"Barely Christian" – R.C. Sproul on Arminianism

Image of Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation
by R. C. Sproul
Baker Books 2018
Paperback 240

I first encountered the term “High Calvinism” when I read Lewis Chafer’s systematic theology. This term is a bit old-fashioned now, of course. If someone is a “High Calvinist,” it means he’s very Reformed in his soteriology. This surely described R.C. Sproul!

In a book entitled Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation, Sproul provided a short historical theology of this topic by examining nine different theologians and their soteriological positions. In this excerpt, Sproul frames one part of this important issue:1

This classic issue between Augustinian theology and all forms of semi-Pelagianism focuses on one aspect of the order of salvation (ordo salutis): What is the relationship between regeneration and faith? Is regeneration a monergistic or synergistic work? Must a person first exercise faith in order to be born again? Or must rebirth occur before a person is able to exercise faith? Another way to state the question is this: Is the grace of regeneration operative or cooperative?

Monergistic regeneration means regeneration is accomplished by a single actor, God. It means literally a “one working.” Synergism, on the other hand, refers to a work that involves the actions of two or more parties. It is a co-working. All forms of semi-Pelagianism assert some form of synergism in the work of regeneration. Usually God’s assisting grace is seen as a necessary ingredient, but it is usually dependent on human cooperation for its efficacy.

The Reformers taught not only that regeneration does precede faith but also that it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.

According to semi-Pelagianism regeneration is wrought by God but only in those who have first responded in faith to him. Faith is seen not as the fruit of regeneration, but as an act of the will cooperating with God’s offer of grace.

Evangelicals are so called because of their commitment to the biblical and historical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Because the Reformers saw sola fide as central and essential to the biblical gospel, the term evangelical was applied to them. Modern evangelicals in great numbers embrace the sola fide of the Reformation, but have jettisoned the sola gratia that undergirded it …

I agree with Packer and Johnston2 that Arminianism contains un-Christian elements in it and that their view of the relationship between faith and regeneration is fundamentally un-Christian. Is this error so egregious that it is fatal to salvation? People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians. I usually answer, “Yes, barely.” They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency.

What is this inconsistency? Arminians affirm the doctrine of regeneration by faith alone. They agree that we have no meritorious work that counts towards our justification, that our justification rests solely on the righteousness and merits of Christ, that sola fide means justification is by Christ alone, and that we must trust not in our own works, but in Christ’s work for our salvation. In all this they differ from Rome on crucial points.

Packer and Johnston note that later Reformed theology, however, condemned Arminianism as a betrayal of the Reformation and in principle as a return to Rome. They point out that Arminianism “in effect turned faith into a meritorious work.”

We notice that this charge is qualified by the words “in effect.” Usually Arminians deny that their faith is a meritorious work. If they were to insist that faith is a meritorious work, they would explicitly be denying justification by faith alone. The Arminian acknowledges that faith is something a person does. It is a work, though not a meritorious one. Is it a good work? Certainly it is not a bad work. It is good for a person to trust in Christ and Christ alone for his or her salvation. Since God commands us to trust in Christ, when we do so we are obeying this command.

But all Christians agree that faith is something we do. God does not do the believing for us. We also agree that our justification is by faith insofar as faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation. All the Arminian wants and intends to assert is that man has the ability to exert the instrumental cause of faith without first being regenerated. This position clearly negates sola gratia, but not necessarily sola fide.

Then why say that Arminianism “in effect” makes faith a meritorious work? Because the good response people make to the gospel becomes the ultimate determining factor in salvation. I often ask my Arminian friends why they are Christians and other people are not. They say it is because they believe in Christ while others do not. They I inquire why they believe and others do not. “Is it because you are more righteous than the person who abides in unbelief?” They are quick to say no. “Is it because you are more intelligent?” Again the answer is negative. They say that God is gracious enough to offer salvation to all who believe and that one cannot be saved without that grace.

But this grace is cooperative grace. Man in his fallen state must reach out and grasp this grace by an act of the will, which is free to accept or reject this grace. Some exercise the will rightly (or righteously), while others do not. When pressed on this point, the Arminian finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that ultimately his salvation rests on some righteous act of the will he has performed. He has “in effect” merited the merit of Christ, which differs only slightly from the view of Rome.

Notes

1 R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 22-27.  

2 Sproul is referring to an introduction J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson wrote for an unnamed edition of Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will, which Sproul quoted in his own book. For sake of space, I removed these quotations for this excerpt.   

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Kind of what I was getting at earlier.

