After the Protestant Reformation, there were 5 major tenets of faith which emerged to help explain what the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wycliffe, Tyndale, et al) were protesting about the Church of their day. These have come to be known as the 5 Solas of the Reformation. They are: Sola Scriptura (by Scripture Alone), Sola Fide (by Faith alone), Sola gratia (by Grace alone), Sola Cristus (through Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).
Over the nearly 500 years since the time of the Reformation, many of these ideas have come to mean things that were unintended by the Reformers. One of those thoughts is a combination of Faith alone and Grace alone teachings. The Reformers taught that it was by grace alone and through faith alone that a person comes to Christ. They were protesting against the concept of meritorious works, which teaches that our works contribute to our salvation. I think we’ve done well in continuing to teach that salvation is as Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9…
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Now, I don’t think there is any question that most denominations and local churches have done a fine job in avoiding the trap of falling into a system of working for salvation. The real trouble that I have seen is in our de-emphasis on Spirit-wrought works altogether. The fact of the matter is this: Scripture is very clear that, while we are not saved by works, the grace and faith that is powerful in saving us is also powerful in producing good works in us.
What we have is an unintended consequence of placing a stronger emphasis on grace and faith while simultaneously placing little or no emphasis on the good works that result from that faith. As a matter of fact, as I’ve grown up in the Church, I can tell you that the emphasis has always been to simply “get people in the door” to the neglect of teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. I think we’re unintentionally deceiving people in this process.
I quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 just earlier here, but what does verse 10 say? For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. So, we are not justified in the sight of God because of works, but we are created in Christ Jesus FOR good works. There it is. Jesus Himself said that our mission is to go and make disciples of all nations, not merely baptizing them, but also teaching them to obey Him. Yet, with our strong emphasis on grace and faith, we leave people with the idea that salvation is like a vaccination- get one shot and you’re done. I can’t count the number of people over the years who have come in, made a profession of faith, been baptized, and then never (or rarely) are heard from again. Yet, these folks, who show no fruit, display no good works, and seem to care little about the things of God, believe themselves saved because of a prayer they prayed years ago.
The truth is that a saving faith is a life-changing faith. Grace that saves also produces good works in us. A person who can live continually in sin and for the things of this world, largely ignoring God day to day, has no biblical reason to claim salvation. This is a truth that is not convenient for many, but perhaps if we speak this truth, they will truly repent and believe.