I recently sat in on a class on the book of James at a Bible college. The teacher was an older man who had been teaching the Bible for years. It just so happened that he was teaching on James 2.
With the great amount of confusion over this chapter in the Bible, it didn’t surprise me that he got off on the wrong foot. No doubt, a teacher many years ago had told him that James 2 teaches that if a person who professes to be a Christian does not have good works, then he is not eternally saved. Free Grace people have heard that nonsense for years. But this particular teacher took that teaching to new levels. On the other hand, perhaps it could be said that what he said was actually the natural outcome of the bad teaching on James 2 that is so prevalent in theological circles.
He said that there were three kinds of faith. One is a dead faith. The second is a demonic faith. The third is a true faith. In order to have a true faith–one that saves you from hell–there is a three-step process. First, a person must understand it intellectually. Second, he must embrace it with emotion and make it his own. Third, he must demonstrate that he has that faith by doing good works. These good works would certainly include helping those who are in need. Only by going through these three steps and acting accordingly can one have confidence that he is a child of God. This process shows that only a true faith will include intellect, emotion, and will.
This view of James 2 is, of course, tragic. Tragic for the man teaching it and tragic for the students hearing it. But it didn’t stop there. He took this blind misunderstanding of James 2 and applied it to various other Bible passages. He said that Saul, in the OT, was a man who had a dead faith. His faith did not have an emotional element, and he did not show his faith by works. Saul demonstrated that he had a dead faith when he committed suicide. He will be in hell forever. Some of the believers at Corinth, based upon 2 Cor 7:8-10, were in danger of not having an emotional faith. They had grief, but perhaps not a sufficient measure of it. In addition, others had the required level of grief and emotion, but were not willing to repent of their sins and show their faith by works. As a group, they needed to examine themselves to see if they had a true faith instead of a false or demonic faith (2 Cor 13:5).
According to this teacher, in the parable of the four soils (Mark 4:3-8; 13-20), the rocky soil represents people who have both an intellectual and an emotional faith. The emotion is seen in their excitement about the gospel. But they fall short on the works. They, as well, will be in hell.
In other words, this teacher was not only blind to the teachings of grace, but he also–as their blind guide–led others on a walking tour through the Bible. He had no idea what all these passages were actually teaching. Because it was impossible for him to “see” the truth, he twisted the meanings of many passages.
In Luke 6:39-40, the Lord speaks about the need to be careful of whom we listen to. There are some teachers who are blind. The people who follow those teachers are being led down a path by a blind guide. A blind guide, and those who follow him, will all fall into a ditch.
That is what I observed in the class that day. I saw a blind teacher, stumbling around through various passages of the Bible and falling into a ditch over and over again. The students listening to him followed him right into those ditches. With his confused understanding of the gospel of eternal salvation and the meaning of faith, such an outcome was inevitable.
I don’t know if that teacher had eternal life or not. He said that being saved was all by God’s grace through faith. He even said you couldn’t lose salvation. Perhaps he heard and believed the message of grace years ago and therefore has eternal life. But it was also clear that at the present time he is an example of what the Lord warns us about in Luke 6.
Doctrine is important. The message of eternal life by faith alone is important. Faith is being convinced that the Lord’s promise of eternal life is true. If a person rejects that truth–whether he is a believer or an unbeliever–he becomes a blind guide. Such a guide is one who walks through various Scripture passages, stumbling and unable to understand what is written on the pages. Failure is automatic. Those who follow him will suffer the same fate.