The Gospel Coalition

Editors' note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to ask@thegospelcoalition.org along with your full name, city, and state. We'll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition's Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Edward B. from England asks,

Why is faith not a work? If we are obligated to have faith before righteousness can be credited to us (Romans 4), how is faith not a work? I recognize that Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 that we are saved by faith not through works, but I don't quite understand how to reconcile faith not being a work if we are required to have it in order to be saved.


We posed this question to Matthew Barrett, assistant professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. His most recent book is Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (P&R, 2013). He is the author of several other forthcoming books, which you can read about at matthewmbarrett.com.

******************

Let's begin with an analogy. When you walk into a dark room, what comes first, the appearance of light or turning on the light switch? As we perceive things, they seem to happen simultaneously. However, does one cause and logically precede the other? Absolutely. We all know that turning on the light switch brings about brightness in the room, not vice versa. The same is true in initial salvation. In Scripture, faith does not cause or bring about the new birth, but God's effectual call and the Spirit's work of regeneration produces faith and repentance.



To begin, we must remember that the unbeliever is pervasively depraved and therefore totally passive. Paul's description is sobering: "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked" (Eph. 2:1). Therefore, spiritual resurrection is needed. We are like Lazarus, four days dead, lifeless, and rotting away in the tomb (John 11:17). Only the life-creating words of Christ can awaken our dead soul. Or to switch analogies, we need to be born again, or born from above, as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3-8). Notice, birth is not a cooperative effort; the child is passive. He can take no credit in being born. Likewise, spiritual birth is completely and entirely the work of God.

As I demonstrate in Salvation by Grace, when God calls his elect, he does so effectually (e.g., John 6:37, 44, 65; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Eph. 4:1-6; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). And when the Spirit awakens new life in the spiritually dead sinner, he does so unfailingly and irresistibly, apart from the sinner's cooperation (e.g., Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:33; 32:39-40; Ezek. 11:19-21; 36:26-37; John 3:3-8; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Eph. 2:1-7; Col. 2:11-14; Titus 3:3-7; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; 1 John 5:1). In short, God's sovereign work of effectual calling and regeneration bring about the sinner's trust in Christ, not vice versa. What does this mean for our faith? Its inception does not originate within us.

Faith Is a Sovereign Gift from God


At this point, it might be tempting to think that effectual calling and regeneration are God's work, while faith is our work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith itself is a sovereign gift from God, and not merely one that he offers to us, hoping we will accept, but something he actually works within us. To quote my favorite Puritan divine, John Owen, "The Scripture says not that God gives us ability or power to believe only—namely, such a power as we may make use of if we will, or do otherwise; but faith, repentance, and conversion themselves are said to be the work and effect of God." In other words, God produces not only the will to believe, but the act of believing itself. 

For example, in Acts 13 Paul preaches the gospel in Antioch. However, many Jews, filled with jealousy, revile Paul. In response Paul makes an astonishing proclamation: "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles" (13:46). Suddenly, the Gentiles break out in rejoicing and gladness: "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (13:48). Notice, the text does not say "as many as believed were appointed to eternal life." Rather, Luke explains that God's election or appointment determined who would and would not believe. God, not man, determines who will and will not believe in Christ, and until God regenerates the sinful heart of man, he will not respond in faith and repentance (cf. Acts 2:37; 16:14; 18:10). Yes, we repent and believe, but we do so only because God has previously appointed us to eternal life and has, at the appointed time, caused us to repent and trust in his Son (cf. John 8:47; 10:26).

And consider Ephesians 2:8-10: "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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Or as the NASB translates, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." As many have observed, "this" and "it" in the Greek do not refer specifically to faith as the gift Paul has in mind, for "faith" is feminine while "that" is a neuter pronoun. If Paul meant to say faith is a gift he would have placed the pronoun in the feminine. Likewise, the same principle applies with the word "grace," which is also feminine in gender.

Nevertheless, we still must ask ourselves, what in Ephesians 2:8 is the antecedent of "that" ("this" in the ESV)? Paul is referring to the gift of salvation in its totality. Therefore, every aspect of salvation is by grace alone. What then should we make of "faith"? Sam Storms answers, "That faith by which we come into experiential possession of what God in grace has provided is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation. One can no more deny that faith is wrapped up in God's gift to us than he can deny it of God's grace."

Likewise, consider Philippians 1:29-30: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." According to Paul, God, in his sovereignty, bestows suffering. But not only is suffering a gift, Paul also says belief (faith) in Christ is a gift as well. The wording is essential, for Paul specifically says "it [belief] has been granted." "Granted" (echaristhē) means to give freely and graciously. As Thomas Schreiner observes, it is the same word from which grace is derived. It does not mean, as our English language assumes so often, reluctance or mere permission on God's part. Rather, God grants belief or faith in Christ to those whom he has chosen.

Last, we cannot forget 2 Peter 1:1: "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." Is it by man's will that faith is obtained? At first glance, that might appear to be the case. But in reality, Peter assumes just the opposite. When Peter refers to obtaining faith he is speaking of a gift that we receive from God and by God's choice. "What is of paramount importance here," Sam Storms says, "is the word translated 'have obtained' or 'have received.' It is related to a verb that means 'to obtain by lot' (see Luke 1:9; John 19:24; Acts 1:17). Thus, faith is removed from the realm of human free will and placed in its proper perspective as having originated in the sovereign and altogether gracious will of God."

Divine Work


We do not want to deny that faith is an act of believing on the sinner's part. However, faith is ultimately a divine work, not a human work. As John Calvin states in his Institutes, "Faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God's favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack" (3.13.5). Herman Bavinck is just as insightful: "He indeed grants us the capacity to believe and the power of faith but also the will to believe and faith itself, not mechanically or magically, but inwardly, spiritually, organically, in connection with the word that he brings to people in various ways."

In summary, while many other texts could be explored, these passages demonstrate that saving faith is sovereignly granted to the sinner and effectually applied within him. Therefore, we dare not call this initial faith in conversion a "work," lest we attribute to ourselves what should truly be credited to God. As we reflect on our conversion to Christ, we do not boast in ourselves, but give God, and him alone, all of the glory, praise, and honor.


Comments:

Mickey McDaniel

October 27, 2013 at 03:02 PM

Matthew...nicely done. Your point is clear, "...spiritual birth is completely and entirely the work of God." Sola Gratia

Why Is Faith Not a Work?

October 26, 2013 at 11:03 PM

[…] Read More […]

The Week In Review (10.25.13) | Magnify Christ

October 25, 2013 at 10:51 AM

[…] another reader question in their “You Asked” series.  This is one that I hear all the time—“Why is Faith Not a Work?”  Matthew Barrett’s answer is helpful on many levels. It begins with this analogy: “When […]

JohnM

October 25, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Matthias,

So do Arminians say faith is the result of grace as we are not capable of it otherwise. They also do very much insist God gets credit for it. And the prevenient sense is a sense, not an "except in".

Now if what you mean by "always and only the result of grace" is that faith is something implanted by God apart from our consciousness of it being there, that it is not in any way a response to God's initiative (contrary to the exhortations and descriptions found throughout scripture) and a condition made inevitable by grace, (of a category not found in scripture), then yes, there is a difference.

If by "always and only a result of grace" you mean faith is implanted as the direct and immediate result of grace and happens prior to regeneration - that is different than what I though Calvinism taught as well. Otherwise I suppose you would say regeneration is the result of the faith which is the direct result of grace.

So your answer may be a very Arminian one, or not, depending on how you flesh it out.

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." is of course the true answer. But shouldn't the Calvinist answer be something like: "Do? DO?! There is nothing YOU do. What an impertinent question! Either God has already (in effect) saved you, or not.", you-do-no-thing!!. But no, I'm confident Paul and Silas got it right. And so, because of God's grace, did the Philippian jailer.

Now if you think Calvinism is sometimes misrepresented, how do you think Arminians feel? :)

Matthias

October 25, 2013 at 07:19 AM

Indeed, and so I believe it's properly understood that "what one must do (but not in a self-righteous works sense) in order to be saved is believe on Jesus, whose righteous works are credited to our account." Though the word "work" is used, it lacks the qualification that Paul gives, and this is because Jesus isn't teaching the doctrinal distinction at that moment to Christians, but rather teaching unbelieving men what salvation requires.

Matthias

October 25, 2013 at 07:11 AM

Thanks for the reply JohnM.

I'm not sure how my answer is an Arminian answer. What I'm saying is that "faith" is always and only the result of grace. This is why there's no category for the contrary - it doesn't exist. Arminianism holds that "exercising faith" is a type of action that is distinct from faith itself, and is self-wrought, but such that the person does not deserve credit for it, and yet neither does God (except, perhaps, in a prevenient sense. Hence "decision to decide to believe" ad infinitum). There is no example of this sort of thing in Scripture either.

Finally, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

Alan

October 25, 2013 at 06:00 PM

I'm probably a bit late to this party but I couldn't help but think reading that last post (and I couldn't help but share it...) that a great many people would be startled if they studied just a little church history.
People that think themselves Arminian would be shocked at where their particular branch of that tree began.
Calvinists who think the five points are all in all would be embarrassed they made so much of something so utterly unlike a summary of Calvin's theology.
Most people would find 100 doctrines they held that had been hammered out 100 times before and in the light of our incredible heritage, particularly in the West, they were ignorantly naive to ever have held.

