Faith Saves (How and When)


The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)



No sweeter words will ever fall on human ears than the words Jesus directed to a very sinful woman: "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace" (Luke 7:50). If there is one thing upon which all professed disciples of Jesus Christ agree it is that faith saves. To the Ephesians, Paul wrote: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). Grace and faith produce salvation.


How and when does faith save?  There is more confusion over this question than any other which faces mankind. This situation is NOT prevalent because the Bible is vague about it. Rather it is because men have either paid no attention to the Bible or else have approached the Bible with prejudice or with confused methods of study. This causes some to advocate theories which are in violent contradiction to the plain teaching of the Word of God. The THEORY that man receives salvation at the point of his FAITH in Christ is just such a theory.


So again, the question, “At what point does a man receive the blessings which God offers (by grace) through His Word?” is an all-important one. He who answers it wrongly will be lost; he who answers it rightly (and obeys the same) will be saved. Does faith save at the very instant of belief in Christ? What is involved in HOW one is saved by grace through faith? Where can the answers be found? No answer is of value in religion unless it is the Bible answer - unless it comes from the inerrant authority - the Word of God. Men must go to "the law and the testimony" and be done with mere human theories and philosophies (Read Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:20-25; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). Therefore, let’s open our Bibles and continue to study this topic of Salvation by Grace through Faith.

Please read with me from the epistle of James. "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?" (James 2:14). This is a very good question. Someone says, "I believe." The question from divine inspiration is, "Can faith save him?" The answer to that question depends on the next verse which reads, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself (or alone), if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James


The gist of this passage is clearly saying: "I believe" means absolutely nothing if we do not demonstrate our faith in active obedience. In the 40 verses of Hebrews chapter 11, the expression "by faith" is found 16 times and "through faith" another 5 times. Each time SOMETHING was DONE "by" or "through" faith.


A brief study of a few stories in the Old Testament will help us see how and when faith saves. These examples will help us learn the principles involved in understanding the wisdom of God as He saves us by grace through faith. We must remember that men living today are NOT amenable to the specific instructions of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was nailed to the cross of Christ (Col. 2:14); it was taken out of the way in order that the Second Covenant could be established (Heb. 10:9). However, men today are instructed to learn from the things that were written aforetime (Rom. 15:4), and to look upon the things which happened beforetime as an example (1 Cor. 10:11). The point at which man receives the blessings offered by God can be learned, so far as the principle is concerned, from Old Testament examples.


The Fiery Serpents


Our first example will be the reception by the Israelites of the healing from the serpent bite (Num. 21:4-9):


The Israelites had been disobedient, speaking against God and against Moses (v. 5). Because of this, God sent fiery serpents among them, and many of them died (v. 6). The people then came to Moses confessing their sin and beseeching him that he would pray unto God for them that He might take away the serpents. At what point did they receive this blessing? The following order of events shows just when that occurred:


God's blessings offered! "And Jehovah said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it shall live" (v. 8). God offered them a way to be healed from their serpent bites. But they did not receive that blessing immediately when God offered it.


God's Word! God gave instructions as to what man must DO in order to receive the blessings which He had just offered (v. 8). God commanded: (a) that Moses should make a serpent; (b) that Moses should set this serpent upon a standard; and (c) that those who were bitten were to look upon this brazen serpent. But again, they did not receive the blessings which God had offered immediately when these instructions were given.


Man's faith! Without faith, it is impossible to be well-pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6). In order to receive this blessing, then, it was necessary for the Israelites to believe. But no one has ever received a blessing (which God has offered) upon the basis of a DEAD faith. A dead faith is as powerless as a corpse. But a faith which has not led to obedience is yet a dead faith (James 2:24-26). This would lead men to expect that the Israelites would NOT receive the blessing here offered by God immediately when they believed; and they DID NOT!


Man's obedience to the instructions of God! Moses had obeyed God, making the brazen serpent and placing it upon the standard. But the Israelites did not then receive the blessing which God offered. Why not? God had further instructed them that each person who was bitten was to LOOK upon the brazen serpent. No one received the blessing until he had obeyed this command. But what happened when they did look? Verse nine gives the answer; "...and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived." No one ever fails to receive God's offered blessing when he faithfully obeys God's Word.
It is clearly seen from this example that man does not receive the blessing offered by God until he has obeyed all of the commands given by God in His Word relative to the gaining of a particular blessing. Here, then, is the plain order: (1) God's blessing offered; (2) God's Word is given; (3) Man's faith; (4) Man's obedience to all of  the instructions in God's Word relative to the gaining of a particular blessing; (5) Man's reception of God's blessing.


