Posts Tagged ‘Saving Faith’
Calvinism teaches that Christ died for the elect, that the atonement of Christ purchased the elect’s salvation and so the atonement of Christ, at least according to Calvinists, actually saves. Calvinists contend that Jesus shed His blood for the saving of the elect and thus He did not die for the sins of the whole world lest we hold to universalism which clearly the Scriptures do not teach (Matthew 7:13-14).
At the cross, the wrath of God for the sins of the elect was paid in full. Jesus suffered and died and rose again for the sake of the elect only. The rest of humanity is destined by God for eternal hell. Our fates have been chosen.
Now here is one issue (among others) that I have with the Calvinist understanding of the atonement. If Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect and when Jesus died on the cross, God placed the sins of the elect upon His Son, are the elect thus born sinless since Christ suffered for them before they were born and He gave His life for their salvation 2000 years ago at Calvary? What sin keeps the elect from being born saved? If one says that unbelief keeps the person from salvation and they must believe the gospel to be saved and their salvation has been predestined by God Himself and secured by God Himself at the cross through His Son then why is the sin of unbelief not also paid for by Christ?
I agree that unbelief keeps a person from salvation. John 3:18 says, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (NASB). John 3:36 adds, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (NASB). Belief takes us from being dead in our sins without the life of God to being born again in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-9). The work of God for salvation is to believe in His Son (John 6:29). This is the very purpose of the Bible in fact, to bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ (John 20:31). Paul the Apostle told the Philippian jailer that he had to believe to be saved (Acts 16:30-31). Belief (or faith) secures salvation but unbelief leads only to destruction (Hebrews 3:6-19).
Yet how can any true Calvinist say that they were once in their sins until they placed their saving faith in Jesus since Jesus died for their sins (all that sins?) 2000 years ago? If Jesus died and His atonement secured the saving of the elect then it logically follows that the sins of the elect were all placed on Christ and all the elect of God were saved at the cross. Thus the elect, all known by God from the foundation of the world, are viewed as saved at the cross. But why then call people to repent? Why call people to turn from their sins that Jesus already paid for and already secured their eternal salvation? How can we require a double payment for sins and can it rightfully be called sin if in fact the person has already been forgiven of all their sins at the cross?
The Arminian’s logic is this: Jesus died for the sins of the world but only those who place their faith in His saving work become the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10). Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and not once in Scripture do we read that Jesus died only for the elect. We read that Jesus died for the sheep (John 10:11), that He died for the Church (Ephesians 5:25), that He died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20), that He died for us (Galatians 1:4) and that He died for the world (1 John 2:2) but we never read that He died for the elect alone. This must be deduced by re-reading other passages. Furthermore, only those who place their faith in Jesus and His blood are saved. Those who reject His blood are lost (John 5:24-25). Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works (Titus 3:5-7). We must confess our sins to be forgiven (1 John 1:9) and this makes no sense if in fact Jesus died for all our sins when He died on the cross. How can God forgive us of our sins if in fact He already has forgiven us of our sins when Jesus died for us 2000 years ago by the sovereign will of God?
Some Calvinists such as R.C. Sproul asserts that one must be regenerated before faith because of the nature of total depravity. Since mankind is dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) and unable to please God in such a state (Romans 8:7-8) then God must regenerate people in order for them to come to faith and be saved from sin (John 3:3; 1 John 5:1). A dead person is simply dead and can do nothing unless God first breathes life into them by His Spirit (Titus 3:5-7) and then they can come to faith and be justified before God (Romans 5:1). It is reasoned that those elected by God will be regenerated to believe.
One major problem with this is that it is based on an assumption and that being unconditional election combined with the Calvinist view of total depravity. When Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we are dead in our sins, he is speaking of our status in sin and without the life of God. No doubt the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23) and we are dead without the Spirit of God living within but I find nothing in the passage to speak of an inability to hear or believe the gospel. In fact, two examples from the Old Testament that demonstrate that unbelievers can hear the voice of God before regeneration are both found in the early chapters of Genesis.
In Genesis 3 we find the fall of mankind. If there was a time for the Bible to present the Calvinist view of being “dead in our sins” it would be here. Surely we should find God having to first regenerate Adam and Eve before He could converse with them since they are dead. Yet what do we find? We find Adam hearing from God in Genesis 3:9. Adam had sinned and was now dead spiritually (Romans 5:12) and he demonstrates this by his actions in Genesis 3:8 yet we find that he could still hear from God? How is this possible if in fact he is dead in his sins and must be born again to come to faith?
Another example is found in Genesis 4. Here Cain hears the voice of God yet again like his father Adam. If anyone was to inherit original sin and be born dead in his sins, it should be Cain. Yet what do we find? Again, we find Cain hearing the voice of God in Genesis 4:6. God even warns this dead sinner to turn from his sins in Genesis 4:7. How could he possibly do this without regeneration? How could he hear the voice of God or even obey God without God first causing him to be born again?