Is there any discipline as valuable to Christian thought as a regard for church history? And is there any cause of short-sightedness and careless error than a disregard for it?

Sorry, I'm in the middle of moving house and that thought saw it's chance for freedom and bolted, I hope I've not interrupted things! ;)

Richard UK

October 25, 2013 at 05:58 AM

thanks, Alan, a good point

we need to take into account where the questioner might be coming from (and when we spell out theology, we need to say what is wrong with the false view as well as what is right with the true view; Matthew does do this but many posts/sermons/blogs don't)

my guess, and of course Edward might be reading this, is that he has received mixed teaching of a particular, schizophrenic type. This type is particularly obvious in talk of sanctification. We first make a third-person objective statement 'sanctification is a work of God' and then we make a second-person statement/command/call to action 'go and be holy'. But we don't explain how these can be fused other than by saying, in hushed priestly terms, 'It is a mystery' (and making a hash of 'work out your salvation..).

Similarly with justification, we make a third person statement 'justification is a work of God' and then a second person command/call to action 'have faith' or 'trust'.

No wonder the poor fellow is confused. It is what I call Gollum theology. (You remember the little fella would sometimes be fierce about taking the ring but, when challenged, would simper 'poor Gollum' etc. In the same way we issue reassurances that justification and sanctification are works of God, but then speak fiercely about believing, persevering, putting oneself to death etc).

Incidentally IMHO that seems to be the default position of the so-called Reformed camp in the UK.

Thus as I suggested above 'we need to say what is wrong with the false view as well as what is right with the true view' - ie we can reassure Edward that faith is not an autonomous work of man, but then warn him against those who would snatch away his liberty/reassurance. (I'm not advocating antinominism here !!!)

Whether it is the English language, or the tension between Greek and Hebrew, or the bible translators, but we have ended up with a lot of a sense of man-works where perhaps less was intended. I'm thinking for starters of 'metanoiete' which we fiercely render as 'repent!' instead of the intenmtionally passive 'be changed in your thinking'. As you will know, Jerome's error underpinned Penance as a roman sacrament though, that said, it is virtually a sacrament in protestant churches too.

JohnM

October 25, 2013 at 04:11 PM

Matthias,

I appreciate that you note a distinction between historical Arminians and a modern evangelical-ahistorical kind. The thing is most of the latter are not quite. Arminian that is. Some Calvinists think they are because they are other than Calvinist. Sometimes they think so themselves, but they don't quite understand Arminianism.

Rather than historic, aka reformed, Arminianism, contemporary mainstream evangelicalism tends to be a self contradictory blend of Wesleyan-Arminianism, dispensationalism, Finneyism, and yes, Calvinism. Still, one can be a Christian within that culture and many are.

One other thing is that historical Arminians aren't altogether. Historical that is. Now maybe they're like the coelacanth, but the coelacanth does very much still exist. :)

Matthias

October 25, 2013 at 01:00 PM

The difficulty, of course, is finding a consistent Arminian among evangelicals today.

I fully acknowledge that some Arminians (perhaps historical Arminians, and as such minority Arminians) will still recognize "faith" as a "gift from God" along the lines of Prevenient Grace. It's precisely because of this that I mentioned "decision to believe."

Some ahistorical Arminians would say faith must be utterly self-wrought, in order to be credited to the person exercising it. If God had anything to do with it, it would mean (to them) that God forced it, or overrode man's free will. It's against this idea that I stated "faith is always and only a result of grace." Historical Arminians would, again, recognize faith as a grace gift of God, but they run into the problem which asks, "from where does the inclination arise to act upon the prevenient grace given to every man?"

The Calvinist answer would be exactly as the bible says it is. God will not save a man apart from intentional faith. I don't believe you would find a Calvinist who holds otherwise.

If you feel I have misrepresented Arminianism, it is because many modern Arminians aren't historically so. But perhaps I should have made a distinction between historical/modern evangelical-ahistorical. For that I apologize.

I appreciate the exchange, JohnM.

Matthias

Matthias

October 24, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Jeremiah,

I'm not so sure the "work" described there is the same as the "work" described in Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4. That's not to say - by any means - that Jesus is opposed to Paul. In fact, I'd say what Jesus speaks of is a general version of what Paul elucidates in the other passages. If Jesus meant "what you must do," then "believing" is kept from being a type of "work" as Romans 4 talks about. Exegetically, it seems Jesus is speaking in general, while Paul is seeking to make a technical distinction for the sake of doctrine. Thoughts?

Matthias

Matthias

October 24, 2013 at 11:26 AM

On the other hand, not every single question can be answered every single time.

Matthias

October 24, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Salvation is earned by Jesus, and given to us by grace through faith. Salvation is given to those with faith, which is the result of regeneration. So, it could be said Christ's works earned salvation, and so it has already been earned, or bought, as a wage. And we are not earning by faith what has already been earned by Christ's perfection.

Besides that there is no category in Scripture for a "faith" that isn't a result of grace (and so we cannot speculate much). So it is by its very nature not a "work" in the sense Eph 2:9 speaks of.

There is none but a Calvinistic answer to this question, which does not add to the teachings of Scripture.

Arminianism adds a category between "faith" and "works;" a supposed neutral action that results in reward, but somehow not in personal credit. The "decision to believe" (or "decision to decide to believe" ad infinitum)is nowhere attested to in Scripture, and so constitutes an addition to the teachings of Scripture. All actions - "work" or not - are either self-wrought or grace-wrought. Absolutely nothing that sways a man's disposition toward Christ can be attributed to anything other than grace.

JohnM

October 24, 2013 at 09:11 PM

Jeremiah,

Yes, believing is crucial in salvation, and it is something we do. Whether or not "an act" is the precisely the way to describe what we do in believing might be open to discussion, but regardless you are correct in saying it is not taking credit for earning it, since it is not as if we did, must, or could work to merit salvation.

Jeremiah

October 24, 2013 at 08:24 PM

Thanks JohnM,

The work of believing is an act that is crucial in salvation, is it not? And at the same time is not taking credit for earning it.

Jeremiah

October 24, 2013 at 08:04 PM

Matthias,

Yes, it does seem that the 'work of God' in John 6 is different than Eph. 2:8 and Rom. 4:4

So while it may be a bigger general thing than the specifics of Paul's usage, it is still Christ teaching and we must listen.

I always thought that it is the object of faith that matters for salvation.

Jeremiah

October 24, 2013 at 07:50 AM

The bookends of Romans contain this statement of Paul about God's purpose through him to bring about 'the obedience of faith.'

Again, another very clear statement that has everything to do with the question this article brings up but is not addressed.

Faith is crucial in our ongoing lives as disciples. It is sad to see it regulated to conversion and our present need of faith gets lost in the shadows of our sytematic defenses.

Alan

October 24, 2013 at 04:16 AM

That is a very full defence of the origin of saving faith, but to my mind it does not actually answer the question. The question was certainly theological, but it can't be separated from the pastoral aspect and the answer seems to have done that.

Rather than simply investigate the Reformed doctrine by examining key passages, I would have preferred investigating the experiential, pastoral situation and bringing the verses in to play alongside their classic Reformed understanding and so on.

The question sounds like it being asked by someone who is well convinced of everything that Matthew set out, but is struggling to reconcile that with practically living out faith in the Christian life.
At very least, if he was going to limit himself to the realms of exegesis and theological theory, Matthew needed to address effective, saving faith alongside the faith that is worked out in Spirit-empowered, Christian living.

I'm sorry TGC, I enjoy so much of what you put out, and I was excited by the title and strap line on this article hoping for a great blend of rigorous theology and practical life, but it wasn't what I expected. And I'm sorry Matthew, you have written very well and addressed effective, saving faith well, but I just can't recommend the article as anyone I know who would have wanted an answer like that would have systematic theologies on their shelves that they could look up anyway.

JohnM

October 24, 2013 at 02:27 PM

Matthias, Now I have a few questions more:

If there is "none but a Calvinistic answer" why do you give Arminian ones such as: "... there is no category in Scripture for a "faith" that isn't a result of grace" :)

What is this category Arminianism adds between faith and works, and, since this is what we've been talking about, what works do you mean anyway?

Finally, What must I do to be saved?

jeremiah

October 23, 2013 at 12:11 PM

when Jesus talks about 'work' and says it has to do with faith- 'believe', how in the world does that passage not get discussed in this article?
see John 6

First Links — 10.23.13 - Hardcore Catholic

October 23, 2013 at 12:06 PM

[…] Why Is Faith Not a Work?Matthew Barrett, Gospel Coalition […]

Matthias

October 23, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Mark,

Is it your opinion that "faith" is a work, then? And, your last paragraph...I suppose you intend to refer to the original blog post? Because I honestly don't see where you faced the question head-on, yourself.

Faith is not a work because: 1) It is specifically contrasted with works, 2) it is a gift, and 3) it is not self-wrought because regeneration precedes it.

I'd say this answers the question rather succinctly.

Jon

October 23, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Are you suggesting that the act of picking up the car keys is work? If not, your analogy doesn't hold water. If so, you have redefined the word (and biblical usage of) work.

