A reader, R. E., talks about his interaction with a works-salvation elder. He asks me to explain how I would answer the question:
Thank you for your email/newsletters concerning works–based salvation. I work with a Church of Christ elder who adamantly defends the five steps to salvation. When I give him several verses that only support “belief,” he responds, “The devil believes in Jesus. Is he saved?” Although his absurd response demonstrates his unwavering stance, this does lead us into a clarification of belief. Maybe you could expound on this in an upcoming blog.
Churches of Christ believe that there are five conditions of everlasting life: believe, obey, confess, repent, and be baptized. In their view, everlasting life is probationary until and unless you die in faith, obedience, confession, and repentance. In their view, baptism is a one-time event. It should not be repeated. But the other four conditions must continue your whole life, or you will lose your salvation. You can get it back via repentance. But then you must continue in faith, obedience, confession, and repentance to keep it.
I debated a Church of Christ evangelist about twenty years ago. I found a few things I said in the two hours of debate to be especially effective. Keep in mind that evangelism is often a two-way street. It always is with Church of Christ elders and evangelists. They are evangelizing you even while you are evangelizing them.
First, ask your coworker, Does it bother you that there is not a single place in the entire Bible that lists the five steps to salvation in one verse or even one paragraph? When asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul only gave the one condition of belief: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). When Jesus evangelized, He only gave one condition, believing in Him for everlasting life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25-27). Why didn’t God give us at least one place where we could read what we must do to be saved?
By the way, be prepared for his answer. He will probably respond the same way the Church of Christ evangelist did. First, he will say that God expects us to believe the whole counsel of God, the whole Bible. So, God expects us to find the various conditions throughout the NT. Second, he will say that in places where only belief is mentioned, it is understood that belief is shorthand for all five conditions.
That does not answer the question, if you think about it. No Church of Christ evangelist would ever say that if you believe in Jesus, you have everlasting life. He would always faithfully mention all five points. But Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life. He said that over and over again.
Second, admit to your friend that if he is right, then you are on your way to eternal condemnation since you do not believe the five-point plan. Believing has to include believing the right condition of everlasting life. But, if you are right, then your friend is on his way to eternal condemnation for the same reason. It does not matter how good either of you are. You are both sinners and you both fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). He thinks that if you are right, he will be fine because he has faith plus works. But he needs to realize that both the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul said that believing that your salvation depends even in part on your works means that you are not believing in Jesus (John 5:39-40; 6:28-29; Rom 4:4-5; Gal 1:6-9; 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Rev 22:17). Tell him that you are just as concerned for his salvation as he is for your salvation. One of you is right and one is wrong.
Third, ask him if he would believe the faith-alone message if God showed him that it was true. If yes, is he willing to pray about it? Would he ask God to show him if he is wrong? Is he willing to read the Gospel of John with an open mind?
Fourth, if your friend is willing to read one chapter of the Gospel of John each week, then tell him you will do that as well and offer to discuss it with him. In R.E.’s case, they could discuss one chapter of John each week during their break time or over lunch.
Finally, what about the question about the devil believing in Jesus? That is not a serious objection. It is just something people throw up to see if it will stick.
James 2:19 is the verse he has in mind: “You believe that God is one…The demons believe, and tremble.” Do the demons really believe that God is one? Or is that false faith? Is everyone who believes in monotheism saved? Of course not. Jesus never said that. Who can be saved? Can demons be saved? Can the devil be saved? Of course not. Jesus only died for human beings. The only people who can be saved are living human beings as Jesus said in John 11:26a. Demons are not living human beings. The devil is not a living human being.
You might point your friend to some articles on our website giving a detailed explanation of Jas 2:19. See this 1992 article by me. See also this free 56-page E-Book on James by Zane Hodges. For a whole journal article devoted to Jas 2:19, see Dr. John Hart’s 1995 article here.
James 2:19 should not cause us to question what belief is. Belief there, as in the entire Bible, is always being convinced that something is true. In Jas 2:19 it is being convinced that God is one. In John 3:16 it is being convinced that Jesus guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him for that life. Compare John 11:25-26 where Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” That is, He was asking her if she was convinced that whoever lives and believes in Him will never die spiritually, that he has everlasting life that can never be lost.
R. E. is convinced. He wants to help his Church of Christ friend gain assurance of his eternal destiny by faith alone in Christ alone. I commend his efforts.