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The Believing Murderer

Question: You claim that salvation can be gained by faith only, not by good deeds. I think that it is a very dangerous statement, as even a mass murderer can be saved, if only he or she believes strongly enough.

Answer: Your objection to the evangelical doctrine of salvation is very serious indeed. If what you say is the logical inference from this doctrine, namely that a mass murderer can believe and while he carries on with his murders, he end up in heaven - then the Gospel that Evangelical Christians uphold would be nothing less than an insult to the justice and grace of God. On the other hand, if a murderer on his deathbed asks me the way of salvation, what should I tell him to relieve him from the terrible fear and the prospect of hell? Can I tell him to believe and do enough deeds to make up for his sins? Does that sound like good news? No, rather, it would send him despairing into a hopeless eternity.

I am therefore anxious to explain what we mean, and also what we do not mean, by our doctrine. Please give me this chance.

When we say, salvation by faith alone, we mean that we depend completely on Jesus Christ for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. We admit our sin, our guilt, and our inability to pay our debt. Our faith means a complete reliance on Jesus. We are saying, I depend on you, Jesus, to pay the debt I owe to God's justice. I am sure the blood that you shed on the cross of Calvary clears away all my debt.

Furthermore, we do not attempt to supplement the work of Christ on the cross by our religious works or anything else. It is not the blood of Jesus plus our penance, our sufferings in purgatory that cleanses our souls from sin. Only the blood of Jesus makes us clean. We cannot pay our debt by doing good deeds; Christ pays our debt in full. That is why we say faith alone. Christ, in whom we have our confidence, is able to save us completely, and we do not attempt to "help him" save us by adding something of our own.

But I must quickly add the following. By faith alone we do not mean faith that is divorced from good works. As someone has said, it is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.

For what is salvation? What happens when a person believes in Christ? He is forgiven, but that is not all. God also grants the believer a new heart that abhors sins and loves righteousness. So the person who truly believes is both forgiven and renewed; he longs to live a godly life for the glory of God who loves him so much. This is the honest desire of every true believer. Although he performs many good deeds, yet the believer does not depend on them for salvation. In His goodness, the Lord rewards His servants for their good deeds, yet for salvation the Christian's faith is fixed in Christ from the beginning to the end.

I am fully aware that there are many 'believers' who care very little about righteousness. They may even delude themselves in thinking that since they believe they can go on sinning away and still be saved at the end. They are, of course, fools. They are strangers to the grace of God. Their 'faith' is nothing; it is dead and useless.

So, in brief,

  • A sinner is not saved because of his works; he is saved by the work of Christ on the cross.

  • The person who trusts in Christ is saved on the merits of Christ, not by the merits of personal works.

  • The believer performs good deeds because he loves his Saviour, not to buy or merit salvation.

Let the murderer (or any other sinner) brag about his faith. Unless his profession of faith is accompanied by sorrow for sin, repentance and a changed life, he is deceiving himself. If, on the other hand, he desires to know how to be saved, I can only tell him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” as the apostle told the jailer in Acts 16. If he truly believes he will certainly be saved because God keeps his promises! And if he genuinely believes, and is therefore truly saved, like the woman in the gospel who loved much because she was forgiven much, he too would spend the rest of his days on earth serving and loving the Lord who died for him!

I hope that now you understand better the Evangelicals tenant of ‘faith alone’ - salvation by faith, apart from meritorious works.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi