“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught…”
For a flourishing Christian life, we must constantly live in dependence upon God, trusting not in our own spiritual strength or our own moral ideas. Rather, we trust in the living God, and abandon all notions of self-sufficiency.
Just as we received Jesus as Lord (by faith – that is, by depending solely upon His merits and strength), we are to live a life of dependence upon Him. Our faith is not mere intellectual assent, nor is it a “grit-your-teeth-and-try-hard-to-believe” mindset that finds its source in us. God works in people’s hearts, and then it is our response-ability to Him to yield to Him. This is what faith is all about – a dynamic, reciprocal, choice to dependence upon God in love.
Forming a wrong opinion about what faith is will always cripple our spiritual life.
In his otherwise excellent “Systematic Theology,” Wayne Grudem falls into some unattractive errors due to his commitment to Calvinism and Determinism. Perhaps foremost among these errors is the development of a flawed view of what faith actually is.
Grudem rejects the classical view of election. The classical view is that God’s love and grace are foreconditional but that His election is based on His foreknowledge of who will yield to this preceeding grace. This grace is poured out in various ways by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but a person only enters into a saving relationship with God when they yield to Him in faith. In 1 Peter 1:2 this Trinitarian election based on foreknowledge is explicitly affirmed:
…Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…
In his eagerness to create rhetoric against this classical Christian view and advance a decidedly Calvinistic view, Grudem articulates an erroneous view of faith. Shockingly, his view of faith ends up conflating faith with works.
Election Based on Something Good in Us (Our Faith) Would Be the Beginning of Salvation by Merit:
…another kind of objection can be brought against the idea that God chose us because he foreknew that we would come to faith. If the ultimate determining factor in whether we will be saved or not is our own decision to accept Christ, then we shall be more inclined to think that we deserve some credit for the fact that we were saved: in distinction from other people who continue to reject Christ, we were wise enough in our judgment or capacities to decide to believe in Christ. But once we begin to think this way then we seriously diminish the glory that is to be given to God for our salvation. We become uncomfortable speaking like Paul who says that God “destined us … according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5-6), and we begin to think that God “destined us … according to the fact that he knew that we would have enough tendencies toward goodness and faith within us that we would believe.” When we think like this we begin to sound very much unlike the New Testament when it talks about election or predestination. By contrast, if election is solely based on God’s own good pleasure and his sovereign decision to love us in spite of our lack of goodness or merit, then certainly we have a profound sense of appreciation to him for a salvation that is totally undeserved…”
The classical Christian view of soteriology (reflected in Arminian soteriology) doesn’t support any of the views that are being rejected here. Yet Dr. Grudem is presenting this argument to assert that if a non-Calvinist view is embraced, it would mean we must believe:
1) Faith is a meritorious action,
2) That we ‘perform’,
3) To create God’s favor,
4) To initiate His plan of salvation in history,
5) And to earn it in our individual lives.
Every aspect of this is absolutely, completely at odds with the ancient Christian soteriology reflected in Arminian views.
It cannot be overstated that Grudem’s presentation is a complete straw-man. It certainly presupposes a false dichotomy between unconditional election vs works-salvation. It shows Dr. Grudem’s disturbing opinion of what faith would have to be if his Calvinism isn’t true.
In contrast to Dr. Grudem’s straw-man, Arminian soteriology asserts that faith is indeed good, but it is not something that finds its source in us. Furthermore, even if faith did entirely find its source in us, it still would not be “meritorious” in the sense of “meriting” salvation. Faith is merely despairing of our own merits and casting ourselves into the sufficiency of Christ’s saving power. When was the last time you received a gift and, because you gratefully received it aware of your desperate need, began to think that you deserved some credit for possessing it?
Dear reader, consider what Dr. Grudem is saying in his title of this section:
He is saying that if you say salvation is conditioned upon faith, then this is the beginning of a doctrine of salvation by works and a salvation in which you may boast of helping to save yourself.
Does this seem to be the message of the New Testament? Do the apostles warn us away from the error of thinking we are saved by believing on Jesus, or do they constantly point us to believe on Jesus so that we may be saved? Proclaiming salvation by faith – without preaching a particular doctrine of election – is by no means “works-salvation.” I cannot overstate the danger here:
Grudem’s distortion of faith is incredibly damaging to our everyday Christian life.
Instead of thinking of faith as being a despairing of our own merits and depending on Jesus to save us, Grudem seems to think that faith is a good work we do; the only way to make it not a cause of boasting, then, it to attribute it to the monergistic and irresistible work of God. This should present a red flag to the reader that Grudem’s view of faith is not the view of the apostles, who always contrasted faith and works. Consider Grudem’s assertions with the following quote from Arminian authors. Does it seem that they are beginning to preach salvation by works?
“Humanity was created in the image of God, good and upright, but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience, leaving humanity sinful, separated from God, and under the sentence of divine condemnation… sin impacts every part of a person’s being and that people now have a sinful nature with a natural inclination toward sin, making every human being fundamentally corrupt at heart…Therefore, human beings are not able to think, will, nor do anything good in and of themselves, including merit favor from God, save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God that we deserve for our sin, or even believe the gospel…If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative.”
Certainly such a view gives all the glory and honor to God while coherently and Biblically placing the blame for damnation squarely at the feet of those who would reject God’s good will for them.
