The Trademark of a Cult: Faith vs. Works

A cult is any group that defines itself in Christian terms, but denies one or more of the essentials of historic biblical Christianity. For example, the many Mormons that have recently posted here want to be considered true Christians, and even use Christian language borrowed from scripture, but always with a tell tale flaw. While they may use the Christian vocabulary, they do not use the normal Christian definitions. The fundamental doctrine of grace is good example.

We like to take pride in our accomplishments. Yet, the bible teaches that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” (Is 64:6). It seems very counterintuitive that salvation is not something you can earn with your good behavior but that it is a free gift from God. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church,“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ” (Eph 2:8–9)

This doctrine of unmerited grace appears in no other world religion. It is just not the sort of idea men would come up with, thus I believe it is an authenticating characteristic of Christianity. Accordingly, the converse is a sure mark of a cult. Men like Joseph Smith or Charles Taze Russell always pervert the Gospel into a personal achievement.

Cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses make good works the means of salvation. Joseph Smith was brazen enough to add to God’s word in his crudely crafted work of fiction. He wrote, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). This exactly what one would expect in a man-made religion. Yet, surely our behavior counts?

In converse, Christianity makes salvation the means of good works. James the brother of Jesus wrote, that “faith without works is dead” (Jms. 2:17). Cults often use this argument by James to justify their works based salvation. It may seem that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching yet really he is not. James is addressing false converts, who claim to be Christians but show no evidence of it in their lives. When read in context, James’ point is not that works are the basis for salvation but the result of it.

If you are a Christian, this is a sure way to guard against pride. The next time you feel some well deserved satisfaction in your works, consider this:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ” (Eph 2:10)

According to scripture, it wasn’t even your idea! Doesn’t leave much to boast on… does it?

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.


  1. Jeff Ward says:

    The only verses you quote in this article are Paul of Tarsus. If my Messiah was the Good Shepherd and died for me, shouldn’t I listen to what HE SAYS about salvation instead of somebody else?

    I don’t see any difference between Paul and Joseph Smith or Charles Taze Russell. Three birds of a feather. All three claimed to have personal revelation that CONFLICTS with that of my Messiah. All three claim to be the EXCLUSIVE outlet for such hidden knowledge. All three bear witness of themselves when Jesus warned us about that. You consider Paul different because you have made his words your god even thought Jesus warned you to beware the leaven of the pharisees.

    Add “Pauline Christanity” to your list of cults in my opinion.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      So what led you to that conclusion Jeff? How does Paul’s teaching conflict exactly?

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Jeff I do not think you have thought through this very clearly. We do not have a single thing written by Jesus. You only know of him through the writings of his apostles. The original apostles all vouch for Paul.

      We see from Acts 9:15; 26:17-18 and Galatians 1:11-19 that Jesus personally commissioned Paul as an apostle. Thus, the writings of Paul bear the authority of Christ. This authenticates the apostolic authority of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and possibly Hebrews. Paul’s authority is also corroborated by Peter’s testimony of Paul in 2 Peter:

      And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.(2 Pe 3:15-16)

      Notice that Peter equates the writings of Paul with Scripture. Since Peter was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus, his endorsement of Paul further establishes Paul as an apostolic authority.

  2. Jeff Ward says:

    The case against Paul is OVERWHELMING and more than I could document in a single post here. If anybody is curious, see my web site

    Question for anybody who cares to respond. Who BETTER fits the warning in Revelation 2:2 than Paul? Paul is a slam-dunk match on EVERY point by his own words against himself and he did this < 90 AD when Yeshua delivered the warning:

    Rev 2:1-2 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; (2) I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

    Also, where does Jesus tell me to follow anybody other than him? Nowhere.

  3. Jeff Ward says:

    Who assigned the little ugly picture to my posts? That wasn’t very nice. Is that the way I am depicted because I disagree with you?

  4. Jeff Ward says:

    So are we judged by our works? Doesn’t matter what I say, what does our Messiah say?