Mark

October 23, 2013 at 08:43 AM

It is stunning to read that faith is not a work when we read this in John 6: "Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (vv. 28-29). The problem here is that the unscriptural system of Calvinism has been substituted for the truth of Scripture. James specifically says faith alone does not save (James 2:24), something Luther couldn't reconcile with his theology so he removed James from his Bible. At least he was consistent! In order to be saved man must obey the Gospel (Romans 10:16). Our obedience does not create a debt or earn us anything because salvation is a priceless gift (Rom 6:23). But just because it is a gift doesn't mean there are no terms to receive it. If I put the keys to a brand new car on the table and say "Pick them up and it's yours" would you brag about how hard you worked to earn the new car once you picked them up?

I pray that people will read this long and confusing explanation that ultimately dodges the question and then contradicts the Scripture and will realize they need to lay aside Calvinism and go back to the Bible!

BJ W

October 23, 2013 at 08:14 AM

Dear Editors of TGC,

While this explanation of faith and works is not patently unbiblical, it decisively monergistic and I can't help but think that many of your readers (myself included) will disagree with its conclusions.

While doctrines like monergism (and Calvinism) defend the Gospel incredibly well, such positions should never be confused with the Gospel itself. I think this topic is a prime example where faithful, Gospel-affirming Christians can (and should) differ from the view presented in this article, and continue to remain rooted in the biblical presentation of the relationship between faith and works.

If possible, I think it would behoove your readers to see a second article posted that represents an alternative (yet still biblically faithful) view. We can be united in the Gospel without needing to be united by monergism.

[…] Why Is Faith Not a Work? Matthew Barrett, Gospel Coalition […]

[…] Why Is Faith Not a Work? (The Gospel Coalition) […]

JohnM

October 23, 2013 at 06:25 PM

Jeremiah, I don't think any such qualifier (and I'm not sure "qualifier" is the right word) is needed for us to draw the conclusion intended. Jesus does address the two in the same breath. Does Jesus need to draw us a picture? He kind of did. He told us what the bread is and He told us what the work is. The bread is not bread in the ordinary sense and the work is not work in the ordinary sense.

Yes people are doing something by coming/believing. And so what? There's nothing there to flinch from as so many Christians are conditioned to do. We are called to come. What we are called to do is not work, a work, or works, as Jesus' hearers supposed they needed to do to have eternal life, that's what He was trying to get a across to them.

What we doing in coming/believing is not earning, effecting, or obtaining any credit for, our salvation as some erroneously insist must be the case. I realize that is more explaining what it doesn't mean, the thing is I don't think it would need so much explanation at all if the above mentioned erroneous insistence hadn't confused the issue.

jeremiah

October 23, 2013 at 05:45 PM

JOhnM, the bread means Jesus because Jesus says 'I am the bread'. You do not have any such qualifier added to the work of believing by Christ. It makes sense on its own it seems.

And if your conclusion is accurate it still means that people doing something by 'coming'.

JohnM

October 23, 2013 at 05:41 PM

Jeremiah, I just now saw this last query. Please see my answer above where you'd asked before, if you haven't already. I think there I do say what it means. I believe that is clear but if you find it not please let me know.

jeremiah

October 23, 2013 at 05:41 PM

Thanks Josh for the reply.
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing THE WORKS OF GOD?”
It is this last phrase the works of God, that Jesus addresses in saying
Jesus answered them, “This is THE WORK OF GOD, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

So I don't think that it eliminates what they must do, Jesus just makes it singular, as you pointed out.

JohnM

October 23, 2013 at 05:15 PM

Jeremiah, If the bread means Jesus, the work of believing means coming to Him for salvation. John 6:35 puts these two together. The coming and the believing are simultaneous, if not synonymous.

Richard UK

October 23, 2013 at 04:07 PM

Faith is not a work because it is a perception, not an action

If I say Elvis has left the building, you know he is on his way elsewhere. Realising that is not a work.

You might say 'realising' compromises 'hearing' and 'believing'

But hearing is something we just do, like breathing - it is hardly a work ESPECIALLY since the bible says you can't even hear unless your ears are unstopped.

And then believing? Nobody can believe what they can't believe, and you cannot unbelieve what you do believe. You believe, indeed you WILL believe, if you believe the message is true.

Well, the gospel is folly, indeed unbelievable, unless the Spirit works in us, after which it becomes compellingly true - where else can we go..?.

So it is all of God - it just happens that it happens in us - call that a work if you want but we have not wrought it.

Is it the man or the hammer that drives the nail? The hammer just happens to be what the man uses.

Josh

October 23, 2013 at 03:55 PM

Mark and Jeremiah-
Note in the passage in John 6, to which you're both referring, that the people asked Jesus what THEY must do in order to be doing the works of God. However, Jesus' response doesn't address what THEY must do. Jesus' response is that "The WORK OF GOD is that they would believe." Jesus changes WORK to a singular work, rather than plural, and He also focuses the answer on God and not on works THEY must do. On my reading of this, Jesus is explicitly telling them that it is not their work that they mush complete, but it is GOD'S WORK that they believe in the first place. Just a thought.

jeremiah

October 23, 2013 at 03:20 PM

John, again, what does the work of believing actually mean?
I hear you saying multiple times what it does not mean, but in the passage there is a connection, that the work is faith, and I am trying to get at what you are saying the verse actually means.

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

John H

October 23, 2013 at 03:02 PM

"It is because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:30-31

John H

October 23, 2013 at 02:41 PM

So in other words faith WOULD IN FACT BE A WORK if it were not recognized as the result of the Lord opening the heart; the result of the regenerating work of the Spirit. As such a person would ascribe their believing to their own wisdom, humility, sound judgment and good sense but not to Christ alone.

jeremiah

October 23, 2013 at 02:37 PM

John M thanks for the response. If the work and the bread are talking about the same type of non-literal thing, then what does the work of believing actually mean ?

thanks

JohnM

October 23, 2013 at 01:13 PM

Jeremiah,
Jesus was talking about work in the way He was talking about bread. Though He meant something quite real, in neither case did He mean the literal thing as the crowd thought of it. What we need is not a material substance made from grain, but Christ. How we receive it not through any exertion but through believing in Him.

Alex

October 22, 2013 at 12:50 PM

Steve,

I agree with your insight that "the Lord creates faith." Because of the life of Christ, and his active obedience, he has created a perfect faith for all his elect. Christ has fulfilled our entire "human obligation" in regard to our salvation.

Really interesting post!

Josh Lough

October 22, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I'm terrible at building things. However, let's say my pride causes me to try and build my own home (I want to get the glory for building it; I don't want someone else getting the credit). But when I try, disaster occurs. Nothing goes right. Thankfully, someone who CAN build a home comes along and says, "I'm willing to do it for you ... for free." I humble myself and I say, "I accept your offer." Now, I've done NO work there. I've simply humbled myself and allowed someone else to do the work for me. That's faith.

No one should come along and say, "Yes, but faith is still a work because you've done something admirable: you've humbled yourself. You obeyed God by humbling yourself and allowing God to do the work for you. Therefore, since faith is a command that you can be obedient to, faith is a work."

Yes, the ability to humble myself and receive the gift of God is a gift from God. The ability to exercise faith is a gift from God. But it isn't a work. Faith is simply allowing someone else to DO THE WORK FOR YOU.

Faith says "I can't do it"
Faith says "My pride tried to do it on my own"
Faith says "I needed someone else to do it for me"
Faith says "I have no ability"
Faith says "I trust that you're able to do what I can't do"

What's glorious about that? How can THAT be a work?

This is why Scripture CONTRASTS faith with works.

AND, if faith were a work, where does Scripture say that Christ had faith for us? Nowhere.

[…] The Gospel Coalition posed the question “Why is faith not a work?” to Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett begins by saying, […]

JohnM

October 22, 2013 at 08:27 PM

"If we are obligated to have faith before righteousness can be credited to us (Romans 4), how is faith not a work?".

Rather than take the long way around I would answer the question with a question, or two: How is faith a work? Why would you think of it that way in the first place, after all the two words do not mean the same thing in ordinary usage?

I suppose some will see it that way because they have been taught to think of it that way - but not by The Scripture. The Scripture doesn't define faith as a work at all, on the contrary, Romans 4 (among other places in the Bible) contrasts faith and works, and makes it clear the two are not the same thing.

Steve Martin

October 22, 2013 at 08:22 AM

Faith is a work.

Just not our work.

The Lord creates faith and gives it to us as a gift, in the hearing of His Word. His law...and His gospel.

"Faith is a gift"

Ben

October 22, 2013 at 06:16 AM

Matthew I'm not so sure your answer protects faith from being a work. It redefines faith as a grace-given work.

Our definition of 'works' comes from Romans 4:4 "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due."

Works is that which renders wages as a due, rather than a gift.

In order to protect faith from being a work, we have to see that people with faith, when they are justified are justified even while they are ungodly (Rom4:5). Faith does not make someone deserve to be justified. This is why faith isn't a work, it doesn't earn justification.

Is that right?

Kent

October 22, 2013 at 02:27 PM

Scripture also never says that Christ obeyed for us, yet we presume that this is what his righteousness consists of. That's a topic for another time, but the point is that just because Scripture doesn't say it explicitly doesn't make it so (this isn't an argument for faith as a work of Christ).

