Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does

“We are saved by faith alone.”

The Bible doesn’t say it. In fact, the Bible rejects it.

It was not part of Christian belief for the first 1,500 years of Christianity.

Even today, only about one-fifth of Christians belong to churches that teach it.

And yet, the minority of Christians who do believe in it think it’s the most important, essential teaching of Christianity.

Justification by faith alone” is the Protestant doctrine that the one and only thing that saves us is believing that Jesus Christ died for us on the cross. Our “works,” meaning what we do and how we live, do not contribute anything to our salvation. If we believe that Jesus died for us, we will go to heaven. If we do not believe that Jesus died for us, we will go to hell.

I have been told that I am going to hell because I am unwilling to say and believe that faith alone saves.

Now that could be a problem!

The numbers don’t look good

Let’s do a little math.

Approximately 20% of Christians belong to churches that teach that faith alone saves. Approximately 32% of the world’s population identifies as Christian. This means that approximately 6.4% of the world’s population belongs to churches that teach that faith alone saves.

The current world population is 7.3 billion.

This means that by the most optimistic estimates (if all of the people who belong to churches that teach faith alone actually believe the way they are supposed to), of all the people alive today:

  • 467 million people are saved and will go to heaven.
  • 6.8 billion people will be damned and go to hell.

Or put another way, over 93% of the world’s population is going to hell.

Is God incompetent?

So I have a question for you:

Is God incompetent?

If you worked in an automobile design studio, and one day you rushed into your boss’s office and said, “Look! I’ve designed a car that works 6.4% of the time!” how would your boss react? I’ll tell you how: “Back to the drawing board!”

Supposedly God loves all of the people whom God has created. And yet, if the only thing that saves us is faith in Jesus Christ, and the belief that we are saved by that faith alone, then over 93% of the people God supposedly loves are going to hell.

I would call that an epic fail.

Even if we broaden the definition, and say that everyone who believes in Jesus can be saved, you’re still talking a success rate of only 32% at best—and that assumes that everyone who self-identifies as a Christian truly believes in Jesus Christ.

Even a 32% success rate would still be a major fail on God’s part.

Yet according to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, that is the best success rate God could possibly have in the population of the world today.

Is God really such a bad designer that somewhere between 67% and 93% of the human beings on earth end out in the scrap heap with “REJECT” stamped on them in big, red letters?

Yes, but what about the Bible?

The churches and preachers who teach salvation by faith alone know about these numbers. Their general response is, “Yes, it sounds harsh. But we must believe it because that’s what the Bible teaches.”

So here’s a little quiz:

Question: How many times does “faith alone” appear in the Bible?

Answer: Once.

Here it is:

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

That’s right. In the one and only place in the entire Bible that “faith alone” appears, it is specifically rejected as saving!

Christians who believe in faith alone think that Paul teaches it.

But Paul never even says “faith alone” in any of his letters. (He also doesn’t say “grace alone.”) And Paul was articulate enough that if he had wanted to say that faith alone saves, he certainly had the vocabulary and the ability to do so.

But he never did.

What Paul did say is that we are saved by faith apart from the works of the Law (Romans 3:28). And that is one of the most misunderstood verses in the entire Bible.

Paul was not saying that we don’t have to do good deeds in order to be saved. Just one chapter earlier, he had said:

God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:6–11)

So it’s crystal clear that Paul, like every other writer in the Bible, taught that we must do good works in order to be saved, and that if we don’t, we will be condemned.

“Faith apart from the works of the Law”

When Paul said that we are saved by faith apart from the works of the Law, he was talking about the Law of Moses.

He was arguing, against the main group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, that it was not necessary for Christians to obey the ritual laws of sacrifice, diet, circumcision, and so on prescribed in the ancient Jewish ritual code found in the Torah, or Law, which is the first five books of the Bible. Paul, an “apostle to the Gentiles” (see Romans 11:13), did not want to saddle pagan converts with the ritual laws of Judaism. Further, he believed that faith in Jesus made it unnecessary to follow those ritual laws.

For observant Jews, strictly following these laws was a matter of great pride. See, for example, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9–14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That’s why Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Here “works” like the “circumcision” that he talks about in the next few verses, is shorthand for “the works of the Law”—meaning the ritual laws given by Moses in the Torah.

Paul even says in the very next verse, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10, italics added).

Yes, Paul was big on faith. He’s always talking about faith. But he never taught faith alone. Just like the other Bible writers, he insisted that we must do good works as commanded by the Lord if we wish to be saved and go to heaven.

Where did faith alone come from?

If the Bible never says that faith alone saves, how did it become the distinguishing doctrine of Protestantism?

Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Martin Luther

The answer is simple. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone did not come from the Bible. It came from Martin Luther (1483–1546).

Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic priest in Germany who, in time, rejected Catholicism and became the leading founder of Protestantism.

As part of his doctrinal break from Rome, he promulgated the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. This doctrine became the primary doctrine distinguishing Protestantism from Roman Catholicism, and the key doctrine of Protestantism as a whole.

John Calvin, by Hans Holbein the Younger

John Calvin

John Calvin (1509–1564), a French theologian who became another primary figure in the Protestant Reformation, founding the Reformed or Calvinist branch of Protestantism, adopted the doctrine of salvation by faith alone from Luther.

Philipp Melanchthon, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Philip Melanchthon

These two theologians, along with Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560), who systematized Lutheran theology, established salvation by faith alone as the fundamental doctrine of Protestantism. This is the doctrine that distinguishes it from Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and all other Christian churches. It is only Protestants who say, over and over again, that we are saved by faith alone.

Protestants—especially the Evangelical and Fundamentalist variety—believe and claim that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone comes from the Bible. But the reality is that it comes from Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon.

The Bible itself never says that faith alone saves. Instead, as I pointed out earlier, the Bible specifically denies that we are saved by faith alone. Martin Luther actually wanted to remove the book of James from the Bible because it contradicted his distinctive doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

So what?

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

So what?

What does it matter whether the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is true or false? Isn’t it just another one of those endless and useless doctrinal debates that those old Christian theologians are always having with each other?

Well . . . first of all, if we were truly saved by faith alone, it would mean that somewhere between two-thirds and nineteen-twentieths of the world’s population will spend eternity being tortured in hell mostly because they just happened to be born into the wrong culture and religion.

I don’t know about you, but the idea that a loving God would design the world so that most people end out in hell really bothers me.

What is our life for, anyway?

But let me ask you a more practical question.

What do you spend more of your time at: believing things or doing things?

Don’t get me wrong, faith is very important. If we don’t believe in God, or at least in some higher power and morality than ourselves, about all that’s left is for us to live for the pleasure of today, and hope for more pleasure tomorrow. And that’s not much of a life.

However, for most of us, believing things takes up only a small part of our time and energy. The reality is that we’ve got work to do.

Most of us spend most of our days, and most of our lives, getting up in the morning and going about our daily tasks, going to our day job, taking care of our families and other people that we’re responsible for, and getting things done around the house and around the community.

The main problem with faith alone is not that it isn’t taught by the Bible—as bad as that is. The main problem with faith alone is that if it were true, it would mean that almost everything we do during our lifetime here on earth is irrelevant to our eternal life.

Our daily work matters

Why would God put us on this earth and give us bodies, and work to do with them, if all that matters is what we believe? If all that matters is faith, why didn’t God just give us a brain, and a thinking mind, and leave it at that?

The reality is that everything we do all day—all of our work, all of our struggle, all of our blood, sweat, and tears—does matter in eternity. God did not put us on earth merely to believe and have faith. God put us here on earth to act on our faith, and live by our beliefs. That’s why the Apostle James said:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14–17)

The Bible everywhere, and in many different ways, tells us that faith by itself is useless. Everywhere, the Bible tells us that if we wish to be saved, we must love our neighbor, care for our neighbor, and engage in active service to our neighbor. Jesus himself tells us that only those who tend to the needs of others will go to heaven (see Matthew 25:31–46).

Our daily labor, our daily job, our daily service to our fellow human beings is the crucible in which our eternal life is forged.

God gave us the Ten Commandments, and all the other laws of life in the Bible, for a reason. Only by following God’s commandments, only by living with integrity toward our fellow human beings, only by serving other people day in and day out with love and humility, can God build in us the depth of spiritual character required to spend eternity as angels in heaven.

God did not make a mistake putting us here on earth and making it a requirement that we spend much of our life, and much of our day, engaged in useful services of one sort or another. Quite the contrary. God knew that it is only through active service to others that we can develop as spiritual and heavenly beings.

The doctrine of salvation by faith alone fails miserably not only because it is contrary to the teachings of the Bible, but also because it would make most of our life, most of our labor, most of what we spend our days doing totally irrelevant.

But I’m here to tell you that what you do all day does matter. What you do with your life does matter. Because little by little, with each task done and with each service rendered to your fellow human beings, you are building the spiritual character you need for God to bless you with eternal life and joy in the vast community of service that is heaven.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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539 comments on “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does
  1. Eva says:

    Wonderful post 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Thanks, Eva. It’s always good to hear from you!

      • You are right about salvation by faith alone.But you fall short on how one is saved.We are not saved by our works.Faith through our obedience to God (John 14:15) will produce good works and save us.There are works of God that save us but not works of man.To be saved one must accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2) and be Baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16)

        • Lee says:

          Hi John,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          No, our works don’t save us any more than our faith saves us. It is God who saves us.

          However, having faith in God and doing good works are integral parts of how God does this in our life. God cannot save us if we do not have faith and do good works because not having faith is rejecting God, and not doing good works is rejecting God’s commandments and being disobedient to God. God cannot save us if we reject God and reject God’s commandments. God will not force salvation on us against our will. We must willingly and freely accept God into our life through having faith in God and doing good works according to God’s commandments.

          Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20)

        • But I think you left out how one is saved.You make it sound so confusing.The only way one can be saved is by accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be Baptized for the remission of sins. (Acts 2) One must Hear (Romans 1:16 10:14 17),Believe (John 8:24 Hebrews 11:6 Mark 16:16),Repent (Acts 2:38 3:19 17:30)),Confess Romans 10:9-10 Matthew 10:32-33) ,Be Baptized Acts 2:38 22:16 1 Peter 3:21 Mark 16:16) and remain faithful unto death. (Revelations 2:10)

        • Lee says:

          Hi John,

          The pressure has been growing from various quarters for me to write an article specifically about salvation and exactly what it is. When the halcyon day arrives that I write that article, I will attempt to lay it out more systematically and clearly.

          But for now, I am in general agreement with you that salvation is a process that has multiple steps along the way. And that process results in a completely new and changed human being.

          I would only add that the New Testament is addressed primarily to Christians, and to those becoming Christians. So its specifically Christian prescriptions for salvation apply to Christians, and not to people of other religions. But people of other religions have an analog of these Christian teachings, by which they are saved. And since Jesus Christ is the one and only Lord and God of the universe, whether they realize it or not, even non-Christians who are saved are in fact being saved by Jesus Christ.

          For more on these ideas, please see:

          I know. That’s a lot of articles! But these are big subjects.

  2. BJ says:

    “The doctrine of salvation by faith alone fails miserably not only because it is contrary to the teachings of the Bible, but also because it would make most of our life, most of our labor, most of what we spend our days doing totally irrelevant.”

    This paragraph is a beautiful short demonstration of how you have misconstrued, misrepresented, and hopefully only misunderstood the entire doctrine of sola fide.

    • Lee says:

      Hi BJ,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Usually, for reasons stated in our Comments policy, I do not approve comments whose primary purpose is to say that the views expressed here are mistaken. I have found that debating doctrine with people who hold different views is usually an exercise in futility.

      However, since you’ve been to this blog a number of times before, I’ll approve and respond to your comment.

      I am well aware that the doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) is more complex than what I have presented here. There are whole libraries full of books by Protestant theologians and teachers defending it.

      And if you find faith alone useful for your spiritual life, I have no desire to debate it with you.

      However, I stand by my statements in the article as an accurate, if simplified, understanding of the real meaning and effect of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

      It is simply too easy for people who believe in faith alone to think that it’s unimportant how they live, as long as they’re “saved.” Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible Belt has met far too many “Christians” who are terrible people, and yet think that it doesn’t matter what they’re like as a person because they’re “saved by their faith in Jesus.”

      You can’t lie, cheat, steal, slander, gossip, and secretly frequent prostitutes, and then turn around and claim to be “saved by faith.” You can’t disobey the Lord’s commandment to repent from your sins, and then turn around and claim that the Lord has saved you.

      And yet, millions of “faith alone” Christians do this every day, and think that they’ll be saved and go to heaven even though they make no effort at all to repent of their sins as Jesus and all of his disciples taught. This is an illusion and a rejection of the Bible’s plain message.

      Even among people who believe in faith alone, it is still how they live, and whether they follow the Lord’s commandment to love God above all and love their neighbor as themselves, that will determine whether they go to heaven or to hell.

      No one is saved by faith alone.

      Everyone who is saved is saved because they both believe in the Lord and follow the commandments of the Lord in their lives. This is the plain teaching of the Bible, and it appears throughout the entire Bible, Old Testament and New.

      Yes, salvation is the free gift of God, given purely out of God’s love, and not because we deserve it in any way. However, those who refuse to both believe and follow the Lord’s commandments have rejected that gift, and rejected the Lord, and therefore cannot be saved.

      In short, while holding to the doctrine of sola fide intellectually will not send a person to hell, it remains ineffective for salvation.

      As James said, faith without works is dead, and we are justified by our works, and not by faith alone (James 2:17, 24). This is the only clear statement that the Bible makes about faith alone, and I believe that it is true.

      It is disbelieving the Bible to avoid the fact that in the one and only place in the Bible where faith alone is mentioned, it is specifically rejected as saving.

      Meanwhile, as mentioned in the article, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is very clear about who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. He says in words that cannot be misunderstood or mistaken by any clear-minded person that our eternal fate is based on what we do, and not just on what we believe.

      It is very unfortunate that Luther, Calvin, and other key Protestant theologians established a non-Biblical doctrine as the foundation of Protestantism, leading millions to believe in something that is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching, and to consistently misread and misunderstand the Bible due to the powerful persuasive effect that doctrine has acquired in Protestantism.

      However, it is still a fundamental error that contradicts the plain teachings of the Bible–and it has led far too many people astray.

      I look forward to the day when this false doctrine has been altogether rooted out of Christianity.

      This is already beginning to happen. For example, the Christus Victor view of atonement, which held sway for the first thousand years of Christianity, is making more and more inroads with Protestant leaders and believers since Gustaf Aulén’s book about it was published in 1931. This, I think, is happening under God’s providence as Christianity is being renovated and raised up to its true glory.

  3. What about Ephesians 2:8-9.
    “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, not of works lest any man should boast.”
    It’s my belief that these seemingly contradictory verses and perspectives are included because we all need to relate to God in a different way. I wouldn’t want to restrict that.
    Blessings on your journey.

    • Lee says:

      Hi sacredstruggler,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. I do speak about Ephesians 2:8-9 in the article. As is clear from the context, even here Paul was talking about people who are proud because they scrupulously follow the ritual laws given in the Hebrew Torah, or Law. (Edit: I have since written an entire article about these verses and their context: “Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8–9 Teach Faith Alone?”)

      However, I do agree with you that the Bible says many seemingly contradictory things because it has to reach many people of many different mindsets, cultures, and stages of life. What reaches one person will not reach another. And the Bible’s main purpose is not so much to teach doctrine as it is to move us to change our lives from evil to good through God’s power, so that we are no longer bound for hell, but headed toward heaven.

      It should also be said that doing good works in order to earn heaven does not work either. We are to do good works, not because by them we earn or merit heaven, but simply because God commands us to. And if we disobey God’s commandments, we have rejected both God and the salvation that God offers us.

      This is what Jesus was talking about in the Parable of the Unworthy Servant:

      Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:7-10)

      We do not merit salvation by our good works, and there is no cause for boasting in them. In fact, boasting destroys them because it means we are stealing credit from God. It is not we, but God in us, who does the good works. As Jesus said:

      I am the vine; you are the branches. . . . apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

      Plus, of course, we should do good works because we actually care about people, and are moved from the heart to engage in acts of service and kindness toward them. That is the love of God working in our heart and through our hands.

      • Rich Pope says:


        The Hebrew word Torah does not translate into “law”. It actually means instructions and those instructions in the Torah are only mean for the Jewish People. Gentiles are bound by the 7 Noachide Laws which Paul alludes to in his writings. Gentiles are not allowed to keep Passover and we are not allowed to keep Shabbos.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          First, just so you know, I deleted your first round of comments because instead of using the regular comment area at the end, you “jumped the line” by replying to the first comment, which is contrary to our comments policy. I’ll start replying to you here, since this is the first comment you posted in response to one of mine.

          The Hebrew word תּוֹרָה (towrah) does indeed mean “law” as well as “instruction, direction” and so on, as you can see by following the link to its definition.

          The traditional Protestant King James Version always translates the Hebrew towrah as “law.” Other translations sometimes use other translations such as “instructions.” It can refer to various things, including:

          • The Ten Commandments
          • The ritual and sacrificial law of Moses that Jews were (and are) required to observe
          • The first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, known as the Torah or Pentateuch
          • The entire Hebrew Bible
          • By extension, the entire Christian Bible

          These are arranged from the narrowest to the broadest meanings of “the law” as it is used in the Bible. The fact that the law consists of instructions doesn’t negate the basic meaning of towrah as “law.”

          In the New Testament, the word νόμος (nomos), which the KJV also always translates as “law,” refers to the same thing. The Greek word nomos is what the Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew word towrah. From there nomos came to be the regular word for towrah, “law,” in the Gospels and the Epistles.

          About your main point, when “the law” is used in its meaning the provisions of the Law of Moses regarding rituals, sacrifices, purifications, and so on, yes, that is meant only for the Jewish people. This was what Paul was talking about when he said in various places that we are saved by faith without the works of the law. He was referring specifically to the law of “circumcision,” meaning the ritual and ceremonial laws that Jews were (and are) required to observe as found throughout the Pentateuch, or Law of Moses.

          For more on this specifically in relation to the quote from Ephesians that you first posted here, please see this article:
          Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?

    • Ephesians 2:8-9. This is one of the most misused Scriptures by Protestants to try and prove salvation by faith alone.If people would take the time to really read the Bible they would see that there is no way that man can be saved by faith alone.There is more to faith than just being alone.One has to be obedient to God by obeying his commandments (John 14:15).
      Hear,Believe,Repent,Confess,Be baptized,Remain faithful until death.

      • Scholars who study the bible their entire lives come to different conclusions. I would call it arrogance and or ignorance to think that one conclusion alone has been arrived at with due diligence.
        It’s my opinion that that is how the Holy Spirit works. Some people need different things from their faith, dissonance prevents isolation from God. Though why God didn’t make it unarguably clear, I have no idea.
        Thanks for your comment and interest.

        • Lee says:

          Hi sacredstruggler,

          Thanks for your comment. I think you answered your own question: different people need different things for their faith. What works for some people doesn’t work for others. Though the basics seem clear enough to me, God leaves many things open to interpretation in order to reach a whole range of different people who have different needs for their spiritual life and journey.

        • I wasn’t aware I had a question but thank you. I simply repeated here what I said the first though. What I was doing was responding to a follow up comment by someone else.

        • Lee says:

          Hi sacredstruggler,

          Yes, you’re right, it wasn’t really a question. I was responding to, “Though why God didn’t make it unarguably clear, I have no idea.” At any rate, thanks for your thoughts!

        • Oh aha! Yes, that is how I answer the question for myself. I wonder because God must have known all our ‘I know better than you’ arguments would happen, why not find a better way, but alas, this might be the very best way we dealt with it out of all the possibilities. Anywho. Interesting subject all around.

        • I also wrote on it a few times. Though recently I’ve gotten away from theological writing.

  4. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Bravo. If I may add something: Thomas REFUSED TO BELIEVE until he was shown Jesus and his wounds. So is Thomas presently burning in Hell?

    I think fundamentalism has become a convenient ideology for many people who have wasted their lives with drugs, crime, greed, or just plain laziness. All they have to do is make an altar call and all of that goes away. Some of them even CONTINUE doing it after the altar call, secure in their salvation by their “faith.” Some people have lead such lousy lives that they can’t bear the thought of being held accountable for their WORKS (or lack thereof). I’d rather spend time with a loving moral atheist than a judgmental blockhead fundamentalist.

    • Lou says:

      Lee –super article and I hope readers send this to others to help this critical message spread. Even some leaders in the Catholic church seem to be inching to Faith Alone and when they correctly speak of Sanctification they lump salvation in with all sorts of devotional works thereby diluting its importance.

      I hope you can write a follow up to this explaining in more detail the crucial role of following, in both “thoughts” and actions, the Ten Commandments and their “Deeper Meanings” as a prerequisite to good (spiritual”) works. For myself this came first (after accepting Jesus Christ as Savior) and only after practicing true daily repentance did the Lord change me to be a good Father and Spouse, and an honest and sincere worker, and a better more active citizen. This part came almost automatically. Helping others came too but took more effort. (But being a true Christian in one’s vocation, is really absent today and Swedenborg shines in explaining this as critical to salvation.)

      One more thing I have attended many Evangelical Churches (mainly for their great worship sessions focusing on Jesus Christ) and many of them intuitively do good works because the Lord in his Divine Providence works in their spirit when the Pastor does talk about works but alas not in a salvation context. Swedenborg somewhere also mentions this point.

      Nevertheless there are those who take the Faith Alone message and live an un-Godly life. A recent story reported that 60% of male evangelicals are addicted to pornography and I know one Church that I partially attended the Pastor confirmed this — never realizing that his constant Faith Alone message was the main cause of this. Why not enjoy pornography ( a perverse enjoyment though) if you are still saved.