There are passages where you can see a regenerate person who does not yet believe  if you want to see it there. But I think there are no passages that unambiguously feature such a phenomenon.

So there is really no solid biblical evidence of a category of "regen but not yet believing." 

The question seems to me to be unanswerable. Logically, both of these statements must be true:

  • You cannot believe unless you are alive to do so (regenerate) 
  • You cannot be granted life unless you believe.

We've heard some theories that propose to solve the puzzle in one way or another, some with more merit than others, but none that can be proved with a high level of certainty  seems to me. It's pretty chicken and egg. 

What's much more clear is that nobody is regenerated or comes to faith by their own virtue and wisdom or by the power of mere human persuasion. So any humble answer to this question leads to very similar ministry methods. (and attitudes) 

ScottS's picture

One has to go back to 1 Cor 2:6 to begin to understand the "things" referred to in v.14. There it is clear that Paul is speaking of a particular type of "wisdom" that is only for those who are "mature," which wisdom had been hidden (v.7). Then Paul is very explicit in what he is speaking of in 1 Cor 2:9 (NKJV, bold added)

    “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
    Nor have entered into the heart of man
    The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

God is speaking of things related to those already saved, of the ones who already "love Him." He is not speaking of any and all things, and he is specifically not speaking about things related to coming to faith, but rather things prepared for those that have already so come.

So of these things "prepared for those who love Him," they are now no longer a mystery, but revealed by God's Spirit (v.10-11), in order that the "mature" who already "love" God may "know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (v.12).

These things that are for believers are spiritual (v.13), and they are not things that the natural man will receive (v.14), as such things are foolishness to him since such a one does not yet "love God," and so he will not "know" what these things really are, being incomprehensible to him without first loving God and thus having His Spirit in them. Only after belief, when one does love God, is it possible to rightly judge what these spiritual things are and be in alignment with what the mind of Christ is concerning what is prepare for those that love Him (v.15-16).

So the wisdom and the things spoken of in 1 Cor 2:6-16 is not the totality of God's wisdom and things related to Him, and specifically not related to any wisdom or things affecting one's entering into salvation, but rather is speaking of those things which are to come upon those already loving God, already saved.

Therefore, 1 Cor 2:14 is not a verse that can argue against God bringing illumination to the unregenerate.

In fact, 1 Cor 2:1-6 declares that it is not even "wisdom" that is specifically what God uses in generating faith, it is "power" through the gospel proclamation coupled with the Spirit. Going a bit further back in the book, it is the power (1 Cor 1:18) of the call of God (v.24) through the gospel to the unregenerate so that they reach a state of belief (v.21) that turns them into those who are saved, who love God, and can then understand the "things" then prepared for those who love Him.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

G. N. Barkman's picture

I'm fine with Tyler's answer to Kevin's question, which also addresses Paul's comments in part.  I don't think we will get much further in this discussion.  I haven't taken up Paul's specific texts in Galatians because I don't have time just now.  I'm getting ready to preach tomorrow.  I did preach expositionally through Galatians a few years back.  I have pretty extensive notes on the verses Paul cited.  I don't remember anything in my understanding of Galatians that called into question the doctrine of regeneration preceding faith.  So I'll just have to let it go at that for now.

Thanks for a good discussion.

G. N. Barkman

ScottS's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The question seems to me to be unanswerable. Logically, both of these statements must be true:

  • You cannot believe unless you are alive to do so (regenerate) 
  • You cannot be granted life unless you believe.

I would disagree with the first bullet point, if by "alive" you mean regenerate (as you have stated), as I do not find that clearly taught anywhere in Scripture, but I do find the opposite, that regeneration and the Spirit's renewal results in salvation (Titus 3:5), which the Spirit's work to seal is part of His indwelling (2 Cor 1:22), and is after belief (Eph 1:13), after one has been exposed to the truth of the gospel (also Eph 1:13) and evidenced in part by a person calling on God out of that true heart of faith (Rom 10:10, 13-14).

What I would agree with is that one must be "alive" (as in not yet physically dead) for God to act upon the heart/mind of the unregenerate to bring them to faith.

