One way we can consider a doctrine is by comparing it with other doctrines that answer similar questions. In the above picture, I have drawn a pendulum with five views of salvation. In the middle is a view, which in the 80s-90s, was called, “Free Grace.” This is the view that I adhere to and it teaches that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. The further the pendulum swings to the left, the more the doctrines teach that faith is insufficient, that is, the more works are required on our part. The further the pendulum swings to the right, the more the doctrines teach that faith is unnecessary, that is, the more we are saved apart from faith in Christ.
Jesus taught Sola Fide (by faith alone) salvation to Nicodemus. Jesus did not teach him Fide et Paenitentiae (by faith and repentance) salvation. There are folks who say things like:
Repentance is woven into the very fabric of the Gospel of John, though the word itself is never employed. In the account of Nicodemus, for example, repentance was clearly suggested in Jesus’ command to be “born again” (John 3:3-7). 1
Russian proponents of this theology rightly call the position, “Salvation through Lordship,” because it means that faith and repentance are necessary for eternal life. According to this view, the readers should read “repentance” into the text. When we push an idea like this into a text, we call it eisegesis (eis means “into” and egesis kinda means “lead or guide”). We want instead to practice exegesis (ex means “out of” or “from”), which is when we derive ideas from the text.
People often wonder if they have lost their salvation or whether or not they even were saved in the first place. When we boil it down, they may not really be doubting their eternal destiny, but rather the source of their salvation, that is to say, they may be doubting their savior.
And that can actually be a good thing.
“’If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with baloney.”
-W.C. Fields (paraphrased)
Theologians say that the Biblical word for faith has three essential aspects, expressed by the Latin words, notitia, assensus, and fiducia, which in English means “notion,” “assent,” and “fidelity.” Biblical saving faith is Latin fiducia, so when the Bible says, “faith alone,” it really means, “faith plus a lifelong commitment of works.”
My two favorite tracts in the universe are “You can be eternally secure” and “The best news you’ll ever hear” by Bob Bryant. I don’t often distribute tracts to the masses as I’m more of a “Let’s grab some coffee and talk about what the Bible says” kind of guy (which, is another thing that I’ve picked up from Bob Bryant), but I do like tracts and have used them to facilitate further biblical discussion.1
The gentlemen at the Back Row Theologians podcast invited Paul to be a guest on a discussion on “What is the Gospel?” You can listen to it below, or check it out on their site here.