      It always amazed me that Faith Alone has taken such root in the Christian world where it makes zero spiritual sense — probably because it tickles one’s ears. Sin or hell is rarely mentioned in most pulpits today. This is why articles like this are so important and those who read Swedenborg, especially the leaders, should emphasize the true salvation doctrine more. If they do Swedenborg’s other revelations will spread since once you become “truly” Born Again everything else he says is easy to believe — God gives you this wisdom.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Lou,

        Thanks for your thoughts, and for your kind words. Apparently I’ve struck a chord with this post, or perhaps in some people’s minds hit a sour note, because it seems to be getting quite a bit of attention and reaction.

        I do want to be clear that believing in faith alone does not cause people to go to hell. Rather, the same standards apply whether someone does or doesn’t believe intellectually in faith alone. Those standards are that we will be saved if we believe in God and follow the Commandments, just as Jesus himself, all of the apostles, and indeed the entire Bible teaches.

        There are many Protestant Christians who believe that faith alone saves because that’s what their churches and their ministers teach them, and yet they also live good lives of love and service toward their neighbor. Even though their doctrinal beliefs are mistaken, they will still be saved because their real belief, as expressed in how they live, is that they must not only believe in Jesus but also love God and love their neighbor, just as Jesus taught.

        • Lou says:

          Well put Lee. I really want to “urge” people to send your article in a loving and gentle way to any Protestants, Evangelicals or even Catholics they know, especially to leaders and Pastors
          It is written using Scripture alone, especially Paul’s epistles and James so clearly that some open-minded Faith-Alone leaders may see this obvious truth. This is important in evangelizing the truth to our Protestant brothers and sisters in the Lord — to send it only to other Swedenborgians is good too but really is speaking to the choir.

          The Internet is a powerful tool to spread “True Christianity” and Lee’s ability to relate in his own words rather than Swedenborg only to me may be more of a conversion draw — later if they accept Faith combined with Sanctification and works it will be easier to accept the rest of Swedenborg’s brilliant theology, which for a newcomer some of the heavier Writings may be difficult.

          It is good that you struck a chord and those sour responses are to be expected since we are dealing here with salvation and heaven and hell — nothing is more important, but I guess some people want a free ride — hope they reconsider.

        • Mark says:

          Please explain explain Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9 for me then for it is by grace that we are saved through faith and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God and not of Works lest any man boast I don’t say that the Bible says that and your article says that the Bible doesn’t say that

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mark,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Ephesians 2:8–9 does not say that we are saved by faith alone. It’s all covered in this article, which I invite you to read:
          Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?

        • Ben Copeland says:

          Are Christians Righteous or Unrighteous? #askpastorjohn

          Righteousness is imputed and we are justified by faith in Jesus as the gateway for salvation (knowing God) and then by knowing Him and His love, free to practice righteousness in the peace of God (rather than fear of punishment) as the means to live in satisfying relationship with Him and others.

          A good unbelieving person then is like an adolescent wearing a school shirt without being an enrolled student in the ‘program of salvation’; Jesus is the ‘approval of registration’ and the qualifier that the academic work will actually count for credit.

          You cannot pass what you have not registered for despite the clear academic ability to do so. And the salvation program’s mandatory intro class is one that flops the whole perspective of righteousness on its head. Hence why it is necessary that Jesus is the ‘gate’: one must attain a strong foundation of God’s love and grace found only in Him or else their work in the program is built upon the crumbling mixture of their own self assurance (works and pride) rather than by faith (humility and dependent relationship).

          Now, who is in Christ and ‘registers’ and is approved? The one who passes the class. All working toward the same goal, Christ’s likeness, we pass or fail based on our willingness to engage in the classroom. Thankfully passing the class is easy with the Counselor, our Instructor who designs the individualized lesson plan based on our learning style and needs.

          A sad reality is both the one not enrolled who desires it (those ready and desirous to hear the gospel but have no access) and those enrolled but have fallen out of love with growing and have ditched the classroom and instruction for a temporary ‘holiday at the beach.’

          As it is appointed once for a man to die and face judgment, we ought to take seriously both the great commission as well as our relationship to the Head and other ‘classmates’, growing into the grace of God as we walk out our salvation with the fruits of the Spirit and ‘fear and trembling’ under the loving and wise hand of our Teacher, the Lord Jesus.

          Hebrews, Corinthians, Ephesians, Romans, and the Gospels, particularly the book of John.

          Hi again Lee, looks like I am still signed up to get emails under this thread.


        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          If you don’t want to receive the emails anymore, you’ll need to follow the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email. I don’t have any control over readers’ subscriptions from this end.

          As for the rest, it’s all the same old Protestant stuff that sounds sort of biblical, but isn’t actually in the Bible. Salvation is not an academic matter. It doesn’t require “enrollment” in a purely academic, unbiblical, human-originated, non-Christian philosophy such as this.

      • Donna Newby says:

        You say “It always amazed me that Faith Alone has taken such root in the Christian world where it makes zero spiritual sense”, why do you say this?

        Jesus paid the punishment for our sins, He has fully atoned for our sins. He said “it is finished.” He did what no human could do, make up for their sins. He was the only one who could take away the sins of the world. Therefore, if you believe that Jesus hasn’t paid for our sins in full, then essentially you are saying that He didn’t finish the job.

        I believe that Jesus paid for the punishment of my sins in full, and that there is nothing I can do to earn a place in heaven. I could not have dealt with my sins myself, that is why Jesus came in the first place, to do what we couldn’t do alone. To suggest in one way or another that we can add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, is to undermine what He actually achieved. If you are relying on works, even a little to get you to heaven, then you cannot have faith in Jesus’ work too. Faith is like trusting. You cannot trust what Jesus did on the cross will save you, so you can go to heaven, and at the same time say I’ll trust do a little bit of something good as well, because that will help me get to heaven. That’s showing that you don’t have 100% faith in Jesus, if you are adding to what He did.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Donna,

          You are talking about two different things: taking away sin, and paying the “punishment,” or penalty, for our sins. The Bible says one. It does not say the other.

          The Bible does say that Jesus came to take away the sins of the world. See John 1:29; 1 John 3:5.

          But the Bible never says that Jesus paid the penalty, or the punishment, for our sins. Please look very carefully throughout the entire Bible, and you simply won’t find that statement, because it is not there. I have had many Protestants quote passage after passage, but none of them actually says that. Look for yourself. The words “paid the penalty” just aren’t there.

          The idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins did not come from the Bible. It originated with the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, 1,500 years after the last books of the Bible were written. See the article on Penal Substitution in Wikipedia.

          So you are mistaken when you say that Jesus “paid the punishment for our sins.” That is not in the Bible.

          But the Bible does say that Jesus suffered for our sins, and takes away our sins. For more on the difference, please see my article: Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?

        • David Gray says:

          Hi Lee,

          Thanks for the thorough explanation of Swedenborg’s treatment of Paul and his letters. I think I may have asked you something similar before, but how does Swedenborgian theology treat the words “justified” and “justification” that appear in Paul’s letters (and also in Jesus statement about the tax collector who went home “justified.” We typically take this to mean “declared not guilty” or “restored to a righteous standing before God.” I have heard that some people interpret “justified” as “to make right.”


        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Yes, you did previously ask about justification in your comments on this post. I responded in this comment with a brief account of how Swedenborg understands justification.

          In general, Swedenborg does not subscribe to any sort of “quick fix” salvation where all of a sudden a person is an angel instead of a devil. Rather, he sees salvation as a process that takes place over our lifetime. Though there are certainly key points along the way, such as a conversion experience when we willingly accept Jesus into our lives for the first time, these key points are meaningless without the follow-through of a process of becoming a changed and new person. And that, says Swedenborg, can take place only over time.

          So “justification,” for Swedenborg, is a matter of no longer living from the self-centered and greedy motives and desires that we are born with, and living more and more from love for God and love for the neighbor instead. This we do day by day as we stop ourselves from acting on our lower impulses, and make conscious decisions to act upon our higher beliefs and ideals instead.

          In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, the tax collector went away justified because rather than “praying” in a self-aggrandizing and hypocritical way as the Pharisee did, he humbly admitted that he was a sinner, and asked for God’s mercy. By humbling himself before God, he expressed his willingness to admit to his sins. And of course, his justification would depend on his follow-through in repenting from those sins as well—which means no longer doing them, but living righteously instead.

          By contrast, the Pharisee believed that he was already righteous, that he had no sin, and no need for repentance. So he went away not justified because in fact he was full of pride and self-congratulation, and looked down on others in comparison to himself. In that state of mind, he would never repent because he didn’t believe he had anything to repent from. And that means he would continue to be a self-centered person who treated others with contempt rather than loving his neighbor as much as he loved himself, as Jesus commanded.

          In short, from both a Biblical and a Swedenborgian perspective, justification is not something that magically happens when we believe in Jesus, instantly changing us from damned to saved. Rather, it is a real process of recognizing that we are sinners, repenting, calling on the Lord, ceasing our evil actions, putting away our evil thoughts and desires, and replacing them with an active life of love for God and love for the neighbor.

          This is the only way we can be justified, because this is the only way we stop being devils, and become “new creations in Christ” instead (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

          I hope this helps.

        • Rich Pope says:

          The book of Ezekiel makes it very clear that a person cannot die for the sins of another person. The person who sins, dies in their sins. Also, animal sacrifices were for unintentional sins. If you sinned knowing it was a sin in the first place, there is no animal sacrifice you could bring and the Greek writings say a person who sins knowing it is wrong before he sins, for him there is NO atonement. “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rich,

          There is at least one case under Old Testament law in which an animal sacrifice was to be offered for an intentional, or knowing, sin:

          If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity. (Leviticus 5:1)

          After this several unintentional offenses are listed (literally, offenses that “are hidden” from the offender, meaning offenses the offender is unaware of having committed), and then a guilt offering (not a “penalty for sin” as very badly translated in some of the more modern versions) is prescribed to be offered to the Lord.

          But in general, yes, people who sinned willfully could not atone for their sin by a sacrifice, but were subject to various severe penalties, most often the death penalty, under the Law of Moses.

          However, New Testament law is nowhere near as harsh as Old Testament law regarding sins. The New Testament extends God’s forgiveness to all people if they are willing to repent from their sins and no longer commit them. This more merciful treatment of sin for those willing to repent is foreshadowed in Ezekiel 18, as covered in this article:
          Ezekiel 18: God’s Message of Hope . . . If You Think there’s No Hope for You

          And yes, the book of Ezekiel, as well as many other places in the Bible, make it clear that one person cannot absolve another person of that person’s sins by dying or paying any other prescribed penalty for the other person’s sin. This is why the Protestant notion of penal substitution is utterly false and unbiblical. See:
          The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comment.

      In defense of Thomas, at least he did believe once he saw. In fact, he gave one of the strongest statements of faith in Jesus as God in the New Testament when he called Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Still, I get your point. 😉

      And yes, that is my primary practical problem with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Even though officially it is against that doctrine to believe in Jesus and live an evil life, in reality that’s exactly what many people who subscribe to it do.

      It’s as if God were a boss at work who said, “Okay, for this job you have to have faith and you have to live by the commandments. But I’m only going to pay you to have faith. You won’t get any pay for living by the commandments.”

      What would most workers do in that case? They’d go all out in having faith, but they’d live by the commandments only if it’s convenient and not too distasteful.

      Those who believe what the Bible actually says, which is that you must both believe and live by the commandments to get “paid” (meaning to be saved and go to heaven) will at least have no excuse for “believing” but living evil and sinful lives.

      Yes, it’s true that salvation is a actually free gift from God. But just because it’s free, that doesn’t mean everyone will accept it.

      Let’s be realistic. Baby Christians are going to do what they figure will get them the most bang for their buck. And if their church tells them that believing in Jesus is it, that’s what they’ll do–and not much more. Path of least resistance. You can talk till you’re blue about good works being the fruits of faith, but they’ll pay attention to what is supposed to get them inside the door of heaven, and ignore all the fringe benefits.

    • There is no altar call required for salvation that is Old Testament law. Thomas went to heaven His faith was in God, but He did not believe that Christ had come back from the dead.You need to understand that a Christian need only to repent a sin to make it right with God.

    • Ally says:

      When I was in my late teens I used to go to a church youth group who preached that faith alone was the only way to get salvation, I have always been very frightened by this because I was told this when I was very impressnable. I think that the most important thing to do as a follower and student of Christ is to help others either by being for them in person or praying for them whatever the situation maybe the real essence of Christianity is humanitarian behaviour and allowing God to mould you over time to be a follower of Christ

      • Lee says:

        Hi Ally,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I agree 100% that a true follower of Christ is one who helps other people and engages in humanitarian behavior. I hope the articles here are helping you to exorcize those old ghosts of faith alone. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  5. bldion says:

    I saw the program about ‘Atheists in America’ and I support their right to believe what they want. I think the Bible is open to interpretation, and I have a hard time conceiving of an everlasting Hell. We are ALL going there no matter what we do or don’t do…if it exists. Because we may try and try to be Christian, but that is nigh impossible.

    I felt less angry, tense, afraid, and happier after watching this program on atheists. I am in a constant state of unrest and fear if I think about religion. It is not fair to bring it up and hit people over the head with it. I don’t mind churches (in fact, that is one of the key ‘signature notes’ of New England…little white churches on town greens, adding to the mystique and picturesque vision of this part of the country).

    But constant reminders of God, Jesus, angels, and Hell are dispiriting and remind me of aggressive sales approaches…the more you have to preach something (force it actually) the less you tend to believe it yourself. Which makes you a horrific control freak.

    Tell me about religion when priests stop raping kids. And grow up.

    By the way: the worst people I have ever known are people who go to church.

    • Lee says:

      Hi bldion,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Those are strong words, but clearly spoken from a sincere heart.

      I do not think all religion can be tarred with the same brush. Unfortunately, the best things, when they become corrupted, become the worst things. A colleague of mine used to call this “the flip side principle.”

      For example, marriage, when it is good, is a relationship in which the deepest human feelings of love can be expressed, and that can give us the us greatest bliss and joy of which we humans are capable. But when marriage goes bad, such as in an abusive relationship, it becomes the most horrendous and destructive relationship known to humankind.

      The same is true of religion. When it is good, it leads people to the most sublime, selfless, loving, and caring lives we humans are capable of living. But when it is corrupted, it leads to some of the worst and most destructive evils and abuses that we humans are capable of perpetrating.

      Rape and child molestation are evil no matter who does them. But when it is a priest or other religious leader who does it, the destruction is even worse. It not only destroys the victims and their family and friends emotionally, but also damages and destroys their faith in God and the church–which has spiritual consequences. It is a terrible abuse of the spiritual and social power entrusted to the clergy by the church and by society. Those who perpetrate such crimes under cover of the clerical collar will suffer all the more for their evils when their time of reckoning comes.

      And yet, there are also many good and sincere priests and religious leaders who truly care about the people they serve, who scrupulously avoid engaging in or giving cover to anything that would damage the people in their care, and who lead and guide people toward the love and understanding of God.

      Though it’s bound to happen, it’s really not fair to tar these good and sincere members of the clergy with the same brush that points out the terrible evils of corrupt clergy. I believe it is under God’s providence that churches and religious leaders who have perpetrated or given cover to rape and child molestation by the clergy are now being called to account for their actions here in this world–as they certainly will be in the next. Corruption must be rooted out of the church before it can bring God’s love and truth to the people without hypocrisy or deceit.

      About atheists, if you haven’t read it already, you might enjoy this post:
      Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

      I also agree that too much pushing and proselytizing often ends out turning people away from religion instead of attracting them to it. It’s a fine line to walk between spreading the good news and cramming it down people’s throats. Unfortunately, some churches have stepped way over that line.

  6. aflanders says:

    This philosophy was how I ended up going to the Fryeburg New Church camp. When I was 13 Mom got a job teaching in Stratton, Maine which had only two churches. A catholic church and a “union” church which turned out to be very strongly fundamentalist. We lived directly across the street so getting there was no problem. Mom, who was a universalist, chose not to go. The preacher told me that my mother was condemned to hell because she wouldn’t go down in front of the congregation and condemn her myriad sins. I begged and begged her. No luck. After that year was over, she wrote to the New Church which was my father’s church and asked for me to be able to get a scholarship to the camp since she didn’t want me so strongly influenced by that church. I got the scholarship, and liked the camp so much that I always made sure I earned enough money to go for the rest of my teen years.

  7. Glenn says:


    Your assertion (…you have misconstrued, misrepresented, and hopefully only misunderstood the entire doctrine of sola fide) implies that you yourself have a correct understanding of the doctrine of sola fide — otherwise how could you tell that that doctrine has been misconstrued and misrepresented? However, you have not substantiated your assertion. And it would be nice, and possibly educational, were you to do more than make an unsupported claim. Perhaps you’d be willing to say a few words on how that doctrine has been misrepresented, and maybe also a few words on how it is to be correctly understood.

  8. Paul Hierholzer says:

    “Tell me about religion when priests stop raping kids. And grow up.

    By the way: the worst people I have ever known are people who go to church.”

    bldion: I trust you found Lee’s reply helpful, but if I may add something… Yes, priests raping kids is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) reasons to be turned off by Catholic religion, or any religion, as was/is the Inquisition, the trial of Galileo, the execution of Giordano Bruno, etc, etc, etc. And then of course there are the Protestant poster boys for religious shame–the Jimmy Swaggarts, the Jim Bakkers, the Ted Haggards, and the Fred Phelps, etc, etc etc. You can find many more of these “reasons to avoid religion” on any “anti-religion” website. There have always been people like these, and there always will be. But in the end it’s about your own personal relationship with God, whom we Christians identify as Jesus Christ (though many of us accept that other people with whom we share this Earth do not identify Jesus that way). When I was angry with the Church and with God it was very easy to call up any of these reasons to justify my lack of religion, lack of faith and lack of commitment to God. The problem is, you will eventually encounter personal tragedy in your life: loss of a loved one, cancer, addiction, or maybe just a sense that you’re life is void of something that you yourself are completely unable to fill. God will speak to you through the tragedy, IF you allow him to, and your life will be transformed, IF you allow it to be. The other way to respond is with anger, bitterness, and more cynicism. (Trust me, the first way is better).

    We all need to find our own way with God, and eventually we all will, for better or for worse. I am the first to admit that religion places many obstacles in your way, but it provides many more resources than obstacles, just as it provides many more loving priests than pedophile priests.

    • Rich Pope says:

      The meanest people I’ve known are the people racing out of the church parking lot in order to get home in time for the football game or to make to a restaurant for breakfast before it gets too crowded.

  9. Rob says:

    I find it hard to believe that Paul in Romans chapter seven was talking about the ceremonial law. Do you really think he was expressing his dismay over not being able to keep just the ceremonial commands?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for your comments and questions.

      Paul’s argument in Romans 7 is somewhat convoluted. But yes, I do think he was talking about the ancient Jewish ritual and behavioral (not just ceremonial) law.

      In general, when Paul uses the word “law” (Greek nomos), he means the Torah or Law of Moses. Paul relied heavily on the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. In the Septuagint, the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew torah, (“law”) is nomos–the very same word Paul uses to talk about “the Law.”

      This is also the word that Jesus uses when he speaks of “the Law and the Prophets,” by which he means two of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible, or “Tanakh.” See, for example, Matthew 7:12.

      Paul’s argument in Romans 7 starts by referring to the general principle in the law that when a woman’s husband dies, she is free to remarry. This is not so much stated as assumed in the law of the Old Testament. See, for example, Deuteronomy 24:3; Deuteronomy 25:5.

      In Romans 7:6, Paul refers to “the old written code.” Then he quotes from the Torah in Romans 7:7. So it seems clear enough even within this chapter that when he uses the word “Law” he is referring to the Hebrew Torah, or Law of Moses.

      When we broaden the view to include the whole book, and all of Paul’s letters, it becomes abundantly clear that “Law” is a synonym for “Torah” in his writings.

      Paul’s whole argument was that we are no longer subject to the “old written code” of the Torah or Law, of the Old Testament, aka the Hebrew Bible.

  10. I totally enjoyed this but what about Romans 10:9-10, that talks about how one is saved and also about Acts 2:21,it doesn’t include goodworks first, goodworks normally comes in after one gets saved and from the way the article seems, salvation is not a one time thing? Can you say you are saved? if it is a process, what point would you get to and then say i am saved?what can you say about it?thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi uzzyphotography,

      Thanks for your comment and questions. Glad you enjoyed the article!

      Romans 10:9-10 reads:

      because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

      Acts 2:21 reads:

      Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

      Notice that Romans 10:9-10 doesn’t say “believe in your head” but “believe in your heart.”

      When Paul speaks of faith, he does not mean some intellectual belief that “God raised him [Jesus] from the dead.” Rather, he means belief in the heart. This is a belief that transforms us from the inside out. And if it is in the heart, it will include not only our words (“confessing with the mouth,” “calling on the name of the Lord”) but also our actions.

      It is clear that Paul includes our actions as well as our words in “faith” from what he says later in the chapter:

      But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:17, italics added)

      Here Paul equates obedience with belief. He’s saying that those who do not obey do not believe the message.

      And in the last verse of the chapter, referring to Jews (Israelites) who have not believed, he again refers to their disobedience:

      But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21)

      If faith did not include obedience with the hands as well as confession with the lips, these verses about obedience would be irrelevant.

      In short, Paul, like James, believed that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17). The confusion arises because Paul commonly uses the word “works” as shorthand for “the works of the Law” (i.e. obeying the law of Moses), whereas James uses the word “works” to mean doing good deeds for others.

      I’ll expand on the meaning of faith–that it is not mere intellectual belief–in an upcoming post.

  11. Rob says:

    What about the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector? Jesus said the tax-collector who simply asked for mercy went home justified. Was this simply a chance for him to straighten up and begin to do good works? Isn’t that what the Pharisee was doing already?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Here is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14:

      To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

      “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

      “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

      This is a story of a man proud and boasting because he scrupulously obeys the ritual and behavioral law set down in the Torah, or Law of Moses (fasting, tithing, and so on). Outwardly he appears righteous, but inwardly he gives the glory to himself instead of to God.

      This story is a perfect example of what Paul really was talking about when he said that “a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28), and what he meant when he said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

      Paul, who himself had been a Pharisee (see Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:4-6), was steeped in “the works prescribed by the Law,” meaning scrupulously obeying the ritual and behavioral commandments in the Law of Moses. He had considered himself ultra-righteous and justified before God, and therefore better than other people, in a way perfectly epitomized by the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. Paul’s writings should be read with this parable of Jesus in mind in order to keep it clear in our minds what sort of “works,” and “boasting” based on them, Paul had in mind.

      At the heart of Jesus’ message was the idea that mere external observance of laws of ritual, social etiquette, and propriety do not save a person. Rather, it is what is, or is not, in the heart that saves or condemns a person. If “good works” are done from a proud and boastful heart, they are not really good works, but works done for self-aggrandizement.

      In the heart of the tax collector in the parable was the recognition that he was a sinner. That is the starting point of the repentance that Jesus and his disciples preached as essential to Christian faith, life, and salvation.

      Without repentance, there is no salvation. And repentance means recognizing that our desires, thoughts, and actions are evil and false, and committing ourselves to ceasing those evil and false desires, thoughts, and actions, and beginning a new life of obedience to the heart of the Law, which is the law of love: loving God above all, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40).

  12. Lee says:

    To a reader named Dan:

    If you want to know why I am not approving your comments, please see our Comments policy. I also do not accept comments that plagiarize whole articles from other websites.

    If my readers want long arguments as to why James does not mean exactly what he says when he writes:

    So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:17),


    You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24),

    they are perfectly capable of googling it and finding massive volumes of faith-alone Christians justifying their anti-Bible position with massive volumes of words all trying to show that James did not mean what he said.

    Since the whole effort of these articles is to contradict the plain words of Scripture, I give them no credence.

    The fact remains:

    In the one place in the entire Bible that mentions “faith alone,” it is specifically rejected as saving.

    No Christian should listen to human arguments that contradict the plain words of the Bible on this subject.

    If the Bible says that “a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone,” a Christian should humbly accept that plain teaching of the Bible.

    A Christian should not write whole volumes of material arguing against and trying to disprove the one and only plain statement of the Bible about salvation by faith alone.

    Nowhere in the entire Bible does it say that faith alone saves.

    Not a single person in the Bible says that faith alone saves.

    • Jesus does not say it.
    • Peter does not say it.
    • James does not say it.
    • John does not say it.
    • Paul does not say it.

    And no other writer in the entire Bible says that faith alone saves, either.

    Yet this non-Biblical doctrine has become the foundation stone of the entire Protestant wing of Christianity.

    If the Bible–and God, it’s ultimate author–had wanted to say that faith alone saves, then in at least one place in the Bible, if not many places in the Bible, it would have said, “Faith alone saves.”

    But it never does.

    Jesus and his Apostles were very articulate. They had a good vocabulary. If they had wanted to say “faith alone saves,” they were perfectly capable of doing so.

    But they never do.

    This is not a mistake on God’s part.

    It is not a mistake on the Bible’s part.

    The Bible does not say that faith alone saves because faith alone does not save.

    The doctrine of salvation by faith alone does not come from the Bible.

    Instead, it comes from Luther, and from Calvin, Melanchthon, and all of the other Protestant theologians who adopted it from him.

    It is only in the Protestant churches founded by these men that a belief in salvation by faith alone reigns. The remaining 80% of Christianity rejects this human-made doctrine. And before Luther, no Christian church or denomination taught salvation by faith alone, and no good Christian believed that faith alone saves.

    The articles you have been copying here are all trying to prove that the Bible does not mean exactly what it says when it says that we are justified by works and not by faith alone.

    There is no need to engage in such strenuous and spectacular efforts to avoid the plain teachings of the Bible.

    There are hundreds and thousands of passages in the Bible saying that those who do not do good works, but do evil ones, will not be saved, but will go to death, destruction, and hell.

    Yet faith-alone believers ignore all of those passages, continually quote the passages that talk about faith, and write long articles rejecting and arguing against the plain teachings of Jesus, James, John, Peter, and Paul, who all say that those who do evil will go to hell, while those who do good will go to heaven.

    Martin Luther tried to get the epistle of James removed from the Bible because it rejects the doctrine of salvation by faith alone that Luther was trying to establish as the cornerstone of Christianity. Luther thought that his human teaching should supersede the Bible.

    Faith-alone believers do not understand Paul’s teachings at all.

    They read Paul’s writings through a thick lens of faith-alone belief, which Paul himself rejected in various passages in which he says that those who do evil will go to eternal damnation, while those who do good will go to eternal life.

    When Paul said, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the Law” (Romans 3:28), and all the other places where he talks about faith apart from the Law, or apart from “works” (by which he meant the same thing), he is not talking about faith without doing good works. He is talking about not adhering to the “works” of the Law of Moses as an observant Jew. He is saying that Christians do not have to follow the old legal code of circumcision, sacrifice, ritual cleansing, and so on commanded in the Torah, or Law, of the Hebrew Bible.

    Paul’s meaning was well-understood in the early days of Christianity. Paul’s (and Peter’s) position prevailed in the early Christian Church. It became well-established among Christian believers that it was not necessary to obey the ancient Jewish ritual and behavioral code.

    But 1,500 years later, when this had long since become so well-established that Christians simply took it for granted, Protestant theologians came along and took Paul completely out of context, distorting everything he wrote in order to establish a doctrine that the Bible rejects in language as plain as day.

    It is true that Paul and James agree with one another.

    They agree with one another because both of them teach what Jesus himself taught: that we must believe in Jesus, repent of our evil deeds, and do good deeds instead if we wish to spend eternity in heaven instead of in hell.

    Paul could not be any plainer on this than he is in Romans 2:1-16.

    Paul emphasizes faith, James emphasizes deeds, John emphasizes love. But all of them agree that love, faith, and deeds are all necessary for salvation. Paul even says that of the three virtues of faith, hope, and love, love, not faith, is the greatest.

    Paul did not teach faith alone.

    Much of the confusion about Paul arises because when Paul says “works,” he is usually using it as shorthand term for “the works of the Law” (of Moses), whereas when James says “works,” he is usually talking about good deeds.

    But both of them teach that good deeds are necessary for salvation–as you will see if you take off the human-made faith-alone blinders and read Romans from beginning to end, and the rest of Paul’s letters, too.

    The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, teaches that if we wish to be saved, we must believe in God (which, for Christians, means believing in Jesus), repent of our evil deeds, and live a life of love and service to our fellow human beings according to God’s commandments.

    No matter how hard you argue for it, I will not accept a faith-alone teaching that is not only not taught in the Bible, but is contrary to everything that is taught in the Bible.

    I will also not subject my readers to a flood of articles copied and pasted from other websites that my readers can easily find for themselves if they so desire.

    If you have something to say to me, at least say it yourself rather than copying and pasting articles that others have written. I’ve read those sorts of articles many times before. All of them reject the plain words of the Bible about faith alone, so I reject them.

    It is true that nothing we do earns us salvation. Our works do not earn us salvation. Our faith does not earn us salvation either. Salvation is a free gift from God, coming from God’s pure love (“grace” is another word for “love”) toward all of God’s creatures.

    However, if we do not follow the teachings of the Bible by believing in God (Jesus, for Christians), repenting of our sins, and beginning a new life of love and service to God and the neighbor, then we have rejected God’s free gift, rejected God, and rejected salvation. We cannot be saved if we reject what God has taught us, and are unwilling to live by the commandments that God has given us for our eternal welfare.

    There are so many anti-Bible falsities and fallacies in the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone that it would take volumes refute them all individually, and to show how every single one of them is contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible. They all stem from the fundamental falsity of salvation by faith alone.

    However, those who read the Bible as it really is, and not through the falsifying screen of Luther’s doctrine of salvation by faith alone, can see very clearly that the Bible everywhere teaches that we must have faith and do good deeds if we wish to be saved.

    This is God’s teaching and commandment. Unless we obey it, we cannot be saved, because we have rejected God’s free gift of salvation, and have rejected Jesus’ presence in our heart, mind, and life.

    If at any time you decide to follow the Bible instead of following Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon, then you, too, will be able to read the Bible with new eyes, and see what the Bible really teaches.

    I do hope and pray that one day your eyes will be opened so that you are able to read and understand what the Bible says.

    Unfortunately, as long as you are blinded by the false, non-Biblical, and anti-Biblical Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone, I could quote you thousands of passages from the Bible commanding us to cease to do evil and learn to do good if we wish to be saved, and you would still reject them and find a way to argue that they mean something other than their plain, simple meaning as written.

    I have no patience for such endless arguments against the Bible’s plain teaching. And I have no intention of spending many precious hours of many days refuting a continual flood of one fallacy after another based on a fundamentally false and anti-Biblical doctrine.

    If you reject the one passage in the entire Bible that speaks about faith alone, you will reject every statement in the Bible that contradicts the human doctrine that you have adopted and enthroned above all other doctrines.

    If you want to know who is saved and who is not, please read Jesus’ own words about it in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus could not teach us any more clearly that those who love their neighbor as he commanded, and do good deeds for their neighbor as he commanded, will go to eternal life, while those who do not do good deeds for their neighbor will go to eternal death.

    Whenever you are ready to accept the plain teachings of the Jesus, the Bible, and all of the Prophets and Apostles, then you and I can have a conversation.

    But as long as you reject the plain teachings of the Bible, and instead accept the human doctrines invented by Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and the whole crowd of Protestant theologians who believed in their doctrines instead of believing the Bible’s plain teaching, then it is a waste of both your time and mine to continue. You will not succeed in getting me to reject the plain teaching of the entire Bible in favor of doctrines hatched by human beings 1,500 years after the Bible was written.

    You are asking me to believe something that the Lord and the Bible reject. No matter how strenuously you defend the doctrines of Luther and Calvin, I will not “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition” (Mark 7:8), nor will I subject my readers to a flood of false and anti-Biblical teaching.

    • Paul Hierholzer says:

      Wow, that was good.

    • Richard Neer says:

      It’s true that everyone is entitled to their own ridiculous opinion, but it is your forum, and one meant for meaningful and prosperous presentation and discussion of theological interpretation based upon your core beliefs, rather than defiant banter against them.

      There are a plethora of non-structured open forum sites for the sole purpose of expressing one’s views and challenging others’, without any cohesive element or underlining pretense.

      I agree, this is not one of them.

  13. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Lee, you are well aware of the futility in trying to speak sense to fundamentalists. You well know that everything wrong with religion is contained in fundamentalism, weather it’s Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim fundamentalism. So why the article?

    • Richard Neer says:

      You will always have an article or two which ignites the passions in others, both in positive and negative points of view. Such is the nature of things…..

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Good question.

      These articles aren’t written for fundamentalists who are firmly lodged in their beliefs. As you say, it’s futile to try to talk sense into them. They actually think that their beliefs are in the Bible even when the Bible specifically denies those beliefs. And if they won’t listen to the Bible, why would they listen to me?

      (I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve deleted in which a fundamentalist says, “The Bible absolutely does say X,” and then proceeds to quote a whole raft of verses, none of which actually says X. I’ve occasionally let through some of the more benign ones as examples. When someone has adopted faith alone as their primary doctrine, all they see when they read the Bible is faith alone, even though it’s not actually there. Same for Jesus dying to pay the penalty for our sins, and so on.)

      Rather, these articles are written for non-fundamentalists, to help them deal conceptually with the continual barrage of fundamentalist beliefs that flows out into the media and into the public sphere, and crops up continually in people’s personal contact with fundamentalists and evangelicals.

      Incidentally, faith alone is not an exclusively fundamentalist belief. It is fairly general in the official doctrines of nearly all of the Protestant denominations. Many rank and file Protestants believe simply and innocently that being a Christian means believing in Jesus, not sinning, and doing good deeds for others. But their church’s official doctrine is usually faith alone, and it does sometimes get preached from their pulpits in one form or another.

      The reality is that most “fundamental” beliefs in traditional Christianity simply aren’t taught in the Bible. But their adherents proclaim loudly that “this is what the Bible teaches!”

      Many rational, humane, thinking people who do not know the Bible accept uncritically that the loud bellowing noise coming out of the fundamentalist camp actually does represent what the Bible says. And unfortunately, they often reject Christianity and the Bible on that basis. Many atheists think that fundamentalist Christianity is what Christianity is all about–and that is precisely the Christianity that they reject.

      These articles are designed to show interested and open-minded people that the Bible certainly does not teach such things as a Trinity of Persons, salvation by faith alone, Penal Substitution, and all manner of other human doctrines commonly claimed to be taught in the Bible.

      They’re also designed to help ordinary Janes and Joes deal mentally with their pesky fundamentalist neighbor or coworker who keeps trying to “save their soul” by getting them to believe things that are not in the Bible and that are contrary to basic common sense.

      Having said all that, fundamentalist and evangelical churches do have a major revolving door. There are people spiritually growing out of those churches all the time. When they’re ready, some of them may find the articles here and be helped in moving on toward a deeper, more spiritual, and more Christian view of Jesus Christ and of the Bible and its teachings.

      • Paul Hierholzer says:

        “Many rational, humane, thinking people who do not know the Bible accept uncritically that the loud bellowing noise coming out of the fundamentalist camp actually does represent what the Bible says. And unfortunately, they reject Christianity and the Bible on that basis. Many atheists think that fundamentalist Christianity is what Christianity is all about–and that is precisely the Christianity that they reject.”

        Yes Lee, that is exactly the issue–they turn most everyone off from Christianity that they come into contact with. Also, as a Christian, I’m seen in the same light as them. It’s embarrassing.

        Let me say I have found your articles helpful, and though I don’t agree with everything you write I must say I agree with most of it (all of it with regard to this particular issue)–keep going.

  14. Lee says:

    To the same reader named Dan:

    Saying over and over again that we are saved by faith alone does not make it true.

    And copying and pasting yet another article saying that James didn’t actually mean what he said does not make it true that James didn’t mean exactly what he said.

    James is perfectly capable of speaking for himself, without a bevy of Protestants doing their best to explain away the plain, obvious, exact meaning of his words exactly as he wrote them.

    James uses the same Greek word for “justify” in James 2:24 that Paul uses for “justify” in Romans 2:28. James and Paul are talking about the same thing: what saves us. They are talking about what causes us to go to heaven rather than to hell after we die.

    Paul tells us that this happens through faith in Jesus, not through observing the old Jewish ritual and behavioral law.

    James tells us that faith in Jesus means living by our faith, which is doing good works, or good deeds, for our neighbor.

    This is an entirely different thing than mere outward ritual observance of ancient Jewish behavioral codes–which is what Paul was saying was unnecessary for Christians who believe in Jesus to do.

    James and Paul agree with each other, and they agree with Jesus himself, who says that we must believe in him and keep his commandments if we wish to be saved.

    The fact remains that the Bible never says that we are saved by faith alone.

    You are not believing in the Bible when you say that faith alone saves.

    You are not following the Bible when you say that faith alone saves.

    Instead, you are believing in and following Martin Luther, who invented the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

    You are following a human doctrine rather than the teaching of the Bible.

    I strongly urge you to base your beliefs, your life, and your salvation on the Bible, and not on a teaching of Luther that is not stated anywhere in the Bible, and is contrary to the plain teaching of the entire Bible.

    I know it is difficult to give up ideas that have been strongly impressed on your mind by your pastors and religious teachers.

    But truth is more important than human doctrines and human tradition.

    The truth is that the Bible tells us we must have faith and do good works for our neighbor if we want to be saved. That’s what Jesus, Peter, James, John, Paul, and all of the other people in the Bible say.

    Read Ezekiel 18. It just can’t get any clearer than that. Those who do good will be saved. Those who do evil will die. And those who repent from their evil and do good instead will be saved.

    I could quote you many, many passages saying this. But I urge you to read the Bible for yourself.

    Start with Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God’s commandment and therefore were expelled from the Garden.

    Then Cain, who did not heed God’s warning to repent and master sin, but instead killed his brother Abel, and was sent away as a fugitive and a wanderer.

    Keep going through the Bible, and you will find that everyone who lived by the Lord’s commandments was blessed, and those who broke God’s commandments were condemned.

    This continues right into the New Testament, where Jesus tells people to live by the commandments, and especially by the two Great Commandments: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. He says that those who do good deeds for their neighbor will go to eternal life, while those who do not will go to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31-46).

    About Abraham, read James 2:20-24. There, James makes it clear that the faith that saved Abraham was not faith alone, but faith and works acting together. He does not disagree with Paul. Rather, he is explaining what Paul meant by “faith.”

    Faith does not mean mere belief with the head, nor does it mean mere profession with the lips.

    Faith means believing the truth so that we live by it. The beliefs that we live by are our true faith. Any beliefs that we don’t live by are not faith at all, but mere ideas in our head, with no substance and no reality.

    That will be the subject of my next article: “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”

    Please take off the faith-alone blinders that your Protestant religious teachers have put on you, and read the Bible for yourself. Then you will see that it everywhere teaches that we must believe in God, repent from our sins, and live a good life of love, service, and good deeds for our fellow human beings if we wish to be saved.

    This is the true Gospel of Jesus, which he taught in all four Gospels, and which is taught throughout the entire Bible. Do this and you will live.

  15. David Gray says:


    The faith versus works controversy causes so much frustration. Sometimes I feel as though Protestants and others are looking at different sides of the same coin. Evangelicals believe that faith saves us in the sense that our works are not good enough. Sure, one should follow the Ten Commandments, but for most of my life I have not followed them very well. Therefore, we are all in need of God’s forgiveness. We differentiate between “saving faith” and intellectual assent. The faith that saves is the one that produces the changed lifestyle. But following the ten commandments is not going to merit my salvation. We believe Jesus did that because we are incapable of it.

    As far as the “Numbers Don’t Look Good, how many Swedenborgians exist in the world today? Swedenborg lived hundreds of years ago, and yet there are only about 50,000 of you today? If Swedenborg’s writings are distinct a new revelation from God, why are there so few of you? God does not appear to be doing much to propagate this new revelation. I think that should give you pause. I do commend you for being consistent and working hard to spread your faith.


    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      I’ll respond to your second paragraph here, and to your first in response to your next comment.

      Of course, there is much talk among Swedenborgians about why our church is so small. And though it is annoying to us, it’s not a deal-breaker. After all, Swedenborg said that the new church that was now beginning would at first be among only a few before spreading to the many. When you consider the long timescales of human history, two or three hundred years isn’t all that much time. There’s a far longer future ahead of us. If the spread of the church takes longer than the faithful few might wish, that’s all in God’s hands.

      But more to the point, unlike traditional Christianity, which limits salvation to Christians, and often to one’s own denomination of Christians, Swedenborgians believe in no such limitation. We believe that all people who believe in God and live good lives according to the teachings of their religion are saved and go to heaven. So even if our worldwide numbers may only be about 50k (which is probably optimistic), we see God working in all of the religions and cultures of the world, bringing spiritual life to all people everywhere who are willing to receive it, and bringing them into God’s eternal heaven.

      So to the point I was making in the article, our beliefs about God and salvation don’t posit that the majority of the world’s population is going to hell.

      Beyond all that, even though the numbers in the institutional Swedenborgian church denominations are quite low, we see the world moving our direction in terms of beliefs and ideas.

      It would take too much time to go into that in detail. But just to give one example, it used to be universally believed among Christians that angels were a separate order of beings created directly by God. But today there is a widespread belief in humans becoming angels after we die. This can be traced back directly to Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell–as can many other changed views of heaven and the afterlife that are suffusing the wider society in contradiction to the teachings of traditional Christianity.

      So although the number of explicit believers in Swedenborg’s theology is quite small, the theology itself is spreading and growing broadly outside the confines of our little organization.

  16. David Gray says:

    My apologies, I missed part of your article above. It appears that you do agree with the concept of us not meriting salvation from our works. I shouldn’t respond to blog posts before lunch when I’m hungry 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      No problem. I’ll respond here to this comment and to the first paragraph of your previous comment, since they go together.

      It is clear from Paul’s teachings, and from the Gospels themselves, that doing good works in order to earn or “merit” heaven will not save a person.

      The confusion comes from thinking that this is the only, or even the main, reason we are to do good works.

      Nothing could be further from the truth.

      There are three reasons to do good works that have nothing to do with buying a stairway to heaven:

      1. Obedience: Because God commands us to
      2. Understanding: Because we know and understand that it is the right thing to do
      3. Love: Because we love God and our neighbor (as Jesus commanded), and want to do good things for them

      These are the real reasons we should do good works.

      If we refuse to do good works, we are not obeying God, we do not understand God’s truth, and we do not love God or our neighbor. In other words, we are utterly rejecting God’s presence in our life. And we cannot be saved if we utterly reject God’s presence in our life.

      You say:

      The faith that saves is the one that produces the changed lifestyle.

      Yes. But that is not faith alone. It is faith accompanied by good works–just as James taught.

      There are two big problems with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. One is that it is not taught in the Bible, and in fact is specifically rejected by the Bible.

      The other is that the very term “faith alone” is meaningless. Faith cannot exist without “charity” (to use the traditional term), or good works. For more on this, see the companion article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”

  17. David Gray says:

    i also wanted to thank you for your explanation above about how Paul is referring to the ritualistic works of the law when he says “not by works”. That was a new idea for me and definitely some food for thought.

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for all of your comments and questions, which I’ll do my best to dig through and respond to as needed.

      About this one, yes, the key to understanding “faith without the works of the Law” is to understand what Paul meant by “the Law” (as well as what he meant by “faith,” which is a separate conversation).

      From the text and its context, it is quite clear that by “the Law” he did not mean the Ten Commandments and good works in general, but rather the ritual laws and holiness codes of the Hebrew scriptures. His common use of the word “circumcision” is a dead giveaway that this was his meaning. And the teachings about Christ’s sacrifice superseding the Jewish sacrifices is a further clear indication that this is what Paul was talking about when he spoke of “the Law.”