I push back against Barrett's statement that our being "dead in sins" makes us passive. I think this needs a bit of clarity, because by this analogy, spiritual death is anything but passive. On the contrary, it's quite active, because sin is active. The analogy of a light switch doesn't really do justice to what it looks like when God grants faith. The analogy that John uses, of God drawing men to Himself, is more apt. He shines the light of the gospel into our hearts, exposing our sin and the glory of His Son. For some, this is relatively quick, and for others, it is a drawn out process. But we are by no means passive. Rather, in His drawing of us, we are doing something. But that something is not decisively of our own wills but of God's. And just as repentance and works of faith are also God's gifts, they do not preclude human action. Which is why Peter can both say, "Repent, and you will be filled with the Holy Spirit", and, "God has granted repentance that leads to life."

So I think we need to refine what we mean by works, or rather, refine our understanding of what Paul means by works of the Law. Because while faith does not count as a work (neither for Paul nor James), it does count as an act. And I think the difference lies in what these "works" are: deliberate, conscious activity done in light of God's commands that is for the purpose of obtaining favor from or right standing with God. When Paul refers to works of the Law, he specifically means actions done in light of the Law of Moses.

Faith, then, doesn't fall into this category because faith (though an action commanded by God), isn't really so much an activity that a person can do with some measurable outcome. Therefore it can't be an achievement (which is what is so heinous about the Word of Faith movement). Rather, faith is a mental action, and a heart action. Faith is trusting and assenting to what God has said concerning His character and purpose and activity. And it results most clearly in repentance, turning to God from sin and assenting to the rule of Christ. The works of faith then are those things which stem from this faith in Jesus.

So faith certainly is an action, it certainly is active, but that doesn't mean that it is not of God, nor does it mean that it's something that we do not do. In fact, faith is only something that we can do. No one can believe for you. But, it is God who works faith in our hearts.

Richard UK

March 20, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Mick

I try not to have disdain for anything but I do get frustrated with inconsistent or incoherent points of view!

The Catholic paradigm is at least internally consistent. It does not really accept the continuing sovereignty of God which I believe is clear in scripture. God has apparently chosen to share His sovereignty (the power of contrary choice) with man. Jesus' death provides a solution to the ensuing mess. Man now tries his best and God makes up for the rest, provided man participates in the sacramental system - which is little different from OT sacrifical system although it does make nods in the direction of motive/heart/love etc.

When I was hijacked by God in my 30's, I fell in with the Reformed tradition. I knew no other and admired their zeal. But it is a muscular Christianity which, together with its internal inconsistency, made me ill, literally. They declared the sovereignty of God in all things, but spoke, like Arminians, as if it was now over to us. Never crudely put but it now seemed up to us to keep ourselves saved. Where Catholics believed in free will all along, the Reformed camp believed in a bound will up to conversion and then a restoration to the free will enjoyed by Adam. Coupled with the Holy Spirit (often seen as an infused spiritual power pack), it now seemed possible to live a spotless life but nobody could explain how the Holy Spirit coexisted with the Old man in a way that meant we would always sin. (Incidentally the Arminians are a mixture of these two, to no great benefit)

From there I was drawn towards Luther's perspective which has a robust view of God's sovereignty even after conversion, and of the New Aeon crashing in on us. But I agree with others who say that the key elements of the Reformation were lost within 25 years of Luther's 'discovery'. I am also completely confused by what modern Lutherans see in Baptism and the extent and purpose of Atonement.

IMHO, even when the Protestant church made and carried through its definitive stand against sacerdotalism/clericalism, it retained too much of the Aristotelian view of an impassible 'God' that had been borrowed and christianised by Aquinas. The subsequent view of a functional, mercantile covenant of morality and works contrasts strongly with the Augustinian-Lutheran picture of a marriage covenant of relationship and love. The Purtians were split over this - eg Perkins v Sibbes - and I ams still not yet clear whether Calvin stood with Luther on this or whether he was part of the falling away.

However much we all swop favorite verses, at the end of the day there are two pictures of God: (i) a Trinitarian one infused with the reciprocated love of the Father for the Son which they desire to share with creation. The primary feature here is love and wrath appears where love is impeded. (ii) a more Monadic view of a Holy, Moral God who is primarily wrathful but who acts in love to restore creation. The God of Heaven will be like the God of Eden who made everything very good so we need to interpret Gen 3 aright. If we see God there primarily as a law-giver, then that must be what He will be in Heaven.

The 'Liberate' website is a healthy showcase of a quasi-Augustinian-Lutheran position

Mick

March 20, 2014 at 12:34 AM

Richard...I appreciate your reluctance to avoid anything close to infused righteousness. I suppose that is the result of a distain for Catholic doctrine. I really don't have much of a tradition, for I turned my back on the fundamentalist tradition I grew up in when I began to read the Bible. I would love,to hear about your background or tradition.

Richard UK

March 20, 2014 at 05:27 PM

Possibly you have read my reply to Mick with comments on Luther.

If you think Lutherans would be struggling with Titus 3:8 and similar, then you must think they are either rampantly antinomian, and totally passive. Both would be an injustice - nobody could say Luther was either!

You might want to read 'Lutheran Theology' by Steve Paulson, and look at the Amazon reviews on it to persuade yourself. Lutheranism has an existential component (which it shares with the orthodox church). The Reformed and Catholic traditions do not. They are essentially dealing with an improved man not the New Man; therefore free will and morality have to be paramount for them*

Since it is often helpful to question even our most certain ideas, can you Kindly enumerate some of the benefits of the Reformed tradition. (I'm certainly not saying there are none, but that they may not be where we most believe them to be)

I think we all say we want to account for all scripture* but it is hard to do because it talks of something spiritual that we need the spiritual to discern

*To toss in an after-thought; the commands in the OT and NT can be read in more than one way. Perhaps they are not so much prescriptions as descriptions or even promises. Perhaps they are Performative Speech Acts which depend on their Power, not man's power, for their realisation

Kenton

March 20, 2014 at 01:18 PM

Yes. I'm not sure what tradition I stand in (though I have benefitted greatly from the Reformed tradition, on a number of points I am in disagreement), but my aim is to account for all of the Scriptures. It seems to me that in order to embrace Lutheran theology, one must dismiss a significant portion of Scripture by emptying them of their words. And when faced with something like Titus 3:8, Lutheran theology cannot embrace it.

Thanks for the fruitful discussion. May we all abound in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mick

March 19, 2014 at 12:16 AM

Probably not far from yours brother; even though I don't believe I can think as deeply as you. I agree that sin remains in this body of flesh, and also that I am legally righteous (declared righteous through Christ alone by God in justification). In that respect, I will neve be anymore righteous than I was the moment I was regenerated, and yet Christ continues his work of practical righteousness in me through sanctification. Since God sees me as righteous through Christ, I would have to conclude that I am righteous in Christ, and thus secure from the wrath to come (1 Thes 1:10).

Kenton

March 19, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Richard,

I agree with your statements. Though I'd argue that there is a "practical righteousness", inasmuch as there is something called righteous action, which is contrasted with unrighteous action (see James 1:20, 3:6).

As Habakkuk 2:3-4 indicate, it is not living by faith that makes a person righteous, but the righteous person does live by faith, just as those who belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh. The latter demonstrates the former in each case.

Also, I think you are spot on with regard to sanctification. The more I see it in the NT, the more it seems to be less about "Christian growth", and more about something that God does. For example, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11 ESV).

Sanctification is to be set apart from the world and for God. It is what Paul talks about in Col 1:12-13, being delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son. It seems to me that justification, sanctification, adoption and reconciliation are all referring to the same declarative act of God, with different, but associated, effects. And this is because in their essence, they all do the same thing: they take us from the world and to God. So justification is our being brought into God's covenant (the locale of right standing); sanctification is our being set apart as God's holy ones (saints); adoption is our being made God's legal sons; reconciliation is our being restored as God's creatures. And all of these come through union with Christ, which is by becoming Christ's. And union with Christ simply means that God gives us Jesus' standing before Him as the Righteous One, the Holy One, the Son of God, the Image of God (this latter one being a reference to Genesis 1:26).

If there is a practical result of these things, and there is by the grace of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, it is to live righteously, abstain from sin, imitate God, proclaim the message of reconciliation. And all this is what Paul means when he says, "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV).

Richard UK

March 19, 2014 at 11:06 AM

In another reply I said we must not confuse definitional identities with causal consequences.

Faith has a precise meaning. It is a settled state of 'head and heart only' though I fully accept it will permeate through the hands with a wide range of consequences (adopting a new world view will always do so). But we must not say that faith is definitionally anything to do with the hands, otherwise we will always focus on the hands. So we can have

1. A 'faith' that, whatever its content, produces no good fruit and therefore is not a saving faith; it is not really any faith at all - it is easy-believism. (This does not equate faith with works, but uses works to analyse what type of faith there is)

2. A 'faith' that produces lots of 'good' fruit, but the content of that faith contains the idea that salvation is based on faith and works. That, however, is not saving faith because it is not faith in Christ alone. This is 'older brother' faith.

