On this blog I have seen two deviations from the biblical idea of salvation by faith (from commenters). The first is the Roman Catholic view of salvation by faith plus works. The second is the universalist idea of salvation for all, no faith or works required.
The key to the Protestant view of salvation is the idea of genuine faith or saving faith. So while only faith is required for salvation, a true faith will result in works which outwardly validate the faith.
But just as there is a true faith, there is also a false faith based on works which is highlighted well by a quote from Luther:
“Faith is not something dreamed, a human illusion although this is what many people understand by the term. Whenever they see that it is not followed either by an improvement in morals or by good works, while much is still being said about faith, they fall into the error of declaring that faith is not enough, that we must do works if we are to become upright and attain salvation. The reason is that when they hear the gospel they miss the point. In their hearts and out of their own resources they conjure up an idea which they call belief which they treat as genuine faith. All the same, it is but a human fabrication, an idea without a corresponding experience in the depths of the heart. It is therefore ineffective and not followed by a better kind of life,”
MacArthur goes on to describe a second false faith, a “dead faith” where there are no validating works:
“And then that most insightful of all passages with relation to this matter of faith, James 2. Let's look at it very briefly. James 2, verse 14, "What use is it, my brethren," very important statement, "What use is it if a man says he has faith but he has no works, what use is it? Can that faith...what?...save him?" What's the answer? No...no, can't save him.
Can faith like that save? What good is it? Can faith not accompanied by moral character save? Can faith not accompanied by righteous conduct save? Of course not.
Verse 19 really pinpoints it. "You believe that God is one, you do well. The devils also believe and shudder." That's tremendous statement. You believe that God is one? You do well. The devils also believe and shudder, they're one up on you. They believe and shudder. You believe and you think you're saved. They're ahead of you. Demons have all the right theology but they will not bow to the lordship of Christ. They will not bow to the sovereignty of God. They chose rebellion. They hate good and they cherish evil. In a sense, dead faith is inferior to demon faith, at least they tremble.”
So what then is saving faith? It is turning from sin and submitting to Christ. And a saving faith is required for genuine salvation.
MacArthur gives 4 characteristics of saving faith:
1. It is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9)
2. It is permanent (Phil 1:6)
3. It is obedient (Phil 2:13)
4. It is humble (Matt 18:4)
MacArthur’s closing paragraph says:
“And people who cling to a memory, to a salvation based upon a memory of an emotional feeling sometime in the past but lack love for Christ and lack a deep desire to obey Him, don't belong to Him. And again I remind you of that tremendously haunting verse, 1 Peter 2:7, "To those who believe, He is precious." I'll tell you how you can spot a Christian, to that person Christ is what?...precious...precious. You don't have to debate whether he should submit to Christ, he's precious to Him. He longs to submit. And people who don't believe no matter what the past was aren't saved. That's why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith." May God grant you a true saving faith, a permanent gift that begins in humility and brokenness over sin and ends up in obedience unto righteousness...that's true faith. And it's a gift that only God can give. And if you desire it, pray and ask that He would grant it to you.”
If you do not understand the principles of saving faith, I strongly urge you to read MacArthur’s transcript in full.