One of the longstanding arguments between Protestantism and Catholicism centers on the issue of salvation. Many Protestant denominations believe eternal life is achieved by “Faith Alone” whereas Catholics believe in “Faith plus Works.” Some Protestants believe that we are saved by “Grace Alone.” While there some scriptural truth to all of these, I propose an even greater truth that we are saved by “Faith plus Love.” Please bear with me as I will support my belief with scripture. My intentions are not to inflame or create dissension, but rather to achieve harmony and unification on the issue with all Christians.
Martin Luther, the “Father of Protestantism,” believed in “Sola Fide” or salvation by Faith Alone. Examining scripture on the issue, it would be a truth to say that we are saved by Faith but it would be misleading to say that we are saved by Faith Alone as I will illustrate.
Numerous scriptures support the concept of Salvation by Faith and here are a few examples:
- John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
- John 5:24: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
- John 6:40: "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
- John 6:47: "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life."
- Acts 16:31: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
- Romans 10:9: "That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved."
Catholicism teaches Salvation by “Faith plus Works(Deeds)” which there is scriptural proof to support this as well. However, it is important to point out that Catholicism does not teach that one can earn their way into heaven: Our salvation is through Grace and a gift from God to believers and not of Works Alone (See Ephesians 2:8-10). The reason why Catholic teaching is truthful is that if we truly have Faith, we will see proof of our faith in our actions:
- James 2:14-18: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds(works)? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 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.
- Romans 2:6-7: God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
- James 2:26: As the body without the spirit is dead, faith without deeds is dead.
Jesus confirmed that belief that he was the Son of God isn’t enough:
- Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"
- Matthew 25:43-46: "I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
The book of James points out the validity of Faith plus Works and even states that we are not saved by Faith Alone:
James 2:20-24: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
A scripture in Galatians 5 supports the above and illustrates that Works of the Law (in this example circumcision) was insufficient by itself for salvation:
- Galatians 5:6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Overall, Works/Deeds are byproducts of Love and Faith--if it done without expecting anything in return.
But here is another example of achieving Salvation that centers around the Ten Commandments. But note that these involve love of God (obeying God’s commands) and loving thy neighbor:
Matthew 19:16-19: “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'
Finally, here is another scripture regarding Holy Communion (The Eucharist) being tied to Salvation that I believe is both Faith Plus Love.
- John 6:53-54: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
My belief that this is scripture that is both Faith Plus Love is due to the fact that if we believe in Jesus Christ and want eternal life, we will do this. Christ never asks us to remember him with a crucifix around our neck or a special holiday for this birth, he says about Holy Communion “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). If we love Jesus, we will honor his wishes by partaking in His body and His blood to remember him.
Another belief amongst some Protestants is that Salvation is achieved by “Sola Gratia” or by Grace Alone. It is true that we are saved by God’s grace as found in the following scripture.
- Ephesians 2:8-9: 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.
I have already demonstrated why we are not saved by Faith Alone and it is important to note that we are not saved by Works/Deeds Alone (as the scripture above points out) or Works of the Law Alone (Galatians 2:21). But are we saved by Grace Alone? Nowhere in scripture does it state that we are saved by anything “alone.” To believe that we are saved by Grace Alone would cause us to ignore all other scriptures on salvation and scripture is an all or none proposition--meaning that you have to believe all scripture or none of it.
Is it possible that we can be saved by Grace Alone? Yes, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). A good example can be found in Luke 23:39-42 with one of the criminals who was hanging on a cross near Jesus. One criminal said: “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don't you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Yet, what did Jesus say? Jesus replied “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This is clearly an exception to the rule and example of God’s grace. But wait a minute here, isn’t God’s grace love? God’s grace is love because it is something positive that we receive when we don’t really deserve to receive it.
If you step back and look at scripture on the issue of salvation, every scripture on salvation can be placed into one of three categories: Faith, Love or Faith+Love. So how important is Love? Consider this. God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27). God loves us and God is love (1 John 4:16). Loving him and loving others is what pleases God and he sent His Son to set an example for us. Ephesians 5:2 tells us to: “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Jesus = Love because he was the greatest example of love (1 John 3:16)
Apostle Paul tells us the importance of Love in 1 Corinthians 13:2: "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Jesus tells us the importance of love in Luke Chapter 10:
- Luke 10:25-28: "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:13 “These three remain: faith, hope and love.” Is the greatest of these Faith? No, as Paul writes “the greatest of these is love.”
© Michael J. Cox