3. A faith that produces a little or a lot of good fruit (at least we know it is alive) but which is a saving faith because it rests on Christ alone and does not see works/obedience etc as something we do in, with or around the business of salvation. This is 'thief on the cross' faith.

Perhaps you think I am advocating [1]. I am not; I just hear so much of [2] being passed off as [3].

Kenton

March 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Well, yes, a lack of lifelong devotion does indicate a lack of faith (else why not go on sinning?).

I agree that to be faithful is to be full of faith, but it is also more than that - that is, being full of faith, being faithful, is expressed not in word and thought only, but in deed and truth. Look at the verse below:

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10 ESV)

To be faithful here (same word, pistos, which means "to believe" and "to be faithful") involves more than simply trusting that Jesus is your righteousness. It involves trusting that Jesus is the faithful Lord and Savior who will fulfill all the promises of God, and it involves enduring temptation.

And notice the conditional promise: be faithful, and I will give you the crown of life.

it matches Hebrews 11 - Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

By faith Noah ...in *reverent fear* constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By *this* he ...became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham *obeyed* when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

[By faith] some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. (Hebrews 11:1, 7-8, 35 ESV)

I don't mean to dispute or debate for the sake of debating, but the Scripture is pretty clear that faith is not just a one-time trusting, nor is it simply believing one thing about Jesus. Faith is believing Jesus himself, and it must produce a life of faithfulness, or it isn't genuine faith. Again, it's not about how well I do or don't do. That isn't the point. We aren't being graded.

Look at the above examples. Faith was manifest in Noah's life by his reverent fear. Irreverent indifference is not of faith. Faith was manifest in Abraham's life by obedience to God's call. Disobedience isn't of faith, and had Abraham disobeyed, he would have shown himself to not have faith.

I understand the point you are trying to make, and it's a very important point, but we err when we say that obedience is neither required nor pleasing to God. It is both. Look at what the author of Hebrews quotes:

"but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV)

He quotes Habakkuk 2:3-4 (which Paul quotes in Romans 1 and Galatians 2). Notice what the verse actually says. He doesn't just say, "My righteous one shall have faith". Rather, "My righteous one shall *live*". And how shall he live? By faith (as opposed to the works of the law). And what does it look like to live by faith? Romans 3-15, Galatians 3-6, Hebrews 11-13, James 1-5.

That last part is important, because the author goes on to say, "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." (Hebrews 10:39 ESV)

As you indicate, to have faith is not to preserve one's soul (but to believe God), but to preserve one's soul is to have faith in God.

As the psalmist also says, "[The] Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love." (Psalm 147:11 ESV)

To fear God is to hope in his steadfast love. Just as having faith is having an "assurance of things hoped for" and a "conviction of things not seen." And this pleases him, "for by it the people of old received their commendation."

This is what faith looks like in the life of the believer. And yes, we can obey, and be faithful, and please God, all in faith.

And that is why we are instructed to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24 ESV).

All this is premised on the conviction that it is God who justifies on the basis of Christ's redemptive act, and it is God who delivers us from this present evil age through Christ.

Richard UK

March 19, 2014 at 09:12 AM

Mick

I agree, and my 'hermeneutic' is ' A marriage (not mercantile) covenant of grace (not works) in which we are justified by Grace alone through Union with Christ and through the Instrument of Faith alone and without any Works lest man should boast' !!

Whatever happens to us, in us, by us after we are justified is not itself to do with the eternal life which comes with justification/union/regeneration.

Righteousenss is a state of relationship, a legal standing; it is not a moral term although, under the old covenant, righteousness in theory came as a result of obedient, trusting behavior.

So my only concern is that using the phrase 'practical righteousness' confuses what follows after with what comes before, or at, justification.

So, yes, by God's hand and will, we become more Christ-like. We are 'transformed' - that seems the best word for that; it is not something we cooperate in, although God working in us will seem like that. But the phrase 'practical righteousness' is dangerously close to a 'goodness' infused into us.

While we are on it, both sanctification and holiness mean (in NT terms even if not in modern parlance) to be set apart for God, just like utensils in the Temple were set apart for God - they were special but had no intrinsic moral worth. Sanctification is separate to but happens with justification. It is not helpful to talk about sanctification in terms of growth in moral goodness.

Richard UK

March 19, 2014 at 07:51 AM

Again, to seek Him in faith does NOT mean to obey Him trustingly or to please Him. Faith does not 'mean' Pleasing. We must not confuse definitional identities with causal consequences.

I fear all you have done is replace performance with another English language 'works' word - obedience - on the basis that performance relates to rewards whereas obedience does not. Maybe, but neither of them mean faith.

I don't anyway see the difference between the work of servants being evaluated to see if they belong to God, or performers being evaluated. Either way you are again back to the obedience of works as somehow part of salvation (as opposed to the obedience of faith which is something quite different).

Sorry to disagree so heartily

Richard UK

March 19, 2014 at 07:22 PM

I think we must recognise that we each stand within different traditions on this

Richard UK

March 19, 2014 at 06:46 AM

Kenton, I can't agree.

This seems another way in which we like to slide away from the concept of faith alone into something else, whether we call it effort, works, performance, obedience, faithfulness, devotion, love, gratitude.

All of these things are good but they are not and cannot be equated to faith. Faith alone saves. The word 'faithful' means full of faith not obediently loyal.

This is so important. When we believe ('have faith that') we are justified by Christ alone, then we look at Him. When we start looking at these other things as being 'part' of salvation (we say they do not 'bring' salvation but are still 'part' of it somehow), then we look at ourselves; there is no life in that.

The way you have put it does suggest that faith = lifelong devotion, so lack of life-long devotion = lack of faith = lack of salvation, even if you are also saying that you are not suggesting that

Kenton

March 19, 2014 at 06:23 PM

Yes, Phil 2:12-16 is meant to encourage and spur us on. But Paul doesn't shy from saying "holding fast to the word of life" or "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" or "do all things... that you may be blameless and innocent." So neither do I. Because when a Christian does good, he isn't balancing grace and self-disciplining works. Rather, grace is what motivates and empowers all the good that we do. So there's no reason to fear doing good.

When the Lord comes, this is what he will say:

Either, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world", or "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:34, 41 ESV)

On what basis will he say this? Look at the text yourself, but earlier he says, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven... And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"(Matthew 7:21, 23 ESV)

I'm not trying to shy away from pure grace, I'm simply trying to give due reverence to what Jesus says in the text. And it is confirmed by Paul multiple times:


He will render to each one according to his works: For God shows no partiality... on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:6, 11, 16 ESV)

For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God... So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10, 12 ESV)

Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)

Kenton

March 19, 2014 at 06:20 PM

1. Well, yes, but a righteous man's sin is still sin. There ARE such things as righteous deeds and unrighteous deeds. Or else John could not say, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 ESV)

So there is an unrighteousness (and a righteousness) that is expressed in actions and not status only.

2. So if I understand you correctly, you're saying that God declares us righteous (on the basis of God-given faith), and then that God-righteousness enables a life of faith, but the righteousness itself is not maintained by that life of faith?

If so, I agree. But I'd disagree with Luther's understanding of that righteousness, which by your words seems to be a view that Paul in 1:17 is referring to God's qualitative righteousness (which Luther feared and hated). I'd argue that this righteousness from God is a covenant status that is premised not on Torah-observance, but on faith in Jesus. Which means it's wholly positive, and it is lived out by that same faith in Jesus ("the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God")

Yes, Romans 1:17 doesn't use Habakkuk to talk about the Christian life, but Hebrews 10:38 does. And it is equally Scripture.

I'm only shying away from grace if Paul is in Titus 2:11-14:

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."

Grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and to live godly lives. Why? Because Christ died to redeem us from lawlessness and purify us as a people who are zealous FOR good works. That's what Paul says, and he doesn't shy away from it. He can both say this and only a few words later: "The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people." (Titus 3:8 ESV)

And what Paul says in Titus 2:11-14 and 3:8 in no way challenges what he says right before 3:8 - "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:4-7 ESV)

It is not our works, but God's mercy that is the basis of our salvation, and yet those who have believed in God should devote themselves to good works. Paul doesn't see a contradiction in these two statements. So neither should we.

Richard UK

March 19, 2014 at 02:32 PM

1. Your para 1

We know that it is what is in a man's heart that makes him evil. But the significant contrast in scripture is not so much evil men/actions versus good men/actions, but evil men/actions versus righteous men/actions.

So we either remain evil because of what is within us, and no sincere 'cleaning up our act' whitewashing changes that, or we are declared righteous by what we are clothed with (not what is within us or even put into us)

There is the contrast at work

All the works of an evil, unrighteous man are as rags in God's eyes including the works that seem to us good. But the works of a righteous man (clothed in righteousness) are made righteous by faith

2. Your para 2

Habakkuk's words are expanded by Paul in Roms 1:17 where he says 3 things
i. "a righteousness from God is revealed"; this is what caused Luther to hate and fear God
ii. the Habakkuk line at the end "the righteous will live by faith" which ON THE FACE OF IT has the meaning you ascribe, ie that, once righteous, we THEN live by faith.
iii. the key connecting line "a righteousness that is by faith from first to last".