    Rev 20:12-13 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      The fundamental fallacy in everything you claim is that you are relying on the gospels that were written by people other than Jesus. It undermines all of your argumentation because the only knowledge you can possible have about what Jesus said comes from second and third hand accounts. However, Luke set about to interview eyewitnesses and record the actual history and Luke gives Paul his highest endorsement.

      ” And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,” (Ac 19:11)

      If you deny Paul’s authority and claim he is some sort of interloper you also have to throw away Luke and Acts as well. You can only know Jesus through the NT and your beliefs call the entire NT into question. Thus your arguments are self defeating. If we accept them, there is no basis to trust the gospels either.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Christian believers are in the first resurrection of Rev. 20: 4. We reign with Christ for the millennium then comes the judgment you mentioned, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended….” (Re 20:5) I hope you realize Rev. 20:12-13 is the resurrection of the wicked only and every single one of them goes to hell. So if you want to be in that group judged by your works best of luck to you.

  5. Jeff Ward says:

    Good luck to you if you think you are somehow exempt from his authority and judgement:

    Rev 20:11-15 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. (12) And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS. (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS. (14) And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (15) And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      ““He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (Jn 3:18)

      Again if you read the entire chapter of Rev 20 that is the second resurrection of the wicked. Taking verses out of their context is not valid exegesis.

  6. Jeff Ward says:

    I suppose from your comments you intend to be one of those beheaded in Rev 20:4 and yes, I agree those people will be brought back from the dead and reign for 1000 years. They are the “great multitude” in Rev 7:14 and called the “flock of the slaughter” in Zechariah 11. I think you are correct this is the desiny of most Christians during the tribulation.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      It’s quite telling that you never address the scriptures that directly refute your position. Jesus said quite clearly, ““He who believes in Him is not judged;” And the passage does not say that only those who are beheaded reign with Christ, it includes everyone who did not worship the beast. Zechariah 11 is addressing Jews not the church. Orthodox biblical Christians who subscribe to the apostolic teaching of Paul and the New Testament will definitely be the ones in the first resurrection, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6)

  7. Jeff Ward says:

    “He who believes in Him is not judged.” That’s a quote I cannot find. Can you give me chap/verse please?

    If Yeshua trampled His Father’s commandents, he would not be our Messiah. You seem to advocate the path of most “Christians”, a way Yeshua says leads to destruction. According to Yeshua in Matthew 7, MANY will be told in that day “depart from me you workers of lawlessness for I never knew you.” FEW will find the straight gate. If I lure people away from the laws of YHVH, Yeshua says in Matthew 5:19 I will be “least in the kingdom of heaven.” That’s BEST case.

    Pro 28:9 He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

    Why would you encourage me to turn my ear from hearing the law Chris? Do you want my prayer to be an abomination?

    Mat 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

    Don’t you want me to “enter into life” Chris?

  8. Jeff Ward says:

    Your quote:

    “Orthodox biblical Christians who subscribe to the apostolic teaching of Paul and the New Testament will definitely be the ones in the first resurrection.”

    What??? Are you serious? I can’t believe I’m reading this. What do Jews need Paul for? Did Paul die for my sins? Does Paul hold the keys to hell and death? Can Paul hear my prayers? Do I need to coax Jews into receiving Paul as their personal savior? I’ve seen Paul diefied by Christianity before, but your exalting of him is really troubling Chris. Whether someone is resurrected or not depends on their belief in Paul???

    I sincerely hope this is just a misstatement of some sort that you will recant.

  9. Daniel says:

    So Cris, you think that people who obey Jesus and his teachings rather then Paul are going to hell? I assume as a Christian you believe Jesus is God also, so do you really think God himself is going to torture someone for trillions upon trillions upon trillions of years (and that is just the start) because they obeyed God and not Paul?

    Cris would it not be more honest to the entire world if you (christians in general) admit you reject Jesus’ very teachings on the law and salvation and instead follow Paul?