The City of Jericho


Our next example will be the reception by the Israelites of the city of Jericho (Read Joshua 6:1-21):


The Bible says, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days" (Heb 11:30). Jericho was the first real challenge the Israelites faced when they entered Canaan. Before the battle began, God GAVE Jericho to His people. He told them, "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor" (Joshua 6:2). The city was God's to give as a matter of grace. How was God’s grace received by Joshua and the Jews? Hebrews 11:30 says it was received "by faith." Yet, the gracious gift of Jericho was conditional.


God's blessing offered! God offered Israel the city of Jericho (Josh. 6:2). Was this all that was required? Did Israel immediately receive the blessing when the offer was made? Of course not!


God's Word! God gave instructions as to what they must do in order to receive the blessing which He had just offered them (vs. 3-5). God told Israel: (a) to have all the men of war compass the city; (b) these men should march about the city once each day for six days; (c) seven priests were to bear seven trumpets before the ark; (d) on the seventh day they were to compass the city seven times; (e) the priests were then to blow on the trumpets; (f) then all the people were to shout. But Israel did not receive the blessings immediately when God gave His instructions.


Man's faith! In Hebrews 11:30 is found the teaching that the walls of Jericho fell down by faith. This means that the Israelites were motivated by faith! They had faith before they ever took one step in obeying God by marching around the city. Many advocate the theory that one always receives blessings promised by God immediately when he believes. But did such occur here? It certainly did not! The Israelites believed, but every rock of the wall was still standing in its place! It is seen therefore, that the expression "by faith" does not demand the meaning: "at the point of faith!"


Man's obedience to God's Word! God had commanded Israel that they should do no less than fifteen acts of obedience: (a) march around the city thirteen times; (b) blow on the trumpets; (c) shout. When they marched around the city the first time, did they receive the city (the blessing offered)? Certainly not! Why not? Simply because they had not yet obeyed ALL which God commanded them in connection with the reception of this particular blessing. Even after they had marched thirteen times and had blown on the trumpets they had not received the city. Why not? Simply because there yet remained the command to shout which they had not yet obeyed. When this last command was obeyed, however, the walls fell down flat!


Did all of these acts of obedience nullify God’s grace or their faith? Certainly not! Did the obedience to all of these commands mean they had EARNED the blessing? Certainly not! It still was a GIFT from God (cf. Joshua 6:2). A gift sometimes has CONDITIONS, but it is still a gift. It was given by God, but accepted by faith.


Returning again to the passage in Hebrews 11, please notice that it says, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, AFTER they were compassed about seven days" (vs. 30). We emphasize the word "after." AFTER faith does God's bidding it receives God's promised blessing. It is just as true in salvation from sin as it was in receiving the gift of Jericho. What is true of God's gift of Jericho to Israel, conditioned on faith that works, is true of every single instance where faith produced salvation.


Again, as with our first example of the Israelites healing from the serpent bite, it is seen that the order is: (1) God's blessing offered; (2) God's word (instructions) given; (3) Man's faith; (4) Man's obedience to the commands given in God's word relative to the receiving of this particular blessing; (5) Man's reception of God's blessing.


Cleansing of Naaman


Our final Old Testament example will be the story of Naaman receiving the cleansing of his body from leprosy:


God's blessing offered (through the prophet Elisa): "...thou shalt be clean" (2 Kings 5:10). This was by God's grace (favor). Naaman was, in no sense, to EARN this blessing. Naaman did not receive the blessing at this point.


God's Word (instructions as to what Naaman must do in order to receive the offered blessing). These instructions were: (a) go; (b) wash in Jordan; (c) seven times (v. 10). Still, Naaman did not receive the blessing at this point.


Man's faith! At first Naaman was angered by the instructions contained in God's Word to him. He went away in a rage (2 Kings 5:11-12). As long as he was in this condition, he could not please God (Heb. 11:6). Later he showed that he had faith, but again, he did not receive the blessing at the point of his faith.