I teach people, “You are a guilty, hopeless sinner – but God is pursuing you and working in you! You must yield to Him – stop resisting Him – ask God to save you; depend only on the merits of Christ and abandon all hope of your own righteousness.” I was once confronted by a Calvinist who told me I was teaching “works-salvation”, and that unless I ALSO explicitly taught a Calvinist view of monergism and unconditional election, then my presentation of the gospel would continue to be flawed. To equate “faith” with “works” is an incredibly damaging view which turns the concept of faith upon its head. Such a view, consistently held, will ultimately lead the person holding it into tremendous error and spiritual malaise.
IS FAITH A MERITORIOUS THING WE DO, WHICH GOD MONERGISTICALLY CREATES IN US?
In classical soteriology, the answers to both parts of the above question are “No.”
Jerome (347-420AD) comments on Ephesians 2:8-9:
“Paul says this [we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves] in case the secret thought should steal upon us that ‘if we are not saved by our own works, at least we are saved by our own faith, and so in another way our salvation is of ourselves.’ Thus he added the statement that faith too is not in our own will but in God’s gift. Not that he means to take away free choice from humanity… but that even this very freedom of choice has God as its author, and all things are to be referred to his generosity, in that he has even allowed us to will the good.”
– Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.8-9
We see that the Latin-speaking Jerome had a view of resistible, prevenient grace (grace which preceedes and enables any good choice made by humans). The sinner must have God work in their soul to enable and “gift” faith and a freed will, but this gift is not irresistible. Thus, faith is a gracious gift from God, wrought by the personal work of the Holy Spirit, and God wills that “all men” without exception might be saved – yet men may resist this genuine enabling grace and flee from God’s love.
Yet I am sure that many Calvinist readers may still be objecting that this classical view makes man the determiner of his own salvation, “casting the decisive vote,” as it were.
Recall that Grudem put it this way:
Election Based on Something Good in Us (Our Faith) Would Be the Beginning of Salvation by Merit… If the ultimate determining factor in whether we will be saved or not is our own decision to accept Christ, then we shall be more inclined to think that we deserve some credit for the fact that we were saved… [and thus think that] salvation ultimately depends on a combination of grace plus human ability.”
But faith, as traditional Christians must continue to insist, is not a meritorious deed! It is not “casting the decisive vote.” It is not a human activity in the way Grudem is painting it.
Grudem makes two accusations regarding his contrast of salvation by faith rather than salvation by unconditional election. First, he claims that this would be the beginning of salvation by works. Secondly, he claims this would create a sense of pride – that we are better than the others. We will examine both.
WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY ABOUT PRIDE, GRACE, AND FAITH?
Faith – vs the law – is the foundation of grace:
Paul makes grace rest upon faith. For grace to be grace, it must come through faith, rather than the works of the law:
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)
Grudem would have us believe that for grace to be grace, it must come through unconditional election, then irresistible regeneration, and then one’s faith comes merely as a result – or else grace is not grace. But this contorts the scriptural account to conform to Grudem’s flawed assumptions – there is not a single scriptural reason to believe that regeneration or salvation occurs before faith. In contrast to Dr. Grudem’s view, Paul contends that the grace of salvation (and regeneration is certainly grace) is grace because it comes through faith.
We are excluded from boasting because of faith – not because of a particular view of election.
“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:27, 28)
Paul very clearly writes that “Boasting… is excluded… by a law of faith.” Likewise, in Ephesians 2:8-9, it is not election which prevents us from boasting, but grace through faith.
In response to the accusation that a teaching of contingent faith leads to conceit and man-centered theology – in Grudem’s words, thinking “that we deserve some credit,” Arminian Robert Shank replied:
“Conceit and self-esteem for what?…For totally renouncing all claim to self-righteousness? For completely repudiating all dependence on good works? For renouncing all claim to personal merit? For abjectly humbling oneself before God as a broken sinner, deserving death, helpless, unable to save himself? For casting oneself on the mercies of God and hoping only in the merits and grace of Jesus Christ? These are the elements that are of the essence of saving faith, and where true faith exists, there can be no pride or self-esteem. Pride and faith are mutually exclusive.”
Responding to a similar accusation that conditional faith obscures grace, Shank rejoins:
Quite to the contrary, Paul did not assume that faith as a condition ‘limits and obscures’ grace or takes anything away from the initiative of God’s grace: ‘[justification] depends on faith in order that it may rest on grace’ (Rom. 4:16). Faith as condition is the way of grace and in no sense an antithesis.”
Shank insightfully shifts the tables as he rejects the claim that unconditional election, rather than conditional faith, promotes a feeling of humility:
In the case of the assumption of unconditional election, it is quite otherwise. It was precisely the fact of election and the assumption of its irrevocability that fostered such smugness, self-conceit, and reprehensible pride in Israel and encouraged presumptuous indifference toward God….No countenance can be given to any equation of synergism with pride, which is simply another theological humbug with which Calvinists for generations have shamelessly begged the question.
Unconditional election might create a feeling of being lucky, or favored, if you are one of the elect. But once a person believes themselves to be one of ‘the elect’, why would this view preclude a sense of superiority now? Gratitude to God might be the result. However, humility toward your fellow man does not seem to stem naturally from such a view of unconditional election. Afrikaner Calvinism and the abuses of Geneva would seem to prove that Calvinism does not necessarily result in humility, but can also result in a “chosen” complex.
Answering this accusation of pride is a bit of a tangent, though. The real question is whether faith is meritorious. I think the best way to put this flawed accusation to rest is to quote Jacob Arminius and, surprisingly, John Piper together on the issue. John Piper’s article may be found here (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/is-faith-meritorious ).