  18. Kal El says:

    Lee just wanted you to know that we Latter Day Saints have your Back on this Salvation/Soteriological Grace – Faith – Works Doctrine !.

    In His Eternal Debt/Grace
    Kal El

  19. Maggie says:

    I was raised mostly in the a Protestant church, and now I’m part of a non-denominational campus ministry. What I’ve heard through both is that to truly have faith, you will obey God and do good works. If you do not live out your faith, then you never really had faith to begin with. That is how “faith alone” holds up. It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff. God tells you there’s a net at the bottom but you can’t see it. If you have faith, you jump. If you don’t jump but say you had faith that there was a net, you didn’t really. You can’t separate faith from works. Just like love is not just a feeling but an action. So is faith.

    But if salvation is absolutely dependent on how we live, could someone theoretically be saved when they are on their deathbed, even if they lived a poor life? I’d like to think they could. If they repented for their life and truly believed that God has the power to forgive.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Maggie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      I’ve read a lot of defenses of faith alone. But usually what they’re describing is not actually faith alone. If the faith is accompanied by works, it is not faith alone. Faith alone is . . . faith without anything else. That’s what “alone” means: by itself, with nothing else.

      I understand that Martin Luther promulgated a doctrine of faith alone, and that many Protestant churches followed his lead. But other than that, there is really no good reason to even use that term. It is specifically rejected by the Bible:

      You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

      I’ve also read a lot of very fancy doctrinal arguments by Protestants as to why James doesn’t really mean what he says in James 2:14-26. Some of them are quite ingenious. The Ringling Brothers acrobats have nothing on these incredible mental acrobatics!

      But the fact remains that in the one place where the words “faith alone” appear in the entire Bible, that doctrine is specifically rejected.

      How something that is directly and emphatically denied in the Bible can become a basic doctrine of an entire wing of the Christian church is really beyond me.

      Luther tried to get rid of the book of James. But you can’t jettison a book from the Bible because it denies the doctrine you are preaching. What takes precedence, Luther or the Bible? Can Luther really decide that the Bible is just plain wrong about faith alone? Why do people listen to him on this subject when he contradicts the plain teaching of the Bible? Is a human being infallible, so that we should listen to him instead of listening to the Bible? Is Luther the Protestant Pope?

      Can’t we just admit that Luther made a mistake about this doctrine, and get on with it? Luther said many very good things. But Luther is a human being, not God. And just like every other human being, he can make mistakes. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone was one of his mistakes.

      Why keep using this term that the Bible rejects?

      What you’re describing is not faith alone. It is faith together with works.

      Your example of jumping off a cliff because God tells you there’s a net at the bottom is not faith alone. If you actually jump, that is taking action based on your faith. So it is faith together with works. If you simply believed God, but didn’t take action based on that belief (which is the Biblical definition of faith alone), then as you say, that would not actually be faith. Just as you say, “You can’t separate faith from works.”

      Faith alone is faith separate from works. And I agree with you 100% that that simply isn’t faith.

      James also says:

      So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:17)


      Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. (James 2:26)

      A dead faith is not faith. It is dead, unreal, and worthless.

      I simply don’t see how the Bible could be any clearer. And what you’re describing agrees with what the Bible says here.

      So why keep calling it “faith alone,” when it is not faith alone, but faith together with works?

      • Maggie says:

        I think that the reason that good works is preached is for OUR benefit, rather than part of God’s decision in saving us. How could anything we ever do somehow make us good enough for eternal life? God knows our hearts, he doesn’t need physical evidence through our works. God knows the instant we ask for salvation whether we have true faith. Whether or not we do good works after, and obey God, is how WE know whether our faith is true, and whether the faith of others is true. God already knows. Works are not a requisite of salvation, but evidence of salvation. Are you working to be saved, or are you working because you are saved? If we are saved by good works, God must have some kind of system. Some works are better than others and we have to do enough good works to balance out our sin. To say that good works save us is to say that all of our sins, past, present, and future are not really cleansed by Jesus, since NOT doing a good work is a sin. If we are justified by our works, then we must also be condemned by our works, and the Gospels tell us the opposite.

        2 Corinthians 17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” I believe that salvation is a transformative moment, when the Holy Spirit is in us. The reason that we can do good works in the name of the Lord is because we have already been transformed by him.

        Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”

        Acts 13: 38-39 “Let it be know to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Maggie,

      About deathbed repentance, it really all depends on what the person does next, after death.

      My suspicion is that most people who “repent” on their deathbed are simply afraid. They are speaking from fear, and not from real repentance.

      Repentance must be followed by action. If someone who had lived an evil life, on his or her deathbed truly realized that his or her life had been evil and wrong, and truly desired to change that life, then after death that person would actually stop living the evil life, and live a good life instead.

      But according to Swedenborg, what usually happens instead is that once they’ve died, and realize they’re still alive and are not roasting in hell, they go right back to the same evil ways as before. They had not actually repented at all. They are same selfish and evil person as before. Their “repentance” was just about saving their own skin.

      So while deathbed repentance is theoretically possible, in practice I believe it is rarely sincere. It is simply the person’s fear speaking. And fear is not a good basis for faith.

      My advice: Don’t wait till you’re on your deathbed to repent. Do it now! That’s the only way you can be sure it will stick.

      • Paul Hierholzer says:

        You’re right on Lee, as usual. My fundamentalist friend says, “Well, if you don’t manifest your faith by doing good, then you’re not really saved, but it’s not doing the good that saves you, it’s the faith.” Isn’t that silly?

        As for the deathbed repentance, of course you’re right, they’re afraid. But this opens up a whole new issue/issues. If as you say, they go back to being evil after they’re dead,

        1) What happens to them then? (I suspect the answer is in Swedenborg’s writings, which I haven’t found time to read yet, so please tell me).

        2) This is a bit off topic, but It speaks to the nature of evil. It seems some people are just evil. (Hitler is usually the archetype in a discussion such as this). So if Hitler had repented and was sincere, like Paul repented from killing Christians, he would have been forgiven. That’s difficult to believe, and I’m sure it’s not that simple, but that’s what Christianity teaches. But this is my point, Hitler would never have repented. He was a sociopath. Sociopaths have no conscience. They are essentially incapable of repentance. I believe that some people are just evil. End of story. Why God would create such people, I do not understand. Yes, of course we are taught that we have “free will” and the ability to CHOOSE how we are going to live, but I don’t believe a sociopath can choose not to be evil. He’s just evil. End of story. iT BEGS THE QUESTION, “How can he be held accountable?” Clearly, some people are not given the grace to have faith and/or live virtuous lives. I suppose some would say they ARE given the grace, and they CHOOSE not to receive it. I don’t think so. I think they are UNABLE to receive it because they are just plain evil. I guess that supports predestination. So what do you think?

        • David Gray says:

          Well, if you don’t manifest your faith by doing good, then you’re not really saved, but it’s not doing the good that saves you, it’s the faith.” Isn’t that silly?
          Hey Paul. I come from a fundamentalist background, so I understand your objection. The faith/works thing is such a frustrating concept. I think we all agree that a faith that does not produce a changed life is not real or “saving” faith. My thoughts are that there are many passages in the bible that suggest that salvation, at least some aspect of it, occurs in an instant. Paul uses the word justification. We Protestants understand justification to mean that you are forgiven your all your sins — past, present, and future and you are credited with the righteousness of Christ and given the Holy Spirit. This occurs in an instant when you “trust Christ.” Galations 3:6″ Consider Abraham, He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Jesus says to several people, “Your sins are FORGIVEN.” Your FAITH has SAVED you. Notice the past tense used in these verses. The thief on the cross, who presumably was not living righteously, expresses remorse and a simple trust in Jesus, and Jesus assures him that he will be in paradise, before he does any good works. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul talks about believers being sealed with the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing what is to come. Again, this alludes to being saved in in instant. Thus, given these passages, I think it is possible that faith can save you in an instant. We evangelicals see the gospels as this offer of forgiveness. As Paul writes, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Having to earn your way to Heaven with good works is not really good news. Paul mentions being saved by faith so many times. If “being saved by faith” means being the best person you can be, I don’t see why Paul would talk about faith so much. Why not just say, “Be a good person and you will be saved”? Just some food for thought. Have a great day!

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          I realize you were talking to Paul, but I hope you don’t mind if I butt in and offer a response or two.

          I’m glad you said that there are many passages in the Bible that suggest that at least some aspect of salvation happens in an instant. Because I’m not aware of any Bible passage that actually says that salvation happens in an instant.

          I would say, rather, that conversion may happen at a particular instant in time, but salvation is a deeper and more long-term process. Conversion is about turning around. Before conversion, we are facing toward hell, and moving toward hell. After conversion we are facing toward heaven, and moving toward heaven. But we may still be moving from a very hellish place. And there may still be much work to do before we actually reach and live a saved life.

          Even before our conversion, God is working in our heart. As I said to Paul in another comment, I don’t believe that the thief on the cross just suddenly had a complete change of mind. I think he’d been considering these things beforehand, and was ready to accept Jesus’ words of salvation. The other thief, meanwhile, was not at all ready, and went to his death mocking Jesus and his words of salvation.

          Also, please put out of you mind the idea that we earn salvation by our good works. This was Jesus’ point in the parable of the unprofitable servant:

          “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

          We don’t do good works in order to merit, deserve, or earn heaven. We do them because our Master in heaven commands us to do them. We do them simply because it is our duty. All the merit still belongs to Jesus Christ, who both commands us to do them and gives us the ability to do them.

          So please don’t think you or anyone else would gain any credit or merit by doing good works. This is a common mistake that causes people to jump to the anti-Biblical doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

          On the other hand, if we refuse to do what our Master commands us to do, how can we be saved? If we are disobedient servants, and do not follow the teachings and commandments of Jesus, will we really be ushered into heaven? Obviously not.

          We do good works because we are commanded to do them by the Lord God Jesus Christ. And as we grow spiritually, we do them because we know it is the right thing to do, and because we love God and our fellow human beings, just as the Lord taught us in the two Great Commandments.

        • David Gray says:

          Hi Lee,

          Thanks for your message above. I’m curious, how does Swedenborgian theology treat the word justification that Paul uses? The fundamentalist pastor who originally taught me explained that justification is being declared not guilty before God and sanctification is the process by which God makes you holy. In other words, according to evangelical theology, we are declared not guilty instantly (justification) but the process of being made holy occurs for the remainder of our lives (sanctification). It would seem from what I understand of your theology that justification is not necessary since God has already forgiven us everything whereas in our theology, we are still under a guilty sentence until we “accept Christ.”


        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          It helps to understand that unlike Protestant theology, which is based primarily on the letters of Paul, Swedenborg’s theology draws most heavily on the Gospels and the Lord’s own teachings in the Gospels. Swedenborg simply doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on Paul’s teachings. So instead of focusing on justification, sanctification, and so on, Swedenborg focuses on regeneration, which is another word for being born again. That is Jesus’ own teaching about how we stop being evil people headed for hell, and instead become good people headed toward heaven.

          And according to Swedenborg, being born again, or regenerating, is a lifelong process. It would be more like the process of sanctification that your pastor talked about than like his concept of justification, which Swedenborg rejected.

          First of all, as you surmise, justification of that sort is unnecessary because God does not hold us guilty or condemn us for our sins anyway. So there is no need for God to declare us not guilty. And God has already forgiven us for our sins before we commit them. So there is no need for God to forgive us.

          What is needed, instead, is for us to stop being guilty by no longer committing sins, and to accept God’s forgiveness by believing in the Lord and living by the Lord’s teachings. If we don’t do that, we will reject God’s forgiveness, and make ourselves guilty of sin.

          About justification specifically, here is a very brief statement by Swedenborg about what really justifies us:

          People who have been purified from the loves of self and of the world, both people within the [Christian] church and those outside the church, are justified by the Lord. (Arcana Coelestia #2114)

          By “love of self” Swedenborg means all kinds of selfishness and selfish desires, but especially the desire to have power over others, dominate them, and have them serve us and obey our every wish and command. By “love of the world” Swedenborg means materialism, greed, and a desire for material possessions and pleasures for their own sake.

          However, that statement is a very simplified version. The reality is much more complex. Here are two fairly long quotes from Swedenborg (with apologies for the somewhat old-fashioned translation) that provide more detail:

          Those who belong to the [Christian] Church at the present day know so little about regeneration as to know virtually nothing at all about it. They do not even know that regeneration is a process that takes place throughout the whole course of the life of someone who is being regenerated and continues in the next life. Nor do they know that the arcana [secrets] of regeneration are so countless that hardly the smallest fraction can be known even by angels, or that those which angels do know are what constitute the intelligence and wisdom they possess. Those belonging to the Church at the present day know so little about regeneration because they talk so much about the forgiveness of sins and justification, believing that sins can be forgiven instantaneously. Some believe that sins are washed away like dirt from the body by the use of water, and that a person is justified or made righteous by means of faith alone, that is, by means of trust of only a moment’s duration. The reason people within the Church believe the way they do is that they do not know what sin or evil is. If they did possess such knowledge they would know that no one’s sins can by any means at all be washed away, but that these are separated or cast away to the sides to prevent them from rising up, when the Lord maintains the presence of good within that person. They would also know that this cannot be accomplished unless evil is being cast out all the time, which is done by means that are numerically without limit and for the most part beyond description.

          In the next life people who have brought with them the notion that a person is made righteous by faith in an instant and completely cleansed from sins are dumbfounded when they learn that regeneration is effected by means that are numerically without limit and beyond description. They laugh at their own ignorance, which they also call madness, that is, at the ideas they held to in the world regarding instantaneous forgiveness of sins and justification. Sometimes they are told that the Lord forgives the sins of everyone who in his heart desires forgiveness; but this does not mean that they are separated from the devil’s crew, to whom they are bound through the evils which go along with the life which they bring with them in its entirety. After this they learn from experience that being separated from the hells is being separated from one’s sins, and that this cannot possibly be accomplished except by thousands of ways known to the Lord alone, a process which, if you can believe it, continues forever one stage after another. For the human being is so full of evil that he cannot ever be released from even one sin. But solely by the Lord’s mercy, if he will accept that mercy, he is withheld from sin and maintained in good. (Arcana Coelestia #5398)


          In regard to justification, the case is not as is commonly supposed, namely, that all evils and sins are wiped away and utterly blotted out when people, as they imagine, believe—even if it were their last and dying hour—however they may have lived in evils and in misdeeds during the entire course of their lives; for I have been fully instructed that not the smallest evil which a person during his bodily life has thought and has carried out into act is wiped away and utterly blotted out; but that it all remains, even to the very least of it.

          The truth is that with those who have meditated and practiced acts of hatred, of revenge, of cruelty, and of adultery, and who thereby have lived in no charity [meaning no love for and service to others], the life thence contracted awaits them after death, nay, so do all things of that life both in general and in particular, which return in succession; and from this comes their torment in hell. But with those who have lived in love to the Lord and in charity toward the neighbor, their evils of life also all remain, but they are tempered by the goods which during their life in the world they have received from the Lord by means of a life of charity; and thereby they are uplifted into heaven, nay, are withheld from the evils which they have appertaining to them, so that these do not appear. They who in the other life doubt their having evils with them, because the evils do not appear, are let into them until they know that the case is really so, and then are again uplifted into heaven.

          This then is what is meant by being justified; for in this way people come to acknowledge not their own righteousness, but that of the Lord. As to its being said that those are saved who have faith—this is true; but in the Word [meaning the Bible] by “faith” nothing else is meant than love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor, and thus a life from these loves. The doctrinal things and dogmas of faith are not faith, but belong to faith; for they are one and all for the sake of the end that a person may become such as they teach him to be, as may be clearly seen from the Lord’s words that in love to God and love toward the neighbor consist all the law and the prophets, that is, the universal doctrine of faith (Matthew 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-34). (Arcana Coelestia #2116)

          So for Swedenborg, there is no such thing as being justified and declared innocent in an instant. That is impossible. We cannot be instantly transformed from a evil, selfish, and greedy person into a loving, giving, and kind person. Rather, there is a lifelong process of purification from our evil and false feelings, thoughts, and actions that starts when we turn to the Lord (which would traditionally be called “believing in Jesus”) and begin to live according to the Lord’s teachings.

          At that point we have stopped traveling the road toward hell, and have turned around and started traveling the road toward heaven.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Paul,


          As for your fundamentalist friend, since faith alone isn’t actually what saves us, as long as he does the good works, he’s fine.

          The thing is, most people who intellectually and theologically believe in faith alone don’t actually practice it. In practice, they have faith and do good works, which is not faith alone. And it’s the faith that we live, not the faith that we intellectually believe, that saves us. Anyone who actually practices faith alone–meaning they have faith without doing any good works–is not saved, just as James says. Claiming that it’s the faith, not the works, that saves us is just abstract word games with no connection to reality.

          About your first question:

          Deathbed repentance or no deathbed repentance, what happens to us after we die depends on the character we’ve built up within ourselves through our lifetime here on earth. What we say with our lips doesn’t matter. Even what we think in our head doesn’t necessarily matter. But what we do from the heart, in accordance with our beliefs, does matter. And that’s what makes us the person we are. (I’m speaking from the human perspective. Of course, it is really God within us who does all of these things. We just cooperate with God or refuse to cooperate with God.)

          In the extremely rare cases in which deathbed repentance is genuine, the person was building up to it before death was staring him or her in the face.

          The thief on the cross didn’t just suddenly say to himself, “Hmm, I think what I did was evil.” He’d been moving that direction before. He’d been reflecting on his life. And when he encountered Jesus on the cross, he was ready to express what had been building up in his heart, mind, and character already. I know it doesn’t actually say that in the text. But from the text it is plain that he was speaking from a clear mind and understanding of his situation. That doesn’t happen in an instant. God had been working in his heart.

          So in answer to your question, what happens after death is that the spiritual character we had built up through our lifetime here on earth continues, and any masks and false fronts that we had put on for the sake of appearances are stripped off. It soon becomes clear to us and to everyone else exactly who we are, what we love, what we truly believe, and how we have chosen to live our life. Then we go on to live that life, free from the social restrictions that here on earth commonly cause us to put on a face that does not express our true inner self.

          For a more organized explanation of what happens to us after death, please see my article, What Happens To Us When We Die?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Paul,

          About your second question, that really is a tough one.

          The common belief about sociopaths is that not only do they have no conscience (no sense of right and wrong, good and evil), but that they are incapable of having a conscience. That they simply don’t have the wiring to make moral and spiritual choices.

          I find that to be doubtful. And if it is a real phenomenon, then I suspect it is true of far fewer people than are commonly labeled as sociopaths.

          If there actually are people who are incapable of developing a conscience, then although we must hold them guilty for their actions civilly, and charge and punish them according to our civil laws here on earth, they will not be held spiritually responsible for their actions. That’s because we are held spiritually responsible only for the things we choose to do out of our own free will, not things that we have no choice about. And if a sociopath truly does not have the ability to distinguish good from evil, and make a choice about which way to go, then that person is more like an animal than a human being, being absent the free will to make moral and spiritual choices that distinguishes us as human beings.

          However, that person is not, in fact, an animal, but is a human being, with a human soul. And what happens after people die is that everything in their character that is not freely chosen is stripped away. Given the evil that sociopaths are immersed in, that stripping process would likely happen through some very difficult, painful, and protracted experiences in the spiritual region right next to hell–the region that Swedenborg calls “the lower earth.” This process of “devastation,” when completed, would leave the sociopath in a semi-infant or child-like state. That’s because the sociopath was almost entirely undeveloped spiritually, and most of his or her adult life would be stripped away since it did not express any real, spiritual choices on the sociopath’s part. Essentially, the sociopath would have to start all over spiritually, and grow up in the spiritual world–likely with fairly strict guardians who would detect and punish the slightest tendency to go back to his or her old, evil and destructive ways. And since no one is condemned for doing things she or he didn’t freely choose, that person will not be condemned to hell even if s/he had done horrible things on earth.

          Obviously, a sociopath who was a true sociopath, and not responsible for his or her actions, would not become one of the higher angels. That requires a lifetime of intentional spiritual labor and growth. But if they truly did not have the ability to chose right over wrong, and good over evil, they would find their eternal home in one of the lower heavens, where they would likely do some sort of simple but useful and satisfying work.

          This, at any rate, is my theory about what would happen to someone who truly was a sociopath as that is defined in psychological circles, based on my knowledge of “spiritual mechanics.”

          But I find it hard to believe that such people do not have some ability to see what is good and evil, and choose between them. I suspect, rather, that they have no desire to choose the good, and prefer the evil, and that they will be held responsible for their actions in the spiritual world as well as in the material world.

          Still, I could be wrong about this. Only God knows the human heart. And it’s not my job–or any other human being’s job–to say whether any particular person is going to heaven or hell.

          As for Hitler, I doubt he was truly a sociopath. I think he was a man driven by a lust for power. And I think he was responsible for the horrors he committed. His biography suggests that he never did repent of his evil actions. When it became clear to him that he had lost, and that he would no longer enjoy the power he had had up to that time, rather than facing the music, and taking responsibility for his evil actions, he killed himself, and took his wife and children with him. So he remained focused on himself and his own evil right to the end.

          Is he in hell?

          I think so.

          But once again, it’s really not my job to decide that. God wants everyone in heaven. And if there was a way God could bring Hitler to heaven, he would do it. It’s just that based on Hitler’s life, I sincerely doubt that Hitler would accept God’s offer of heaven after he died. The pattern and direction of his life seems clear enough.

          For a couple of related articles, please see:

          Lee Boyd Malvo: Human Justice vs. Divine Justice

          Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)

      • mark volek says:

        So was the thief on the cross sincere?

      • Susan Parrish says:

        What about the thief on the cross who acknowledged he was a sinner, had lived a sinful life up until the time he was hanging on his cross, dying, and when he admitted his desserved punishment, and how he was getting justly for what he had done, but that Jesus Christ wasn’t, and he acknowledged who Jesus really was, he asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom, and Jesus replied to him, saying “I tell you the truth; today, you will be with me in paradise”?

