Salvation By Faith Alone in The Book of Galatians

Title: Salvation By Faith Alone in The Book of Galatians

Text: Galatians 1:6-9, 2:16, 3:10-11

Time: June 24th, 2010

In the last few messages I’ve been talking about the subject of salvation by faith alone as taught in the New Testament. I pointed out that although it’s clearly taught in the Bible and was taught in the early church, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was unfortunately allowed to lapse in the historic Christian church for over one thousand years. The true teaching on salvation by faith alone was gradually corrupted over many generations into a doctrine of faith and works. Because the change was never dramatic or sudden, because there was never any radical break from the immediate past – only a slow, creeping tendency to add more and more human effort to the salvation equation – the original faith alone doctrine was almost entirely lost in the Christian church until Martin Luther and the Reformers rediscovered and reestablished it in the 16th century. From my own observations on the matter, I believe that salvation by faith was one of those assumed doctrines that never really got the theological attention it deserved from Christian theologians down through the ages. All Christians have always assumed and believed that we are saved by faith – the question that was never addressed until the time of the Reformation was, “Are we saved by faith alone or faith along with works?” Because Christians never asked that important question there was never any historic church Council decision made on the topic and because there was never any rank heretic challenging salvation by faith, there was never any reason to include anything in any of the Creeds to safeguard the correct teaching on salvation by faith. So as a result, here was this fundamental and essential doctrine floating freely in the air throughout church history without any theological grounding or Council or Creed formulation to clarify the difference between truth and error concerning salvation by faith. When the Reformation came, it was too late, because by that time it had gone without guidance for so long it was impossible to get all Christians together, unified around the biblical truth on salvation by faith. Consequently, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians continued teaching the long-standing tradition that salvation was a product of both faith and works, while Protestant churches began to affirm strongly the biblical teaching that salvation was the result of faith alone. That’s where things stand today. Now in the past few messages I’ve tried to point out from the Book of Romans the Apostle Paul’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. But today I’d like to show that this important doctrine is found in other New Testament books as well, for example, in the Book of Galatians. What this shows is that justification by faith alone is not some obscure teaching found in only one book of the Bible – it’s found in many different books. Today, I’d like to show how it’s taught in another letter by the Apostle Paul, in Galatians.

First, the Apostle Paul warns that the doctrine of salvation by faith would come under attack, even in the church. Galatians 1:6-9, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.” As a young seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and even earlier as a college student at Wheaton College I was amazed as I studied church history that something like the Reformation even needed to happen! How could the gospel of salvation by faith have been lost? How do you lose something as important as that in the church? Isn’t the church supposed to be the one place on the planet where spiritual truths are kept persevered and not lost? I guess the only words I could use to describe my reaction to learning something like this could happen, are amazed and astonished. I think that’s how the Apostle Paul must have felt when after just a short time period he hears that a church that received the original and authentic gospel of salvation by faith alone had so quickly turned away from it to the false doctrine of salvation by faith and works. We’re talking of only a matter of a few years in the case of the Galatians, yet they were already departing from the pure gospel truth of salvation by faith alone to something else. What this shows us is that there is the natural sinful tendency inside and outside of the church to distort and pervert the doctrine of salvation. Of course, we’d expect this from unbelievers and those outside the Christian church. But what amazed and astonished the Apostle Paul – and what should shock us as well – is that the same sinful tendency to depart from the truth of the true gospel is operating within the Christian church as well. The Apostle then instructs the Christians what to do, which is basically this: “Don’t believe anybody who tries to teach you anything that wasn’t originally taught from the very beginning. Don’t even believe us if we return with a different gospel. Don’t even believe an angel, even an angel from heaven! Don’t believe anybody who teaches you a gospel that is in any way different than the gospel originally taught.” What that means for us today, and what it meant to the Reformers too, is that we are to go back to the original, authentic source, the early apostolic message of the gospel of salvation as found in the New Testament, and believe only that gospel, which is only the true gospel. We can’t trust church tradition, we can’t trust church Councils, we can’t even trust all Creeds found in Christianity, but what we can trust is God’s Word. We must hold to the New Testament gospel of salvation and reject anything different. So let’s go back to the Bible and discover what it says about salvation. Let’s go to the Book of Galatians.

