Much of this debate is unnecessary and is based on a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. The Bible is clear that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The essence of this doctrine is found in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” So we see that faith, given as a gift by God, is what saves us. But the next verse tells of the results of that salvation: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Rather than being saved by some easy act of our own wills, we are saved by the hand of God Almighty, by His will and for His use. We are His servants, and from the moment of salvation by faith, we embark on a journey of pre-ordained good works that are the evidence of that salvation. If there is no evidence of growth and good works, we have reason to doubt that salvation ever truly took place. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), and a dead faith is not a saving faith.
Faith alone does not mean that some believers follow Christ in a life of discipleship, while others do not. The “others” here refers to a separate category of believer known as the “carnal Christian,” a completely unscriptural concept. Believers in the idea of the carnal Christian say that a person may receive Christ as Savior during a time of decision or religious experience, but never manifest any evidence of a changed life. This is a false and dangerous teaching. It provides a convenient excuse for the person who does not want to follow Christ. Such a person is lulled into a false sense of security thinking they have eternal life. The Bible nowhere supports the idea that a true Christian can remain carnal for an entire lifetime. Rather, God’s Word presents only two categories of people, Christians and non-Christians, believers and unbelievers, those who have bowed to the Lordship of Christ and those who have not (see John 3:36; Romans 6:17-18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:18-24; Ephesians 2:1-5; 1 John 1:5-7; 2:3-4).
While the security of salvation is a biblical fact based upon the finished work of salvation by Christ, it is certainly true that some of those who seemed to have “made a decision” or “accepted Christ” may not genuinely be saved. As noted before, true salvation is not so much us accepting Christ as it is Him accepting us. When we are truly saved, it is by the power of God for the purpose of God and that purpose includes the works that are the evidence of our conversion. Those who continue to walk according to the flesh are not believers. This is why Paul exhorts us to “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The “carnal” Christian who examines himself will soon see that he/she is not in the faith.
James 2:19 says “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” The type of “belief” demons have can be compared to the intellectual assent made by those who “believe” in Jesus only in the fact that he exists. Many unbelievers say “I believe in God,” or “I believe in Jesus,” or perhaps some might say “I prayed a prayer and the preacher said I was saved.” The problem is in the understanding of the word “believe.” With true salvation comes genuine repentance and real life change. Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us that when we are in Christ, we are a “new creation.” Is it possible that the new person Christ creates is one who continues to walk in the carnality of the flesh? It is not.
Salvation is certainly free, but at the same time, it costs us everything. We are to die to ourselves as we become more and more changed into the likeness of Christ. Where easy believism fails is in its lack of recognition that a person who has truly believed in Jesus as the Savior will have a progressively changed life. Salvation is a free gift from God to those who believe, but discipleship and obedience are the response and responsibility which will no doubt occur when one truly comes to Christ in faith.