Belief that does not Save

Belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ is essential in God's gospel plan of salvation. This one of the most obvious facts of Scripture and is supported by a host of passages.  For example, when the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, he was told, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:30-31).  This instruction is typical throughout all of the New Testament, and it clearly establishes belief as the foundational requirement for salvation in Christ.

However, belief is not the only requirement of the gospel, and belief alone without the appropriate accompanying deeds will not lead to salvation. Salvation and the forgiveness of sins is connected by Scripture with several other conditional requirements, such as repentance from sins (Acts 2:38), baptism in the name of Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1Pet. 3:21), and confession of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God (Rom. 10:9-10).  All of these deeds are made effective and meaningful because of belief in Christ, but at the same time belief in Christ cannot be effective itself unless it becomes active through such deeds.

In fact, professed belief in God without works that are appropriate to that belief is powerless for salvation.  Consider James 2:14-17:

14What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can that faith save him?  15If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

The works described by James include such things as repentance and baptism, but they also go beyond these initial requirements for obedience to the gospel. James speaks of such works as charity and the practice of brotherly love.  In the verses that follow, he gives the examples of Abraham and Rahab, both of whom acted upon their belief in God and were blessed for it.  These two are also mentioned in Hebrews 11, which describes person after person from the Old Testament record who acted on faith. Their faith was not dead, but rather it was active in works that justified them in the sight of God.  Without such works, belief is ineffective, powerless, and lifeless.

Moreover, professed belief in God that lacks basic good deeds is even worse than unbelief.  Consider 1Timothy 5:8, which says, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."  The person described here is a professed believer in Christ, but his failure to keep the most basic responsibilities toward his family make him a practical denier of Christ.  His claim to believe in Christ is made hollow and dishonest by his lack of good deeds, and this condition is worse for him than if he did not belief in Christ at all. Notice that this passage makes our family responsibilities a part of our faith, for we are to "practice piety in regard to [our] own family" (1Tim. 5:4), and failing to do so is equivalent to a denial of the faith.  Also, notice that this warning speaks of the effects of a lack of activity upon our faith. James 4:17 addresses such lack of good deeds when it says, "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

Likewise, professed belief that is accompanied by evil deeds is equivalent to a denial of God.  Of course, repentance requires that any evil deeds must be forsaken.  Even so, many claim to believe in God while they continue in sin with the idea that their belief will absolve them of guilt.  Paul wrote of such persons in Titus 1:16, saying, "They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed."  While their words profess belief, their deeds portray denial.

Therefore, let us be certain that our belief in God through Christ is the genuine, saving belief prescribed by the New Testament.  It should be a belief that not only accepts the facts of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, but also obeys the will of Christ.  The most recognized verse of Scripture is John 3:16, which says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." This is the gospel truth, but it should also be recognized that this truth is further explained by John 3:36, which says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."  Our belief in Jesus must be active, obedient, and comprehensive of all of Christ's will in order to lead us to eternal life.  That is true, saving belief.

Stacey E. Durham