The connecting line helped Luther see the Reformational truth that God's righteousness is at our disposal; it is there to help us, to justify us, not to condemn us.

That showed him that the first line was not a line to hate, but a line to love "the righteousness of God is set out on our behalf"

It also showed him that Paul had taken Habakkuk to point to justification by faith - from first to last. Paul sees Habakkuk as actually saying it is our faith that makes us righteous, ie faith first and righteousness as a result, rather than righteousness first and a life of faith as a result.

So Rom 1:17 is about how to be justified in the first place; it is NOT about living the Christian life once justified, which only really appears in Roms 8. For Luther, as for any of us, it was a great relief to find it was not by works either to get in, or (since 'first to last') by any other means to stay in.

Of course, none of this is to be taken linguistically to mean that it is not God who saves us, but our faith that does (in the dangerous sort of 'faith in my faith' parody at the heart of easy-belivism)

Forgive me for saying this, but I still sense you are shying away from the bald truth of 'by grace alone' when you reintroduce 'right living' or some such!! I'm avoiding talk of the Christian life, not in order to promote easy-belivist anti-nomianism etc, but because it is too dangerous to mix up justification and the subsequent Christian life - the leaven of the Pharisees.

We should only talk, in terms of great rejoicing not fear, about the Christian life when we have met the awful scandal of grace. Phil 2:12-13 is to excite us, not to warn us as often imagined

Accepting grace as 100% is much, much harder in pretty well every way than it is to 'balance' grace with a bit of self-disciplining works. Indeed it is terrifyingly difficult.

One day we might get to Heaven and He will say either 'you trusted me too much' or 'you trusted me too little'. Whichever is the one we expect Him to say speaks volumes about the one in whom we have faith, and therefore the nature of that faith

Nick Rice

March 18, 2014 at 12:16 AM

Alan, I want to take some time to look some of this over and I'm going to be on the road tomorrow. Gave me some good things to think about though. To be continued...

Richard UK

March 18, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Nick

My attempt has been to draw you out solely that we might discuss foundational points. I think we have arrived there; you seem to believe that any religion founded on Election is pointless. On that I agree we can go no further.

Secondly works; you believe that it is (or was) works that save a man, but then I am not clear what works and how much, since Perfection is God's standard.

New Covenant; does this mean that works are not part of salvation, or just that God requires a lesser standard of works?

(Lesser points --

Acts 16 - faith and belief are surely interchangable

Philip - my slip of the brain; not an Ethiopian!

Thief on the Cross - interesting point depending on whether you think the New Covenant starts at the Last Supper and going out at the start of His sufferings, or some 18 hours later when He gives up His spirit.

I certainly don't want to debate just for the sake of it; to be honest, that is what I thought you wanted)

Kenton

March 18, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Alan, spot on. And the fact that the Greek word pistos (related to pistis, faith) means both believing and faithful indicates that faith isn't a one-time thing, but it's a lifetime devotion to Jesus.

Kenton

March 18, 2014 at 10:51 PM

I agree. In fact, I believe 'performance' is the wrong way to think about obedience, or godliness, or even Christlikeness. We aren't performers taking a test. We are servants whose work means something and will be evaluated, not to see how good we are (compared to God or men), but to judge whether or not we are those who belong to God.

And, though God does not reward on the basis of performance, he does reward those who seek him in faith. To seek him in faith is to obey him trustingly, in light of his promises. And to obey him trustingly is to please him. That's how I read Hebrews 11:6, which again, has everything to do with obedience and nothing to do with performance.

As I see it, Hebrews 11 is James 2:14-26 displayed, and Romans 2:6-11 exemplified. And that makes it vitally relevant for our views on the relationship between faith and obedience (or 'good works').

Richard UK

March 18, 2014 at 08:03 AM

Yes, we do not receive His righteousness; we become it in the sense of becoming His trophy.

God's crowning glory is the redemption of men for fellowship with His Son. That is what the universe cheers. It cheers the costly cloak of Christ's righteousness placed over us; it does not cheer any righteousness we may or may not have in and of ourselves - even if supposedly received from God.

The passage is about God not us

Richard UK

March 18, 2014 at 07:13 PM

Hebrews 11 does not talk about reward for performance

In fact, like Romans and Galatians, Hebrews also makes it clear it is to do with faith not works

Kenton

March 18, 2014 at 03:12 PM

"If you believe that God will save those who make a good effort, that requires a belief in God and that He rewards performance."

Hmm, regarding the statement above, how would you interpret Hebrews 11?

[By faith] the people of old received their commendation... By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:2, 5-6 ESV)

I only ask because your wording closely matches 11:6, and there's no better place to discuss faith and works and effort and salvation than Hebrews.

Richard UK

March 18, 2014 at 02:25 PM

!!! I take it you did not agree with my points above!!

It all depends on whether you see grace as a dollop of power/good stuff, or whether (as I do) you see it as a God's view of us.

Christ's death means that God has no further wrath towards us. But we continue to be sinners; not just occasionally lapsing into sin, but as Luther said 'simul peccator'. How God will make us fit for heaven is up to Him; I am confident He can and will do it, even with me kicking and screaming

And as I said before, the free gift of righteousness is the righteous imputed to us, in which we are clothed (not someTHING infused into us). As soon as we see transactions with God in mechanistic THING terms, rather than in relational terms, we are doomed to misunderstand and to our peril

Did you want to set out your hermeneutic?

Richard UK

March 18, 2014 at 02:09 PM

Alan,

So very clearly put - thank you

When Blondin crossed Niagra Falls and offered to take someone across in a barrow, many enthusiastically affirmed that he certainly could. When he asked one of them to hop in, that man backed down. His was 'easy believism'.

True faith (true 'believism') is very hard, or at least as hard as its content.

If you believe that God will save those who make a good effort, that requires a belief in God and that He rewards performance.

But to believe God will save those who purely accept His son's death for them is much, much harder - that is 'hard believism'. It is too radical, too scandalous, too dangerous, too incomprehensible and too unfair for our minds.

So instead we suggest that one and all put into their back pocket some certificate of works so that, when push comes to shove at the pearly gates, we can bring out some supporting evidence to increase our chances.

It would be a light-hearted joke, were it not for the fact that Paul ad nauseam states that anything in your back pocket placed there to try to increase your chances puts you under the whole law (Galatians). The whole 'effort' movement is an affront to God and His mercy because it suggests that we can even offer up one small part.

Mick

March 18, 2014 at 01:33 PM

For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Rom 5:17

Alan

March 18, 2014 at 01:31 PM

I mentioned this in my longer post above but I'll just throw it out again as faith and belief just happened to be the example picked: there is only one word in the Greek that is translated as either faith or belief depending on the context. So when Acts 16:31 says belief is all that's needed, it isn't exactly excluding faith, faith is the very same word as belief!

I know that looks like a pedantic point, and I don't make it to show anyone up or to try and be clever, but it does actually illustrate one of the issues here quite well.
The biblical idea of saving belief is far more than intellectual ascent. We separate out belief and faith as two distinct things, but a biblical, saving belief IS faith. And though it is not a work, it will not remain purely theoretical and in the mind, but will subsequently produce works.

So when a Christian says believing is enough, that "kind" of believing (so to speak) is a believing that is an active and real faith which will show itself in real attitudes and actions.
Easy believism is not biblical, but neither is it what Calvinists actually teach.

Nick Rice

March 17, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Actually, I'd ask one more question that I believe is not so easily thrown away.

If Paul, in fact, denies works as having to do with salvation then what do we do with James writings? He plainly writes that a person IS justified by works in addition to faith.

Nick Rice

March 17, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Richard, I'm not intending to say anything new per se.

Alan, I'm new to this site and found this article by chance. If I'd recognized how old these posts were I may not have commented, but I'm glad to have pulled in a few other people. To your points; why do you say "even if Romans 3:20 is talking about works of the law"? Paul writes, "for by works of the law...", you act as if I added those words in order to interpret it that way. Those are the words, of course he's speaking of the law. How else could you understand this verse without blatantly ignoring the words "of the law"?

Alan to address your other point of Ephesians 2:8, (For by grace you have been saved through faith), I suspect we attribute the saving through different means here. Do I assume correctly that you'd read this to say that God's graciously given you faith that leads to your being saved? I'd argue the opposite that my faith has earned (for lack of a better word) God's grace which allows for my salvation. In essence, I believe the faith is my own and the salvation is what was given by grace. I'd understand your view to be that the grace was that you were given faith and then were able to have salvation.

Perhaps we should back up because I'm not sure I see your positions. These questions specifically puzzle me: If the entire work of salvation comes from God and not from man's doing, then why are any unrighteous? Secondly, if salvation involves doing some works then who decides which are necessary and which are not?

Lastly, as it relates to baptism (This is one thing I believe to be essentially connected to our salvation and yet is often denied on the basis that it is a "work"). What is it's purpose if it accomplishes nothing, or maybe better put, needs to accomplish nothing? Are there any people under the New Covenant who are described as being saved who did not also become baptized? Furthermore, are there any who were described that way before being baptized?

I appreciate the dialogue guys even to the extent that we disagree, in fact especially to the extent that we disagree.