The process does not appear "unanswerable" at all, but is simply:

(1) A current believer (a preacher) brings the message of truth that is the good news, (2) which God uses to elicit a call to faith in the unregenerate, who (3) now believing calls on God in response, while also obtaining the regeneration, Spirit's renewal, Spirit's sealing, and imputed righteousness, and all other things pertaining to salvation that hinges on that belief being present, and in summation is that "granting of life," specifically eternal life, from that belief.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Paul Henebury's picture

This cannot be, and for the same reasons that I have given above

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

I am fine with leaving things as they are.  I wish Bro Barkman God's power as he preaches tomorrow!  I respect and appreciate many if not all of those who write here.  Still, there has been a lot of question-begging in this discussion.  Folks saying things that they think are logical, but which they cannot and will not back up with Scripture.  When challenged they back away and make bland assertions.  Remember, God doesn't have to say anything but what He says.  Our job is to think His thoughts after Him, not think His thoughts for Him.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Just so I understand, in what sense is someone "dead in trespasses and sins" actually "dead"? He is not physically dead, clearly, so if we say "spiritually," what do we mean by that? In what way(s) is he different from one who is not dead?

Kevin Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Just so I understand, in what sense is someone "dead in trespasses and sins" actually "dead"? He is not physically dead, clearly, so if we say "spiritually," what do we mean by that? In what way(s) is he different from one who is not dead?

I brought up this point earlier. I've always understood "spiritually dead" to mean "separated from God." I know some people add "unable to function" to the spiritual meaning, but I don't see that definition applicable to the statement about death that Paul makes in Romans 6:2. He says "We are those who have died to sin." That is not talking about physical death, so it must be a spiritual meaning of death. It can't mean we are "unable to function" sinfully, since we do still sin as believers. It means we are separated in some way from sin. As verse 6 says, we are no longer slaves to sin.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks. I have always seen the death in Rom 6 as forensic/positional through our union with Christ. So dead to sin would be essentially synonymous with "justified."

But either way, it's clear that one can be "spiritually dead" in more than one sense... Which would seem to topple the first of my two logically inescapable statements (that you have to be "alive" in order to believe).

But it might not. Maybe I missed a reference to this already up the thread, but what would be interesting to read at this point is a thorough study of all of Paul's uses of "dead" and "alive" to see what different contexts, grammar  etc might require/suggest about the relationship between deadness and ability to believe.

... but the argument from "dead" is only one strand in the total inability rope. I rephrase the horns of the dilemma (so it appears to me) like this:

  • You cannot believe until you are no longer totally depraved
  • You cannot cease to be totally depraved until you believe

Some may say this is something completely different, but I'm not persuaded that total depravity is very different from total inability (or "dead").

There's probably already an answer to this earlier in the discussion, so I need to see if I can find it.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

... but the argument from "dead" is only one strand in the total inability rope. I rephrase the horns of the dilemma (so it appears to me) like this:

  • You cannot believe until you are no longer totally depraved
  • You cannot cease to be totally depraved until you believe

We are no longer totally depraved after we believe? I'd like to see the actual theology behind that, i.e., the exegesis. I think you are just playing with words trying to escape the error. Saving faith is our own faith, we can exercise it if we will, and the truth of that does no damage to the doctrine of depravity or salvation by faith alone without works.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In your view does anything change at all in the nature and character of a believer? If he is still "totally depraved," it's hard to see how he has changed at all. In what sense could he be said to be "growing" or being transformed? (Don't you have to begin to grow before you can continue to grow?) 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks for that. 

ScottS's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Just so I understand, in what sense is someone "dead in trespasses and sins" actually "dead"?

Personally, I take the Eph 2:1 reference to be proleptic, referring all inclusively to both the first death (our physical death), the penalty against sin, and the second death (one's casting into the lake of fire), the consequence of not being as designed to be, that is being righteous like God, because of our unrighteousness. So I see the phrase as referring to being in the state of both coming deaths.

But assuming one does take it the way you note—

He is not physically dead, clearly, so if we say "spiritually," what do we mean by that?

—then "spiritual death" means separated from God (this is the same as Kevin Miller noted). Physical death separates immaterial from the material body and the "person" from those other persons still physically alive, but it does not keep one from interacting with those who can perceive the spiritual realm (including other dead; Luke 16:22-31). Spiritual death separates the unrighteous from the righteous One and the "person" from God, but it does not keep one from interacting with God.

In what way(s) is he different from one who is not dead?

The differences are many, but particularly with reference to death and life, (1) the penalty of the first death is nothing to fear, for Christ has paid it on behalf of all people, conquering it, so that the resurrection will come, alleviating "physical death," (2) the final destination in that resurrection changes from a second death to an eternal life, so there is a "continuing life," and (3) the unrighteous are accounted righteous now, and to be made righteous in the resurrection, so they are no longer "spiritually dead" by a separation from God (hence why #2 does not come about), and are able to be completed in their being remade like him (through both 1 & 2).

