Sharing Your Faith - Lesson 8
How to Explain Salvation by Faith
Objective: the student can, by using a drawing, explain four views of salvation by grace through faith and, using scriptures, can tell which one is in harmony with scriptures.
Understanding the Bible's doctrine of "salvation by grace through faith" is vital to salvation. In Paul's day, some misunderstood grace, thinking they could "continue in sin so grace may abound" (Romans 6:1). Today, others say that since salvation is a gift, "we can do nothing toward our own salvation," or "the gracious God we know in Christ promises to save us without our help." These comments imply no commands to obey and suggest that if one must do anything before receiving forgiveness of sins, that would be "salvation by works." These differences in view have arisen, in part, because of some scriptures which seem, on the surface, to be confusing. Paul said, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned as righteousness.'" Yet James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works. And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (James 2:21-22). At first glance, these sound contradictory. Are they? Or how about these two: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; … not because of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9) but "we are saved by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24)? What is God's message about "salvation by grace through faith?" People take one of four basic views about salvation by faith. Understanding these can help us in dealing with many religious questions which arise. The best way to learn about these, and to explain them to others, is with the simple chart on the next page.
In our desire to go to heaven, where do we all begin?
All of us have sinned (Rom. 6:23) and so are under God's condemnation. This is where we start. (WBK 2) Our goal should be to move away from that sinful condition. So the chart shows where we begin and where we want to be—God counts us as righteous. (WBK 3) We will now see four different proposals for how we can get from the sinful state to being counted as righteous. Note the significance of the direction of the arrows in each case.
- Can I be saved by works?
This proposed path says I can move from my sinful state to a saved state by my own works. I will just be good enough to earn my way to heaven. This arrow goes up from "man" to "God" because this view suggests that it is "man" who does this by himself. (WBK 4a, b) Martin Luther accused the Catholics of his time of preaching this view. He was particularly repulsed by their sale of "indulgences," the right to sin. While Catholics would deny that they practice "salvation by works," their views about such things as penance, purgatory, communion, and the use of rosaries can give rise to such a charge. (WBK 4c) Many un-churched people in our communities, however, do believe in salvation by works. The person who says, "I believe I am as good as those who go to church," is saying, in effect, I believe I can earn my way to heaven. I am good to my family, honest in my business, and helpful to the poor. I don't believe God will turn me away. (WBK 4d) What does the Bible say about being saved by works? Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace have you been saved, through faith; not of works, that no one should boast." This statement is quite clear. We cannot be saved by our works. Once I have sinned, how many good deeds does it take to erase that one sin? The truth is that good deeds do not erase bad ones. By myself, I can never remove my sins. The only one who could claim salvation based on works is one who has lived a perfect life. Yet, they Bible says, "all have sinned" GOD ACCOUNTS US RIGHTEOUS (Rom. 4:24)
SINFUL MAN (Rom. 3:23) By Works By Faith God Gives The Faith God’s Grace God’s Grace Faith Demonstrated Faith Undemonstrated 1 4 3 2 (Romans 3:23).
The Law of Moses offered this approach. Keep the law perfectly and you could be saved. But Paul says, in chapters 1 though 3 of the book of Romans, that no one ever kept the law this well. He made the same point in Galatians 2:16: "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." (WBK 5)
So, we must reject this path as having any prospect of getting us to God. We cannot earn our way to heaven. We cannot get there by our own works.
2. Does God choose who will be saved?
Now look at column No. 4 on the right.