  20. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Thanks for your thoughts David. I do not believe salvation happens in an instant, but throughout one’s life. It’s not black and white, saved or not saved. Non-Catholics make fun of the concept of our purgatory, but Catholic theology actually provides for more people to be saved. I know the fundamentalist response is something like, “Wasn’t what Jesus did on the cross enough? Why would you need purgatory?” What Jesus did WAS enough, but we have to do our part too, which I believe is more than just claiming He is Lord and Savior. That said, it’s really a fruitless argument. Jesus is in my heart ands guides my actions. That’s all that matters. I don’t think we should be so fixated on salvation. Salvation flows from a virtuous life. We should fixate on a virtuous life. If we fixate on being saved because one time we made an altar call and accepted Jesus, what is the point of continuing to live?–just to tell other people that THEY need to make an altar call, because if they don’t, they’re going to hell? I don’t think so. Again, it’s a fruitless argument. Something else we Catholics do is accept other people’s religions. We didn’t always, but we do now. Vatican II stated that non-Christians can be saved, which drove fundamentalist Christians and conservative Catholics into a frenzy. I’m not a conservative Catholic (and BTW I was fundamentalist for a few years), but I saw the depth in Catholicism, and returned to it. It works for me, as fundamentalism works for you. The thing is, I don’t go around telling non-Christians that they’re going to hell if they don’t become a member of my religion, which is what fundamentalists do.

    • David Gray says:

      Thanks for the response. I grew up Catholic and then I became a Born Again after college. In recent years, however, I began challenging a lot of my fundamentalist theology and ideas by the simple fact that I did not find myself living consistently with the belief that people are going to hell if they don’t “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior” Now I gravitate more towards the annihilation view of hell and I am more inclusive in terms of who might be saved. I agree that it’s probably best to focus on living the Christian life. That’s the one thing that Jesus made pretty clear.

  21. Paul Hierholzer says:

    I have a similar history David. Best Wishes for your spiritual journey. May you always know God’s presence along the way.

  22. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Thanks Lee. I agree.

    “Given the evil that sociopaths are immersed in, that stripping process would likely happen through some very difficult, painful, and protracted experiences in the spiritual region right next to hell–the region that Swedenborg calls “the lower earth.”

    That sounds like the Catholic concept of purgatory. Also, other religions might invoke reincarnation at this point–that sociopaths would be sent back to Earth to learn spiritual decency, and to make up for the evil they perpetrated in a past life. Your comment below sounds almost like reincarnation, except you have the person in the afterlife realm, not on Earth:

    “Essentially, the sociopath would have to start all over spiritually, and grow up in the spiritual world–likely with fairly strict guardians who would detect and punish the slightest tendency to go back to his or her old, evil and destructive ways.”

    For sincere Christians, the logistics of salvation seem more a matter of curiosity. Sincere Christians have faith and live relatively virtuous lives, so for themselves (us), who have Jesus in their (our) hearts, the logistics really don’t matter. I’m fairly comfortable with my salvation. I know Jesus and try to follow Him as best I can, with much stumbling along the way, like everyone else. I don’t see life’s purpose strictly from a “salvation perspective.” Maybe I should, for the sake of others who may not have salvation. I guess this whole discussion is really about them–“evangelization” of them. But the word is almost embarrassing to me as a Christian, having had so much exposure to fundamentalism, and I’m no good at it anyway. But as you say, “Only God knows the human heart. And it’s not my job–or any other human being’s job–to say whether any particular person is going to heaven or hell.” I like St. Francis’ perspective on the issue: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

    “I suspect, rather, that they [sociopaths] have no desire to choose the good, and prefer the evil, ” Interesting. Do you think it’s possible that true sociopaths are creatures of the devil–evil, incarnate spirits?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your further thoughts and questions.

      About purgatory, I suppose that in Catholic theology it does serve in something of the same capacity as Swedenborg’s world of spirits (the region of the spiritual world midway between heaven and hell, where people first arrive after death), and more specifically Swedenborg’s lower earth. In both cases, it is a place where people who still have some problems are sorted out in preparation for heaven.

      However, as I understand it, the function of purgatory is to punish people for venial sins committed on earth and not repented of or absolved by the church. This is a fundamentally different process than what Swedenborg describes taking place in the world of spirits, and for the tougher cases, in the lower earth.

      in fact, Swedenborg states explicitly that in the spiritual world after death, no one is punished for any sins committed on earth. That would include both venial and mortal sins as defined by the Catholic Church. Instead, Swedenborg says, people are punished only for evil actions they continue to commit in the spiritual world. So there is no need for a purgatory, because at death, in a sense the slate of sins on earth is wiped clean.

      This means that people who are good are not punished at all. They quickly recognize and slough off any remaining false ideas and evil practices in preparation for heaven, without the need for punishment. Their intentions are good, and once they see clearly that some of the things they’ve been doing are not right, they willingly stop doing them.

      Evil people, on the other hand, keep right on doing the evil things they had done on earth, and are unwilling to accept any correction or any truth that would require them to stop. So for them, it doesn’t make any difference that they’re not punished for sins committed on earth. They keep right on committing the same sins, and are punished for the evil actions they continue to commit.

      Sociopaths–if true sociopaths do indeed exist–are in a somewhat different category. They’ve lived very evil lives, but not through any choice or intention on their part. So they will not be held spiritually accountable for their evil actions. And yet, those evil actions became an ongoing part of their life and personality. The process I’m surmising would take place for them in the lower earth may include some punishment for evil deeds. However, the basic process is not one of punishing unpunished sins. Rather, it is a process of stripping away layers of their character and personality that do not reflect actual spiritual and moral choices. (Because the theory is that sociopaths do not have the ability to make spiritual and moral choices.) And that process of stripping away can happen only through feeling the painful consequences of their continued evil actions. When those actions are associated with ongoing pain, if the evil is not truly a chosen and confirmed part of the person’s fundamental character, but rather the result of some mental deficit that made it impossible for the person to develop a conscience, then the person will gradually, if painfully, let go of them since they do not reflect the person’s core character.

      I hope this is making some sense to you.

      The reversion to a child-like or quasi-infant state would be because the person is undeveloped spiritually. And Swedenborg’s teaching is that people who die in infancy and childhood all grow up in heaven to adult age and become angels. They lack some of the qualities of character that they would have gained had they lived out their full life span on earth. Yet they do become angels–some of them very high-level and deeply loving angels–and have a happy life in heaven to eternity.

      Sociopaths who died in adulthood having committed terrible crimes will not have it so easy. They have a lot of damage to undo. And even when all of that evil is stripped away from them, the imprint of their life on earth still remains. They can never be the innocents that people who die in infancy and grow up in heaven are. They can’t even be the simple, trusting types that people who die in childhood are. There will always be something of a hard edge to them because of their past life. But they will have recognized that their former evil life on earth is not the life they want, and they will be willing to be kept by the Lord, and perhaps by other angel guardians, away from that life, and live a basic good and decent life, engaging in some useful work in their communities in heaven.

      So yes, there is some parallelism between the process they would go through according to Swedenborg’s theology and that of Catholic purgatory. But the reasons for and nature of that process is quite different than the fiery place of punishment for remaining unabsolved sins that is commonly pictured for purgatory.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      You ask, “Do you think it’s possible that true sociopaths are creatures of the devil–evil, incarnate spirits?”

      To put it plainly, no. I do not think that is possible. I do not believe that any human being is created from, or for, hell. Every human being is created for heaven, and none for hell. And the default destination of every human being is heaven.

      The Devil does not have the power to create new human beings. And according to Swedenborg, there are no pre-existing angels or evil spirits. All of the residents of the spiritual realms were once human beings living in the material world.

      And about reincarnation, no, our souls did not pre-exist our bodies, and pass into our bodes at conception, or birth, or somewhere in between. Rather, each soul is a new creation, and the body comes into being and develops along with the soul. So every human being is a brand new creation of God.

      However, clearly sociopaths are in the grip of the Devil, or hell. In an upcoming response to a spiritual conundrum, I’ll delve into the true nature of the Devil. For now, I’ll simply say that to the extent that any human being is engaged in evil actions, that person is in the grip of the Devil. And religion is all about getting us out of the grip of the devil.

      I still think there is hope for sociopaths even here on earth. But it may be a long time before we understand their mental and spiritual state well enough to be able to do anything really effective for them beyond locking them up to prevent them from hurting innocent people.

  23. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply Lee. It will take a little while to ponder and assimilate the whole thing, but in the meantime I found these statements inspiring:

    “I do not believe that any human being is created from, or for, hell. Every human being is created for heaven, and none for hell. And the default destination of every human being is heaven.”

    That’s quite lovely.

  24. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Along those lines, I just received my Daily Meditation from The Henry Nouwen Society and it seems appropriate to share:

    “Being Chosen – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey

    Jesus is taken by God or, better, chosen by God. Jesus is the Chosen One. From all eternity God has chosen his most precious Child to become the saviour of the world. Being chosen expresses a special relationship, being known and loved in a unique way, being singled out. In our society our being chosen always implies that others are not chosen. But this is not true for God. God chooses his Son to reveal to us our chosenness.”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the quote. It’s not quite how I see the relationship between God (the Father) and the Son. But I do agree with and appreciate the final thoughts about chosenness being an inclusive rather than an exclusive thing. I believe that God chooses all of us. The question is whether we accept or reject God’s choice to love us and save us.

  25. David Gray says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for the in-depth explanation and the quotes from Swedenborg’s work. It does appear that Swedenborgian theology gives more preeminence to the writings of Swedenborg rather than the writings of Paul. What did Swedenborg think of the writings of Paul in general? I assume since he focused on the gospels he did not hold them to the same authority? I will say, though, that one thing that has bugged me about the evangelical portrayal of the gospel is that I doubt anyone would come up with it reading just the gospel accounts. That’s why I never came up with it as a Catholic.

    It’s amazing how different the theologies are. Evangelical Christianity claims that the default state of man is guilty and under the wrath/punishment of God. One is saved by repenting and “trusting in Christ.” At that point, the he moves from being under God’s wrath to being forgiven and guaranteed of Heaven. Although he has been declared not guilty, he still has a sinful nature. The indwelling Holy Spirit works inside of him to remove the sin and conform him to the image of Christ.

    If I understand your theology correct: The default state of man is heaven bound but living with a sinful nature. With God’s help, we work to overcome the sinful nature and do good. Humans are never under the threat of wrath or punishment from God. One’s ultimate destination is the trajectory of one’s choices in life. Those who do bad will create hell for themselves and those who do good will continue into heaven. Forgiveness, in the sense that we view it, occurs in eternity past when God forgives everything in advance.


    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      You’re very welcome. And yes, Swedenborgians generally do like Swedenborg’s writings better than the writings of Paul. 😉 Unfortunately, many Swedenborgians have a very low opinion of Paul, probably because so much false doctrine in traditional, and especially Protestant, Christianity claims to be based on the writings of Paul.

      In fact, Paul simply didn’t say most of the things Protestants say he said.

      For example, Paul does not say that faith alone saves, and he does not say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins.

      When I first read the letters of Paul, I was amazed at how they do not support Protestant theology. I thought there would be statements in there about only Christians being saved, Christ paying the penalty for our sins, faith alone saving, and so on. When I realized that Paul simply didn’t say any of those things, my whole attitude toward his letters changed. I now think that Paul has been badly misinterpreted and misrepresented by Protestant theologians and churches. And while his books are still not among my favorites in the Bible, I now see that just like the rest of the Bible, they, too, support Swedenborg’s teachings once the thick and distorting lens of old, false “Christian” teachings and misinterpretations is removed.

      Swedenborg himself did not view the Acts or the Epistles as part of the Word of God. He said that in the New Testament, only the Gospels and the book of Revelation have the deeper, spiritual meaning that makes a book part of the Word of God. The Acts he saw as more historical books about the early development of Christianity, and the Epistles as doctrinal books, more in the nature of sermons, to explain Christian doctrine to people in a clearer way than can be done in the books of the Word of God proper, which contain deeper meanings that are often not so easy to see based on the literal meaning. (Think of Jesus’ parables, and how differently they are interpreted by different Christian theologians and teachers.)

      So Swedenborg said that although the Acts and the Epistles are not part of the Word of God, they are “good books of the church, insisting upon the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as the Lord himself has done in the Gospels and the book of Revelation, as may be seen and found evident by everyone who in reading them directs his attention to these points.”

      In other words, if you read Paul with an eye toward seeing how he teaches both faith and good works, you will see it there. Unfortunately, ever since Martin Luther promulgated his faith alone doctrine, Protestants have been reading Paul with an eye only to seeing how he teaches faith, and ignoring or explaining away all the passages where he also teaches the necessity of charity, or good works.

      Although I don’t see the writings of Paul as Scripture, I am perfectly willing to speak with Protestants based on their canon of Scripture. Protestants have badly misunderstood and misinterpreted Paul. Paul, if rightly read and understood, supports the same genuinely Christian teachings that Swedenborg presents in his theological writings.

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      About your summary of Swedenborg’s theology, though there might be a few quibbles around the edges, yes, I think you’ve gotten it basically right for all practical purposes. In Swedenborg’s theology, no one goes to hell without specifically choosing it by his or her actions, and the motives behind them.

      I would only say that heaven is the default not because we humans are inherently good; we’re not. Rather, the default is heaven because God is continually withholding us from our evil nature, and continues to do so unless we intentionally and by choice reject that saving action of God by choosing to live out our own evil nature instead of accepting a good nature from God.

  26. Peter-John Gerber says:

    One Question Mr Lee, how much works is enough to to get into heavan?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Peter-John,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question.

      However, this question is based on a common misunderstanding of the role of works in salvation.

      Works do not earn us a place in heaven, nor is there any number of works that will buy us salvation. If we think that we must chalk up a certain number of brownie points for St. Peter to let us in, we’ve misunderstood the whole point of doing good works.

      There are three basic reasons to do good works:

      1. Because God commands us to
      2. Because we know that it’s the right thing to do
      3. Because we love our neighbors and want to give them comfort and joy

      None of these have anything to do with meriting or buying heaven. But if we don’t do good works:

      1. We are disobeying God’s commandments.
      2. We are not doing what is right and true.
      3. We are not loving God and the neighbor as Jesus himself commanded us to do.

      Do you really think it is possible to get into heaven if we disobey God, don’t follow the truth, and don’t love God and the neighbor?

      Doing good works has nothing to do with meriting or buying our way into heaven. It has to do with living the way the Lord God Jesus Christ commanded, taught, and showed us to live. And if we reject the commands, teachings, and example of Jesus Christ, we have rejected the salvation and heaven that God has prepared for us.

      Faith alone, without acting on our faith, does nothing to save us. As James taught so clearly, if our faith is not accompanied by good works, it is dead, and it does not justify or save us.

    • David Gray says:


      As I’ve pondered some of our discussions and my days as a Catholic, I’ve realized that part of the difficulty with this faith/works debate is the concept of two discrete groups of people — those who go to Heaven and those who go to Hell. Those who are “in” and those who are “out.” Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 25 seems to support this idea. I don’t know if Swdenborgians necessarily believe in two discrete groups? If there are two discrete groups, then I think Peter’s question is valid. For Swedenborgians, how good to you have to be to bound for Heaven”? For evangelicals, “How good do you have to be sure that you are saved?”


      • Lee says:

        Hi David,

        Yes, there are two groups of people. However, those two groups are formed by the people’s own choice.

        Matthew 25:31-46 puts it squarely in our court:

        • If we love and serve our neighbor, we will go to everlasting life.
        • If we don’t love and serve our neighbor, we will go to everlasting punishment.

        Whether we do or don’t love and serve our neighbor is something we have the power to decide for ourselves. So there is no one in hell except those who made a choice to live a selfish, greedy, and therefore hellish life. About this, see my article, Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

        That is why in the Old Testament, God urges the people to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20), which would have no meaning if we didn’t actually have a choice between (eternal) life and death.

        That is also why John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached that we should repent for the forgiveness of sins. Once again, this would have no meaning if we didn’t have the ability to repent, which means to stop sinning and turn ourselves toward a good, loving, and righteous life.

        Of course, ultimately it is the Lord God Jesus Christ who turns us around, and re-creates us from sinners into righteous people. And it is the Lord God Jesus Christ who actually does the good works through us (John 15:1-17). What we really do is allow Christ to turn us around. That is where our choice lies. Will we let Christ into our life, or will we block Christ from our life?

        Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20)

        God will not force the door into our life. We must freely and willingly open the door for God. And even the ability to make that choice is given to us by God.

        This means that neither our faith nor our works is any credit to us. Our ability to believe, and our ability to do good works, is given to us by God. Our very life every day is given to us by God. So to think that we somehow earn heaven by our good works, or even by our faith, is ludicrous. All we do is let God in. God does everything else–while letting us think and feel that we are doing it ourselves so that we can have some sense of identity, and a real relationship with one another and with God.

        It simply isn’t a matter of “how good do you have to be to be bound for heaven.” It’s a matter of whether we do or don’t let what is good from God into our lives. And we do that (as Christians) by believing in Jesus, accepting Jesus’ love, and living by Jesus’ commandments. That is how we open the door for Jesus Christ so that he can come in to us and (spiritually) eat with us.

        It simply isn’t a matter of counting up the good works and balancing them against the evil works:

        All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, italics added)

        God, in Christ, does not count up our trespasses, nor does God, in Christ, count up our good works to determine if we have done “enough” good works to make it into heaven. Instead, when we believe in Jesus Christ and repent from our former sins by no longer committing them, this is what happens:

        But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23, italics added)

        When we repent, turn to God, and stop sinning, none of our former sins are remembered against us. We are no longer held spiritually guilty of them. We are now judged not for our former sins, but for our current righteous life–which means a life of acting justly, fairly, and with love and compassion toward our fellow human beings.

        It’s not a matter of counting up the good deeds. It’s a matter of the direction we are traveling.

        “Repentance,” in Greek, means a change of mind, and a change of direction.

        • Before we repent, we are traveling in the direction of hell, because our intentions, thoughts, and actions are evil, false, selfish, greedy, and destructive.
        • After we repent, we are traveling in the direction of heaven, because even if we are not perfect:
          • our intention is to love God and the neighbor,
          • our thoughts seek out the truth as we learn it from Jesus Christ, the Bible, and those who preach and teach the truth based on them, and
          • our practice is to deal with others honestly, fairly, and with love and a desire for their good and their happiness.

        Yes, it is a lifelong–even eternal–process. We will never actually be perfect, even if that is the ideal and the goal. But we will always be traveling toward perfection–which, of course, means traveling toward God. And as long as we are traveling toward God instead of away from God, we are traveling toward heaven, and will find our home in heaven after we die.

        Remember, God does not desire anyone’s death (Ezekiel 18:23). And remember:

        By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8, italics added)

        We are not saved by faith, but by grace. And “grace” is a word for the lovingkindness of God.

        Those who believe we are saved by faith alone aren’t even paying attention to what the passages they quote to support that belief actually say. Ephesians 2:8 does not say that we are saved by faith, still less by faith alone. Rather, it says we are saved by grace, meaning by the love of God.

        The message is that God loves us and wants to save us. God is not counting our sins against us, so that we have to counterbalance those sins with good works in order to convince God not to send us to hell. There is no need to convince God that we are worthy of heaven. God loves us and wants us to go to heaven. It is a free gift, given out of love. All that’s required for us to receive it is for us to accept that gift by opening the door and allowing God into our life.

        God is giving us the message of reconciliation. If we will simply open the door by believing in Jesus Christ and following the commandments to love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves, God will come into our lives with joy, and eat with us, and we with God.

        God doesn’t count up how many good works we do. That’s because:

        The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

        We humans want to look at our outward actions, count up and tally how many good works we’ve done, and keep a “heaven scorecard” of whether we’re winners or losers in the game of life.

        But that’s not how God looks at us at all.

        The Lord looks at the heart.

        The Lord looks at whether our heart is pointed toward loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, or whether our heart is pointed toward loving only ourselves, power, status, money, and pleasure. It is from our heart that our actions flow (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:10-20). And the Lord looks at the heart from which our actions flow.

        If the Lord looks at our heart and sees there that we do love God more than ourselves, even if imperfectly, and that we do love the neighbor as we love ourselves, even if imperfectly, then God will come in to us, and eat with us, and we with God.

        • David Gray says:

          Thanks for the detailed reply. I think I agree with most of what you said. I guess the thing that always frustrates me about the concept of repentance is that it is not a binary thing. Most of us live lives that are somewhere in between Hitler and Mother Theresa. Thus, if there are really only two places you can go, how does one determine where one is going? Evangelicals try to determine whether they have been “born again.” – a one time event. If so, then they are in and heaven bound. How does one determine if one has repented enough to be assured that he is on a trajectory towards Heaven? Granted, evangelicals have trouble figuring out whether they are really saved, so I’m not necessarily intending this as a criticism of Swedenborgian theology.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          Repentance is both a binary and a non-binary thing at the same time.

          It’s binary because ultimately we will end up either in heaven or in hell.

          It’s not binary because within heaven and within hell there are many levels and regions.

          In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul speaks of someone he knew having been “caught up to the third heaven.” Swedenborg reported that there are indeed three heavens, one above the other, and many different regions within those heavens, all sorted out by the characters, primary loves, and levels of spiritual development of the various inhabitants of heaven. And hell is an inverted mirror-image of heaven, with the same three (anti-)levels, and the same sortation according to the characters, primary (evil) loves, and levels of spiritual degradation of the inhabitants there.

          So although there certainly is a “binary” choice between heaven or hell, there is also every possible variety of how far we go in our spiritual rebirth, what particular good or evil loves and pursuits we follow, and what our character type is, all of which sorts us out into higher or lower heavens or hells, and into different regions of heaven or hell.