Man's obedience to God's instructions!  Did Naaman receive the blessing when he dipped the first time? No. Why not? Simply because he had not yet obeyed ALL of the instructions God had given relative to the gaining of this particular blessing. Did he receive the blessing when he dipped the SIXTH time? No. Why not? Simply because he had not obeyed ALL of the instructions God had given relative to the gaining of this particular blessing. But what happened when he obeyed the LAST thing (dipping the seventh time) which God had instructed him to do? He THEN received the blessing! God always bestows His blessings at the point of obedience (cf. Heb. 5:9).


Again, it is seen that this order was followed:  (1) God's blessing offered; (2) God's instructions given as to what man must do to receive the blessing; (3) Man's faith; (4) Man's obedience to the instructions given in God's word; (5) Man's reception of the blessings offered by God.


New Testament Teaching of Salvation by Grace through Faith


Even with the Old Testament examples and principles we have studied, confusion as to when one is saved is prevalent. Many differing views are held as to just when a man is born again, or as to just when he receives remission of sins. Some say, "At the point when man begins to live a good moral life!" Others say, "When he becomes religious!" Still others say, "When a man 'FEELS GOOD' about his religion." And still others say, "It occurs immediately when a man believes."


We will now use the New Testament to plainly show the point in which a man receives the blessings which God offers (by grace) through His Word. The same order is followed under the New Covenant, even though the specific instructions differ from those of the first covenant.


God's blessing offered! "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men..." (Tit. 2:11); "...and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31); "...unto the remission of your sins..." (Acts 2:38); "...wash away thy sins..." (Acts 22:16). No man, however, ever received remission of sins at the point of God's offering the same. Nor has any man ever received remission of sins the very moment he heard of God's offer. God offers salvation to all, but this offer is CONDITIONAL; man must respond (by faith) in a particular way.


God's Word - His instructions as to what man must do in order to receive the blessings which He has offered. God's Word, relative to the gaining of remission of sins, demands that men: (a) hear the Word (Rom. 10:14); (b) believe the Word - the Gospel (Mark 16:15-16); (c) repent of sin (Acts 3:19); (d) confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10); (e) be immersed (buried) in water (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3).


No man, however, has ever received remission of his sins at the point of his hearing these instructions. Romans 10:13-14 shows that believing and calling on the name of the Lord are also necessary to the gaining of salvation. Matthew 7:21 shows that, while men may convince themselves otherwise, no one enters the kingdom without obeying God's instructions.


"But," someone objects, "There is no place in the Word of God where all of these conditions are all listed in one passage." In answer, may it be pointed out that it is not necessary to find such. If any condition is proved to be a necessary cause (or condition) of salvation, whenever salvation is mentioned (or referred to), that condition must be understood as being necessary even though it may not be stated in that passage.


For example, when one understands the factors involved in human birth, he understands that BOTH a father and a mother are necessary causes; i.e., no birth can occur without both a father and a mother. If someone says, “That child was born of Mrs. Smith," even though Mr. Smith was not mentioned, all who understand the matter understand that he, as well as Mrs. Smith, was a necessary cause to the birth of the child.


The same is true with this matter. When salvation is mentioned, all of the above conditions not specifically mentioned in a particular passage must be understood. Man must, it is true, hear the instructions of God, but he does not receive the blessing of salvation immediately when he hears the Word. Hearing is not the only cause or condition of salvation (cf. James 1:22).


Man's faith! Many believe that this is the point at which man receives God's blessing of salvation, or of justification - remission of sins. This is easily disproved. The Bible says, "Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" (James 2:24). Man has something else to do besides believing.


In fact, Romans 10:13-14 (Read) proves conclusively that salvation does NOT occur at the point of faith. Note this order there given: (a) one cannot be saved without first calling on the name of the Lord, (b) he cannot call on the name of the Lord unless he first believes, (c) he cannot believe unless he first hears. Therefore, this plain order is set forth: (1) hearing, (2) believing, (3) calling on the name of the Lord, and (4) being saved.


Acts 22:16 shows that one calls on the name of the Lord for salvation when he is baptized. This order should be expected by all who have read James 2:26 and have learned that faith without works is dead. This means that faith, until it leads to ACTS of OBEDIENCE, will not bring one into salvation. No believer is saved out of Christ (2 Tim. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17). And the lost man does NOT enter Christ at the point of his faith; he enters Christ at the point of water baptism (cf. Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).


