The Expository Files

Active Faith In Christ

1 John 3:23

"And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he gave us commandment," (1
John 3:23).

There is a popular and traditional religious teaching that promises salvation by faith alone; sometimes expressed as "faith only." Billy Graham and others in the Protestant denominational community have repeated this teaching over and over, leading some to accept it without actually checking what the Bible says. In the modern evangelical, denominational world salvation by "faith alone" is assumed, cherished and promoted by repetition.

The doctrine fails the test of Scripture. Briefly, here are four simple New Testament statements which contradict the "faith only" teaching:

1. Mark 16:16 - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Jesus said this and it does not
teach "faith only." Belief in Him must produce obedience to Him in baptism, in order to be saved.

2. Acts 2:38 - "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." Just look at what the apostle Peter said, without coloring your interpretation with creed or tradition. If you hear the gospel and repent but just neglect baptism, do you think you receive the remission of sins?

3. Acts 10:35 - "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." What if you fear Him but do nothing else;
salvation by "fear only?" The fear (reverence for God) must lead to obedience, as you engage yourself in "works of righteousness." This response to the gospel brings you to divine acceptance, because Jesus died for you.

4. James 2:14-26 - Read this entire passage, and don't miss this: "faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead," (verse 17).

We can add 1 John 3:23 to the testimony of Scripture against "faith only" and in favor of active, obedient faith - both initially and after baptism. Notice, twice in the verse John uses the word "commandment." "This is his commandment," and "He gave us commandment." Every Bible student knows what God expects us to do with His commandments. His commandments are given for our obedient response - to govern and direct our behavior away from sin and into the light of God. Here is a verse about faith in Christ, believing on the name of the Son of God, and this belief is connected to commandments given by God. By what sort of "doctrinal leap" can we grab "believe" out of the verse, isolate it (faith only) and then tell people or imply that mental acceptance of Christ saves the sinner, before and apart from obedience? Well, the "doctrinal leap" amounts to leaving the text and building a human creedal formula.

Next, look into 1 John 3:23 once again - this time notice, whatever "believe" means in this verse, it is not a solitary condition. "...We should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment." Do you think faith minus love (that is, faith by itself) will bring salvation to the "believer?" Can one hear the message (the gospel), believe in Christ and not love, and be saved in spite of the absence of love? Belief
and love are connected by John. We must not separate them. {Look at the verse previous to verse 23. "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight," 1 John 3:24. This is also the activity and obedience of faith, that affords us access to God in prayer. Not faith alone, but faith as expressed in our obedient response to God.}

The verse does not include every product of faith, but it shows that saving faith must be productive of obedience to divine commandments, including love. Earlier John said: "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments," (1 Jno. 2:3).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 10.1; January 2003