Is it true that Salvation is by grace through faith,
not by works?
Let us look at some common interpretations which are not fully in accordance to the teachings of the bible:
#1. Eph 2:8,9 mentions that Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. So Sacraments are of works, not of faith. Is this true?
- The works here refer to the works of the law (Gal 2:16; 3:2; Rom 9:32). Such works do not come from faith but from a desire to obtain righteousness without the saving works of Jesus Christ.
- It would be a mistake to say that anything involving physical action is a “work.” If that is the case, confession with our mouth would be a “work.”
- Sacraments are commanded by the Lord Jesus himself. Denying the Lord’s commands is not faith at all.
- In receiving the sacraments, it is not the physical action on the partof the believer that saves. It is the mercy of God and the saving work of Christ that brings us the effect.
- Faith is not just intellectual agreement. Faith without action is not true faith.
Such false faith cannot save (Jas 2:14; Mt 7:21-23).
#2. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Tit 3:5). Sacraments are righteous deeds, and therefore cannot save us. Is this claim correct? No. Why?
- Sacraments are not “works of righteousness we have done.”
- Receiving the sacraments involves confessing our sins and having faith in the
saving work of Christ.
- Sacraments do not establish our own righteousness. The reason they are effective is not because of our actions but because of God’s mercy and Christ’s salvation.
The same verse reads, “…He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5). The washing of regeneration, which refers to the sacrament of baptism, is a necessary part of God’s saving act.
How can we say that sacraments have no saving effect? (see also 1Pet 3:21).
Here clarified that Sacraments do not belong to the category of “works of righteousness we have done.” They are the mercy of God and His Salvation.
#3. Romans 10:9 reads, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Since baptism, footwashing, and Holy Communion are not mentioned here, they are not necessary for salvation. Can we assume so?
- Repentance is also not mentioned; is repentance, then, not necessary for salvation? It sure is! (Mt 3:2; Acts 3:19; 2:38; 11:18; 2Cor 7:10) So we cannot deny the effect and necessity of sacraments based on this verse. We must bring this verse into harmony with other verses in the Bible to understand all the necessary steps to salvation.
- Here Paul is emphasizing justification and salvation through faith as opposed to seeking to establish one’s own righteousness without Christ (see 10:3). The argument in verses 9 & 10 is drawn from verse 8, which quotes Deut 30:14 (note the repeated use of the words “mouth” and “heart”).
- The word is in our mouth and in our heart so we may obey it (Deut 30:11-18). Paul cited this passage to show that Christ is the Word become flesh, whom we should confess and believe. This confession and belief is realized in the obedience to Christ—the Word. His argument here was to show that observance apart from Christ cannot attain to righteousness. He was not at all saying that confession and belief in Christ removed the need for sacraments. In fact, true confession of and belief in Christ would involve obedience to the Lord’s command to receive the sacraments.
#4. In Romans 4:10-12, Paul stresses that Abraham was justified before circumcision, not after. Circumcision was only a sign of the righteousness he had already received by faith. Likewise, sacraments are only signs which have no effect. Is this so? What is circumcision?
- In terms of necessity, this passage cannot be used to argue that sacraments are not necessary. Sacraments are necessary for us because they are commanded by the Lord himself, just as circumcision was necessary for Abraham because it was commanded by God.
Had Abraham denied the necessity of circumcision with the rationale that it was only a sign, would he still be a man of faith?
- In terms of saving effects, we cannot confuse circumcision with the sacraments. Circumcision is a covenant of flesh for Abraham and his earthly descendants (Gen 17:13). It is done by the hands of men and is a work of the law as such. Because no divine action is involved, its only function was to signify God’s promise and justification of Abraham. More importantly, it was a foreshadow of the saving work of Christ to effect justification for all men, whether Jews or Gentiles. “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal 3:19). So the law, including circumcision, could only signify the reality, which is Christ.
In the sacraments, on the contrary, there is divine action, mediated by Christ himself. Baptism, for instance, is a circumcision done by Christ, not by men’s hands (Col 2:11-12).
Sacraments are on a totally different level from circumcision because they are divine actions rather than just symbolic signs.
#5. The people in the Old Testament were saved without the sacraments. Can we insist this way?
- God did not command the sacraments in the Old Testament.
Before Christ came, the chosen people were under the old covenant. But the sacraments are signs of the new covenant (see Mt 26:28).
#6. What about those believers who never had a chance in their lifetime to receive the sacraments?
- Whether God chooses to save them has no relevance to the necessity of sacraments. These people belong to a different category from those who do have the chance to accept the sacraments. If a person has the chance to believe in Christ and obey his words but refuses to, he still stands condemned (Jn 3:18-21; Mt 7:21-23).
#7. In Lk 7:37-50, the Lord saved the sinful woman by her faith. She did not accept the sacraments. Why?
- We need to know that the sacraments had not been instituted then.
#8. In Lk 23:39-43, the Lord promised the repentant criminal salvation. The criminal was saved without accepting the sacraments. So is it true that sacraments are not necessary then?
- We should not make an exception the rule. Besides, the exception was made because the circumstance did not allow the criminal the chance to accept the sacraments.
God, not sacraments, is our savior. God could choose to save someone who does not have a chance to receive the sacraments. But there is a big difference between not being able to receive the sacraments and refusing to receive them. If the criminal lived today and refused the sacraments, he still would not have been saved.
#9. Sacraments take away the glory and power of Christ’s saving work on the cross. Can we say that sacraments are bad?
- Sacraments would be meaningless without the cross of Christ. In fact, Christ manifests His salvation on the cross and the power of God through the sacraments. For example, baptism is effective because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Through baptism, our old self is crucified with Christ (Rom 6:3-10).
Sacraments cannot be detached from the cross. The effect of salvation on the cross takes place in the believer through the sacraments.
Although Eph 2:8,9 mentions that Salvation is by grace through faith, we need to understand it does not equate to not doing anything. Our submissiveness to carry out the sacraments are our actions of faith, i.e. obedience to His commandments.
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