    • Cris Putnam says:

      You are not obeying Jesus (= God). You are mocking what he did on the cross. You can only know Jesus through those Jesus called to carry his message because Jesus did not write the Gospels or anything at all. He left it for his servants, Paul being primary. Thus, I don’t think you are obeying Jesus by denouncing his primary spokesperson. In fact, you are denying Jesus and putting yourself back under the law to your own peril.

      “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. ” (Ga 3:10–14)

  10. Rob says:

    Your avatar conveys well the facial expression Christians should wear at all times. They should be be frustrated. They should be so utterly frustrated at the proverbial horse manure (christianity) that has been shoveled upon their controlled mind. They should, in fact, be so frustrated that they stop blindly following pastors, chuches, religions and traditions and start searching the Scriptures to find the truth. If you should decide to take such a journey, may YHWH bless you with His truth. 🙂

    • Cris Putnam says:

      “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. ” (Ga 1:11–17)

      “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. ” (Jn 3:16–18)

  11. Daniel says:

    Ah so because I obey Jesus’ very teachings on the law and salvation I am mocking Jesus……….

    Wow Cris, that makes sense……….Well at least unlike most christians you actually admit you reject everything in the gospels in favor of what Paul of Tarsus says.

    Just FYI you might go take the time to actually read the Tanakh and compare it to what Paul says.

    Funny enough Cris you are actually the “heretic” and “Cult member”, this filth you are peddling is nothing more then a revival of Marcionism, where the entire Bible is ignored except for Paul of Tarsus.

    I hope one day you take the time to compare what Paul said to what the Hebrew Bible says Cris. Until I might humbly suggest you stop telling people all over planet earth not to obey the eternal and everlasting commands of the Creator……………………..

    Or of course, you can just defend your religion,.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Ah so because I obey Jesus’ very teachings on the law and salvation I am mocking Jesus……….

      Actually what I said was you were mocking the cross because you have chosen the law over Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus taught:

      “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”(Mt 5:48)

      Unless you are perfect you are not obeying his teachings, he preached this to demonstrate the abject failure of the law. It’s an impossible standard. Jesus’ brother James makes this very clear:

      “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”(Jas 2:10)

      Thus since you have chosen the law you will be condemned under the law. I suggest you listen to Paul.

      “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”(Ro 8:2-4)

      Think about it!

  12. Rob says:

    oh, and by the way… If you read the ACTUAL definition of a cult, rather than the one you made up, you will find out that according to the “New Testament” any follower of Yahushua (AKA Jesus) MUST be in a cult.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Words often have more than one definition which can be determined by a reasonable person via the context. So yes Christianity fits the sense of the term cult in the 1 definition, whereas groups like mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Anti-Paulists and the like would fall under 3. Thanks for bringing up the distinction!
      cult \ˈkəlt\ n
      often attrib [F & L; F culte, fr. L cultus care, adoration, fr. colere to cultivate — more at wheel] 1617
      1 : formal religious veneration : worship
      2 : a system of religious beliefs and ritual also : its body of adherents
      3 : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious also : its body of adherents
      4 : a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator 〈health cults〉
      5 a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book) esp : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
      b : the object of such devotion
      c : a usu. small group of people characterized by such devotion — cul•tic \ˈkəl-tik\ adj — cult•ish \-tish\ adj — cult•ish•ly \-lē\ adv — cult•ish•ness \-nəs\ n — cult•ism \ˈkəl-ˌti-zəm\ n — cult•ist \ˈkəl-tist\ n — cult•like \-ˌlīk\ adj

      Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.


  1. […] running an apologetics site like this, I encounter all types. Recently, I encountered a new variety of heretic I shall from now on refer to as the Anti-Paulist. This particular […]

  2. […] running an apologetics site like this, I encounter all types. Recently, I encountered a new variety of heretic I shall from now on refer to as the Anti-Paulist. This particular […]