Most Christians know that salvation comes by faith alone. We can thank Martin Luther for listening to the Holy Spirit and proclaiming that salvation comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone.
So what is faith then? Does it mean merely believing that God sent Jesus to suffer on the cross and die for our sins or is it something more?
What brought this on was a post about salvation not being by works. I agree that we can not be good or do enough good things in order to merit entrance into heaven. Salvation comes through Christ and Christ alone. I am on board with that, but what is faith?
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Eph 2:4-8)
So salvation came by the gift of grace from God and then accessed by faith.
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Rom 4:3-5)
So is Paul saying here that works do not matter? Not really. He is saying that works without belief serve no eternal purpose. It is not counted as righteousness or faith without belief.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (Jas 2:14)
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (Jas 2:17-24)
You see, James was not in disagreement with Paul. They were talking to different audiences, but they have the same message. Faith is not believing that God sent Jesus; it has to include the submission and obedience that goes along with it. It is not enough to believe that Jesus is God and brought salvation to humanity, because the angels believe that. Demons announced who He was and they were not saved by the knowledge of who Jesus was.
Saving faith must be paired with the works of obedience. The definition should actually include the action portion in it. Abraham trusted God and knew He would do what He had promised, but it was the action that that showed Abraham had faith and not just a knowledge.