Nick Rice

March 17, 2014 at 11:53 PM

Richard,

You're obviously extremely interested in both history and guessing what types of obscure religious movements I may be embracing. Although it has been interesting, for the most part it comes across as arrogant and insulting. For whatever it might be worth, you haven't identified my actual beliefs yet.

To satisfy a few of your other comments:

As it pertains to the doctrine of election; what you're actually describing is the doctrine of predestination (I didn't check, but I'm sure wikipedia has a page for it) and the major problem with it is that it makes religion (any religion) pointless. God does save some and not all, but that's based on what those 'some' do. Or in other words, essentially it is their works that set them apart.

You're right that the works needed for salvation are perfection, under the old law and you're right that Jesus is the only one who accomplished that. That was not under the new covenant though. (More on this in a second)If you mean that we can't obtain our own salvation, I agree. If you mean we aren't required to do anything as Christians, then I'm not sure I see why you'd hold any view to be better than another.

John 6:28-29 doesn't mention a whole lot of things that are nonetheless true. What is your point? Isolating one text and then drawing out the conclusion that baptism isn't necessary because this passage doesn't include it is flawed in such a deep and obvious way it doesn't even deserve this much discussion. Acts 16:31 says that belief is all that's needed for salvation. It doesn't mention faith. Would you then conclude that faith doesn't matter? Of course not.

The thief on the cross was not saved after the establishment of the new covenant. Philip wasn't the Ethiopian, but the Ethiopian eunuch was not called 'saved' before he was baptized. I'm sorry but these are just not the facts. If you have any examples of Jesus calling someone saved, after the establishment of the new covenant and before their baptism I'd like to see it.


I don't want to disagree, but I appreciate the respectful dialogue I've been able to have with Alan. If you just want a debate, then this will be my last address. If you're interested in the continuing discussion then I'm up to the task of having it in spite of our obviously different approaches and backgrounds.

Mickey

March 17, 2014 at 11:35 PM

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Richard UK

March 17, 2014 at 10:11 AM

Sorry - I meant to say

'I side with Alan on this 100%'

Kenton

March 17, 2014 at 09:43 AM

Yes there is something that we have to do.
Yes salvation is entirely and solely of God.

Perhaps the problem is that we've misunderstood what salvation is, and why it must be the gift of God?

Salvation is the rescue of God's covenant people from this "present evil age". This includes human sinfulness, physical decay and death, societal evil, and the authority of sinful powers both human and demonic. The means of salvation is most finitely the "redemption of our bodies" and God's judgment and recreation that overturns the evil order (sinful beings through judgment, sinfulness through recreation) that brings about new heavens and a new earth. Hence salvation must be something that God does.

The problem is that we all belong to this present evil age, whether we've received the Torah of God as members of the covenant, or whether we haven't and are ignorant of God. And it is here that we might suppose that we might do something to gain membership into the covenant (which is the locale of right standing with God). And given that the covenant has been defined by the Torah, we might suppose that it is by the works of the Law (or any such related earthly, carnal work) that we obtain the righteousness that leads to eternal life.

But Paul states that only death and resurrection will do, and there is only one man who has done this: Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It is he who, possessing the original covenant standing, perfectly accomplished what was needed to secure salvation. He died bearing our sins, in doing so condemning sin in the flesh, redeeming us from the curse on sins imposed by the Law, and providing a covering for our sins. And then he was raised to life and to God's throne, receiving the new creation in his body and the inheritance of sonship, becoming the one saved by God from this present evil age.

And so the only consequent response is faith in God: 1) believing that what He has accomplished in and for His Son, He is also able to accomplish for us (namely forgiveness of sins and resurrection from death), and 2) committing ourselves to Jesus as the Lord through whom we become like sons of God in right covenant standing (belonging to him), and as the Savior who has accomplished and will accomplish full and complete salvation in and for us.

Logically, then, we understand that salvation is entirely of God, and that faith is something we do that entails faithfulness to the one who bought us for freedom. And it is the Spirit who accomplishes salvation in us, and who inspires and empowers us toward faithfulness.

Richard UK

March 17, 2014 at 08:58 AM

Nick

Rom 3:20 - I take it that you are saying that doing the works of the law does not bring salvation, but doing something does. Presumably instead of the Mosaic Code/Law you would substitute the Law of Christ. Again, this is not new. Baxter and other fringe Puritans, not to mention Finney, advocated it.

Nor is it that the Mosaic Code has 'flaws'. Paul is clear about that; its failure to bring about life is because of our sinfulness, not the Law's failings.

Those wanting to carve out a place for works in salvation always point to Paul's many commands not to mention Jesus' commands. But the whole essence of scriptural redemptive history is that man is unable (unwilling) to fulfill the commands placed on Him by God, so God graciously provides an alternative solution. Having commanded the rich, young ruler to give away his money, Jesus then says that what is impossible for man is possible for God.

Therefore, to maintain an optimistic view of man's a-bility to fulfill his responsi-bilities is to ditch the essence of Christianity and take on the character of any other 'climb the ladder' religion. Luther's engagement with Erasmus on this was crucial.

I have to side with Nick on this 100%

Mickey

March 17, 2014 at 08:51 AM

If we through our own mind and will had the spiritual ability to come to Christ there would be no need for regeneration (or election, predestination or inward call). The consequences of the fall were catastrophic, the worst for us personally of course is death. Since all men are dead in trespasses and sin, it is necessary for us to be born again as new creatures (spiritually) that can respond to the call of God to righteousness through Christ. Salvation is very much a work, but it is the work of God. As a result, no man can boast, for salvation is by the grace of God alone. The reason this is hard to receive is due to our pride...we love to glorify ourselves and imagine that there is something good within us that will respond to God. "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Jn 3:8

Alan

March 17, 2014 at 08:31 AM

I'm not sure I want to jump in to this so long after the article came out and the momentum on the thread died, and because as Richard says this isn't exactly a cutting edge issue.

I do want to throw out a very small but significant point though, that even if Romans 3:20 is talking about "works of the law," Ephesians 2:8-9 still very much sets out the view that you (Nick) are claiming Paul didn't teach.

And to insist that the New Testament being full of commands means that salvation must include works tells me that your soteriology is very shallow indeed and you are struggling with concepts that have been pretty well settled for hundreds of years now.
I'm sorry to be that blunt, but I can't think of a softer way to say it!

Kenton

March 17, 2014 at 08:09 PM

I agree with pretty much everything stated above. We believe, we repent, we obey, but it is all from God, through God, to God, so that no one can boast, save in the Lord Jesus. And we must acknowledge, for the sake of clarity, that it is God who reveals Himself to the lost, it is God who justifies the ungodly, and it is God who saves those whom He has justified.

Kenton

March 17, 2014 at 08:04 PM

I wasn't stating what Nick was stating. I was merely suggesting that biblically speaking, salvation can only be from God because what He is saving us from and the way in which He saves us from it mean that only God Himself can do it. Justification, biblically and properly speaking, is not salvation itself.

Paul distinguishes between justification (which is reconciliation) and salvation when he says:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:9-10 ESV)

My point being that salvation could only ever be the act of God. But I also agree that justification comes by the blood of Christ, because reconciliation comes by the death of Christ. That said, we are justified by faith. And that can mean faith in Christ or the faithfulness of Christ (as some like NT Wright have argued). If it's the latter (which I don't think it is), then it is simply another way of saying that we are justified by his blood. But if it's the former, then in fact it means that we are justified by our faith in Christ. And even though it is God who grants that we should believe and repent, we are the ones who do the believing, and we are the ones who do the repenting. And therefore technically, it is by our work of faith and repentance (as God initiated, inspired, empowered, sustained, and completed as they are), that we are justified.

But that wasn't my point. My point was simply that justification isn't salvation, but is rather concerned with "Who is to be saved?" and "How can I become one of those who will be saved?"

As to faith, John 6 isn't the only statement on the matter. When Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:14), he intends for us to do this, and for us to understand that being his disciple is the means of obtaining salvation because he is the one who saves us. It is by belonging to Christ that we become God's people, and it's by being one of God's people that we inherit the promise.

I wasn't disagreeing with you, but what else is repentance than turning away from the dominion of sin to the dominion of Christ? What does it mean to confess that Jesus is Lord (note: "Jesus is Lord", not Jesus is Savior", is the means to salvation)? This is corroborated by the Greek: pistis means both faith and faithfulness, and is the reason why faith without works is dead. Faith leads to faithfulness. That's what I mean by committing ourselves to Jesus as the Lord who saves. For isn't baptism a pledge of allegiance to the Lord of glory, a sign of consciously becoming one of his disciples?

Richard UK

March 17, 2014 at 05:47 PM

Everything Alan and I said in reply to Nick would be our reply to you

Where, for example in Jn 6: 28-29, does Jesus mention 'committing ourselves to Him'?

How committed must we be? 100%? Are you 100% committed in the way Jesus was 100% committed to doing the will of his Father?

Richard UK

March 17, 2014 at 05:33 PM

"respond to the call of God to righteousness through Christ".

do you think we become righteous rather than that we are imputed to be righteous?

do you think that once we are born again, we can live sinless lives - at least in theory? (and in practice, if not, why not?)

otherwise I agree

Alan

March 17, 2014 at 02:21 PM

I sort of covered this at the end of addressing your previous post, but I'll just unpack it here so it's clear.

