It has been shown that Paul taught that man is not saved by works, yet the word “works” has to be understood in a limited sense for if an unlimited sense were true, even faith would not save because faith is a work (John 6:29). The works by which man are not justified are works which would allow him to boast, and those, which done, would earn him salvation (Rom. 4:2, 5; Eph. 2:8-9). One thing is certain: man is not justified by faith alone (Jam. 2:25).
Faith alone would exclude anything except faith. It would exclude any other act of obedience: repentance, confession of faith in Christ, Christ’s blood, and God’s grace. For if man is justified by faith alone and either of those things mentioned above, then he is not justified by faith alone.
Changing the narrative to “man is saved at the point of faith without further acts of obedience” does not help the dilemma. A confession that “I believe Jesus is the Son of God” before one actually believes is no confession of faith. One cannot repent of sins against God when he doesn’t yet believe in God nor that he has sinned against Him. Neither “salvation at the point of faith before further acts of obedience” or “salvation by faith alone” is true. Both are man-made doctrines.
We acknowledge there are at least two passages where repentance is mentioned before faith: Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21. In both passages a quick look will show that the repentance was made toward God (with whom one was already familiar), and faith in the gospel or Christ of which formerly they knew nothing. A man cannot repent of sins against God unless he first believes he has sinned against God. He cannot confess he believes Jesus is the Son of God if he does not yet so believe.
So, we are saved by faith but faith in this instance is used in a generic sense: it includes not only the element of belief itself, but whatever else God has commanded man to do.
In Acts 16:19-34 there is an account of Paul and Silas being imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Together these men were singing, praying, and praising God and while the jailor was asleep, the other prisoners were listening to them. At midnight an earthquake occurred shaking the prison, openings its doors and loosing the bands with which the prisoners were bound. The jailor awoke, saw that the prisoners were loosed from their bands and that the doors to the prison were open, and drew his sword intending to kill himself. Paul called out with a loud voice saying, “Do thyself no harm. We are all here.” The jailor called for a light, sprang in, and trembling for fear bowed down before Paul and Saul and said “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul told him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31). Notice carefully the remainder of the narrative: “And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house.” Why did the preachers do this? They spoke the word to him so that he could do what they had told him to do: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ …” He could not believe in Him whom he had not heard (Rom. 10:14), and it is through preaching that faith comes (Rom. 10:17). Next, in response to the preaching, it is said, “He took them the same hour of the night and washing their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately” (Acts 16:33). What does this verse tell us? The jailor repented by washing their stripes. Then he was baptized. How did he know to be baptized? The word of the Lord had been spoken to him which commanded baptism. Why was he baptized? For the reason Jesus commanded (Mark 16:16). Now look at the conclusion: “And he brought them up into his house and set food before them and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God” (Acts 16:34). Why did the jailor rejoice? Because he had been saved. He had believed in God, yet that belief included not only that he believed in the Lordship of Jesus, but his repentance and baptism. All these occurred, yet the record only said “having believed in God.”
Look at one more illustration. In Matthew 21:23-27 there is the record of Jewish priests and elders of the people approaching Jesus with the question: “By what authority doest thou these things and who gave thee that authority?” Jesus responded, “I will answer you if you will answer a question for me. The baptism of John, whence was it; from heaven or from men?” The Jewish priests and elders were not certain how to answer. “If we shall say from heaven,” reasoned they, “He will respond why then did ye not believe him?” Should we say, “From men, we fear the people for all hold John to be a prophet.” So they chose to answer that they did not know. Notice how these men tied Jesus’ question about the origin of John’s baptism with faith. “If we say from heaven, he will say why did ye not believe him?” John baptized for remission of sins (Mk. 1:4). Luke wrote, “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, not being baptized of him” (Luke 7:30). If these Jews rejecting being baptized constituted a rejection of “the counsel of God,” would not rejecting baptism for the purpose Jesus said equally be rejecting “the counsel of God”? It is not possible to believe in Jesus and not believe in His word. It is not possible to believe in baptism and not believe in the purpose for it.
Baptism is a test of faith. There is no logical reason why we must be baptized to be saved only that Jesus said we must (Mark 16:16). Rejecting baptism for remission of sins is for most, unbelief. They know what Jesus said, but they don’t believe it. It is not hard to understand what the word says. What is hard is to believe Jesus in the face of all common reason. But that is faith and we must “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).