This arrow suggests that some are saved "by faith" and that "God gives them the faith." Faith saves but God chooses to whom he will give the faith. This was the view promoted by John Calvin who said, "God is sovereign." If someone is saved, it is because God chose him to be saved. If he is lost, it is because God's will was for him to be lost. Those holding this view sometimes illustrated it like this: when Lazarus was in the grave, he could not do anything to raise himself, but when Jesus called, he could do nothing to resist. So it is with us. If God has chosen us to be in the elect, nothing we do can cause us to be lost. If, on the other hand, God has not chosen us to be in the elect, there is nothing we can do to be saved. (WBK 6a)
Often those holding this view suggest that one can know he is chosen of God for salvation by whether he/she has had a spiritual experience. This experience is "a feeling" that one has been saved. One might fall on the floor and stay there unable to get up (the falling exercise), one might make animal sounds uncontrollably (the barking exercise), one might jump up and down (the dancing exercise), or one might have the laughing exercise or the singing exercise. (WBK 6b)
Any of these "experiences" is a sign that the person having that particular exercise has received the Holy Spirit and thus is chosen of God. One who never has such an experience has no hope of going to heaven because he/she is not of the elect. (WBK 6c)
Is this view that of the Bible? Those who support it quote Ephesians 1:4: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." Thus, they say, God chose who would be saved before He made even the first man. This view says that God chooses "individuals" to salvation and chooses them "unconditionally." (6a-d)
There are, however, a number of passages that would oppose such a conclusion. In Ephesians 1:13, just a few verses after the verse just quoted, Paul writes that the Ephesians "heard and believed." Thus, their salvation was not unconditional. They did something. Paul also had said, "He chose us," including himself in the group. Yet, his salvation involved making the choice to accept Jesus and to obey the command to be baptized (Acts 22:16).
Other passages also suggest that God does not choose individually and unconditionally. Acts 10:34—"God is no respecter of persons but in every nation he that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him." I Timothy 2:6—"Christ died as a ransom for all." II Peter 3:9—"God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
Yes, God chose His elect before the foundation of the world. But this verse means that He chose "corporately" not "individually." That is, he chose what would happen to those who were in the body of the saved but did not chose individually who would be in that group. And those who get in that group do not get in it "unconditionally" but "conditionally" because they make their own choice, deciding whether to believe, repent, and be baptized into Christ.
So we must reject the view that God chooses individually some to be saved and relegates all others to be lost.
3. Is salvation by faith only?
A third possible view is represented on the chart by an arrow going downward with another coming up into it. The words "God's Grace" are written in the downward portion to suggest that "we are saved by grace." God extends His mercy to us and we are saved entirely by grace—nothing we do can merit salvation. The upward arrow, however, suggests that we must do something to accept this grace. While our part in no way earns any of our salvation, God does require that we do something to accept His grace. According to this view, the only condition is just to believe and so the words "Faith Undemonstrated" are written in the "arrow."
There are only three possible ways God will save: (1) He will save everybody regardless of what we do, (2) He will choose whom to save and all others are lost (View No. 2 above), or (3) He will save those who accept His grace and meet whatever conditions He has set. That God will save everyone is certainly not taught in scripture because the Bible tells of people being lost in hell (Matthew 7:13; 25:46, ). We have just discussed that God does not choose some to be saved and others to be lost The third, and only other option, then, is the scriptural one—God saves by grace but he asks us to do something to accept His offer. The third view on our chart says that we are saved by grace and the only required response is faith. This view says that the moment we believe in Jesus or "accept Jesus as our personal savior" we are saved from sins. No action to demonstrate faith is required before God forgives past sins. Those holding this view would offer such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9: "you are saved by grace through faith," or Acts 16:31: "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." They might also mention Galatians 3:26, "You are sons of God by faith," or "Romans 5:1" "Being therefore justified by faith."
Certainly these verses teach salvation by faith. Beyond any doubt one thing a person must do before God will extend His grace is to believe in Jesus . But is faith the only condition? What about verses that speak of other commands? While Acts 16:31 mentions only "faith," the next verse says Paul taught the jailor more and then he was baptized. While Galatians 3:26 mentions only "faith," the next verse says, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." So it is at the point of baptism that one "enters Christ." 4. What conditions, then, does God require of us before we can receive His grace? This brings us to the fourth "arrow." It is drawn just like the preceding one, but has one difference. The third arrow had "Faith Undemonstrated" and this arrow says "Faith Demonstrated." James 2:20-24 is a very important passage here. James makes clearly the point that while salvation is by faith, God has always required some deeds to demonstrate faith before He rewards it. He illustrates the principle in several ways. Would it be of any benefit to a hungry man for you to tell him you hope he gets food but do nothing to demonstrate your concern? What about demons who believe in God but do nothing to demonstrate that faith? And take the case of Abraham. Certainly he was saved by faith but God did not count him as righteous until he had shown his faith. "Even so," James says, "faith without works is dead."
