I do not understand the distinction between “through faith” and ‘by faith,” When Paul teaches we have salvation “through faith,” rather than by faith, is Paul saying that faith is a passageway?
First, the Bible teaches that no man, by is own will or intellect, will ever choose to accept the Gospel and be saved.
Psalm 53:1-3 (NKJV)
53 The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity;
There is none who does good.
2 God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
No (natural) man seeks for God or understands His ways of righteousness, according to scripture. Not one. Paul explains further:
Romans 8:5-8 (NKJV)
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally (fleshly) minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity (in opposition) against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
No (natural) man will ever set his mind upon the Spirit or the commandments of God. A man’s mind is not even able to do so, Paul says. Therefore, no man can find God through his own intellect, for his natural fallen state precludes such a search or discovery. Simply put, men will not and cannot find God on their own.
In fact, a natural man is set against God, and he instinctively views God as an enemy. No amount of persuasion can overcome the sinful nature and its opposition to God. Our rejection of God is so complete that the Bible compares it to a state of death, as if we are a corpse, spiritually speaking.
Paul explains this further in Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:1-3 (NKJV)
By Grace Through Faith
2 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Satan), the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
Paul says it wasn’t our sin that made us enemies of God; rather, it was our nature that brought us under His wrath. Our sinful behaviors are just eternal symptoms of this underlying spiritual problem. As the saying goes, we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are born sinners.
In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul contrasts the new state of every believer with his prior state as a natural man. Notice how Paul describes the state of an unbeliever:
Ephesians 4:17-19 New King James Version (NKJV)
The New Man
17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Our former state prior to salvation was one in which we were “dead” to the gospel and we walked according to the “futility” of our minds. We were darkened in our understanding and excluded from the life of God because of ignorance and hardness of heart that could not be penetrated apart from God’s grace.
Paul sums up this problem simply in one verse in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV)
14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
We could describe salvation as a “Catch 22.” Paul says the message of the Gospel saves men, but it can only be understood by being spiritually discerned. In other words, you have to be saved already to understand the Gospel, since the message of God can only be understood by a living, born-again spirit. Notice Paul says a natural man “does not accept” the things of the Spirit. It is literally impossible for an unbeliever to believe the Gospel of their own will.
So how can anyone be saved???? The answer is God MUST act first to overcome our natural, unbelieving state by giving us a living spirit capable of belief in the Gospel. God MUST become the author of our faith, for faith can come no other way, according to scripture.
Paul explains this process at numerous points in the NT, but perhaps the best is found in Ephesian 2:
Ephesians 2:4-9 (NKJV)
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Notice Paul says that while we were still in that state of deadness, the Lord initiated the salvation process. By the Spirit, He gave us new life (made us born again by Spirit), through the gift of faith by which we believed the gospel. As Paul says in Romans 2:4, it is the kindness of God that brings us to repentance.
So in summary, God acted first to bring us new life by His Spirit, then as a result of that new spiritual birth, we gained the ability to have faith and believe the message of the Gospel.
We now turn to understand what the Bible says concerning the role of the evangelist. First, we notice in the verses we read above that salvation comes BY grace and THROUGH faith, according to Ephesian 2:8.
Paul’s connecting words are important. Salvation is not BY faith. It is BY grace. God’s grace is what saves us, not our faith. If it were our faith that produced salvation, then we could take credit for our own salvation. Paul teaches that faith is a gift given to us, so therefore salvation is BY God’s grace and manifested to us THROUGH our faith. Simply put, our evidence that God’s grace has come to us is our faith in the Gospel, which is the means God has chosen for His children to display His grace to the word. As Paul said in Romans 3:
Romans 3:21-22 (NKJV)
God’s Righteousness Through Faith
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;
Faith is the way by which God’s grace is manifested in us.
Paul says this in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NKJV)
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer (debater) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block (offense) and to the Greeks (Gentiles) foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Glory Only in the Lord
26 For you see your (consider your) calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base (insignificant) things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Notice in verses 23-24 Paul says he came to Corinth preaching a foolish message that was guaranteed to be rejected by Jew and Gentile alike since natural men perceive the Gospel as foolishness. This is exactly as God intended. God intentionally chose a foolish-sounding message (i.e., the message of the cross) as the required content of saving faith, and He did so to shame the so-called wisdom of the world. Then God elected the weak and the undignified of the world to believe this message so that in eternity they would serve as witnesses against the so-called wise, strong and noble of the world.
Finally, notice in verse 30 Paul says we are “in Christ Jesus” by His (Christ’s) doing. None of us became believers because of our own acceptance or agreement with a foolish message. We became believers because the Lord made us so.
Obviously, sending men like Paul to preach and persuade men of the truth of the Gospel is a part of God’s plan to grow the church, just as Paul went to Corinth to preach a foolish message, but did God REQUIRE Paul’s participation in order to bring faith to Corinth? Self-evidently not, since even Paul himself came to faith without another man preaching the Gospel to him (see Acts 9). Therefore, we conclude that though the Lord does not NEED men to contribute to the work of salvation, nevertheless the Lord desires to work through men to accomplish His purposes. So we are commanded to go.
Not surprisingly, it was Paul who taught that the persuasive efforts of an evangelist rest upon God for a positive outcome:
2 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV)
11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Paul says he worked diligently to persuade men because of his fear of the Lord, but still, he hoped that his presentation would be “well known” to his listeners’ consciences. This is the relationship between evangelists and the Lord. We are the workers in the field, we plant, we water, but the Lord causes the growth, as Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NKJV)
Watering, Working, Warning
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.
So men must act to preach the word and spread the gospel as a matter of personal obedience, but God gives this command not because it is necessary to create faith. On the contrary, only God can bring saving faith. Instead, we are commanded to obey so we may enjoy the fruits of obedience, which is an eternal reward. Salvation comes by God’s Spirit with our without our obedience.
Concerning Personal Confession
Paul also wrote:
Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV)
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.
Similarly, Jesus commanded men to repent and believe:
Mark 1:14-15 (NKJV)
Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry
14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Clearly, the scriptures anticipate a specific, personal response from each believer when confronted with the Gospel. Men are to repent, believe, and confess their belief. Furthermore, believers are to enter into the water to receive baptism. All of these steps are expected. Paul says in Romans 10 that a man is made righteous by believing in the heart, but then he goes further to declare that when he confesses this belief with his mouth, the result is salvation.
Since we know that salvation is not dependent on a man’s work, how do we reconcile these statements? Paul is speaking about the personal impact of salvation on the individual. As God brings faith to a heart, righteousness is imputed and the person is born again. At this moment, the person has become a believer, but without the step of making a personal confession, their salvation will not be apparent to the individual. They have not demonstrated their faith outwardly.
In the same way that believers are commanded to be water baptized, likewise, the confession of faith is the first act of a believer following belief in the heart. Self-evidently, a confession of faith can only come from a believer, and that believer is already saved by faith in the heart even before they open their lips to confess. Like baptism, confession is an act of obedience by a believer who is called to respond to God’s grace.
Finally, why are Christians sent to the world with an appeal for the world to “trust in Jesus?” Because this is the manner by which the Lord has chosen to invite his elect into the family of God. When the message is delivered to one who has been called by the Spirit, the hearer will respond and believe. This call and response pattern is God’s chosen method. Regardless of the method the Lord chooses, the source of faith and salvation is always the Spirit.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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