Does faith alone save one from his sins?
- Faith does save (Acts 16:31).
- Grace saves (Acts 15:11).
- Jesus saves (Acts 4:12).
- The message saves (Acts 11:14).
- The resurrection saves (Romans 5:10).
- Hope saves (Romans 8:24).
- Confession saves (Romans 10:10).
- The gospel saves (I Corinthians 15:2).
- Knowledge saves (1 Timothy 4:2).
- The washing of rebirth saves (Titus 3:5).
- The renewal of the Holy Spirit saves (Titus 3:5).
- Water saves, which is baptism (I Peter 3:20-21).
- Salvation is also through obedience (Hebrews 5:9).
- Godly sorrow and repentance also lead to salvation (II Corinthians 7:10).
Most of the doctrines of man look at the above list and say "pick one." Some like the idea of being saved by grace, and they will hear of nothing else. Others say they are saved by Jesus and it doesn't matter what you actually believe. Another one says to pray to Jesus (which is actually not on the list). Did God give us a list so that we could pick our favorite? Or, did He give us a list because the concept of salvation needed to be explained in many different ways? We can't just decide that we like part of God's plan and then ignore all of the rest of what He said about it. We have to figure out how it all comes together because all of it is true.
One way that people try to squeeze their favorite method of salvation is to cite an example and then stretch the example to cover more than can logically be covered by it. When trying to justify a doctrine of faith alone, the example of the thief on the cross is used. The concept is introduced as a desire to be saved like the thief (Luke 23:39-43). Obviously, they do not mean that they want to be saved while being tortured to death. They usually mean that they want to be saved without having to do anything beyond just believing – most often trying to get around the commands of repentance or baptism. Since Jesus accepted the thief and required nothing else from him, the theory goes that all men can be saved in the same way.
There are many issues with using the thief as an example.
- Jesus had the authority to forgive (Matthew 9:6).
- The thief died before Jesus was resurrected (John 19:32-33).
- The resurrection is key to understanding baptism (Romans 6).
- Jesus did not command people to be baptized until after his resurrection (Mark 16:16 and Matthew 28:19), though many were baptized before his death (John 3:26; 4:1-2).
We all live well after the resurrection of Jesus and well after the command was given to be baptized. It does not take much to realize that the situation and the timing of the thief is completely outside what is expected of us.
The thief lived before the baptism which Jesus commanded and that is something we cannot duplicate. Nor can we prove that the thief was not one of those baptized by Jesus' disciples. And if that isn't enough, if Jesus wants to grant an occasional exception to his own rule, he is the king and that is well within his right (Matthew 28:18). Ultimately what was said to the thief is not the instruction given to us. We have to obey what we were told and not what we wish were true or what was told to another who was involved in special circumstances.
I cannot claim that God will grant massive exceptions. I can only warn of what He tells us all to do. Our job is to obey to the best of our ability. Jesus warned in Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Notice that there are many who have faith enough to claim that they know Jesus and even to do at least some of what they were told to do. Yet, Jesus will say he never knew them – which implies that even though they had faith, they never really started a relationship with him. Directly, that says that there is more to salvation than just faith. Indirectly it is implying that at least one of the things that saves is going to have a lot of people trying to skirt around it. My guess is that it will be baptism that will catch the most people who fail to achieve a starting point with Jesus.