The Formula For Salvation
I attend a Christian church on Sundays and I find nothing more schizophrenic than mainstream Christian doctrine. For the most part, we are forced to swallow this pill of anti-nomianism. The church once put such an arduous focus on holiness that we now have to deal with a trend toward “unholiness” with the doctrine of grace as the end-all-cure-all for man’s wickedness. So week in and week out we are told over and over that we are all saved by grace and nothing we can do will earn God’s favor. “Fair enough,” I say!
Now the local minister delves into the book of James (actually called Ya’akov, or Jacob) and these ideas fall completely apart since the brother of Jesus himself tends to focus on how a Christian “should” and “should not” act. Fortunately, the attention span of those in the pews isn’t long enough to remember the pastor’s last sermon so these contrasts fall short on the average church goer. We just lap up whatever sweet milk is put in front of us for this week without thought or challenge.
But the book of Ya’akov has proven challenging for me and made me sit to ponder the formula for salvation. I thought about contrasting the differences in Judaism, Catholicism, and Christianity, but that would take too long, so let me just set my sights on mainstream Christianity.
Here is the message that we hear most often: Saved by Grace! (Sola gratia, for you reformationists….) One problem with this equation is that it is based upon an algebraic equation meaning both sides are equal, or balanced. I think we can all agree that salvation is anything but balanced. But this equation also disregards the role of Faith in salvation. But to integrate faith, we must switch from an algebraic equation to a chemical equation. This is more appropriate on at least one level. A chemical equation documents the transformation of a solution or substance into a new, or different substance or solution. But there is another level that makes the chemical equation more fitting. A chemical equation accounts for the role of a catalyst. When used in a chemical equation, a catalyst is something that effects change, but in itself remains unchanged. For example, a chemical reaction may be induced by heat or fire. While the chemical reaction takes place, it does not change the heat or fire in any way. That is how Grace works. Faith and salvation can be effected, but Grace remains the same, regardless of ones acceptance or rejection of grace. Therefore, the next best formula would be:
In this we see that it is Faith that brings salvation as it is made effective through grace. This would likely be where reformed theologians would like to get off the bus. But one cannot completely disregard Romans 10:9 which clearly states, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” So based upon this scripture, a human must do at least TWO works to be saved, namely, confess with you mouth, and believe in your heart. So to understand this, we will add these as additions to faith:
This is only problematic if ones views confession and belief as “works” since Ephesians 2:9 clearly states, “[Salvation is] not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Since we KNOW that salvation is NOT of works, then we must disregard confession and belief as works, and chalk them up as just a prerequisite that was imposed somewhere along the line. But just to be sure we are clear on the works issue, let’s include that into the equation. Since the scripture says specifically that it is faith and NOT works, we will place works close to faith:
Now we are getting close, but alas we come back to the book of Ya’akov (James). Ya’akov mentions the law 12 times and grace only twice. The difficult passage is in Ya’akov 2:
But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and [f]as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Now we can sit and argue until the sun rises, but it is very clear that the very brother of the Messiah and head of the church in Jerusalem is advancing the idea that works MUST be an efficacious part of faith for faith to actually work. In short, faith without works cannot save. But works is clearly a modifier of faith itself therefore:
Here we see that Works is an exponent magnifying faith, making it efficacious, while the reduction of works in the equation shows it’s loss of power to yield salvation on it’s own. We add in confession and belief, and *voila* we have salvation through the catalyst of grace, which, in the end, remains unaltered by the entire process.
What Ya’akov is hammering is not legalism, or any form of it. He is disregarding the power of perfunctory exercise of religion as a means of being saved. One cannot disregard the disciplines of faith and be saved.