Second, the Apostle Paul teaches that salvation comes by faith alone, not by works — or any combination thereof.” Galatians 2:16, “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Now we all know that different Bible translations can translate different verses in different ways, so we want to make sure we aren’t favoring one translation over another to give the verse a Protestant “spin” so to speak. So let’s go to an approved Roman Catholic Bible and see how it translates the above verse. “We acknowledge that what makes a man righteous is not obedience to the Law, but faith in Jesus Christ. We had to become believers in Christ Jesus no less than you had, and now we hold that faith in Christ rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us, and that no one can be justified by keeping the Law,” The Jerusalem Bible. It says the same thing; there is no difference. What Paul seems to be saying is exactly what he is saying – we are justified by faith not by obedience to the law. Or in other words, we are saved by faith, not by works. So if we aren’t saved by works, it must be we are saved only by faith, or in other words, faith alone. There verse says nothing about salvation through a combination of faith and works. It could have said that. It could have easily explained that salvation is a product of both faith and good works, that by combining our best human efforts and our best faith we are saved. In fact, there are theologies today that teach just such a thing. The false religious cult Mormonism teaches that God saves us on the basis of our trying as hard as possible through good works to earn salvation, and then we are saved by God who makes up the difference through our faith. But that isn’t what the New Testament teaches; that isn’t what Galatians is teaching. Paul says, “Man is not justified by observing the law” – not the whole law, not part of the law – “but by faith in Jesus Christ. Man is saved by faith apart or separate from the law. Isn’t that what Romans 3:28 teaches also? “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” It’s the exact same teaching here concerning salvation. How could any Christian theologian miss this? How could the leaders of the established church fail to grasp what Paul is teaching so plainly? Yet errors concerning salvation began to creep into the Christian church incredibly early. Not only do we see errors creeping into the church here in Galatia during the lifetime of the apostles, especially after their death, errors began to multiply rapidly. It’s scary! Yet Paul also warned about that in Acts 20:29-31, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” What’s the answer? Be on guard! Stay close to God’s Word. Don’t depart from the Word of God one bit. That’s the solution for the early church; that’s the solution for us today.

Third, if salvation is not by works or obedience to the law, then it must be by faith, alone. Galatians 3:10-11, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Here Paul incorporates a number of Old Testament quotations to prove that salvation is by faith alone and not through works of obedience to the law. The first quotation he uses is from Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” The point is that in order to be blessed one had to obey all the laws; slip us in just one area and a curse would be the result. So then the conclusion is that obedience to the law is not the means of salvation because nobody fully obeys the law. Obedience would only be a means of salvation if one could fully obey, but as universal human experience demonstrates, no one fully obeys the law. Therefore, no one can be saved this way. The second quote Paul uses is from Habakkuk 2:4, “But the righteous will live be his faith.” The Apostle also quotes this verse in Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Why does Paul keep quoting this verse? Because it’s clear that life – temporal or eternal – is not obtained by obedience to the law, because nobody obeys the law properly or perfectly. So then the only real path to life – temporal or eternal – is through faith alone. If salvation by works is closed, then it must be that the only way of obtain salvation is by the path of faith. This is what Paul is teaching. It’s pretty clear here in Galatians, not to mention, it’s crystal clear in the Book of Romans. Again, we ask the question, “How could the historic church have missed it?” And again, I come back to this answer – they weren’t reading their Bible, they weren’t studying their Bible, they weren’t letting the Bible interpret itself, instead they were letting the accumulated church tradition and the writings of favorite leaders and theologians of the church sway the plain sense meaning of the biblical text. They were not carefully and cautiously testing all things with scripture as we are taught to do. “Test all things, hold fast to that which is good,” 1 Thessalonians 5:21. What this shows us is that even the church can error, even godly Christian leaders can make mistakes, but only God’s Word is wholly reliable and trustworthy. Therefore, we must test all things by God’s Word and hold fast to what has been taught from the beginning – just as Paul teaches.