Both of these passages run contrary to the Calvinistic assumption that dead in sins must equal dead completely. To be dead in our sins means that we are without the life of God in us. We are dead apart from His Spirit abiding in us. We must be born again to receive the Spirit of God (Galatians 3:14; 4:6-7). I don’t deny that we are total unable to please God in our flesh but this does not mean that an unbeliever can not hear the gospel and either reject the gospel or receive the gospel (John 1:11-13). Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ (Romans 10:17). God saves sinners who believe (Acts 5:32; 15:9-11; 16:30-34; 22:16; 26:20; Romans 3:25-27; 4:24-5:1; 1 Corinthians 1:21). Those who believe become the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10).
Dr. Robert Picirilli, in his excellent book Grace, Faith, Free Will, builds a strong case for justification by faith with an emphasis on regeneration coming after faith. Calvinists such as Dr. R.C. Sproul contends that because of the nature of total depravity, God must regenerate the person in order for them to be able to believe the gospel. In the Calvinistic understanding of salvation, regeneration proceeds faith but in the Arminian understanding, faith precedes regeneration. Which is biblical?
On pages 170-175 Picrilli builds his case for regeneration coming from faith. One of the points that I enjoyed was his argument that we receive the gift of the Spirit by faith.
In Galatians 3:2 Paul writes, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (NASB) and then again in verse 5 he writes, “Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (NASB). In Galatians 3:14, Paul further writes, “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
Picirilli’s contention is that the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to salvation or regeneration (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:5-7). Paul wrote in Romans 8:9 that if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, they are not of Him. Picirilli points out that the gift of the Spirit is equaled to salvation in the New Testament (Acts 2:38-39). It is the promise of Jesus (John 7:37-39). In this new covenant, the Spirit of God is given to all who believe in Jesus for salvation (Galatians 4:4-6). The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and He seals us (Ephesians 1:13). Specifically notice in Ephesians 1:13 the wording, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (NASB). Notice the order here in Ephesians 1:13: hearing (Romans 10:14-17), believing (Romans 1:16-17; 3:22-24), sealing with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22). Notice that the gift of the Spirit was only given after believing the gospel.
In Acts 11:17 Peter is building his case for the Gentiles to be included into the faith and he states that the Gentiles had received the gift of the Spirit just as the Jews had. Luke records, “If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (NASB). The ESV says, “when we believed” but the NASB, I believe, is correct to translate the word as in the past tense or “after believing.” Either way, the point is clear that the Gentiles and Jews both received the Spirit after believing the gospel (Acts 2:33, 38-39; 10:44-48).
Picirilli is strong here then to assert that we receive the Spirit of God after believing the gospel and not before. The Calvinist teaching that we receive the Spirit before faith is based not on Scripture but upon a presupposition that because of the nature of depravity, God Himself must cause belief to come by giving of the Spirit before saving faith.
One final point. In Romans 5:1 Paul states that we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. He then states in verse 5 he states that the love of God is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. The question is, if the Spirit is given before regeneration unto justification, then why does Paul put the Spirit here in verse 5 and not back in verse 1? The word “poured” (ESV) also points back to Acts 2:33 where Peter talks about the outpouring of the Spirit given on the day of Pentecost. Peter says in Acts 2:38 that the Spirit is given after faith (implied), repentance, and baptism. Colossians 2:12 says that we are raised with Christ through baptism through faith. Faith here is the key to receiving the Spirit.
Dr. Robert Picirilli writes this in his excellent book, Grace, Faith, Free Will (p. 162) about the nature of saving faith:
The nature of saving faith is such that it carries absolutely no merit for the person thus believing. Biblically, faith stands in antithesis to works. The believer therefore gets no credit for faith; he is not rewarded for believing. Faith is nothing more (or less) than receiving a gift. It is therefore quite the opposite of earning, meriting, or deserving it. One may illustrate very simply: When I offer someone a gift, the receiving carries no connotation of credit. Arminius may have had something like this in mind when he emphasized that faith is not so much the instrument (apparently, as a thing or quality) of justification as an act which apprehends Christ on whose account righteousness is imputed to the one believing. Thus Wood is correct in concluding that “What we have [in Arminius], however, is not a form of synergism in which God’s work and man’s work cooperate, but rather a relationship in which God’s will and work within man is welcomed in an attitude of which trust and submission.
Justification is by faith and not by works. Though we Arminians stress that God does not force a person to believe nor does He do the believing for a person, we still maintain that a person believes because of the grace of God that enables us to believe (Romans 4:3; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:6; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 10:38; 11:4).
Praise God for His gift of salvation! By the way, purchase Picirilli’s book. It is solid Arminian reading.
Robert Lightner, in his excellent book The Death Christ Died, points out that those who hold to limited atonement believe that the death of Christ was for the elect of God. Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) but for the sins of the elect out of the world. John Piper just the week preached a sermon where he reiterated his belief that Jesus died to gather the elect children of God. Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross for all people but only for the elect. The question then becomes why do Calvinists who hold to limited atonement teach that we must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, His death, and His resurrection to secure salvation? While they acknowledge that we must do so, why should we if Christ died for our sin which must include the sin of unbelief?
