There are many beliefs about what is needed to be “saved.” This must be discussed well because “salvation” is a very important topic. We all need salvation, and we will not be saved if we don’t know how.
One of the most prominent concepts is that a person can receive salvation by simply “believing” and that his works- the way he lives- has actually no bearing on his salvation.
This belief in salvation by faith alone is one that millions of so called “true Christians” strongly argue and defend. Some of these even condemn anyone who believe that one’s way of life has anything to do with salvation.
The verse they usually use is written in Romans 3: 28. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Some translations read, “without the works of the law.” This verse at first glance seems to say that our obedience to God contributes nothing to our salvation and therefore, according to them, salvation is by faith alone.
Is this what Apostle Paul mean? Are we going to believe that we can be saved and enter heaven by just having faith and ignoring God’s will and commandments? Does struggling against temptation and living a life of righteousness have nothing to do with attaining eternal life? What does this portion of the scripture mean? When we study this verse in the context of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we can fully understand what the apostle meant.
The church at Rome was composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Based on some of Paul’s statements at the beginning of his letter, it is obvious that a certain amount of friction existed between these two ethnic groups. A major problem was that the Jews regarded themselves as superior to the Gentiles. They felt this way because they were physical descendants of Abraham and thus were more familiar with God’s laws than their Gentile counterparts. As a result, the Jews were quick to judge the Gentiles, who were still learning many things that the Jews had known from childhood.
Paul addressed this in Romans 2: 1 - Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. Paul dishes out strong correction to those who accused others of disobedience to God’s laws while they themselves did the same things. He warns them that they were facing the wrath of God if they continued in such attitudes and practices.
Rom 2:5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
If we will continue reading the verses – Paul is explaining how we will be judged. We will be judged according to our own deeds – to those who will be patient in “doing” and seeking the glory and honor will receive the eternal life. But to those who did not obey will receive the wrath of God.
Rom 2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
Rom 2:7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
Rom 2:8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Rom 2:9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
Paul even summarized his point regarding this discussion in verse 13. Rom 2:13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. Paul makes it very clear that the manner in which we conduct our lives has a “great bearing” on whether we will receive salvation or not. This does not sound like a “no-works” doctrinal concept.
Apostle Paul explains in chapter 3 that every one of us has sinned. All of mankind stands guilty before God because all have broken His law and are condemned by it. Therefore, all men are guilty.
Rom 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Rom 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Rom 3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
Rom 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
To be justified means to have our past sins forgiven and to have righteousness imputed to us. The apostle is saying that there is no way anyone can receive forgiveness of past sins by obeying the law. Present obedience does not do anything to wash away past iniquity. There has to be some other manner for sinners to receive forgiveness of past sins if they are to have hope of entering God’s Kingdom.
Continuing in verses 21-22, Paul explains how a sinner can receive forgiveness of past sins.
Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Rom 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
Here he explains that God has provided a means whereby we may receive forgiveness of sins and be accounted righteous in His sight. It is separate and distinct from obedience to the law. This forgiveness comes by having faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He explains this principle further in verses 24-25:
Rom 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Rom 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Justification is not something that one earns by any kind of law keeping or good works, but God freely gives it to those who repent and have faith in the sacrifice of JESUS. In verse 27, Paul further drives home the point that no one can earn justification or boast about having received it through his own effort.
Rom 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
No one can ever brag about having been so obedient or having done so many good works that God just had to grant him eternal life. No one will ever be able to boast that he “earned” his way into the Kingdom of God! All those who enter the Kingdom will have done so solely because God extended His mercy to them and forgave their sins through their faith in the sacrifice of Christ.
Now we can clearly see what Paul meant in verse 28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” This is the conclusion of his entire discussion. The only way we can be justified, that is, have our sins forgiven and be brought into a right relationship with God, is through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. This justification is something that is imputed to us once we meet God’s conditions of repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). We cannot earn it through law keeping or doing good works.
Act 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Some do not understand that “being justified is not the same as being saved.” Justification is only a part of the process of salvation and is only one step on the road to salvation. We can not expect to be saved right away. To have our sins forgiven, we must repent from having broken the laws of God.
Act 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
To repent means to turn away from our sins and transgressions and start obeying the will or law of God. Paul explains it simply.
Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
The true Christian, having repented from sin, has been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit which is the love of God that enables him to keep His laws in their full spiritual intent and purpose. He has been justified and has received God’s undeserved pardon. He realizes his sins caused Jesus Christ to have to suffer and die. Because of all of these things, the true Christian strives with all his might to resist the pulls of the flesh and to put sin out of his life. Paul makes it very clear that the true Christian must not continue to live a life of sin.
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
Rom 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
The true Christian understands that the way he lives and conducts his life has a great bearing upon whether he will inherit the Kingdom of God .
Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Gal 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Gal 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
To BE SAVED, we must not only be JUSTIFIED, but we must live a life of obedience to the will or laws of God, giving fruits of His spirits in our lives.
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Gal 5:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.