James says, then, that God has always saved by faith. But that He has also always valued faith only after it has been demonstrated by an obedience God has asked.
Our salvation is through the "faith principle," and not the "works principle." We cannot earn it. But the "faith principle" does not mean God has set faith as the only condition for grace. To bring all the passages on salvation into harmony, we must recognize that God has asked for a demonstration of faith.
Note in the passages below the demonstrations God has placed before salvation. Mark 16:16: "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." Acts 2:38: "Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins." Acts 22:16: "Be baptized and wash away your sins." Romans 6:4: You were buried with him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father that you also should be raised to newness of life." (WBK 10)
These passages not only teach baptism precedes the forgiveness of our sins but also teach that it is at the point of baptism that such forgiveness takes place. Note that it is as baptism that our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38), that our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16), that we start to live the new life (Romans 6:4), that we enter Christ (Galatians 3:27). So the fourth arrow is the one which best describes the process of salvation as presented in scripture. We are not saved by works, but we must obey the conditions God has placed on His grace. This obedience does not earn us any points toward heaven, but it is God's way of distinguishing between those who will receive His grace and those who will not.
We are all sinners. We all want to reach the point where God can count us as righteous. We cannot get there by our own good works. God does not arbitrarily choose some to be saved and others to be lost. We must be saved by doing what God has asked us to do to receive His grace. This means we must believe in Jesus as the Christ and confess that faith for others to hear (Romans 10:10). But it also means we must demonstrate our faith by turning from our sins in repentance and by being baptized for forgiveness of our sins. It is as this point that God has promised to place us under the care of His grace.
So, is salvation by faith? Of course it is. But that faith must also be accompanied by obeying those other commands He has said we must do to receive His grace: repentance and baptism. God's grace is conditional, not on any merit on our part, but on our obeying what God has asked us to do to receive His grace.
"Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, and being made perfect, he became the author of salvation to all those who obey him" (Hebrews 5:8).
Background Information for the Teacher
- The student can, by using a drawing, explain four views of salvation by faith and, using scripture references, can show which one is in harmony with scriptures.
- Each student should have a Bible to use.
- Have enough copies of the beginning of the chart to distribute so that each student has a copy and a pencil to work with.
- Have copies of the quiz over Lesson 7 for students to use.
- Have access to a c halkboard, marker board, or overhead projector with a blank transparency so you can lead the way in making the chart.
Virtually all in Christendom would agree that salvation is by faith but we need to understand how to show others that the scriptural view of salvation by faith means a faith demonstrated by repentance and baptism.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Introduction: (about 15 minutes)
- Call the roll and greet visitors.
- Sing Jesus is Lord or Trust and Obey.
- Have a prayer of thanks that God has made salvation possible for us through Jesus Christ and a request that He will help understand what that means and how to share it.
- Give the quiz from the last lesson. Questions 1, 3, 4, and 5 are worth 10 points each. Question 2 is worth 60 points with each of the characteristics worth 15 points each.
- Ask the class this question, “Do you believe in salvation by faith?” Some will say yes, some may say no, some will want to qualify their answer. Being able to answer this question clearly is very important for three reasons: (1) if we do not understand “salvation by faith” we could be lost, (2) there is so much difference of opinion on this question, we need to be sure of what the Bible teaches about it, and (3) as we seek to share our faith, the question is sure to arise. So let’s look to the scriptures to find what it means to be “saved by faith.”
Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)
- Ask the class if they would agree or disagree with the following quotations from recent books:
- Since salvation is a gift, “we can do nothing toward our own salvation.”
- “The gracious God we know in Christ promises to save us without our help.” We will be studying whether these statements are in harmony with scripture.
