“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a protection for you. Watch out for ‘dogs,’ watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:1-3, HCSB).
Most Christians today are probably more concerned about learning correct doctrine than they are about avoiding incorrect doctrine. And, as a result incorrect doctrine can sometimes weave its way into our theological understanding if we don’t beware of incorrect teaching about our salvation in Jesus Christ.
Avoiding false doctrine and its dubious teachers was a big deal to the Apostle Paul. So much so that he used some pretty strong language to call out these teachers of false doctrine.
Specifically, the teaching Paul was castigating in these verses was legalism–salvation that is rules-based and works-oriented. These deceitful teachers told the Philippians that as Gentiles they not only needed to accept Christ as Savior but they also needed to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in order to be saved.
The “faith and…” fallacy, was addressed time and time again by Paul throughout his New Testament writings:
- For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).
- We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:15-16, NIV).
- Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:20-24, NIV).
In fact, most of the Letter to the Romans is a treatise confronting this theological issue.
The problem of nuanced faith, adding certain theological or behavioral stipulations for salvation to faith and grace, has been a soteriological problem throughout the history of the Church (soteriology is the theological study of the doctrine of salvation). So much so that sola fide, Latin for faith alone, was the rallying cry of the Reformation.
But, being saved by faith alone isn’t a New Testament concept! Rather, New Testament soteriology is based upon ancient Old Testament theology. When God formulated a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, we are told that “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:8, NIV).
So, when Jesus told the sinful woman who anointed Him in Luke 7:50 that she was saved by her faith, He wasn’t creating a new theological construct nor was He referring to her act of anointing Him. He was clearly addressing her need for salvation and her contrition and repentance of sin.
When you believe In Jesus as the Messiah and the Lord and Savior of your life, that’s all it takes to receive God’s free gift of eternal life. But always remember that while faith alone saves, saving faith is never alone. The works of faith as a Christian are the evidence of saving faith in your life.
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, NIV)