In the 16th chapter of Acts, a Philippian jailer, suitably impressed by the Apostle Paul and his companion, Silas, asked the apostle what he needed to do in order to be saved. Paul famously replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (Acts 16:31; ESV).”
Faith, the Bible teaches us, is essential to pleasing God (cf. Hebrews 11:6), and is a foundational necessity for salvation. Without faith, we cannot be saved.
But what is faith? Or more to the point, what is the nature of that faith which would result in the salvation of the believer, according to the Gospel of Christ. Is it just a matter of saying the right words? Or is there something more involved?
The same apostle would later write to his student Timothy, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8; ESV)”
If godliness has a promise for the life to come we can reasonably infer Paul to be saying that godliness is necessary in order to have eternal life.
Relatedly, in the book of Hebrews we read this admonition: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14; ESV).”
Is Paul, by teaching that godliness is necessary in order to make it to heaven contradicting his own statement about the saving power of faith in Christ? Is the writer of Hebrews contradicting the importance of faith by teaching that holiness is vital if we want to be in the presence of God in the hereafter? Or is it not more likely that the faith Paul spoke of to the Philippian Jailer of necessity incorporated the pursuit of holiness?
It is worth noting what happened after Paul told the Jailer that he needed to believe in the Lord Jesus. We read, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. (Acts 16:32-33; ESV)”
Paul and Silas had to explain first of all, who the Lord was, but they also explained to him what the proper response to Jesus would be. The Jailer, on his part, sought to undo the harm he had done to the bodies of the two preachers, and then responded to Christ by being baptized. The faith taught by Paul was more than words. It called for repentance and obedience.
Following His resurrection Jesus appeared to His followers and told them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20; ESV)”
If you truly have faith in Jesus, you are going to have faith in His authority. If you have faith in Christ, you are going to want to follow His teachings, believing that He alone has the words of life (cf. John 6:68) and that only through following those teachings will we reach the Father (cf. John 14:6). If we have faith in Jesus, we are going to do those things He teaches us to do. As the Scriptures remind us, words about faith are all well and good, but let us demonstrate our true faith by the things that we do (cf. James 2:18).
Likewise, if we have faith in Christ, we have faith that His words guide us in righteousness, holiness, and godliness. The apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Romans 1:16-17; ESV)”
There is no biblical tension between faith and righteousness, for the one leads to the other, and vice versa.
Believing on Jesus, truly believing in Him according to the Gospel, compels a choice. If we say we have faith, but we refuse to listen to Him, our actions belie our words. When we do believe, we will follow Him where He leads, obeingy all that He commanded and walking the righteous path He laid before us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.