- Ask someone to read Romans 4:2-5. Q: What person does Paul use as an example? (Abraham) Q: How does Paul say he was saved? (by faith) Q: How does Paul say he was not saved? (by works)
- Ask someone to read James 2:20-24. Q: What person does James use as an example? (Abraham) Q: How does James save he was saved? (by what he did) Q: How does James say he was not saved? (not by faith alone)
- Q: Are these two Bible writers in conflict? (No) But we do need to study carefully to see where the truth lies on this issue so we can understand them both and explain it to others.
- In this lesson we will look at four views about salvation and draw a chart of them as we go. You have been given a sheet of paper with the beginning of the chart. Be prepared to add to this as we go through the lesson. (Teacher: you should draw the chart on the board as the lesson develops to show the students exactly how to be drawing theirs. Write the scriptures on it just as you want them to do that.)
- Look at the light gray bar at the bottom. On that bar write “Sinful Man” and beside that write “Rom. 3:23.” Have someone read that passage. Q: How many have sinned? (all). Q: Does that include each of us? (Yes) So we all are on this point in the chart—separated from God by our sins.
- Look at the light gray bar at the top. There write: “God Counts Us as Righteous.” Now write “Rom. 4:24” on the upper bar. Have someone read that passage.
- Now point out that our sins place us at the bottom, separated from God and what we want to do is reach the point where God can count us as righteous and thus can save us. But how do we get from being sinners to being counted as righteous. We will discuss four possible ways.
- Look at Number 1, on the left. Q: What does the direction of the arrow suggest? (The arrow goes up from man to God suggesting that we are trying to reach God by ourselves.) Now write on that arrow the words, “By works—earn it.)” This view says that I can be good enough to work my way to heaven. Martin Luther accused the Catholics of his day of teac hing salvation by works because they were selling the “rights” to commit sin in order to raise money. These “rights” were called “indulgences.” The Catholics also imposed on people certain penalties for sins that required them to crawl a certain distance or hurt their bodies in certain ways. Such caused Luther to say the Catholic Church taught salvation by works. Today, there are those who say, “I think I’m good enough to go to heaven because I am good to my family, pay my bills, and do good in my community. I think God will take care of me.” These think they are earning their way to heaven with their good works. Q: Can any of you think of a Bible verse that would speak to this issue? (Ephesians 2:8-9 or Galatians 2:16.) Read both of those and have the students write them beneath column Number 1. Discuss the part especially that says, “not by works that no one should boast” and point out that this teaches we cannot earn our way to heaven. Once I have a sin on my record, no number of good deeds can take that sin away. Only perfection would get me to heaven this way.
- Now go to column Number 2 on the right. Q: What does the direction of this arrow suggest about how we might be saved? (It is all from God to man suggesting that everything is up to God.) In this arrow write, “By Faith, God gives the Faith.” According to this view, salvation is by faith and God decides to whom He will give the faith and to whom He will not give the faith. This is the view of John Calvin—predestination and election. Without consideration of anything they have done or have not done, God arbitrarily picks some to be saved and some to be lost. Have someone read Ephesians 1:4. Does this verse seem to suggest this view? (Yes). So some say, there is nothing we can do about our own salvation. Now have someone read Ephesians 1:13. This verse, in the same chapter, says that those who hear and believe (make their own choice) will be included in Christ, that is saved. Have someone read Acts 10:34. Q: What would this verse suggest about God choosing some to be saved and some to be lost? Have someone read 1 Timothy 2:6. Q: For how many did Christ die? If Christ died for all, then how could the Father choose some to get no benefit for Christ’s death? Have someone read 2 Peter 3:9. Q: How many does God want saved? (all) So how could he arbitrarily condemn many to being lost? Write these scriptures below column Number 2. So, like column Number 1, this one also is not in harmony with scripture. While God chose before the world began how He would deal with the group who was in Christ (Ephesians 1:4), He did not decide in advance what individuals would be in that group. We still don’t yet have the scriptural view of salvation by faith.
