One of the common misconceptions about faith is that it is a simple belief. Many people have arrived at the position that if they believe on the Lord as their personal saviour, their salvation is complete. Without getting too far into the weeds, let us suffice it to say that this position is both true and false. Confused? Let’s go further by using an illustration from the Bible.
There was a point in Israel’s history that God had brought them a great deliverance. Subject to cruel taskmasters in Egypt for hundreds of years, God delivered Israel in a mass Exodus. The Egyptians had still only grudgingly let them leave even though God had made a strong case for their release (see the book of Exodus). Shortly after Israel’s departure, the Egyptians have a change of heart and with their army they pursue the fleeing Israelites in an attempt to destroy or recapture them.
The problem for Israel is that the direction Moses has lead them has brought them up against the Red Sea. With Egypt’s army quickly baring down on them from one side, and the Red Sea blocking escape on the other, there appears no way of escape. Here’s the deal. In a miracle that is referenced by New Testament writers in relationship to salvation, God parts the Red Sea for Israel to cross over, promising that “the Egyptians you see today, you will see no more.”
In short, the Israelites follow God’s instructions and cross the Red Sea on dry ground. In their pursuit, the Egyptian army attempts to follow and God releases the waters which consumes the entire host of Egyptians.
Here is the question. At what point was Israel saved from the Egyptian army? When they first heard the word from God to cross? When they saw the sea roll back? When they decided they would be among the number to cross…or was it when they had finally crossed over?
The reality is that the individual Israelite could have believed all he wanted that this open sea was the only way of escape, but if he did not obey the command to cross, he would have been destroyed. Faith alone will not save anybody, for people have faith in all kinds of people, places and things without experiencing salvation. Faith that saves is faith that will produce obedience to the word of God (Romans 4:11 calls it righteous faith). Faith that wears no cloths is not genuine faith at all. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul says that the Lord will return to take vengeance on them that “obey not the gospel”. Obedience will always follow genuine faith.
One common argument against this position is that it looks like “works” based salvation. I think it would be safe to assume that there was not one Israelite who believed themselves saved from the Egyptian army as a result of their own works. That not one of them walking between the walls of water thought, “Wow. I am pretty amazing. I am saving myself.” (Romans 4:2-3)
The greatness of our salvation is not our obedience to the gospel. The greatness of our salvation is the gospel itself. That God’s grace opened up a way of escape for our sin sick souls. The miracle of it all is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.
I was in a discussion with an elder mentor of mine and he gave me an easy acronym to use in understanding faith. He said, “Faith is BOTH.” It is Belief, Obedience, Trust, and Hope. You can’t dissect it and it does no good to parse it.
Paul is pretty clear in his letter to the church in Ephesus that we are “saved by grace through faith”. If we could put it into a word picture, we could say that grace is the miraculous provision and faith is both the understanding and energy to act. Obedience is the invariable result of righteous faith. I am not saved by faith that is only defined as mental recognition of our sin and God’s solution, but I am saved by righteous faith which is always found wearing the visible cloths of obedience to the gospel.