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Let's take a deeper look at what the Bible says is required to be saved.

If we start at the beginning, with Adam and Eve, it is clear that their actions are what prevented them from being saved. They were not kicked out of the garden because they didn't believe in God, but because they didn't do as He commanded.

However, most Christians do not dispute that the Old Testament is heavy into “doing” various activities to achieve salvation. They just assert that with the New Testament, the Old was superseded. Now we just need to believe that Christ died for our sins, we don't need to worry about the Ten Commandments. We have a new law that replaces the old, so they say. Yet, that does not square with Jesus' mission. Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17).  Sure sounds like the Ten Commandments are still in effect, doesn't it? They were fulfilled, not abolished.

But what about Paul's statement, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:28)? The problem is that this statement is taken out of context, or at least it is misunderstood. Let's look at what Paul says in Philippians:

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:4-7).

Here Paul is saying that he did follow the law, that is, all the Jewish laws that were established in Exodus, Levitcus and Deuteronomy. He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews”, doing everything right, but now considers it all “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). This is because while he was following the law, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). The next chapter says, “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples” (Acts 9:1). So while Saul/Paul may be following Jewish law, he is not exactly a good guy. He is then rebuked by Jesus (Acts 9:4,5) and is ultimately sent off to go save the Gentiles.

Paul's stance against the law is that clearly the law doesn't matter because he was doing everything right, at least according to traditional Jewish law. This should make some intuitive sense to us. Could we really consider a person to be saved if they do “good” actions with an evil heart? Paul is saying, “No!” they cannot.  Empty actions do not bring salvation, that is for certain, and that is the message Paul is trying to convey.

However, when reading all of Paul's works, we really cannot state that faith ALONE saves. If that were the case, why would he say that “the just will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). What difference does a person's life make if they are saved solely by faith? In the next verse God is upset with the godlessness and wickedness, but would wickedness really matter if faith alone was the only ingredient to salvation?

The reality is Paul does care quite a bit about our life and repentance of sins as evidenced here:

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism. 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Romans 2:4-16).

Further, he states that following traditional Jewish law(for example, circumcision, dietary restrictions, sacrificial offerings and the like) is NOT what is going to get anybody to heaven(Romans 2:17-20). Just because you are a Jew you do not get any special access to heaven. Our belief is that modern Christians should hear the same message: just because you declare yourself a Christian and believe in Christ, it is not going to guarantee salvation. You have to have a good heart.  

Looking at the gospels, Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to be saved, he must follow the Ten Commandments (Luke 18:18-22), and tells another that failure to bear fruit gets you cast into fire(Matt 3:5). What does bearing fruit mean? If Jesus had meant that failure to “believe” gets a person cast into fire, then He probably would have said that. Here, it is reasonable to figure “fruit” to be good works. Even in John, Jesus says that without Him we can “do nothing” (John 15:5-6). He doesn't say we can “believe” nothing, but that we can “do” nothing, therefore “doing” clearly has some value.

Other examples abound. “[Y]et now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:9,10). Repentance leads to salvation, not faith.

Further, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:9,10). Here again, we will reap what we sow, not what we believe.

Here as well, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11,12). Notice that salvation is for “all” men, not just Jews or Christians, and they are being urged to control their actions.

If we move to the book of James, there really is no question what the author thinks is more important.

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:14-24). I couldn't have said it better myself.

The book of Revelation starts off with a judgment on the seven Christian churches. These are very revealing as to what God prioritizes. For example,

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev 2:2-5)

Notice that they are scolded for forsaking their first love, and told to repent for it. Love and repentance are the keys. The next two churches do give a different take. Smyrna is told to “Be faithful” (Rev 2:10) and Pergamum is commended because they “did not renounce your faith in me” (Rev 2:13). Faith is important, but faith ALONE is not enough. We need to have faith combined with repentance and love.

If faith was all that was needed, why then would Pergamum be told, “Nevertheless I have a few things against you” (Rev 2:14)? It goes on to say, “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev 2:14-16). So while they are commended for their faith, God is going to fight against them if they do not change their ways and repent.

This basic pattern is repeated for all the churches. Thyatira is told, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance...Nevertheless I have this against you....she misleads my servants into sexual immorality...[and] I have given her time to repent...but she is unwilling” (Rev 2:19-21). Sardis is told, “you are dead. Wake up!...Remember what you have received and heard, obey it and repent” (Rev 3:1-3).

If this is all true, what do we make of the statement just a two chapters later where Revelation says, “because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God” (Rev 5:9). We do not find the atonement and the necessity of works to be in conflict. Jesus did die on the cross because of all of the sinning that humanity had done. The cumulative effect of the sinning is that humanity had lost its spiritual freedom, and Jesus' life and death restored our ability to choose between good and evil. But just the belief in this event does not alone grant salvation which is why God is so concerned about our repentance.

Revelation goes on to say “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Rev 21:8). Here again people will point out that “unbelievers” are going to hell. Unbelievers in what? It would seem that people who don't believe in God in general, because it doesn't state “those who do not believe that Christ died on the cross for their sins.” Notice also that “unbelief” is just one of the dis qualifiers, and that those who do not act appropriately will not make the cut, presumably even if they do believe. After all, in the very next chapter, some of the very last words of God in the whole Bible He says, “My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev 22:12).

To close, we also note that in three places the scriptures mention repentance and faith(Mark 1:15, Heb 6:1 and Acts 20:21), and in each of these places “repentance” is mentioned first. Theologically, it would be because the act of repentance comes first, and if you have repented and love, then you will have faith. But the faith does not come first. So while faith is important in our salvation, the sorrow that accompanies repentance is what changes us from having an empty faith or actions to doing the right things for the right reasons.

“See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (2 Corinthians 7:11).