For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
“Salvation by faith alone, and not by works” has been a repetitive drum beat in the protestant church. The scriptures are clear that no person can earn salvation. If they could, it would be something God owed them instead of a true gift of grace. If it could be earned, then Jesus’ death was in vain. While this doctrine is certainly biblically based, it has also become our greatest excuse for ignoring our responsibilities and disobeying God’s clear commands.
Salvation by faith alone—sola fide—means just that, that we are saved only by faith in the love, grace, and power of Jesus as God and Christ. It recognizes that we are incapable of providing any deed that would cause God to righteously judge us as holy—this is biblical. The Bible also teaches us that God so loves us and so desires the best for us, that the Son became incarnate so that He could create an atonement that was sufficient for all of mankind. Our path to salvation is simply not to reject the truth and thus receive, by faith, an atonement for our sins. The problem is that a salvation culture has somehow been created in our world. This culture has caused us to take sola fide and minimize it into nothing more than a get out of hell free card. The salvation culture we live in today has caused us to miss the full implications of salvation by faith alone.
Think about this: If you are saved by faith alone, then you bring nothing to the table. All you can do is reject or accept the deal that God offers. What the salvation culture has incorrectly taught, is that this deal is simply about choosing heaven over hell. This is an unbiblical oversimplification. The gift that God offers certainly covers the scope of eternal life, but if that is all that there is to salvation then most of the Bible is a waste of time because very little about it directly concerns heaven or hell. No, the gift that God offers is so much bigger than that. Listen to what Paul says:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10 Emphasis mine).
Paul doesn’t say that you were saved so that you will know your eternal place when you die. He says that you were saved so that you could do good works—here and now. Not just any good works, but the good works that God intended for us from the beginning. We were all created to worship God and to reflect His life-giving image back into creation. If you’re not sure how this is done, go read about Jesus, who fed the hungry, loved the poor, welcomed the foreigner, and gave His entire life to serve others. You were made for this! You are God’s workmanship, created to do the craziest, loving things for others, and thus, reflect the image of God back into their lives.
There are some, however, who don’t think this is really that big of a deal, or that something else in their life is more important. The problem is, if you are saved by faith alone, then you concede that you have brought nothing to the table. You concede that you have nothing to bargain with. You concede that you accept the gift of God’s grace without condition. This is the deal.
The Bible is clear about the gift of salvation. Obedience to God is not optional (Matt. 7:21; Jam. 1:22; Joh. 14:15). You cannot receive a part of the gift (go to heaven) and reject the other (obedience). You either accept it all or you reject it all. If you accept salvation by faith alone, then you accept the responsibility to obey God. You do not get to reject social justice or holiness living. You brought nothing to the table to afford you this exemption. The belief that holiness or social justice is optional is both unbiblical and absolutely anti-Christ.
Salvation by faith alone will always result in Christ-like works. It is the lack of faith that causes us to use this doctrine as an excuse to ignore our call or to be content in apathy.