Faith is not a Work

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“Now to the one who works,” writes the apostle Paul, “wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5 NIV). Q. According to the apostle Paul, for what does his subject work? A. The person, taken contextually, is attempting to work for (or earn) his or her salvation. But Paul is proclaiming that the gospel of Jesus excludes one’s works, vying instead for complete trust in the righteous merit of Christ alone. In the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17 NASB).

The person who desires to earn salvation by performing “good” works (deeds) is insisting that Christ Jesus’ righteous life and atoning death and subsequent resurrection was needless, gratuitous; it is ultimately blasphemous. The apostle informs us that the application of Christ’s righteousness is not applied or accredited to one who tries to work for salvation but to the one who trusts solely in Christ, the conclusion of which is that faith in Christ is not a work. Faith is opposed to works. However, faith works. In other words, the one who has faith in Christ will perform good works, since the born again believer is “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10 NASB).

For certain Calvinists, such as R. C. Sproul, Sr. (and others), to suggest that Arminianism promotes a works-oriented salvation — that Arminians essentially make faith a work (which, according to the apostle Paul is an impossibility, cf. Rom. 4:4-5, 16) — or leaves room for boasting (another impossibility, cf. Rom. 3:27), is nothing short of slanderous and displays an ample amount of ignorance on their part regarding Arminian theology proper. Such accusations are not merely ignorant, inaccurate or incorrect, but they are hurtful, pernicious and deleterious. Dr. Forlines writes the following:

Arminians believe that faith is the condition of justification [Rom. 5:1]. Calvinists also believe that faith is the condition of justification. The problem comes . . . in Calvinists’ claim that regeneration must precede faith and give birth to faith [contrary to Scripture, cf. Col. 2:13]. Since Arminians believe the sinner can believe without first being regenerated, the Calvinists tend to view faith in Arminianism as being a work. Thus they have charged that Arminians believe people are justified by works.1

Though there is a vast difference between the Calvinistic doctrine of God “giving” His unconditionally elect faith to believe in Christ in His sovereign time and the Arminian’s doctrine of God enabling (John 6:44, 65) or granting (Phil. 1:29) someone to have faith in Christ, the latter cannot in any way whatsoever be admitted as a work. Scripture does not make the argument that in order for faith to not be a work it must be irresistibly “given” to God’s unconditionally elect. Christ Jesus told a crowd of people, “This is the work of God [i.e., the work which is required of God], that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29 NASB, emphases added). If regeneration precedes faith, Jesus should have said, “This is the work of God, that He will give you faith to believe in Him whom He has sent.”

Calvinists have people saved and regenerated prior to faith in Christ (or so that the unconditionally elect will have faith in Christ, as they would state the matter). But Scripture does not teach that God saves people in order to give them faith. Scripture teaches that God saves people by regeneration (Titus 3:5), not on the basis of good works (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10; Eph. 2:9; Titus 3:5), but by grace through faith in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9; Col. 2:13). Moreover, salvation by grace through faith excludes all boasting. The ground of our justification is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Again, Dr. Forlines comments:

In Classical Arminianism, the ground of justification is the imputation of the death and righteousness of Christ to the believer’s account. The condition of justification is faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in no way whatever gets any consideration as any form of merit that would form the smallest part of the ground of my justification. The only ground of my justification before God is the penal death of Christ and His life of absolute obedience to the Father.2

We believe this summation to be the biblical view of all matters pertaining to salvation by grace through faith in Christ, and such is what Arminianism proper tenaciously holds. Hence there is no room or cause for boasting: “But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17 NASB). Dr. Forlines’ conclusion is my own:

If when I stand before God He should ask me, “What is your hope of acceptance based on?” I would not mention anything that I have ever done or not done. I would say, “My hope is built on nothing less and nothing more than the death and righteousness of Christ.” I would not even say, “I had faith in Christ.” When I declared that I was basing my hope of acceptance on the death and righteousness of Christ — that and that alone would be a manifestation of my faith. . . .3

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1 F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011), 266.

2 Ibid., 267-68.

3 Ibid., 268.