No examination of the Oneness view of God is complete without the discussion of how this view affects the doctrine of the New Birth and our understanding of the nature of New Testament Salvation. A crucial difference exists between the Gospel presentation of mainstream Christianity and what you will find in Oneness Pentecostalism. In essence, the primary differences center on justification. It is an inaccurate over simplification, however, to claim that traditional Christians define justification as being counted righteous by faith alone and that Apostolics somehow believe justification to involve both faith and works. This doctrine is such a major source of tension and controversy between Apostolics and Orthodox believers it is helpful to examine the truth regarding the Apostolic understanding of justification and the New Birth.
In his work Justification and the Holy Spirit, Bernard points out that:
“Traditional protestant theology emphasizes the forensic model of justification. Under this view, justification is essentially something that takes place outside of humans. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for human sins on the cross and God accepts this atoning act as the necessary and sufficient satisfaction for those sins. This remedy is applied to an individual’s heart by grace, though Faith, which enables the person to be justified, or counted righteous. In the theologies of both Martin Luther and John Calvin, even this faith is extrinsic to humans… Luther even insisted on adding the word “alone” to his German translation of Romans 3:28 so that it is said, “a man is justified by faith [alone].” (Bernard 2007.117, 106).
On the other hand traditional Catholic theology goes to the opposite extreme in emphasizing that justification is of works and requires the active cooperation of humans. While this view also has merit, Apostolic theology recognizes that neither position is an accurate representation of the process of the New Testament justification
While justification begins with faith, it nevertheless, also involves the active cooperation of the believer—it is both maintained and increased by works, which are motivated by grace through faith. Justification therefore, involves both being counted as righteous and actually being made righteous by the work of the Holy Spirit. Bernard again:
“The forensic model accurately describes Christ’s death as the necessary atonement for all human sins, and Protestantism correctly insists that…no human works can earn salvation. Nevertheless, the traditional Protestant interpretation of justification does not give sufficient attention to the resurrection of Christ and to the corresponding role of the Holy Spirit. Here the Catholic explanation gives a useful hint by pointing to the work of the Spirit in the believer’s life”. (Bernard 2007, 118)
What is needed for a full and complete theology of justification is something more than either of those two approaches. Bernard explains the Apostolic view as a synthesis of the traditional perspectives. Which is why Romans certainly “serves to invalidate any system of legalism or works—righteousness, it is important to place it in its historical and social context. The Jews who rejected the Christian message were intent on maintaining their identity and their status by keeping the law. Their error was not merely covenantal monism or legal exclusivism, but it was supremely their rejection of the saving work of Christ—specifically, his death, burial, and resurrection. The error was not in acting as opposed to believing; rather it was in acting by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit. They sought to obey God by the law, which was outmoded because it relied on the ability of the flesh…When Paul stated that no one could be justified by the works of the law (Roman 3:20), he referred to the inability of the flesh, the inability of a person who has not received the power of the Spirit (Ro 8:3, 7). But when people believe in Jesus and obey his gospel, then they receive the Holy Spirit, with accompanying power to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law” (Bernard 2007.113, 79).
Oneness Pentecostals recognize that the atoning work of Christ is the only basis of salvation in every age. In Apostolic theology, this means that God himself came in the flesh as Jesus Christ in order to provide salvation for his fallen creation. The incarnation was thus, for the express purpose of the atonement. In the context of scripture, salvation means deliverance from all the power and effects of sin, and it has past, present, and future aspects.
Scofield, in his notes on Romans 1:16 states it this way: “the Heb. And Gr. Words for salvation imply the ideas of deliverance, safety, preservation, healing, and soundness. Salvation is the great inclusive word of the Gospel gathering into itself all the redemptive acts and processes: as justification, redemption, grace, propitiation, imputation, forgiveness, sanctification, and glorification. Salvation is in three tenses:
1) The believer has been saved from the guilt and penalty of sin (Lk 7:50; I Cor 1:18 II Cor 1:15; Eph 2:5,8; II Tim1:9) and is safe.
2.) The believer is being saved from the habit and dominion of sin (Rom 6:14; Phil 1:19; 2:12, 13; II Thess 2:13; Rom 8:2; Gal 2:19, 20; II Cor 3:18).
3.) The believer is to be saved in the sense of entire conforming to Christ (Rom 13:11; Heb 10:36; I Pet 1:5; I Jn 3:2). Salvation is by grace through faith, is a free gift, and wholly without works (Rom 3:27, 28; 4:1-8; 6:23; Eph 2:8).”
—-(Scofield 1901, 1192)
Apostolic theology fully recognizes that justification is by faith and not by works of the law. It also recognizes however that biblical faith is far more than mental assent. “It involves trust, reliance, and commitment, which in turns means acting upon what we believe and obeying what we are convinced is true…Faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin”. (Bernard 2007. 74). While conversion is a result of belief in the gospel (Ro 6:16, 17), it is clearly also the result of obeying that Gospel (Ro 6:17). For Apostolics then, true belief in the doctrine of Christ is equivalent to acting in accordance with that doctrine. Thus “it is proper to attribute conversion to faith but also to the response of faith. There cannot be one without the other. This response of faith is not equivalent to works of the Law, or meritorious works in general, but is the essence of saving faith…A lack of obedience is equivalent to a lack of faith.” (Bernard 2007. 75).
I believe this is what Hebrew 4:2 is speaking of when it tells us of those who had the gospel preached to them—“but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with the faith in them that heard it.”
Scripture plainly declares that faith without works is dead—it explains that the reason it is dead is that it is faith “alone”. (James 2:17,20). This presents us with an interpretational or hermeneutical dilemma because Ephesians 2:8,9 says it is “by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, less any man should boast.”
So in one place we are told that it’s all of faith not works and yet the very same New Testament tells us that faith without works is dead and cannot save us—that man is, in fact, justified by works and not by faith alone; on the surface a seemingly clear and unavoidable contradiction. The confusion is not resolved by reaching for your Strong’s concordance of your copy of Zodhiate’s either. In both passages the Greek word for works is exactly the same–ergon. As students of scripture, we must accept the reality that when faced with two scriptures that seem to contradict one another—we can’t simply pick the one we like and ignore the other because it doesn’t fit our theology. This is precisely what orthodox Christianity has done in this case. Most people never even consider that the reason it might not fit their theology because their theology is in error.
How then do we resolve this? The solution is simply to realize that despite their use of the exact same Greek word, Paul and James are nonetheless speaking of two completely different things. Paul is speaking of works of the law or works of the flesh which are activities done in an effort to impress God and somehow earn favor with him—while James is using the very same word—ergon—to refer to legitimate works done in obedience to the command of God.
So we see that a crucial difference exists between Apostolic theology’s definition of “faith” and the common understanding of orthodoxy. Some have found it helpful to understand that “faith without corresponding actions is dead;” Not the “works” of the flesh spoken of by Paul but rather the “corresponding actions” of faith.
In a similar way, in Apostolic Theology grace is viewed not merely as “God’s unmerited favor” as in orthodox theology, but as an endowment of power from God. For Apostolic believers grace is the power from God that enables us to do what he has called us to do. In New Testament times…”The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we all should live sensibly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11,12). In the biblical mind then, Grace must be understood as inspiring and requiring action on our part in obedience to faith.