The Simple Gospel

Romans and Salvation

Mike O'Neal


Martin Luther translated the Bible into the common language of his country in the early 1500's. This act, coupled with his stance against certain practices of the Catholic Church, was genuinely courageous. That fact, however, doesn't negate the false teaching he advocated. Luther compounded his error by presumptuously adding the word alone to the phrase "justified by faith" in his German translation of Romans.* His intent was to bolster his teaching that faith only was required for salvation. It speaks volumes that Luther was not satisfied with the Scriptures as they were written but felt the need to tamper with them. This same problem exists today in our English Bibles. A number are paraphrases rather than actual translations. As such they are men's commentaries of the Scriptures which are being pawned off as Bibles to a largely unsuspecting public. Several religious groups have their own Bibles which change some of the original texts to teach their peculiar doctrines. Care needs to be taken even when selecting actual translations since the doctrinal biases or religious skepticism of some translators have crept into their work.

Many accept, and I have no reason to doubt, that Luther sincerely believed that the Book of Romans taught that man is saved by faith alone without any additional requirements. If so, he was sincerely wrong! Sincerity is not, nor ever has been, the criteria for determining what is false doctrine or who is a false teacher. The truth as presented in God's Word is the absolute and perfect objective standard for such determinations. And I, for one, am eternally thankful that such is the case. God didn't give me the ability to look into the hearts of men in order to decipher their inner most thoughts and attitudes. But I can compare what someone preaches with the Word to ascertain if it is biblically correct. Teaching anything which contradicts the truth and results in souls being lost makes one a false teacher (e.g. 2 Peter 2:1-3). Let me add that growing up I never heard any preaching, teaching or arguments to the contrary. Only recently, in my lifetime, have questions to these fundamental principles been raised in the Lord's church. To make sincerity, or any other human disposition for that matter, the basis for deciding who is a false teacher is not only unscriptural but illogical. After all, if that was truly the standard then it would be impossible to so label Luther since it would necessitate knowing his heart rather than examining his teaching. However, I have no hesitation in denouncing Martin Luther as a false teacher since his doctrine is erroneous, resulting in the eternal condemnation of those who follow him.

"Faith only" is a false doctrine. Not only do other books of the Bible clearly contradict this concept (e.g. James 2:24), but Romans itself refutes this teaching. The phrase obedience to the faith is found in the first and last chapters of the book (1:5; 16:26). Sandwiched between are numerous quotes which teach the absolute essentiality of obedience to the Lord's will. "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ' will render to each one according to his deeds'" (2:5-6) "For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (2:13) "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered" (6:17). "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (8:1). What these verses confirm is that the only type of faith commended in the Scriptures and acceptable to the Lord is an obedient faith.

The plan of salvation is found in the Book of Romans. Not only does Paul tell us what God has done for us through His grace and His Son's sacrifice (6:23), he also sets forth men's responsibilities in order to be saved. Even Luther acknowledged that men had to do something when he taught the need for faith. The difference is that he believed that was the totality of men's obligations whereas the inspired Apostle taught additional requirements. While not a few ridicule the concept of a plan of salvation with its five points, each is affirmed in Romans. The need to hear the Word of God is recorded in chapter ten verse seventeen. Belief is taught in the same passage as well as other verses. The responsibility to repent is explicitly set forth in the second chapter and verse four. Returning to chapter ten and looking at verse ten establishes the requirement to confess with the mouth. Also, the essential nature of baptism is affirmed in the sixth chapter and the first six verses. God, not man, is the author of this arrangement. Thus, the only way to be saved is to humbly comply with His instructions. Once one has been baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), he is raised to "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). This new life in Christ requires continued faithful obedience on the part of a Christian.

A word of caution perhaps is appropriate to close this article. Though we correctly denounce the doctrine of faith only, there exists the danger that we can succumb to an equally wrongful practice. Apathy and indifference towards God and failure to comply with His teachings after baptism will cost us our eternal souls as surely as the adherence to any false doctrine!

*ref.- Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther; page 261. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950


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