Now in light of the fact that the gospel of salvation by faith alone was lost for a long time in the life of the Christian church, where does that put us today? Could we ever lose the gospel in the church today? From the record of past church history there is no question that if we aren’t careful we could easily lose the gospel just as before. But today it would probably get lost not so much officially or in the sense that it was lost before in the older Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, it seems that the gospel is lost in many churches by simply getting lost in the clutter of a hundred other agendas, priorities and activities that churches carry on today. For example, in much of evangelicalism today many churches are trying to reach out to the contemporary culture through many different relevant means. There are a lot of resources of money, materials and manpower given to entertaining people into the kingdom and impressing people through hi-tech video, lighting, sound, and visual effects. There is great effort made to present a positive, up-beat, encouraging, practical, relevant message in church. But in our striving to attract, influence and hold people in church today we run the risk of getting distracted from the real mission of the church – to preach the gospel and make disciples. We must constantly return to the New Testament and ask important questions about all our activities in the church – “Is the true gospel of salvation by faith alone being taught in our churches? Is the biblical teaching on the fallen nature of mankind and sin properly taught in the church today? Is biblical confession and repentance rightly taught? Are we careful to baptize only sincere believers? Are we careful to admit only committed Christians into church membership? Are we willing to practice biblical church discipline?” We’ve already seen what is possible in the history of Christianity when the Bible is not carefully examined and practiced. Grave errors can slip into the church when Christians – especially church leaders – aren’t carefully testing all things by scripture and hold tightly to the truth. I’m afraid there’s a lot blindly following leaders with powerful personalities and impressive accomplishments. I’m sorry to see that our American culture’s celebration of “success” and “achievement” has produced a generation of pastors and church leaders who have a bad habit of testing all things by “what works” rather than by God’s Word. The adage, “It must be of God, it’s working,” isn’t necessarily true. Unless we stay close to God’s Word and test all things – all teachings, all leaders, all developments – by the Word of God, we may find that we are merely building upon sand. Test all things; hold to what is true and good.

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3 Responses to “Salvation By Faith Alone in The Book of Galatians”

  1. Michael Gormley Says:

    Sola Fides… Saved by faith alone.

    The fundamentalist believes he is assured of salvation.

    All he has to do is to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and savior and salvation is automatic and irrevocable no matter what he does for the rest of his life.

    Oh Yeah? What happened to the ten commandments?

    A. Many verses in Scripture attest to salvation by faith alone. Joel 2:32, “…that every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

    Acts 2:21 says the same almost word for word, and likewise for Romans 10:13. “…I live in the faith of the Son of GOD…”, is from Galatians 2:20. Again, these are beautiful words that should be heeded by all.

    B. However, elsewhere in Scripture there is quite a different side of the story. Start with Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in Heaven shall enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

    Very clear that you have to do the will of the Father to gain salvation.

    I like 1 Corinthians 10:12, “…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” That one says you cannot be guaranteed of salvation.

    Then James 2:14-26 says over and over, “…Faith too without works is dead…Faith without works is useless…so Faith also without works is dead.” Again, words to be heeded by all.

    C. So what is the answer to this dilemma? Is this one of those Bible ‘conflicts’ you keep hearing about? No, not at all.

    The answer is very simple. There are two types of salvation, ‘objective salvation’, and ‘subjective salvation’.

    The verses in ‘A’ are examples of objective salvation. Jesus Christ did atone for all of our sins, past, present and future.

    He did His part and did it well, but He left the burden upon each one of us to complete the second side of the story by atoning for our own sins, by doing the will of the Father.

    We have to keep the commandments. We have to practice ‘subjective salvation’. There is no salvation by accepting only part of Scripture as shown in ‘A’, and by rejecting, or trying to explain away the verses in ‘B’.

    Yet this what Protestants are doing. Again, we have to combine ‘A’, and ‘B’, to have the full truth. A+B=C = TRUTH.

  2. jeffshort Says:

    M.G., thanks for your comments. all i can say to you or anyone else is to simply read the Book of Romans. in it the apostle paul explains the whole doctrine of salvation by faith alone. why start with Romans? Because it’s where the doctrine of salvation is given its most thorough treatment in all of the Bible. so start where there is the best light and build from that enlightened place. The apostle paul is God’s chief instrument in explaining salvation, interpret everything else in light of Paul. if you read the Book of Romans, working through the chapters veres-by-verse you’ll come to an accurate understanding of salvation by faith alone.

    sincerely,
    J.S.

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