          This accords with common sense based on human society here on earth. Those who work hard, act intelligently, and really put their shoulder to the wheel generally advance farther, and higher, in society than those who slack off, take their ease, and spend as much time as possible just having fun and enjoying themselves with no particular interest in bettering the human condition and contributing to their community and society.

          So yes, there is a “binary choice” between heaven and hell. But in either case, we have a lifetime to decide and determine where exactly in heaven or hell we will go, and what sort of life we will live there. It is every bit as varied as is human society here on earth, except that the sortation is much more accurate and much more just, and external factors over which we had no control are removed, so that our eternal position in the afterlife depends almost entirely, not on the cards we were dealt, but on the choices we made about how to use the cards we were dealt.

          I hope this helps.

        • Lee says:

          Hi David,

          One other point: It seems to me that the major focus of many evangelicals on “Am I saved?” is basically self-centered.

          Granted, we all have a self-preservation instinct, and we would like to be able to think we’re going to heaven after we die.

          But the Greatest Commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Shouldn’t that be our focus, instead of such a heavy emphasis on saving our own skin in the afterlife?

          I would say that if said evangelicals spent more time focusing on carrying out the two Great Commandments given to us by Jesus, and less time worrying about their own salvation, they would be in a much better position both here and in eternity.

          Or put plainly, if they would focus on loving God by loving and serving their neighbors in need, as outlined in Matthew 25:31-46, and less time assuring themselves of their own salvation, they would, in fact, gain more assurance of salvation than with their present inordinate focus on whether or not they’re saved.

          As Jesus said:

          Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

          He doesn’t say “seek first salvation for yourself.” He says, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” In other words, live a good, loving, and righteous life, which is the life of those who are part of God’s kingdom, and everything else you’re so worried about will be taken care of—including your own salvation.

        • Ben says:

          I’ve loved the discussion going on, I’ve sought an answer to the question as I’ve essentially defined it: Can a person be saved apart from belief in Jesus Christ?
          The reason I ask this is because I’m studying the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is historically a Christian discipleship program that, for reasons of practicality, has refrained from identification with a specific God in their third step–submitting to a higher power–and substitutes rather ‘to God as we understood him.’ This has been a central struggle that I have wondered at for a long time: Does the object of our faith need to be Jesus Christ, specifically as is understood through the Gospel, or just ‘as we understand God’ as long as our actions line up with God’s prescriptions for a moral life?
          The two arguments that I understand are being discussed is that faith alone cannot save, and works must accompany faith to truly be justified and gain eternal life (ie. James 2:18). The primary logic being, mere belief, or knowledge alone, cannot substantiate one’s salvation. It must show itself through action, which semantically most of James’ writing explicitly focuses on, and Paul’s indirectly. Jesus himself negates the faith/works binary because, in his parables, He is the primary deliverer of the information–so to believe the information and act upon it is, in essence, to believe that what Jesus is saying is true, one must believe that He is who He says He is. Using the words of Christ, then, would negate the idea that one can do works and ‘live a good life’ and merit salvation apart from belief, or knowledge, of God, including the Son, Jesus.
          The notion about other world religions not necessarily requiring that the object of their worship be Jesus in particular has been another struggle. Again, in essence, it is saying that right living according to a moral standard–provided it is one in line with biblical principles–is just as good and will count in God’s eyes as being obedient to Him, and so therefore count as belief. But my question would be, why did the gentiles need to hear the gospel in the first place, especially if they were loving, alms-paying, God-fearing individuals? Cornelius himself in Acts 10 is the principle example of the necessity of hearing and believing (or knowing) the specific Gospel (or Good News) message, that knowing Jesus in particular was salvation, not just obedience to the moral law of God. People all over the world, including adherent muslims, have visions of Jesus Himself, calling them to follow Him. Their moral law, on the surface, arguably is ‘more moral’ than the Christian ideals, but then why would Jesus Himself appear in dreams or tell people within other faiths to become specifically Christian, myself included?
          My thoughts are as follows: the Gospel is, as part of the new convenant, a message of Good News. Those who are burdened by weight of psychological pressures, including moral standards that demand one to measure their worth by works in this world, hear with great exuberance and joy that God has unequivocally shown absolute love and acceptance of them because of Jesus alone. This, I would garner, is the primary force of what is described here in this blog as the fallacy of protestant doctrine, belief in ‘faith alone:’ The core infilling, indwelling presence of God and His Holy Spirit is the source–not just intellectually, but holistically–based upon the primary and exclusive Love of God through Jesus Christ, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us–and that love, when known fully, empowers one to live the kind of life and the good works (which Jesus himself said must be perfect and exceed those of the Pharisees if one desires to have eternal life)–in order to truly have salvation.
          Then, as Jesus says in John 17:3, to know the God (who IS love), and to know the Son of God (who IS Jesus) and what they and the Holy Spirit do to us, for us, together, is salvation. To act in any other way than worship, whatever that looks like–which often includes instantaneous and joy-filled obedience, whatever the request–would mean a misunderstanding, or disbelief.
          And as we know, any belief–whether in God or in no god–is an act of faith. Our faith is substantiated, however robustly or weakly, by various evidences. The Gospel has such weight universally because on so many layers it is the truth, and whoever is ‘of the truth’ listens to the voice of Jesus (John 18:37). Even the sinner on the cross, who had nothing left to offer in the amount of good works in his earthly life as he hung dying on a cross next to Christ, humbly offered him his heart and allegiance (belief), and Jesus stated that that very day he would be with him in paradise.
          So, again, that begs the question. One, is it even possible for someone to be saved without hearing the specific Gospel of Jesus Christ, and two, is it possible that faith in Jesus alone is what necessitates and initiates salvation?
          Final post script thoughts: What would be Good News about the Good News if the knowledge of God did not empower and motivate one to carry out the good works that God has planned in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10)? Talking about works as a means (or a part) of salvation without something that builds up or enlightens the heart toward a deeper understanding of the love of God is like offering a hungry dog an empty bowl. Feed the sheep with things that fill them to do the works God requires.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,
          Thanks for stopping by and expressing your thoughts and questions. Rather than responding to every issue you bring up, I’ll direct you to two follow-up articles that discuss these issues:

          Faith Alone Is Not Faith
          Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

          I’ll comment specifically on just one point for now:

          The idea that only people who believe in Jesus Christ are saved, and not those who simply believe in God, as in the Twelve Steps, betrays the polytheistic nature of traditional Christian belief, with its doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God. Under that doctrine, it is possible to believe in one god, who is identified by traditional Christians as “the Father, ” while not believing in another god, who is identified by traditional Christians as “the Son,” Jesus Christ. Such Christians actually believe in two different gods, to which they add a third, “the Holy Spirit.” They think it is necessary to believe in the second god in order to be saved, because believing only in the first god is not sufficient for salvation.

          So according to traditional Christian doctrine, it is necessary to believe in at least two gods in order to be saved. Believing in one God is not enough.

          But true Christian belief and doctrine is that there is only one God, in whom is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that that God is the Lord God Jesus Christ. All people who believe in God are believing in Jesus Christ no matter what name they use for God and no matter what characteristics they attribute to God because there is no other god to believe in.

  27. Tony says:

    hi lee

    so you said “And even the ability to make that choice is given to us by God”. is this choice still given to you after death? because it sounds like regardless where you end up he still loves us and so we can still freely choose.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      According to Swedenborg, death seals the decision we have made here on earth. So whatever decision we make here on earth about what to focus our life on—on love of God and the neighbor on the one hand, or on love of self and material things on the other hand—that is what will determine where we spend eternity.

      Yes, God still loves us no matter which choice we make. But once we’ve made our choice, God will not push us into making another one.

      It may seem harsh that we would spend eternity in hell for a choice we made here on earth. But if you think about it, unless we can make eternal choices, our choices aren’t real. So if God set it up so that there was never a time at which our choice actually sticks, and is eternal, that would be like our not having a real choice at all.

      It would also mean that the angels in heaven are not safe, because at some point they could choose to be evil, and go to hell instead. So having no point at which our choice becomes permanent would be a threat to the eternal peace and happiness of the angels in heaven.

      But the underlying point is that it is our choice. God does not send anyone to hell. We do that ourselves. And Swedenborg reports, from his conversations with various evil spirits in hell, that they have no interest whatsoever in becoming angels. The take pleasure in the kinds of loves and pursuits they have chosen, and even when allowed to go up into heaven, and protected from its atmosphere, they soon tire of that atmosphere, and run back to their homes in hell, where they can engage in the kinds of pursuits that they love and enjoy.

      As you say, God loves us regardless of where we end up. And God arranges for us to have as much pleasure as possible, even if we choose the evil. The problem is not God punishing us, but of evil punishing itself. That’s just part of the nature of evil. So although God loves even the worst devils in hell, and does everything possible to make their life as bearable as possible, since they enjoy doing evil and destructive things, and reject God’s love and protection, they bring pain and punishment on themselves. And then they go back for more!

      For more on this, see these articles:
      Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
      The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation. See especially the segment of the article starting with the heading, “What’s wrong with reincarnation?” and going through the heading, “A conversation with some inhabitants of hell.”

  28. Jarren says:

    Not only has the article been insightful, but the comments section is inspiring. I myself was raised believing that I was saved by simply believing. It wasn’t until 3 years ago after spending time with my father in law(a knowledgeable man of God) that I realized I had been “brainwashed” into denying the plain text. I stumbled across this article looking to explain why I was mislead for so many years and it has truly touched my heart. Thank you for your dedication to God and to the time spent in research.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jarren,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts and kind words, which I appreciate very much. I’m glad this article was helpful to you in moving forward toward a deeper and more Bible-based faith. It is unfortunate that so much of the Christian world is unable to see the most basic teachings of the Bible. Jesus himself summed up all of the Scriptures in the two commandments to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That, and not mere belief, is the heart and soul of true Christianity.

      I invite you to read some of the other, linked articles here, which may also be helpful. And we wish you godspeed on your spiritual journey.

  29. Ivan Drago says:

    I guess you didn’t read what Jesus said “MANY will go by the wide gate that leads to hell and FEW will FIND it” It doesn’t state that the narrow road is hard etc. but that FEW will find that road which according you your statements, only about 6 percent of the world population will be saved. You got it right in the bud which confirms with me that Jesus’ statements are true.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ivan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. On Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:13-14 about the wide and narrow gates, please see my earlier comment here.

  30. Guest says:

    You’re both right and wrong. Faith alone does not save. But neither do works alone. Faith is necessary though, whether explicit or implicit. If someone is searching for the truth and trying to live a good life he might have implicit faith. But how many people do you know are searching for the truth as opposed to just following social convention or their ancestors? How many are willing to be corrected?

    Many are called (to the faith) but few are chosen (actually save their souls). Matthew 25 shows that without a holy life the strongest faith will not save you. But also he who doesn’t believe in the son is condemned, so works alone cannot save. God cares about quality, it seems, not quantity. It’s not a failure on God’s part, but man’s part, because they waste His graces.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Guest,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Of course works alone do not save either. But “faith” as commonly understood in Christianity is not what the Bible means by “faith.” Faith, as the Bible uses the term, is not correct belief, but rather faithfulness, meaning living by our beliefs, and by what God shows us to be true.

      For more on this, see the companion article: Faith Alone Is Not Faith.

      And for an even more challenging version, see: Do Atheists Go to Heaven?

      • Ozcan says:

        Hi Lee,

        ” Faith, as the Bible uses the term, is not correct belief, but rather faithfulness, meaning living by our beliefs, and by what God shows us to be true”

        I don’t believe that what God shows us to be true is found in certain religious texts because in that case billions of people would automatically go to Hell for not believing in the “right” doctrine. Guest sounds like a fundamentalist who doesn’t have a problem with that irrational belief. Why do we believe in the Bible and not in the Qur’an – or vice versa? How do we know which is the right doctrine? I believe that every single human being knows what is right and what is wrong, and if they choose to be a righteous person they will not end up in Hell (whatever that is). I find it very frustrating to deal with fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, they are so incredibly narrow-minded, inconsistent and irrational without realizing it. I’m almost starting to hate all religious people on earth because of their attitudes.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ozcan,

          I understand your frustration. But it’s not right to tar all religious people with the same brush. There are hundreds of millions of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and so on who are just as opposed to the violent, fundamentalist wings of their religion as you and I are.

          About going to hell for not believing in the “right” doctrine, I believe that idea comes from a basic misunderstanding of what religion, and its sacred texts, are all about. Religion is not, ultimately, about correct belief, but about living a good and loving life of useful service to one’s fellow human beings. As I’ve said in other articles here, all who do this, regardless of their particular beliefs, are on their way to heaven, not to hell.

  31. Rick says:

    Lee, I thought your article was well researched and very insightful. I tend to believe your position intuitively anyway, but nice to see it supported by scripture. However, I chanced upon this website that shows some apparent contradictions in the biblical texts. What are your thoughts?

    Also, didn’t Luther create his “faith only” doctrine as a backlash against the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences to rectify bad works – i.e. sin? At the time, it probably was a necessary (and courageous) course of action to end the corruption. However, as is often the case, the solution creates problems of its own. It’s like putting a human band-aid on a divine problem.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions. Thanks also for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      Most of the contradictions that skeptics and even some Christians like to point out in the Bible are contradictions only if we read the Bible in a hyper-literal fashion, or simply don’t understand what the various passages are talking about. Literally, there are contradictions in the Bible, despite Christian fundamentalists’ valiant efforts to “resolve” them all.

      But the Bible is not a textbook of science and history, nor does it need to be totally consistent with itself on all the facts. Its purpose, rather, is to lead and motivate us to leave behind our evil, selfish, and thoughtless ways of living, and live good, loving, and thoughtful lives instead. For that purpose, it really doesn’t matter all that much if it’s totally “consistent.”

      Do we require poets or novelists to be totally consistent in everything they write? We human beings are full of contradictions. Any piece of literature that is totally consistent with itself simply doesn’t reflect the full reality of the human situation. The same goes for the Bible.

      So for the most part, I don’t concern myself too much with all those lists of “inconsistencies in the Bible” that purport to show that the Bible is a sloppy book not worthy of our attention. Most of them are just plain silly and superficial, and are obviously compiled by people who have an ax to grind.

      However, in a separate comment I’ll take up the ones brought up in the article you linked to.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rick,

      Now about the specific “Bible contradictions” brought up in the article you linked:

      1. Paul does not actually teach faith alone. That’s a Protestant myth. Nowhere in Paul’s letters does he ever say that we are saved or justified by faith alone.

      What he does say is that we’re saved by faith without the works of the Law. And by “Law” in that context he means the ancient Jewish Levitical code requiring various rituals, sacrifices, circumcision, and so on. These, Paul argued, were unnecessary now that Jesus has come. Our faith in Jesus—meaning our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings—is all we need, without the need to observe the Jewish ritual laws. This is explained more fully in the above article. And see also the companion article: Faith Alone Is Not Faith

      So although Paul does emphasize faith, he doesn’t mean mere belief, but rather a belief in Jesus and a willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings instead of obedience to a particular code of ritual and behavioral laws.

      James is much bigger on works, as the article you linked points out. But aside from that difference in emphasis, both teach basically the same thing: we must believe in Jesus and do good deeds for our fellow human beings if we wish to be saved.

      The article goes on to discuss this matter of the Jewish Law, but doesn’t seem to realize that this is the resolution of its earlier “contradiction.”

      2. Its related “contradiction” within the works of Paul involves an overly simplistic reading of the text.

      Paul, like every writer and speaker, uses words with different meanings in different contexts. His use of the word “works” shifts among being synonymous with “the works of the Law” to being “works done in order to earn heaven” to meaning simply “good deeds.” If we don’t realize that he uses the word “works” in at least these three different meanings, we’ll experience no end of confusion in reading his letters.

      Similarly, though he commonly uses the word “Law” to refer to the Jewish ritual law, he also uses it in a broader sense to mean lawful and conscientious behavior in general. And in that sense, he teaches that we must obey the “law” in order to be saved. But as to “Law” in the sense of the Jewish ritual Law, he says that we do not need to follow that Law in order to be saved.

      So basically, a more nuanced understanding of how language works, and particularly of the fact that words are used with different meanings in different contexts, resolves many of the “contradictions” within Paul’s letters, and between Paul and the other New Testament writers.

      3. The authors of the article you link say that Jesus contradicts himself in telling the rich young man to go and sell all that he has and give it to the poor, but defending the woman who anointed him with a box of very expensive perfume.

      Here I can’t resist quoting something my old high school Latin teacher use to quote if, for example, we students tried to get too literal and mechanical in translating Latin poetry:

      A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

      Just like all of us, Jesus interacted with many different people, from rich to poor, from educated to uneducated, from religious to profane. Do you or I say exactly the same thing to everyone we meet? If we see someone who’s down in the dumps, we’ll talk to that person one way, whereas if we see someone strutting along like a peacock full of pride and arrogance, we’ll talk to that person in a different way.

      What the writers of the article you linked to have missed is:

      1. context, and
      2. purpose

      About context, Jesus was interacting with two very different people in the two stories. One was a rich man who was, however, rather proud of his own righteousness. And in ancient times, it was common to believe that wealth was a blessing of the Lord given to the righteous. So wealthy people commonly considered themselves to be especially righteous, as evidenced by their wealth. Jesus saw that this young man’s path to heaven was being blocked by that type of pride in his own wealth. So he told him to go, sell all that he had, and give it to the poor.

      The woman who used the expensive perfume on Jesus had no such pride and arrogance. She simply wanted to do a good deed. So it wasn’t right to treat her the same way as he treated rich man who thought he was especially righteous because of his wealth and privilege.

      This brings us to purpose.

      Jesus is less concerned with issues of material wealth and poverty than he is with issues of spiritual life and character. Yes, giving to the poor is good. But even more important is living a truly loving and spiritual life.

      The rich young man needed to divest himself of his wealth in order to move to the next step on his spiritual path, which would involve practicing humility and generous kindness to others instead of being stuck on his own great righteousness.

      The woman who anointed Jesus already was practicing extravagant kindness to others, and specifically, to Jesus. To admonish her for her good and generous deed would be to give more importance to physical matters such as material wealth and poverty than to spiritual matters such as humility and generosity.

      For more about the issue of wealth vs. poverty, please see these two articles:

      1. Is Wealth a Blessing or a Curse?
      2. You Cannot Serve both God and Money

      There’s more that could be said about these supposed contradictions, but that’s enough for now.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rick,

      Yes, Luther was trying to break, and break away from, the corruption in Catholicism. But there’s got to be a better way to do that than to invent a false doctrine that’s specifically rejected in the Bible!

  32. Terry Hankins says:

    No, it doesn’t say it elsewhere in those exact words, but it says it just the same I get my beliefs straight from the Bible. I don’t believe God inspired the Bible in such a way nor did those who wrote it write it in such a way that everyone has to have an interpreter to understand it. The Bible is straight forward and is easily understood as you pray and study it as it commands us to do. I also do not believe that we have to have an intermediary to talk to God for us. I believe in a personal God who is there for everyone, regardless of their station in life. The only Holy Father is God. To call any modern living man Holy Father is blasphemy. No one on this earth is any holier than anyone else. To be the Holy Father, you must be sinless. No man is sinless. I know this will stir outrage in some, but that’s what the Bible says. If you want to talk about what’s in and not in the Bible, the words Pope, Cardinal, et al, are not in there at all.

    John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
    Rom. 3:22, “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.”
    Rom. 3:24, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
    Rom. 3:26, “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
    Rom. 3:28-30, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”
    Rom. 4:3, “For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
    Rom. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,”
    Rom. 4:11, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,”
    Rom. 4:16, “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
    Rom. 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    Rom. 5:9, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
    Rom. 9:30, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.”
    Rom. 9:33, “just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
    Rom. 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
    Rom. 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
    Rom. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
    Gal. 2:16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
    Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
    Gal.3:5-6, “Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
    Gal. 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”
    Gal. 3:14, “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
    Gal. 3:22, “But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
    Gal. 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”
    Eph. 1:13, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
    Eph. 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
    Phil. 3:9, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
    1 Tim. 1:16, “And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      However, I have to wonder if you even read the article before commenting.


      • You admit that the Bible doesn’t say that faith alone saves in those exact words.
      • You say that the Bible speaks plainly, and does not require human interpretation.
      • You then quote a whole string of Bible passages that don’t say that faith alone saves.
      • But you say that you get your beliefs “straight from the Bible.”

      How can you say that you get your beliefs straight from the Bible, and the Bible doesn’t require interpretation, when you can’t quote a single verse from the Bible that says that faith alone saves?

      I also believe that the Bible speaks plainly on issues that are critical to our salvation. And the Bible speaks very plainly about faith alone:

      You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24, italics added)

      This is the only verse in the entire Bible that speaks plainly about faith alone. And in that one verse, the Bible specifically rejects justification by faith alone.

      How can you say that you get your beliefs straight from the Bible when you believe that faith alone saves, but the Bible specifically rejects that belief in the plainest language possible?

      About Paul’s meaning in the many verses you quote from his letters, please read the article. It’s all explained there.

      You are very much mistaken. Your belief in salvation by faith alone does not come straight from the Bible. It comes from precisely the human interpreters of the Bible that you reject. Except instead of coming from Popes and Cardinals, it comes from Martin Luther and John Calvin, the human founders of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is the human theologian who invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as you can see for yourself if you study the history of that doctrine.

      The Bible specifically rejects salvation by faith alone—and so should you, if you truly believe in the Bible, and not in human theologians and interpretations.

  33. joehorizons says:

    Wow! Praise God He has given some people the wisdom to speak about the Truth! To interpret the true meaning of the Words of God, There’s only one interpretation, one meaning and that’s the Truth. One’s interpretation does not differ and should never differ to another – This is What God wants to tell us I think. There’s ONLY ONE TRUTH! Thank you so much for creating this as this is simply what I have been believing to begin with. Since I became a Christian, I questioned the doctrines that tells us Faith Alone is enough, and then as long you believe you could go on and sin, and keep sinning, then you come back to our Lord and ask for forgiveness, and then sin again thinking that God has forgiven ALL sins. Yes, God forgives sins but He does not want us to sin, He wants us to walk in the light and in light there’s no darkness at all.