Man's obedience to God's instructions! In the light of the fact that it has been established that a number of things are necessary conditions, it is easily seen that one is NOT saved immediately when he obeys just one command. Just as was seen in the Old Testament examples (and especially in the case of Naaman), one does not receive the blessing when he meets the first condition - unless it should be that only one condition was given in reference to a particular blessing (Naaman was not cleansed when he dipped one time).


Blessing received! One must obey ALL of the commands which the Lord has given relative to the gaining of remission of sins today (Naaman was cleansed when he dipped seven times). One must hear the word, he must believe, he must repent, he must confess Jesus as Lord, and he must be baptized (immersed in water). It is at this point of his obedience that man receives the remission of his sins – cleansed by the blood of Jesus (Matt. 26:28; Rev. 1:5).


The believer is to be baptized "unto the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). He is to be baptized that his sins may be washed away (Acts 22:16). He is to be baptized in order to enter Christ (where salvation is - 2 Tim. 2:10; Gal. 3:26-27; where one becomes a new creature - 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:3). This fact having been clearly established, wherever (in the New Covenant) a believer is spoken of as being saved, that believer must be understood as being a baptized believer (Mark 16:16).


James and Romans Harmonized


Look carefully at this verse: "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Now compare that with this verse: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1). Both verses use the term “justify.” To be justified before God is to be saved. James 2:24 says works justify; Romans 5:1 say faith justifies. Is there a contradiction? Do these verses teach two different means of salvation?


The harmony between James and Romans is a very simple proposition. Both faith and works justify when one produces the other. It is faith that WORKS that justifies. Faith “only” never saves nor justifies. Neither can works “alone” save or justify. The solution to the whole problem is provided by Paul in a single phrase. He gives a divine summary of this great Bible teaching in Galatians 5:6. The Bible says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.” 


“Faith working through love” is the key to an understanding both of Paul and of James. The faith about which Paul has been speaking is not the idle faith that James condemns (James 2:15-17), but a faith that works. It works itself out through love. Jesus said, "If you love me keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Thus, unless and until faith works through love there is no salvation. This is not our personal opinion. It is revealed truth. All of us must either accept it or reject it. The choice is ours.


Faith “only” is a complete perversion of salvation by grace through faith. The faulty reasoning that says because faith is essential to salvation obedience is excluded leads people into this error. As we said in the first lesson from this series, James 2:24 is the one passage in the entire Bible that mentions "faith only" in connection with justification. Let's read it one more time: "You see then that a man is justified by works, and NOT by faith only." Salvation by faith “alone” is denied in the only passage mentioning the subject. A sinner cannot be saved by faith only. If all one does is believe, he cannot be saved. James said so (James 2:24; cf. vs. 19). Here Scripture has prophetically stigmatized these disciples of Martin Luther, who ever call for faith only - faith isolated from works.


What Does Jesus Have To Say?


What further acts of obedience must faith produce? The parting words of Jesus in the Great Commission read like this: "Go preach the gospel to every creature. He that Believes and is Baptized shall be Saved, but he that disbelieves shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). It is NOT the one who believes that is saved. Nor is it the one that is baptized who is saved. It is the one who believes and is baptized that is saved.


To their own destruction men turn Mark 16:16 around and say, "He who believes and is NOT baptized shall be saved." There is little difference in the addition of "not" to the words of Christ and how Satan did the same thing in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:3-4). There the devil told Eve that she would NOT surely die, directly contradicting what God had said. Another twist to Mark 16:16 by many false teachers is this: “He who Believes is Saved and then he should be Baptized” (to show that he is saved). They say B S B, but the Bible says B B S. Which will you believe and obey?




Loved ones, faith is essential to salvation, but it must act. An inactive faith is a faith that draws back from complete obedience to Christ and the Gospel. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:26-27). Those who become God's children do so "by faith." The expression, "For as many of you as have been baptized" explains how one becomes a child of God by faith. There is only one way to become a child of God by faith and that is by being baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).


The remission of sins is granted to believers when they repent of their sins, confess the Lord Jesus as the Son of God, and are baptized (immersed in water) in the name of Jesus. The first Gospel sermon climaxed with the command, "Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for (unto) the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Until a believer is baptized into Christ for the remission of sins, the Bible does not promise salvation.


Dear friends, let no man claim God's promised blessing of salvation until he has obeyed the Gospel (Rom. 6:17-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Let no believer claim remission of his sins before he has been baptized into Christ. To do so is to delude oneself (Matt. 7:21; Prov. 16:25).

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