our lives to God’s standard of perfection, which we will never meet with our works. Therefore, Christianity is different from all other religions. It is the only religion that teaches that salvation is a gift of God and not of works.
Another confusing thing to many people is the teaching of Paul (salvation by faith alone) and the teaching of James (salvation is faith plus works). However, this confusion can be explained when we examine what James is really talking about in James 2:26 when he says, “faith without works is dead.” James is not saying that our works make us righteous before God. Instead, he is saying that genuine faith in Christ is demonstrated by a changed life and good works. (James 2:20-26) James is not saying that justification is faith plus works, but that a person who is truly justified by faith will have good works in their life. Paul also talks about good fruit believers should have in their lives – Galatians 5:22-23. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul also tells us that “we were created to do good works.” Paul and James both expect a believer to have a changed life. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come.” James and Paul do not disagree in their teachings on salvation, but they just approach it from two different view-points. Paul states that justification is by faith alone, and James is just saying that genuine saving faith in Christ produces good works.
So, even though we can not be saved by our good works- when we are saved, we will produce good works. After a new birth in Christ, believers should grow in their faith, just like a newborn baby will grow after it is born (1 Corinthians 3:1-5). God’s plan for all things is birth, growth, and maturity. Look around us at God’s creation, and we will see that plants and animals grow and mature, and they have a purpose. When we grow as believers, even though we will grow at different rates and in different ways, we will begin to look more and more like our Heavenly Father. Living things grow! God wants to produce growth or fruit in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23) Jesus said that we would be known by the fruit in our lives, which will provide evidence of the faith within us. (Matthew 7:16) Our lives and priorities will show the world that we have genuine faith. Obedience to the Lord is the mark of true saving faith. Simply “saying” we believe does not save us, nor does religious service. The Bible tells us that even the demons believe (James 2:19); however, their lives have not been transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are saved when the Holy Spirit transforms our heart, and that will be seen in a life of faith that continues to be obedient to the Lord. This process of growth is also called sanctification. God is setting us apart to make us holy, to transform us into the image of His Son. (I would love to dive into sanctification even more, but that will have to be the topic for another blog post.)
So, to sum up, our theological crisis, not only for the church in Galatia but for many today- Salvation is by faith alone! Good works do not produce salvation! Good works are the product of salvation. Salvation is God’s free-gift if we will put our faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as payment for our sins. Praise God that He enables us to live the Christian life once we have accepted Him. Jesus said to believers in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Written by: Julie O’Neal
Photo Credit: Norman Strickland
A Theological Crisis
Covered: Acts 15-18:17; Galatians 1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1-2