    • Lee says:

      Hi joehorizons,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. It’s always good to hear from fellow travelers who know and understand that it is not just what we believe, but what we do with what we believe, that matters.

      I would only say that although there is only one truth, that truth is in God and is God—and our human understanding of that truth may vary. Still, I do believe that we can have a clear understanding of genuine truth on our own human level of understanding. There are some beliefs, such as salvation by faith along, that are just plain wrong. And there are others, such as salvation through believing and living by what we believe that are God’s genuine truth with us.

  34. Keith says:

    And what good works did the their in the cross do to gain his salvation?

    You are misleading people

    Works saved no man, not one

    These works are not genuine if one thinks that they need to produce these works to get into heaven.

    Paul and James refer to dead faith. True faith will produce good works through the holt spirit

    • Lee says:

      Hi Keith,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      I agree that if we’re doing good works just to earn heaven, that won’t get us there. But that’s not the sort of good works we need to do if we wish to be saved. We must do good works simply because God commands us to, and because it’s the right thing to do. Read Matthew 25:31-46. That’s where Jesus himself says who will and won’t be saved. And read Romans 2:1-16, where Paul says the same thing. The rest of Paul’s writings must be read in the context of Romans 2.

      I’ve already covered the issue of faith and works in this article and the companion article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.” There is no need to repeat all of it. About the thief on the cross, please see: “Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

      • Tony says:

        hi lee

        A lot of the articles talk about being saved or salvation as is mentioned but what is salvation exactly? most people wouldn’t use this word in daily life so it’s confusing whenever the word salvation is brought up and also what is salvation referring to? god’s word?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Tony,

          It’s a very good question. And one that I really need to write and post a whole article about.

          But basically, salvation is becoming a new person from the inside out. It involves leaving behind our old self-absorbed and pleasure- and wealth-oriented ways, and becoming a person who loves others (“the neighbor,” in Bible terms) at least as much as we love ourselves, and puts God above all.

          This is not something that takes place in an instant. What evangelicals commonly call “being saved” is really the moment of conversion. After that moment of conversion, salvation happens as a lifelong process of leaving our old self behind and becoming a new person through God’s power working in us from the inside out.

          For more on how this works, please see:

          And I do need to write that article about the meaning of salvation . . . some time . . .

  35. Bart Prutenski says:

    A fundamentalist who recently spent time as a missionary in the Far East told about telling Buddhists that they don’t have to engage in rituals, that all they have to do is “believe.” What total nonsense, I thought. Hadn’t he seen the Bible passage, “Faith without works is dead”?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Bart,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Let’s hope those Buddhists know better! 🙂

      But seriously, I think that sort of evangelizing is why Christianity hasn’t been more effective in reaching out to some of the non-Christian areas of the world.

  36. Faith-Aloner says:

    A better way is to look what the Bible says about it:
    “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14.

    “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction?” Romans 9:22.
    God has actually designed that only a few will be saved.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Faith-Aloner,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      You have to understand that Jesus came at the end times of the nation of Israel, when the people had become corrupt, and few were seeking God and salvation, so few were taking that path. It was a time similar to the time of Noah, when of all the people on the earth, only Noah and his family were found to be righteous. That is why Jesus said that only a few find the way to life. He came at humanity’s lowest ebb, when the religious leaders, instead of leading people toward eternal life, were making them “twice as much a child of hell as themselves” (Matthew 23:15). Therefore most people were going on the pathway to hell, making it a broad one.

      Jesus came to broaden the way that had become so narrow, so that once again many might travel the path to life, as Isaiah prophesied:

      A highway shall be there,
      and it shall be called the Holy Way;
      the unclean shall not travel on it,
      but it shall be for God’s people;
      no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. (Isaiah 35:8)

      And now Jesus provides that highway for all who wish to take it, and tells us that no traveler on that highway, not even fools, will go astray on it.

      Romans 9:22 is also about the end times of the Israelite nation, as you will see if you read the entire chapter.

  37. Ryan Reading says:

    Hello Lee Woofenden,

    First and foremost I want to thank you for taking the time to write articles such as this. It is always profitable when Gods word is put out there for common people to interact with. I completely agree with you when you say that we are not saved by following the law in the Old Testament. That being said I do have a few questions I would like to have your input on.

    In your “Faith apart from the works of the Law” section of this article you state that Ephesians 2:8-9 is in reference to the aforementioned law, where does this come from? I searched and do not see where you made this connection. Along with that you reference Ephesians 2:10 to show another passage that falls in line with the view point on hand, but when read in a straightforward manner all this passage says is that we were created to do good works, not that we have too to in order to obtain salvation. I again do not see the connection here, would you please elaborate more on the Ephesians verses.

    My second question is this, in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, builders (Christians) work is judged by the fire and one whose work is completely burned up is still saved. What are your comments on this passage? How would someone such as myself explain this passage to one who believes in faith alone?

    For my final question i want to stay in the book of 1 Corinthians. In chapter 10 Paul is discussing the concept of grace. He states that his audience is making the comment “”I have the right to do anything””, instead of refuting this mindset Paul explains why it is not a good idea to do what ever one wishes. In your opinion why does Paul not explain that Grace means you cant do anything (in order to obtain salvation)?

    Thank you for your time reading through and thinking about my questions. I do home to get some insight on these topics from one such as yourself. If this is something you feel that would be better suited for a more personal conversation feel free to email me, but either way i do hope to hear from you.

    Thank you
    Ryan Reading

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for your comment and questions.

      About Ephesians:

      First, I am assuming that this was actually written by Paul (Bible scholars are divided about this), and that what he wrote in Ephesians is consistent with what he wrote in the rest of his letters, where he makes it clear that those who do evil will be damned, while those who do good will be saved. See, for example, Romans 2:1-16.

      But even if Ephesians was written a different author and attributed to Paul, it is better to assume that the Bible does not contradict itself on such critical issues as how we are saved. And elsewhere the Bible clearly teaches that we are justified by our works and not by faith alone (James 2:14-26) and that we will be judged for eternal life or eternal punishment based on whether or not we have done good works of love and kindness for our fellow human beings (Matthew 25:31–46).

      For more on this, please see “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” especially the sections titled “We must not do evil and destructive things” and “We must do things that are good and right.”

      So based on general consistency with the teachings of the rest of the New Testament, we can know that Ephesians, too, does not teach that it is only our faith, and not our good (or evil) works, that determines whether we are saved or damned.

      Second, even within Ephesians itself, by reading the statements in Ephesians 2:8–9 in the context of the entire letter, and also by continuing on to read the second half of Ephesians 2, we can see that the author is developing the same argument that is developed in Romans 3–4 and elsewhere: that it is not adherence to the Jewish Law that saves us, but rather faith in Jesus Christ, and living by that faith.

      Reading on in Ephesians 2, we quickly come to the issue of “Jew vs. Gentile, circumcised vs. uncircumcised”:

      So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)

      Here the author, presumably Paul, is saying that at one time the Gentiles were far away from Israel and the covenant, so that they had no hope of salvation. But now, even though they are uncircumcised and not under the (Jewish) Law, they have access to salvation in Christ:

      For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the Law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:14–18, italics added)

      This is where we can see clearly that the “works” he was talking about earlier in verse 9 are the ones prescribed in the “Law” that he has now “abolished with its commandments and ordinances.”

      Clearly he does not mean that the laws of right living and kindness are abolished, because if we read further, in chapters 4 and 5 he admonishes his readers and listeners not to live in evil and corrupt ways, but to live as children of light, and so on. And he says, in particular, that fornicators and impure people will not have any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 5:5). If it were faith alone that saves us, he would not say here in Ephesians, as he does elsewhere, that those who do evil will not be saved, whereas those who do good will be saved.

      So the argument in Ephesians is the same as it is in Romans and in the rest of Paul’s letters: that we are no longer required to keep the ritual and sacrificial Law of Moses, but that we are saved by God’s love (“grace”) which we receive through faith and express in good works.

      In other words, salvation is not based on mere obedience to the works of the ritual Law, but it is a full package involving love, faith, and good works, or heart, head, and hands, meaning the whole person. This is the consistent teaching of the entire New Testament—Jesus, Paul, James, and all the rest.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ryan,

      I’ll respond more briefly to your other two questions.

      About 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:

      My understanding of this is that people who have the intention to live a good life, and make the effort to live a good life and build a good character according to what they believe God desires of them, will be rewarded with eternal life even if they have a weak or mistaken understanding of what it actually means to live a good life and follow God’s commandments.

      So, for example, if a particular man’s religion tells him that in order to be saved he must take up arms in a violent struggle against unbelievers, and he sincerely believes that is what God wants him to do, so that he willingly joins a militia or military unit and fights shooting battles against unbelievers, that person will be saved even though shooting and killing people who believe differently than oneself is the antithesis of a good, righteous, and spiritual life as taught in the Gospels by Jesus Christ, and by many other religions around the world.

      Such a person will be saved, but his “earthly house” of violent religion will be burned up and lost. In the kingdom of God, he can no longer live in such a bloody and violent way. So he will suffer the loss of his beliefs and his former way of life, but he himself will be saved because he lived that way in sincerity of heart believing that this was what God required of him. His faithfulness to God and to his own conscience will save him, but he will have to re-learn what it means to live a good and godly life.

      This is what happens after death to all people who live by faulty religious teachings, but do it from a heart that sincerely wishes to honor God and obey God’s commandments.

      • Ryan Reading says:

        Hello Lee,

        Your response to this question is very unique. This is an interpretation that I have never hear of before, but that aside assuming that you are correct in your belief there are a few implications that strike me as very interesting. It seems as if you are implying that there is some sort of life after this life and before we are judged and go to either heaven or hell. This comes to be through your comment about your person having to “re-learn what it means to live a good and godly life”. If this is truly what you hold, I am interested in hearing your reasoning for this as well. The second implication that arises from this is that it seems that it does not matter what one believes, as long as they are worshiping God with all their heart then they will get a second chance. Now, if this is true then the faith vs. faith and works debate is fully pointless. This seems to be the case by your statement that “he lived that way in sincerity of heart believing that this was what God required of him.” If I sincerely believe that all God requires of me is faith then it seems that I will have a second chance to figure out “living the good and godly life” assuming that I am wrong.
        Again, I hope to hear from you, these are topics of great interest to me.
        Thank you
        Ryan Reading

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ryan,

          I’m glad to have given you some new thoughts to ponder.

          On your first query, yes, most of us do not go immediately to heaven or to hell after we die, but rather go first to an intermediate place or state in which our life is sorted out and our true character is revealed. At that point we go either to heaven or to hell based on the choices we have made and the character we have built here on earth. For more on this, please see: “What Happens To Us When We Die?

          On your second query, what we believe does matter, since false beliefs can lead us to do many harmful things, or at least things that are nowhere near as good as they would be if we had correct beliefs. For more on this, please see: “Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

          Also, false beliefs are sometimes the product of an evil heart. If, for example, a particular man (or woman) believes that “All things are lawful” means that there is no longer a prohibition against adultery, and engages in adultery because his heart is full of impure lust and he wishes to indulge himself, then his false belief is damning because it has been adopted to provide cover for the evil actions of an evil heart.

          However, if people have false beliefs that they hold in sincerity due to what they have been taught in church, and they are striving to live a good life according to those beliefs, then although those false beliefs may do some damage as mentioned above and in the linked article on whether doctrine matters, their beliefs are not damning beliefs. The people holding them can still go to heaven because their intention is to live a good life as they believe God commands them to live. In the afterlife, when they realize that their former beliefs were mistaken, they will gladly embrace the actual truth of God as they are taught by the angels, because their desire is to follow God and live by the truth.

          People whose heart is not in the right place, though—who do not care what is true or false, but only cling to particular beliefs for the sake of reputation or to justify and excuse their evil desires and behaviors—will reject the truth when the angels attempt to teach them. They will cling doggedly to their false beliefs. And because they reject both God and God’s truth, they will find their way to hell, where they will live forever.

          As for the faith vs. faith and works debate, it should be completely unnecessary.

          That debate is necessary only because leading Protestant theologians have utterly misunderstood Paul’s teachings and have originated completely false, non-biblical doctrines that have been accepted throughout most of the Protestant branch of Christianity.

          The Bible simple never says that faith alone saves. In fact, it specifically and emphatically denies that faith alone saves. Anyone who believes or teaches this is teaching an utter falsehood. Those who believe and teach it in sincerity will, as you say, end out in heaven, not hell, provided that they have done what Jesus Christ taught us to do, which is to repent from our sins, believe in him, and live a life of love and kindness toward our neighbor.

          The teaching of faith alone is utterly false and utterly useless. But Protestants who sincerely believe it because that’s what they have been taught will go to heaven anyway if and only if they live by what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ actually did teach in the Bible. Fortunately, Protestants do read the Gospels also, and they read what Jesus teaches there, and most of them live by it despite the fact that their preachers are preaching a false doctrine to them.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ryan,

      About 1 Corinthians 10, I’m not sure exactly what your question is. I’ll say a few things, and you can let me know if I’m addressing what you want addressed.

      I presume the specific passage you’re referring to is 1 Corinthians 10:23:

      “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

      I don’t think his meaning is literally that all things are lawful. It seems obvious enough that murdering, committing adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness are still very much not lawful.

      Rather, I think we need to read that statement in its context. In verses 14–31 Paul is talking about the issue of not eating meat sacrificed to idols. This, as we know from Acts 15, was a serious issue for pagan converts to Christianity who still lived in pagan lands—an issue that the so-called “Council of Jerusalem” had to deal with. And Paul’s words in verse 23 reflect that issue.

      So when he says, “All things are lawful,” he’s speaking in the context of eating meat sacrificed to idols, not making a universal statement that there is absolutely nothing were not allowed to do as Christians. And his general argument is that eating meat sacrificed to idols by itself won’t actually condemn us, but for the sake of example, if we know that meat has been sacrificed to idols, we shouldn’t eat it so as not to offend those who might look to us for an example of how we’re supposed to live.

      The same principle would apply to other situations in which a particular action isn’t actually evil in itself, but if we engage in that action among people who believe it is evil, then we are causing offense against their sincerely held beliefs, which is not a good or godly thing to do.

      Does that in any way address your question?

      • Ryan Reading says:

        Hello Lee,

        Sorry if I was hard to understand in my previous comment. I will try to be more clear in my writings. you did, however, address my question on this matter. I do believe that you are correct in pulling out main application of this passage, but we do not see eye to eye on verse 23. When I read the verse I read it as it as it would be in context. What I mean by this is the verse reads,

        “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

        So, a plain reading of this verse (in context) would be,

        “all things are lawful, so therefore I can eat this meat sacrificed to idols” but not all things are beneficial.

        This still holds to the message here and does not change what the text says. If Paul was trying to limit the power of the statement he was making he would have written this another way, I believe that this is written so that it can be generalized to anything (as the text says).
        Another way, if Paul wanted his readers to know that this statement that all is lawful was to be limited specifically to eating sacrificed meats of other actions that are not intrinsically bad then he would have specified that instead of retorting with,

        but not all things are beneficial.

        I hope that this makes enough sense that you understand what I am saying. Again I thank you for your time and hope to hear your thoughts on this topic.

        Ryan Reading

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ryan,

          Just so I’m clear on what you’re saying:

          Do you believe that murder, adultery, theft, and false witness are lawful, but simply not beneficial?

  38. Thank you for your post. I grew up protestant and under the Sola Fide theology and have thought it very unbliblical for some time now. Thank you for articulating it. It’s pretty obvious if you read the Bible as a whole. It’s a very dangerous theology that comforts people in their sin and aids apathy. The devil must love it. Anyways, thanks again. Blessings to you!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Todd,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad to have provided you with further thoughts and ideas to support what you had already come to realize. And yes, I think the devil is having a good chuckle at how far off-track he managed to get the main bodies of Christianity! Fortunately, that old “Christianity” is now being gradually rejected by the wider society, which will clear the way for a better and truer form of Christianity to take its place.

      Meanwhile, I invite you to read some of the other articles here if you find them helpful to your understanding and your spiritual life. And if you have further thoughts or questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to leave further comments.

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  39. Elthar says:

    if faith only saves and that faith is the protestant faith people in the middle ages where all going to hell because they where all Catholic’s and some hidden groups of so called heretics it gives me a lot of joy to know that heaven probably might be more crowded then hell anyway a wonderful article it has open my eyes for the truth that what you do really matters have a great day !

  40. Ed Lucas says:

    Hello Lee,

    I was searching for something completely different when I ran across your article. I enjoyed reading it. As a Catholic Christian it all made sense to me. It was amazing to me how closely your thought process matched Catholic teaching. Your brief bio indicates otherwise, but as I was reading your article I first thought I was visiting a Catholic blogger’s website.

    If it should ever happen that the Holy Spirit prompts you to investigate the possibility of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church I would recommend that you contact the “Coming Home Network”. Their website is

    Also, you seem to be an avid reader. I recently read a book that might interest you. The title is “Catholic and Christian” by Alan Schreck.

    Thank you for listening.

    The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ed,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind comment and gracious invitation. I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I did remove from your comment the line containing your email address, per our Comments policy.

      I have had friendly relations with both Catholic and Protestant clergy, regardless of major differences in doctrine and practice. There are many things on which we can all work together.

      Still, I am very settled and content in my beliefs, many of which would preclude full communion with the Catholic Church even if that were something I had an interest in. Most fundamentally, I believe that the Catholic Church was very much mistaken when it adopted the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons early in its history. For my views on the nature of God, please see: “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  41. Alex says:

    Hi Lee. Romans is a massive head scratcher to me. It makes a lot of sense just as it no sense to me.

    However, I feel that the interpretation has fallen victim to our modern (read: Greek) way of thinking and the either/or dichotomy. Either we are saved by faith or we are saved by action. But the Hebrews did not follow such linear train of though. It waw contextual and this is why I feel that we are both justified by faith and the way we live. Allow me to explain.

    I used to be highly arrogant, a lier, a thief and a cheat. However, when I consciously decided to have faith in Christ, I started to distance myself from those act. But not consciously. In fact, I developed a deep resentment for things that displease the Lord, something I did not actively pursue. It is clear to me that my moral compass now works according to the Lord and not myself, yet it is the Lord’s work. It was He who changed this part of me. Through faith alone.

    However, we must also not forget that there is a distinction between knowing and doing and Hebrews put strong emphasis on the latter. You are not humble by knowing how to do it but by actually doing it. Similarly you can not know the Lord without “doing” the Lord (read: do what the Lord says) and you can not “know” faith (have faith) without “doing” faith (act according to this faith).

    Thus everything is grounded in action and is mutually dependent. Before the Lord you are justified by faith and just as Paul said those who have faith in the Lord will be free of sin. But we show this faith through action (doing vs knowing). And so we receive strength by having faith and thus be able to act on it and by acting on it we show faith and receive more strength to act even further on it. It is perpetual spiral that will lead us upward towards the Lord.

    This is why I think the work of Christ is so magnificent beyond anything else. He freed us from the works of the law by fulfilling it and introduced a new system that is not based on commands or letters but on our very souls and a highly personal relationship with Him. It is a system not based on logic but on love. He gives us His love and we return ours. We receive through our faith andin turn use it do show our love by doing and living rightly and thus receiving more love. It just dawned on me how genius and loving this system is and glorious the Lord is.

    So I do not think that we are justified solely by faith or solely by living, but one directly lead to the other. However, it all starts with faith and I believe that this is the starting point and Paul talks about in the letters. We can start this relation not through works but faith, but acting on this faith is what follows.

    This goes in line with what the Holy Spirit is and how it works. It is same part inspiration from God and our own actions according to God.

    Generally, I feel that the Bible holds a far deeper meaning if one is to abandon linear thinking and the either/or dichotomy and try to think contextual.

    Anyway, that is just my opinion and my realization. Let me know what you think and if it makes any sense to begin with. I am not well versed in the Bible by any means, so I am looking for feedback.

    Cheers 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      From my perspective, you’re moving along the right track, in the right direction, even if I would quibble with a few of your statements.

      To get those out of the way first, I would not agree that the Lord’s changing of our hearts and desires from within happens “through faith alone.” It requires, as an essential part of that work, our willingness to open our heart and our spirit to the Lord’s presence working within us. And that involves more than just faith on our part.

      And about it all starting with faith, I would say that’s how we perceive things because we are more aware of our thoughts than we are of our feelings. So the first thing we perceive is “I had faith, and then things started to change.” But in fact, that faith itself was driven from within by a love that the Lord placed in us, which love made a decision in our heart not to be the sort of person we had been up to that time (in your case, as you describe it, highly arrogant, and a liar, thief, and cheat) but to be something and someone else instead. That decision in our heart leads our head to have faith in Jesus, because our heart knows that this is the means and pathway to achieving what our heart desires, which is a different and better life and character for ourselves.

      So for us, faith appears to be first in temporal sequence, and to lead to everything else, because it is when we first have faith that our conscious, thinking mind first notices and analyzes what is happening. And then everything appears to us to flow from that faith, when in fact the faith itself flows from a love buried deeper within us, mostly beyond our conscious, thinking awareness. That is why, for example, Paul states that of faith, hope, and love, love (not faith) is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13). And it is why the two Greatest Commandments that Jesus gave us are not about faith, but about love: love for God and love for our neighbor.

      So faith really doesn’t come first, even though it appears to us to come first. And faith really is not primary, even if it seems to us thought- and intellect-focused people to be primary. Rather, love is primary, and love uses faith as a means to achieve its goals.

      That said, much of your thinking here is, I think, moving toward real understanding of how our spiritual rebirth actually takes place.

