Picture yourself alone in a small, quiet, cozy restaurant dining by your lonesome self when a charming young couple walks in, looks around, and unable to find a table politely ask if they can join you. You hospitably accommodate. After pleasantries, amiably the charming lady says, “May I ask you a question?” With your assent she shoots, “What is your idea of salvation?”
You sigh a silent prayer to the Holy Spirit and reply concisely, “Salvation is a free gift from God; we are saved by His grace and our response to that free gift of grace is an active faith with good works.”
The question may come, “Are you saved? Have you been born again? Do you know if you will go to heaven? – probes hinged on Sola Fidei doctrine. Luther confessed the theology of salvation with a simplistic Faith Alone doctrine that he felt was imputed in Romans, “A man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (3:28). He believed man as intrinsically perverse and incapable of good, thus his good works were of no merit for justification.
The Bible clearly states “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (Jas 2:24) — the only Scripture verse where ‘alone’ follows ‘faith’. Justification is not solely by faith, minus good works or a question of faith versus good works, both are inextricably united. “Faith apart from good works is dead.” (Jas 2:26); but Luther called James an “epistle of straw”. The “works of the law” in Romans were Mosaic ordinances and 613 tacked-on Pharisaic precepts Judaizers deemed essential, not the good works for love and neighbor.
St. Paul knew what it was to be saved. His was an extraordinary encounter with Jesus, yet he wasn’t presumptuous (1 Cor 4:3-5). Never preached a “once-saved always-saved” proposition with smug confidence and absolute certitude, nor did he discount good works. He stressed the excellence of love over faith (1 Cor 13:1-13), urging “Be rich in good works (1 Tim 6:18)” and “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), while rejoicing in completing in himself “what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of His body the Church” (Col 1:24).
Was Christ’s redemptive work incomplete? Openness to grace completes it in us for God is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). We are instrumental causes of good through which the Principal Cause of good, Eternal Goodness Himself works. Without our cooperation we could still lose salvation (cf. 1 Pet 5:8). A confessed eternal-security following an intellectual, minimally simplistic, verbal profession of faith and being born- again, exuding cannot-lose-heaven sureness is a misguided, unbiblical notion of salvation.
Justification by faith is an ongoing conversion process coalesced in a continuum of past, present and future events: I have been saved (Rom 8:24, Eph 2:5-8, 2 Tim 1:9; 3:15); I am being saved (Phil 2:12, 1 Pet 1:9); I will be saved (Mt 7:21, Mt 10:22, Mt 24:13, Mk 8:35, Acts 15:11, Rom 5:9-10, 13:11, 1 Cor 3:15; 5:5; Heb 9:28).
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘ Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21) – that means a lifetime of faith and good works.