- Now look at column No. 3. Have someone read again Ephesians 2:8-9. In the upper portion coming down from God write the words “God’s Grace.” And in the lower arrow going up, write Faith. This column represents the view that we are saved entirely “by grace” because the grace part comes all the way from God to man. But this view also suggests that we have to do something to get into God’s grace. Have someone read Romans 5:1-2. Q: How does this passage say we get into the grace of God? (By faith) So the drawing shows grace coming from God to us and our getting into grace by faith. That all sounds very much like the verses. But to make this arrow represent the view of many, we must write another word it. Beneath “faith” write the word “undemonstrated.” That is, this column now represents the view that God counts us as righteous the moment we have faith in Christ. Thus, according to this view, if you are in a bar, watching a religious TV show and decide that you want to accept Jesus (believe on Him), you are saved that instant. Nothing further is required on your part. Have someone read Galatians 3:26 and another Acts 16:31. Q: What is the only thing these verses mention that one must do to be saved? (Believe)
- Q: So, does that end the matter? Are there other passages that have additional information about being saved that we should also take into account? (Yes) Now have someone read James 2:24. Q: What does this verse say about salvation by faith before that faith is demonstrated? (James says that faith with no deeds to demonstrate it is a dead, useless faith.) Now have someone read Galatians 3:26 and
- Q: What demonstration of faith is mentioned here before one is put into Christ (Saved)? (baptism) Now have someone read Acts 16:31-33. Q: Do the first words about “believe and you will be saved” include all Paul taught the jailor and his family? (He obviously taught them more including baptism.)
- So we are getting closer to the Bible teaching on salvation by faith but we need a fourth column. It is similar to the third one—God’s grace comes all the way down to man. The upward arrow says faith but now with the word “demonstrated.” We are saved by grace through faith—but the faith must be demonstrated before God rewards it. That is the point James makes—faith with no deeds to demonstrate it has never been God’s plan. Abraham had to demonstrate his faith and so did all those listed in Hebrews
- Have someone read Acts 2:37-38. Q: What indication is there as to whether the people have believed Peter’s sermon? (They were cut to the heart and asked what to do.) Q: What demonstrations of this faith does the Apostle Peter tell them to do prior to their being forgiven of their sins? (Repent and be baptized.) Q: Would these actions be an attempt on their part to earn their salvation by works? (No, there is no work of merit in repenting and submitting to baptism. These are merely deeds God requires as demonstrations of faith before He promises to forgive our sins.)
- Now a quick review of the chart. Q: Where do we all begin? (As sinners separated from God.) Q: Where do we want to go? (To where God will count us as righteous.) Q: Can we earn our way to being counted righteous by good works? (No.) Q: How do we know we cannot earn our way? (Eph. 2:8-9.) Q: Can we earn part of the way? (No. It is all by grace. None of our salvation is by the “works plan.” It is all by the “faith plan.” Q: Then if salvation is by faith, does God select those to whom He will give faith? (No.) Q: What Bible verses would tell us whether this is true? (2 Peter 3:9; Acts 10:34, etc.) Q: Then how about plan three—salvation is by grace through faith without a demonstration? Is that the scriptural view? (No.) Q: But what about Romans 5:1-2? It says we are saved by faith. (But that does not match James 2:24 and the verses that tell us we have to demonstrate our faith before God rewards it.) So we are down to column 4. This view includes grace through faith but shows that we must demonstrate our faith with repentance and baptism before God gives us forgiveness of sins. This view gives all the verses their proper place.
Applications: (about 5 minutes)
- Because there is so much misunderstanding on the matter of salvation by faith, you have a great responsibility now that you can explain it by the scriptures.
- Salvation by grace is a wonderful blessing and we should thank God for His abounding love to us.
- Do you know of a friend whom you could help to a clearer understanding of this issue? Share the lesson this week.
Assignment: (about 1 minute)
- Draw this chart and explain it to someone in your family. This will help you to learn it and be of benefit to the other person as well.
- Review your notes on this class so you can draw this chart at the beginning of class next week.
Evaluation: (next class meeting)
- Quiz next Sunday over this lesson.
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