      First, I love your observation that it was really the Lord who changed you from within, without your really doing anything at all. That is precisely how it happens. What we do is open the door when we hear the Lord knocking at it (Revelation 3:20). The Lord then comes into our heart, mind, and soul, and does the work of changing us from within. And it is a change primarily in what we love and desire. Whereas before, as in your example, we loved thinking of ourselves as better and smarter than everyone else, loved lying, loved stealing, loved cheating, and found pleasure in these things, the Lord changes our heart within us so that in time, instead of finding these things pleasurable as before, we now find them distasteful and even horrifying. That is purely the Lord’s work within us, changing our heart, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19–20, 36:25–27).

      I also think it’s a great insight that the Hebrew people saw faith and action as integrated, not as things that could be separated out from one another. In fact, if you continue on to this article’s sequel, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith,” you will see that the Hebrew concept of “faith” was not at all what we today think of as “faith”: an intellectual conviction of the truth of something. Rather, it was a concept of faithfulness, meaning an assurance expressed in action of the things held to. For them, the idea that we could have an intellectual conviction of something without acting upon it would have been a complete head-scratcher. It simply would not have computed. Their concept of faith is really our concept of faithfulness. And that’s how the word should really be translated.

      As that follow-up article says, the Greek New Testament does draw more on Greek and Roman philosophical ideas, which were more intellect-based than the ancient Hebrew concept of life—which was very action-based. However, the New Testament writers, including Paul, were also steeped in Hebrew thought. So when Paul writes about “faith” he is not just drawing on Greek intellectual concepts of conviction in the mind; he is also drawing on Hebrew concepts of faithfulness. And I have come to believe that we cannot understand Paul’s writings if we don’t understand this very Hebrew bent to his thinking. First, Paul never actually said that “faith alone” does anything. He never even used that term. But more importantly, when he wrote “faith,” he really meant faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ, which is an entirely different thing than a mere belief that Jesus saves us, as is commonly thought in Protestant circles.

      But there’s more about that in the next article, linked above.

      Yes, Romans is a bit of a head-scratcher. Even Paul’s contemporaries thought his writing was hard to understand in places (see 2 Peter 3:15–16). But his letters become more understandable as we begin to understand his heavily Hebrew worldview, and as we begin to understand the history and context in which he was writing. The Protestant view of Paul is almost entirely divorced from both. It utterly misunderstands and misreads Paul because, as you say, it falls victim to a modern, Greek-philosophy-based view of the world in general, and of faith in particular, when that was simply not the view of faith and of the world in general that Paul worked from. He was certainly aware of Greek thinking (some scholars believe he was a Hellenistic Jew). But his thinking was grounded in Hebrew thought. He was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:4–5).

      And about the history and context behind his letters, without fully grasping and appreciating the major debate that found pointed expression in the so-called Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15, we simply cannot understand Paul’s point about being saved by faith (really, by faithfulness) apart from the works of the Law. His main point was that we do not need to be observant Jews to be saved. Our faithfulness to Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Law, does away with the requirement to observe the Jewish ritual and sacrificial Law of Moses.

      I could go on, but that’s enough for now. I hope these thoughts and reactions are helpful to you.

      • Alex says:

        Hi Lee.

        Thank you very much for taking the time. I believe that the discovery how the ancient Hebrew mindset was different from the Hellenistic and slowly gaining the understanding of wha Paul was writing was a very important step for me in understanding the message of Christ and how His plan for salvation works, and with that gain a new level of appreciation for Him. This also gives me new insight on what the Holy Spirit actually is. Most certainly not a person, but the inspiration God breathes into us as well as a metaphor for our subsequent godly actions. I will need some time to let this part sink in.

        Thanks again for replying. It was certainly helpful and I will check out the sequel to this article.

        Cheers 🙂

  42. Josiah Jones says:

    I do not think that we must do works in order to be saved, because our works could never be good enough (Is. 64:6). I believe that we are saved by faith in our LORD JESUS CHRIST (i.e. who HE really is and what HE did for us on the cross). I think that this salvation should lead us to want to do things for the Gospel, and live by HIS Word.

    James 2:18 New International Version
    “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
    This Scripture is not saying that we are saved by works. Instead, our acts are reflections and proof of our faith.

    2 Timothy 1:9-11 (NIV)
    “(9) He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (10) but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (11) And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.”
    The Apostle Paul here says that JESUS called us because of HIS grace and purpose, our SAVIOR saves us, and that the Gospel brings light. He says that he was “a herald, and an apostle, and a teacher” because the Gospel’s truth changed him, not because he had to be these things in order to be saved.

    1 Corinthians 15:10 (ESV)
    “(10) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
    Here, Paul says that GOD’s amazing grace allowed him to be who he was, and that his works were because of GOD’s grace, not because he needed to do them in order to obtain the grace of GOD.

    Romans 3:24-25 (NLT)
    “(24) Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (25) For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”
    This clearly states that we are made right through JESUS’ sacrificed life and shed blood.

    In conclusion, I believe that we are saved and justified through faith in the One, True GOD (Rom 5:9-11). Our deeds are a reflection and proof of our faith and salvation to men (James 2:18) in our LORD JESUS CHRIST.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Josiah,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I know that you are sincere in what you are saying. Unfortunately, you have been misled by faulty teachings and bad translations of the Bible into believing things that the Bible never actually says.

      But first, it is true that we are saved by Jesus Christ, not by our works, or even by our faith. Faith doesn’t save us. Jesus Christ saves us. And that happens through believing in him. So the idea that we are saved by faith, as that is usually understood, is false. Rather, we are saved by Jesus Christ through believing in him and doing what he teaches us to do. Both our faith and our good works are part of Jesus’ work in saving us.

      But you cannot understand how salvation really works as long as you are misled by false teachings and faulty translations of the Bible.

      In particular, if you have a copy of the New Living Translation (NLT), I would strongly urge you to throw it into the trash can right away. It is one of the worst “translations” ever made of the Bible. I put “translation” in quotes because it really isn’t a translation at all. Rather, it is a revision of the Bible to make it conform to Protestant doctrine.

      To provide just a single example, you quote the NLT translation of Romans 3:24-25. Here is how verse 24 reads in the NLT:

      Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

      That is simply not what the Greek says. The word “penalty” does not occur in the Greek. If you look at a whole list of different English translations of that verse here, you will see that the NLT is the only one that uses the word “penalty” in that verse. That’s because the NLT has revised and mistranslated the verse to say something that it doesn’t actually say.

      You can see the original Greek, and a word-for-word translation of that verse, here.

      The fact of the matter is that nowhere in the entire Bible does it ever say that Jesus paid the price or penalty for our sins, freed us from the penalty of our sins, or any such thing. In fact, the Bible explicitly rejects the whole idea that an innocent person could pay the penalty for the sins of a guilty person. See my article, “The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 5: Jesus Paid the Penalty For Our Sins?

      The idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins is a false, anti-biblical teaching that was invented by various human leaders of the Protestant Reformation 1,500 years after the Bible was written. As long as you believe this false teaching, you will never understand what the Bible actually does teach about salvation.

      And once again, please throw away the New Living Translation of the Bible right away, and do not rely upon it to learn what the Bible says. It is a terrible “translation.” The more you read it, the more false and inaccurate your knowledge of what the Bible actually says will be.

      Another false teaching that is found nowhere in the Bible is that “we can never be good enough.” Nowhere does the Bible ever say that. It does say that we are sinners, and that only God through Jesus Christ can save us. But everywhere it teaches that though we are sinners, we must repent from our sins, and do good, if we wish to be save. You mention Isaiah 64:4, which says:

      We have all become like one who is unclean,
      and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
      We all fade like a leaf,
      and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

      And that is true. We are all sinners, and have all become unclean. But Isaiah does not say that there is no way we can do good, that “our works can never be good enough,” and so on. In fact, the very first chapter of Isaiah calls us to repentance and to doing good instead of evil:

      Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
      remove the evil of your doings
      from before my eyes;
      cease to do evil,
      learn to do good;
      seek justice,
      rescue the oppressed,
      defend the orphan,
      plead for the widow.

      Come now, let us argue it out,
      says the Lord:
      though your sins are like scarlet,
      they shall be like snow;
      though they are red like crimson,
      they shall become like wool.
      If you are willing and obedient,
      you shall eat the good of the land;
      but if you refuse and rebel,
      you shall be devoured by the sword;
      for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 1:16–20)

      The message of the Bible is not that we cannot do good. Rather, it is that we must repent from our sins, stop doing evil, and do good instead, because the Lord has commanded it. If we do not do this, then we cannot be saved, because we are disobeying the commandment of the Lord and the teaching of the entire Bible.

      I could go on, but perhaps this will be enough to show you that what you have been taught about salvation simply is not what the Bible teaches.

      • Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
      • Nowhere does the Bible say that we are saved by faith alone.
      • Nowhere does the Bible say that we can never be good enough for God.

      All of these are false teachings invented by human beings over a thousand years after the Bible was written.

      Here are some articles that cover these subjects in more detail:

      Once again, I understand that you are sincere in your beliefs. But the things you have been taught simply aren’t taught in the Bible. I urge you to read these articles, and learn what the Bible actually does teach about salvation.

      • Josiah Jones says:

        If JESUS didn’t pay the penalty for our sins, what did HE die for?

        I never said we are unable to do good acts, but these acts were not good enough to gain justification before our GOD (for HE requires no sin, and we have a lot of it). So, from my point of view, that is why JESUS was sent (to gain for us something we could not do on our own). This is shown in Romans 5: 1-10.

        And I agree with a later comment, that our works complete our faith.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Josiah,

          That’s a big question. But the basic answer is that Jesus died to complete his victory over the Devil, hell, and death, and in that way to secure salvation for us. If we had tried to fight that battle by our own power, we would have lost. But since Christ has fought the battle for us, he has the power to win the battle within our soul as well, if we believe in him, let him into our life, and follow his commandments.

          Jesus spoke of his upcoming victory over the powers of this world (i.e., the Devil, evil, and hell) when he said to his disciples before his crucifixion:

          I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)

          And after his resurrection he said to them:

          All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

          That power includes the power to defeat evil and the devil in the soul of every person who believes in Jesus and follows his teachings.

          You can read more about this in these articles:

          Romans 5:1–10 says nothing at all about Jesus paying the penalty for our sins. It does talk about what Christ accomplished for us by his death on the cross. But paying the penalty for our sins is not one of the things it mentions. As I said in my previous response to you, nowhere in the entire Bible (properly translated) does it ever say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. (And once again, please throw the New Living “Translation” into the trash right away!)

          Also, as I already said, nowhere in the Bible does it say that we can’t be good enough for God, or that God will condemn us to hell for even the slightest sin, or that if we are not perfect God will condemn us to hell, or anything like that. These ideas are pure inventions of Protestant theologians who completely ignored and misunderstood what the Bible says.

          But it is very true that we could not save ourselves, and that we cannot gain justification (which is really just a fancy word meaning “made into righteous people”) on our own, but that we required Jesus Christ to fight and win the battle against the Devil and give us the power to overcome as well, not on our own, but through his strength working in and through us.

          Also, “faith” in the Bible does not mean mere belief in God, but faithfulness to God. See: “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.” And faithfulness to God means living by God’s commandments, which are all about not doing evil but instead doing good works of love and service for our fellow human beings. That’s why James said:

          What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14–17)


          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          There is no such thing as “faith alone,” because “faith alone” is a dead faith, which means it is not faith at all. And the Bible never, ever teaches that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

  43. bob says:

    thanks for so many comments….. i really learned a lot., what about this………..
    Our works can never save us because if it would, the death of Christ at the cross makes nonsense. salvation by grace from God through Christ that’s once and for all. and because Christ lives in us good works comes out.

    • Lee says:

      Hi bob,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      I agree that good works come out because Christ lives in us. The works we do are Christ working through us. So it’s not that “our works save us.” Rather, it’s that doing good works in an inseparable part of salvation, which is Christ dwelling within us and working through us. Those who do not do good works are not saved because Christ does not dwell in them. It’s the very same reason that those who do not have faith are not saved: because when we do not have faith, Christ does not dwell in us because we have rejected Christ’s presence in us.

      As for making Christ’s death on the cross nonsense, that is a common Protestant saying, but it’s based on a misunderstanding of what Christ did on the cross, and through his entire life on earth. For more on that, please see these two articles:

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  44. Brittain says:

    Hello I was reading Revelation 20:12-13

    12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

    13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    .. This made me curious as to why I was told so many times that salvation was through faith alone. So, of course, I looked to see what Jesus had to say about the situation..

    Matthew 16:27

    27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

    … So yeah, that pretty much sums it up for me. If we are to be judged and rewarded according to our works, then I am pretty sure works matter. If we are not written in the book of life at all, then we are placed into the lake of fire.. Also we know that our works are a reflection of Christ in us, so if Christ truly abides within us, He will quite naturally manifest in our works. On the contrary, if we claim to have faith, yet none of our works reflect those claims-we are hypocrites. If we have lots of “works” and lack of faith, we can probably bet the Lord will say He never knew us.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brittain,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good thoughts. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

    • bob says:

      every one can work without faith.. but if someone has a faith it is impossible for them not to manifest a good work..

      • Lee says:

        Hi bob,

        I agree. That’s why faith without works is dead, as James said (James 2:17), and really, is not “faith” at all. People who say they have faith in Jesus but don’t live by Jesus’ commandments do not have faith at all.

        “Faith alone” is a contradiction in terms. It may exist in the imagination of Protestant theologians, but it cannot exist in reality. See: “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”

  45. bob says:

    thanks brother Lee

    what about those thieves who has been crucified with Christ. Luke 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
    why does Christ says that today you are with me in paradise if obeying the law is such a matter in our salvation. isn’t it that he only believe?

  46. Lorie Davis says:

    I wanted a quickie answer to “Why did God put us on earth,” and Google popped up your article. Thus, I only read part of your article, WHICH IS LOGICAL, INSPIRED AND EXCELLENT! Then I just dropped down to this reply box to say “AMEN!” I study the scriptures daily, and what I take from them every time, is the fact that God wants us to KEEP His commandments, LOVE and SERVE our neighbors (AND our enemies!) and LEARN, LEARN, LEARN! Even Eve, in the Garden of Eden committed the first transgression because she wanted to be WISE, not because she was weak-willed and stupid. She wanted to learn, and she saw she couldn’t learn wisdom in a garden that provided everything (I’m a woman, so I know how women think!) How many times does the Bible say we are to “learn.” THAT would be an interesting statistic. Why-ever else God put us here, he intends for us to learn by our experiences: good and evil, virtue and vice, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. He wants us to develop our talents and serve others. We are here to learn to be more Christlike, by following His examples of self-mastery and plentiful service to others. And, Lee, anybody with a brain knows that DOING what He commanded takes FAITH, FAITH, FAITH. “Faith without works is dead.” (Faith without repentance for our sins is dead, too, as other comments have pointed out.)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lorie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind and inspired words. Yes! Our life here on earth—not to mention to eternity—is all about learning to love and serve God and our neighbor, as Jesus taught.

      About Eve and being a woman, you might enjoy this article: “Is the Bible a Book about Men? What about Women?” It grew out of a conversation with my wife. When she heard what I had to say about some of the influential women in the Bible, she insisted that I write that article! 😀

      • Lorie Davis says:

        What’s the address of your article of women in the Bible. It’s not a big surprise that their deep spiritual experiences are not often mentioned. Most of them were not learned in reading and writing, besides not having time for it. They were not the keepers of the records. The society WAS male-centric. And besides having families to feed, clothe, and bring up, women had to keep gardens, prepare, spin and weave wool and linen, grind the grain for their bread, and do a thousand more things than women NOW, or men THEN did not have to do. I can hardly wait for heaven, when we can look back and see ALL THE TRUTH ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE, women included!!

  47. Lorie Davis says:

    Lorie again: regarding the Bible not saying Christ payed the penalty for our sins. How about Isaiah 53:4-6

    4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

    5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

    6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

    If the suffering “he” in the above verses is not talking about Jesus Christ, of whom is it talking? YES, HE took upon himself OUR griefs, OUR sorrows, OUR transgressions and OUR stripes. The LORD (His Father) laid them upon Jesus! But Why? So that we could repent (so often commanded by Jesus’s own mouth) learn, and live better, so that He could forgive us and welcome us into His rest.
    ( By the way, can any Christian read those verses above and not sing along with
    Handle’s MESSIAH? 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lorie,

      Handel’s Messiah is a masterpiece!

      About Isaiah 53:4–6, it says that Jesus suffered for our sins, but not that he paid the penalty for our sins. There’s a big difference!

      For example, if we see a family member or friend suffering the consequences of some very wrong or criminal act they committed, we may suffer with them, and feel pain at the pain they are going through. And their knowledge that we are suffering due to their wrong actions may cause them to rethink their life, repent, and begin a new life. However, our suffering does not pay the penalty for their wrong action. They will still have to suffer any legal or social consequences of what they’ve done.

      Similarly, Jesus suffered and was afflicted due to the evil and sinfulness of humankind. Keep in mind that it was humans, not God, who crucified him. In doing so Jesus took the weight of our evil and sin upon his shoulders and overcame it within himself, thus securing the power to overcome it in us as well if we are willing to accept that power into our lives by believing in him and following his commandments to repent from our sins and to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.

      For more on the difference between paying the penalty for our sins and suffering for our sins, please see these articles:

      Meanwhile, godspeed on your spiritual journey!

      • Lorie Davis says:

        What we REALLY need is for Jesus to come down in person and explain HIS understanding of the gospel to us. How could there be 35,000 registered Christian religions in America, all of which claim to base their doctrines on the Bible, and yet their doctrines so differ! YES, we really need first-hand knowledge from Jesus. NO, the Bible, amazing and wonderful as it is, is not enough to give us the full truth!

        On Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 12:33 PM, Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life wrote:

        > Lee commented: “Hi Lorie, Handel’s Messiah is a masterpiece! About Isaiah > 53:4-6, it says that Jesus suffered for our sins, but not that he paid the > penalty for our sins. There’s a big difference! For example, if we see a > family member or friend suffering the conseque” >

        • Lee says:

          Hi Lorie,

          That would be nice. But I would suggest not holding your breath waiting for Jesus to return. People have been waiting for that to happen for nearly 2,000 years now. And every generation of people thinks it will happen in their lifetime. But God apparently has other plans.

          Meanwhile, at least those 35,000 registered Christian religions in America have some modicum of truth in them, even if they teach many false things as well.

          Most importantly, they teach their people to believe in Jesus, to repent from their sins, and to live a good life of love and service to their neighbor instead. And that’s so even if their official doctrine is the false doctrine that we are saved by faith alone. Fortunately, most Protestants actually do live a good life, even if their church teaches them that they are saved by faith alone. And the fact that they not only believe, but also live a good life according to Jesus’ teachings, is what saves them—regardless of what their church officially teaches.

  48. bob says:

    i will also suggest for you to read the book great controversy

  49. Tim Beeker says:

    What is halacha, minhagim, takanot and gezerot, and ma’asim? Are these not what the Messiah and Rav Shaul spoke against? They spoke of being pro-works, and yet they spoke against those things (types of works and observances) just listed, did they not? I am led to believe that this is where the confusion of “works” as opposed to obedience comes in at.

    Does not obedience declare that works must be accomplished? I think you (as well as others) covered this, when you spoke of Avraham. Isn’t it also in our obedience that our faith is seen? “By their works, you shall know them…” (Mt. 7:20)

    What are we obedient to? How does that obedience, and the associated works, set us apart from the world? What is to be made of the word that Shaul gave in his letter to Titus, when he wrote: “They profess to know Elohim, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unfit for any good work.”? While this is directed at those who adhere to the list of five things above, it can also be applied to those who declare that “faith alone” saves, as the “faith alone” doctrine follows the same five things above.

    The Messiah speaking: ““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Master, Master,’ shall enter into the reign of the heavens, but he who is doing the desire of My Father in the heavens. Many shall say to Me in that day, ‘Master, Master, have we not prophesied in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and done many mighty works in Your Name?’ And then I shall declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who work lawlessness!’ (Mt. 7:21-23) There is a “doing” that leads to righteousness. There is also a “doing” that leads to death. One cannot avoid doing.

    Speaking of “doing”, what are we to make of Rav Shaul’s statement, when he wrote: “For not the hearers of the Torah are righteous in the sight of Elohim, but the doers of the Torah shall be declared right.”? (Ro. 2:13) This is right in line with the thoughts provided in Mt. 7:21-27 and Ya’acov. 2:14-24.

    Just rambling. 🙂

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment.

      Though you and I come from different religious traditions, and probably draw the line in a different place as to which laws, or works, we must observe and which are no longer in force, I believe the general principle is the same: obeying the laws and doing the good works that are still in force is a matter of obedience to God and is essential to our salvation. How can we be saved if we are disobedient to God? I do believe that even if there are some differences in the letter, in spirit Jesus, Paul, and James all taught the same thing: that we must do the good works that consist of faithfulness to God and love and service to our neighbor. That is what “justification,” or becoming righteous, means.

      It all centers on the two Great Commandments: loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Every law or good work required to follow these two commandments today—such as “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18–19)—is still in force, while those that are not required to follow these two commandments in our day and age—such as the various laws of ritual sacrifice—are no longer in force.

      That, at any rate, is how I see it.

  50. SJ (Schalk) Bornman says:


    If you include Reformers like Calvin under your definition of ‘protestants’ then you are misrepresenting the Reformed view substantially. That is dishonest. You are then criticizing your own twisted view.

    The bottom-line is that there can be no salvation without faith. No person without faith in God will enter heaven. Reformed theology also believe the following (if you would bother to read our dogmas or statements of faith): “ But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18 and “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).

    It is also true that deeds without faith cannot save either. That was one of the major criticisms of the Reformation against the RCC at that time. That is simply a fact of history

    • Lee says:

      Hi SJ,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Do I understand you correctly that you are saying we are saved by both faith and works together, and not by faith alone? Is that the official teaching of your church?

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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