Telling people that salvation is by faith in Jesus apart from works won’t mean much if he or she doesn’t know what believing means.
I asked a group dedicated to “Provisionalism”—which aims to defend traditionalist Baptist beliefs against Calvinism—what it means to believe. Not everyone in the group is a Provisionalist. But it is disconcerting that not a single person answered correctly (last I checked). Some were just hazy, but most explicitly redefined faith to include good works. Here are some examples of what they thought it means to believe:
“Believing is to trust in the one who calls us to His salvation…trusting Him does inevitably imply obedience…It is appreciation, following the master, and demonstrating allegiance…Faith/belief is realized by obedience from the heart.”
“Hearing, understanding, believing, and acting on the information given to you.”
“When scripture says “faith” it really means faithfulness, loyalty, and fidelity as well as trust and belief…To confess one as Lord is to submit and subject yourself to their rule and authority.”
“Believe=Be It, Live It, or it’s a Lie.”
So what does it mean to believe? According to them, it means obedience, following, faithfulness, submission, subjection, action, and living. Do you see the problem? Those are all works. They redefined faith to mean doing good works.
It struck me that when you redefine faith in that way the saving message becomes inconceivable.
Think of it this way—when a works-salvation teacher insists that both faith and works are required for salvation, he is wrong, but he can at least conceive of the idea that it could be by faith apart from works because he understands that faith and works are two different things.
But someone who redefines faith to include doing good works no longer has a category for something being “not a work.” In that person’s mind, everything is a work.
If you told such a person that “salvation is through faith apart from works,” he would not understand you. What he would hear is something like “salvation is through works apart from works,” which, to him, is either self-contradictory, or means that salvation must be apart from some kinds of works (e.g., Jewish ceremonial law), but must surely require doing other kinds of works (e.g., loving others). But he will not understand what you actually mean, i.e., that zero works are required—only believe!
What do your people believe about believing? Do they think that faith includes obedience, submission, commitment, and other actions? Are they redefining faith to include works? If so, that will be an enormous barrier to understanding the promise of life. Every FG pastor, small group leader, missionary, elder, deacon, church worker, and parent should take care to explain what it means to believe, i.e., it is to be persuaded that something is true.
Before someone can believe the saving message, he must first understand it.