In acutuality, those who hold to limited atonement do not believe that faith saves. The death of Christ saves. Jesus died to secure the salvation of the elect. They accuse us Arminians of believing in an atonement that does not actually save anyone but merely provides the means to salvation. However, consider the limited atonement view for a moment. If Jesus died for the sins of the elect and if He did in fact secure their salvation on the cross, the elect then are sinless since He died for their sins and provided the perfect righteousness of God on their behalf. The sin of unbelief nor any other sins do not apply to the elect since God predestined the elect and sent His Son to atone for their sins on the cross. Justification is not then by faith but unto faith since God must regenerate the elect for them to believe in the first place and since their salvation has already been accomplished and applied in Christ.
Lightner points out that from the viewpoint of the reprobate, limited atonement means that they are not lost for rejecting Christ or their unbelief but simply because Jesus didn’t die for them. His blood was not shed for them and they are lost because God simply chose to reject them and save only the elect. The non-elect then are in destroyed in an eternal hell not because of their sins or unbelief in Jesus and the gospel but because Jesus simply did not die for them. As one Calvinist noted that even in hell the people there will be there for the glory of God. I am not sure how that is glorious?
Over and over again we are called to place our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation. Belief is the heart of John’s Gospel (John 1:12; 5:24; 20:31) and belief/faith is the heart of the book of Acts. Romans 10:9-10 is a clear statement regarding salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and His cross. Romans 3:23-25 is another place where faith is the key to salvation. Notice Romans 3:25-26:
“whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The sinner then, according to the above passage, is declared justified through faith as Romans 5:1 says later. Romans 5:8 says that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners but by faith in Jesus (verse 1) we are now reconciled to God through Jesus (Romans 5:9-11). Romans 5:18 even says,
“Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
The key is that this gift of salvation must be received through faith according to Romans 5:17. The universalist loves to read Romans 5:18 but they ignore verse 17 that says that we must receive this free gift of God’s Son.
Ironically, Calvinists use Romans 5:18 to teach universal total depravity but deny universal redemption in the Son. They believe that Adam’s sin affected all as Romans 5:18 says but they deny the second part of the verse that says that Jesus’ sacrifice leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 10:14-17 says that this salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ who must be preached.
Bear in mind that no person has ever been saved or ever will be saved apart from faith. This is the design of God (Hebrews 11:6). Galatians 3:24 says that we are justified by faith and verse 26 says that we are sons of God through faith. Jesus said in John 6:29 that the work of God (for salvation) is to believe or have faith in the Son. There is no salvation but through faith. The Calvinist statement then toward Arminians then that belief in a unlimited atonement must lead to universalism is false unless you hold to the Calvinist view of the cross where Jesus died for the salvation of the elect apart from faith. If that is your view of the cross then yes the atonement of Jesus would be a universal redemption. But this is not the Arminian view. We believe that a person must believe to be saved. We believe that the saving work of Jesus on the cross is sufficient only for those who believe the gospel and repent. They become the elect of God at that point (1 Timothy 4:10). The elect believe the gospel (Acts 13:48). Those who reject the cross are lost in their sins and unbelief (John 3:17-18; Revelation 20:11-15; cf. Matthew 25:46).
Yes Jesus died for our sins but we must exercise faith to be saved (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). This call goes out to all (Acts 2:38-39).
Dr. Robert Picirilli, in his excellent book Grace, Faith, Free Will, points out that for the Calvinist, the gospel is not justification by faith but unto faith since regeneration must precede faith. Calvinists teach that since a person is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) then a dead person cannot believe without first being made alive. In this case, God grants His elect the power to believe through the Holy Spirit who regenerates the person so that they can believe (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:5-7). Without this act, the person could never believe (Romans 3:10-18) since they are totally depraved. Justification then is not by faith for the Calvinist but unto faith, the gift of faith that God gives to the elect (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Arminius did not disagree as Picirilli points out. Picirilli then states:
1. The capacity to believe is from God.
2. The possibility of believing is from God.
3. The content of belief – the gospel truth – is from God.
4. The persuasion of truth which one believes is from God.
5. The enabling of the individual to believe is from God.
But then adds Picirilli, “the believing itself can finally be done by no one other than the person who is called on to believe the gospel, and that will to believe savingly is the free decision of the individual. Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). In fact, throughout the New Testament we are never told that sinners are not to have faith or that they will be regenerated unto faith but the New Testament calls people to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 2:38-39; 17:30-31; 2 Peter 3:9).
The Arminian then can be thankful that God works through the gospel to draw us unto Himself and that salvation is a work of grace in the human heart wrought by the Spirit of God. In no way is faith a work if you mean that we merit eternal life apart from faith in Jesus Christ and His blood. Our faith is not faith in faith but faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life so that we might be imputed with His righteousness and be saved for eternity (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). All works of grace: faith, repentance, baptism, sanctification, etc. are just that, works of grace that God works in us that which pleases Him (Philippians 2:12-13; Ephesians 2:10).