The view James is writing against is clear from James 2:14 and what follows - some are teaching that they have faith but refusing to do works that one would expect to come with that faith (a la Matthew 3:8 I suppose) and claiming that their faith is genuine despite the lack of works.
James tackles them with an argument that allows their position for rhetorical effect, so that when he takes it down it will be an even clearer victory! He shows up first that such a "faith" is actually dead (James 2:17), that such a faith is no better than the belief the demons have (James 2:19), and then establishes that true faith will be seen in works.
The polemic point, against the assertions of those who say "faith alone, and no need to do any works" is that, in this setting, they need to be told (as James 2:24) that works justify. However that is not because works actually justify, but because genuine faith justifies, and "faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26 - the actual conclusion), so the empty, works-less faith some are preaching, is not saving faith, and the difference between the two "faiths" is works.

I'm not sure I've explained that all that clearly, but James is tackling a false teaching and making a polemic point. Taken in the whole context, James 2:24 is almost an overstatement to make the point, and understood apart from what is around it, and the final conclusion to the section, it can appear misleading.
It is in complete harmony with Paul and Ephesians 2:8-9, because there Paul is not addressing the same issue and so is free to say things in a more objective way. The faith Paul refers to is assumed to be genuine faith, he doesn't have to play it off against a false faith, and that faith, though Paul would admit will produce works (I believe it is assumed, and his commands later in the letter are built on the assumption), does come about by works.

To put it succinctly, James is concerned with a the effects of faith where some are claiming to have genuine faith despite showing no works in keeping with it (James 2:18), whereas Paul is interested in the origin of salvation, where faith begins apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9), even though it will subsequently produce them (Ephesians 2:10).

Alan

March 17, 2014 at 02:06 PM

Hi Nick, that explains where your comment came from all of a sudden, that's cool! :)

To explain what I meant, I said even if about Romans 3:20 not because I doubt it says that, but because you seemed to be drawing from that a principle that settled the matter, and I threw Ephesians 2:8-9 in to say here is a verse that does say what you are saying Romans 3:20 doesn't say (and I'm admitting you may be correct in that). So showing that the doctrine is not built on Romans 3:20 does not destroy the doctrine, as it can be found demonstrated in other places.

On Ephesians 2:8-9, you're right with what you assume my view to be, and I'd suggest that on an initial reading your view very much empties "grace" of its meaning. I can see the distinction you are making, and perhaps there is grace in God giving more than is deserved, but that's not what grace would naturally suggest to me. Grace would be entirely unmerited, not just more than the little that was merited.
It also doesn't match what the verses actually say, though that's impossible to tell in the English. "This" in verse 9 is in a different gender to both "grace" and "faith" (it's neater, and both nouns are feminine), meaning that Paul is not saying that either the grace or the faith are gifts of God, but that the whole situation described in verse 8 (a common use of the neuter), including the grace and the faith, are gifts from God.

To address the couple of questions you've posed (I'm not sure I can answer them straight away!), why does unrighteousness pose a problem if the work of salvation comes entirely from God? Are you assuming that if it is entirely God's doing then it would be completed instantly? I suppose that's possible, but it's not what God has revealed either in what he leads us to expect or what he says. That seems to be a problem you are saying exists from drawing a logical conclusion that there is no reason to draw.
And I'm not sure again why you are asking about which works are necessary or who decides(if anyone decided it would be God, but I suppose you're asking more along the lines of how we can tell), because my view (and the established Reformed view too) is that no works are necessary, so there's nothing to decide. God's demands are met in Jesus Christ, and when by the work of the Spirit we are united to him, from whence flow all the 'parts' of salvation, we are declared righteous.

That uniting to Christ is what I believe would answer your query on baptism too. Union with Christ is described in various ways in the New Testament, most often I believe simply as being "in Christ." But there's one very clear description in Romans 6:1-4 where Paul says we are baptised into Christ. Forgetting the meaning we give to the (badly transliterated) word baptism that makes us associate it with water baptism, the basic meaning is more along the lines of "immersion," and so the baptism that is essential to salvation is being "immersed" into Christ - another way of saying united with him, or being "in Christ."
Water baptism, which is a public declaration that symbolises this spiritual reality, merely testifies to the baptism that has occurred through the work of the Spirit.

And as to believing and being baptised, there are places where believing is the only requirement, and if belief is genuine it will be more than an intellectual ascent (the view James writes to refute), and one should expect acts to follow that are in keeping with it.
The faith/belief itself (they are the same word in Greek) is what saves, and is a gift from God, and we should expect, as James tells us, that it will be followed by works of obedience, the natural first of which is water baptism. But it is the faith that saves us, and not the works which naturally follow.

I hope that's all clear and makes sense, and please do come back on anything you think is unclear or wrong. I appreciate dialogue like this too, the subjects are so inflammatory and the positions so polarised that it's rare to be able to interact like this! God bless! :)

Richard UK

March 17, 2014 at 01:36 PM

Nick

"Do I assume correctly that you'd read this to say that God's graciously given you faith that leads to your being saved? I'd argue the opposite that my faith has earned (for lack of a better word) God's grace which allows for my salvation.

---Your view is Pelagianism (cf Wikipaedia); it was declared a heresy even by the catholic church

"If the entire work of salvation comes from God and not from man's doing, then why are any unrighteous?

---The doctrine of ‘Election’ (cf Wikipaedia). You may not like His way of doing things but God saves some not all. Read Romans 9

"Secondly, if salvation involves doing some works then who decides which are necessary and which are not?

----The works needed for salvation are Perfection; only Jesus has been successful in this

"Lastly, as it relates to baptism (This is one thing I believe to be essentially connected to our salvation and yet is often denied on the basis that it is a "work").

----John 6: 28-29 and elsewhere – Jesus does not mention baptism

"Are there any people under the New Covenant who are described as being saved who did not also become baptized?

----The thief on the cross

"Furthermore, are there any who were described that way before being baptized?

-----Philip the Ethiopian. But Jesus described many others as has saving faith with no mention of baptism

"I appreciate the dialogue guys even to the extent that we disagree, in fact especially to the extent that we disagree.

---At the end of the day, Christianity is a religion of Revelation of what is of God in scripture; it is not a religion of Reason of what I think God ought to be like. Are you happy to accept that?

----I do sense you are enjoying a good disagreement more than a desire to find the truth; in which case I doubt I will have the time for that as a priority. Maybe others will

Richard UK

March 17, 2014 at 01:19 PM

Nick

There has, again, been plenty on this down through the ages if you are actually interested.

Their synthesis is summed up in the phrase 'it is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone'.

James is rightly saying that empty or dead faith, articulated but not real, can be seen by its lack of fruit. (The solution is not then to run out to Walmart and buy 'effort' apples to stick on a dead tree, but to go to the source of living faith to be grafted in)

But somehow I sense you are not going to be persuaded

Nick Rice

March 17, 2014 at 01:14 AM

Regarding Romans 3:20, the answer is simple. I'd include the often overlooked and ignored words "of the law". The typical Calvinist view, as well as the author of this article's response are to completely ignore those words and translate Romans 3:20 as if Paul is saying that salvation shouldn't ever or in any way have to be worked for.

What it actually says is that working within the Old Law can't accomplish justification. In essence, salvation is not earned. But here is the key - it's not earned because "of the law" and it's flaws, not because works are flawed. The New Testament is full of commands to accomplish works. Furthermore, how can you justify passages like Acts 2:38 which so clearly command baptism (in spite of the long held view that it is a work)

Richard UK

March 16, 2014 at 03:53 PM

very well and clearly put; thanks

Richard UK

March 16, 2014 at 01:32 PM

You haven't said how you would reinterpret Rom 3:20 in contrast to the way the Protestant world has done so for 500 years.

You drive too much of a logical axe between that verse and John 6:28-29. Jesus is not saying that belief is a work; he is simply answering the question put to Him in the context of and using the wording of the question. (If he had said 'It is that you do nothing', you would then have to maintain that doing nothing was a work!

The sharp contrast is not between those two passages but, contrary to your view, between faith/belief and works - Paul takes pages to explain this in both Romans and perhaps even more clearly in Galatians.

Your view is not new; it is the standard Arminian view

Nick Rice

March 15, 2014 at 08:37 PM

If John 6:28-29 says that belief is a "work", and Romans 3:20 says we aren't justified by works then belief is having nothing to do with saving us (according to the apostle Paul).

However, in John 20:29, Jesus says that a believer is blessed. John 14:12 says that a believer will do works. John 3:16 says a believer would have eternal life. Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16 say a believer will be saved.Romans 10:9-10 say that belief is the means of being justified (Contradicting himself, supposedly, from Romans 3:20).

Now either the inspired apostle Paul was teaching against Christ own words OR we're misreading his intent in Romans 3:20.

There are many many more examples. Faith and belief are not opposed to works. James is not opposed to Paul. Neither of them was opposed to Christ.

*For those arguing that God provides belief/faith thus making it a "work" of God and not of our own...draw out the conclusion from this stance. For those who don't believe or have faith, God didn't give it to them? He didn't give it to just them? Where do you see any justification for that view in the New Testament? Why would Jesus last words have been to teach to all creation if God was already providing them faith? Isn't teaching and preaching itself a work?