But what is clear is that God can speak to the dead and have them hear in their state of death in order to obey. For physical examples of this, there is the boy in Luke 7:14-15 ; there is the girl in Luke 8:54-55 (her spirit returned after hearing the command to arise); there was Lazarus, who was called then raised (Jn 12:17). But this is explicitly stated as the pattern in John 5:25, 28—the dead can hear and will respond in obedience to the command to live. It follows that the parallel would be that that the spiritually dead can be "called" by God, "hear" that call in their unregenerate state, and "respond" to the call in their will, while being then empowered by God (i.e. made alive) to actually do that which they have been called to and desire to do in their new faith.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

That's an interesting perspective, Scott, and some things for me to think about. Thanks for that.

About my earlier post on total depravity. Technically, the term means that every part of our being is tainted to some degree by sin. While that precise reality may still be true of the born again believer, most of the theologies I've seen closely link natural man's innate condition of rebellion toward God to his depravity: the degree of depravity is sufficient to make him fundamentally opposed to God. Calvinists of course link "inability" to make progress toward salvation to depravity of the will.

Both inability and rebellion are gone from the heart/mind of the believer, and he/she has begun a journey of transformation into the likeness of Christ. At the very least, whatever remains of depravity must be slowly lessening in severity.

In any case, my point was that in our natural state we can't believe until we stop being rebellious toward God but we also can't stop being rebellious toward God until we believe. That transformation is always after faith, but faith also cannot occur before it.

I'm not trying to say that there is a problem in Scripture here. I don't think there is. I believe that in our study of God's saving work (as well as other studies) we should expect to occasionally bump against realities we can't completely comprehend. This particular bit of ordo salutis seems to be a good candidate for that category.

Jay's picture

I’m a little late to the party on this one.  Three brief points:

  1. Ship Ahoy - terrible song
  2. Chips Ahoy - terrible cookies
  3. Hebrews 6 warning passage is dealing with people on the periphery of the church but who have not yet become Christians.  The authors’ warning to them is that have been so involved and seen so much that they know and can attest to the validity of the Christian faith but if they died that day, would still be separated from God and deserving of judgment.

I taught Hebrews last year for Sunday School...I will dig out the pertinent section and post it here later today if I can.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Kevin Miller's picture

Jay wrote:

I’m a little late to the party on this one.  Three brief points:

  1. Ship Ahoy - terrible song
  2. Chips Ahoy - terrible cookies
  3. Hebrews 6 warning passage is dealing with people on the periphery of the church but who have not yet become Christians.  The authors’ warning to them is that have been so involved and seen so much that they know and can attest to the validity of the Christian faith but if they died that day, would still be separated from God and deserving of judgment.

I taught Hebrews last year for Sunday School...I will dig out the pertinent section and post it here later today if I can.

I'll be looking forward to seeing those notes. I also see the Hebrews 6 people as not yet Christians, but they were illuminated to a degree of some sort of understanding. I have a friend who believes a Christian can loose his salvation and we've discussed this passage. He also believes I take the Bible too literally at times (specifically about the future of Israel, but that's another story). Anyway, in Hebrews 6, he feels I am tap dancing around the literal, face-value understanding of verses 6 to 8. I'm entirely willing to "tap dance" as long as I have some explanations, but I'm not entirely confident in the ones I currently have.

Jay's picture

Hey Kevin, 

This is what I wrote for the Sunday School class:

The author is talking about how it would be ‘impossible’ (ἀδύνατος or not able) for someone who has met those three conditions of ‘tasting the heavenly gift’, ‘sharing in the Holy Spirit’, and ‘tasting the goodness of God’, if (again, there is that word) they fell away from the faith, to be restored. 

So what are those three phrases talking about?  Well, for two of them, we already have an explanation, actually from back in Hebrews 2, where we talked about Jesus ‘tasting’ death for all men.  It’s the same word here, γεύομαι, with the same general idea of having an experience with something and either accepting or rejecting it; remember how we talked about Jesus being offered wine mixed with vinegar in Matthew 27:34, or how the host of the wedding feast in Cana complimented the bridegroom for bringing out the best wine after he had tasted it?  It’s the same word in the greek in both places, and there are plenty of other passages that we could use as well, but I don’t want to get bogged down with that. 

So what does it mean that they have tasted of ‘the heavenly gift’ or to ‘share in the Holy Spirit’ or to ‘taste of the goodness of the word’? Is this a reference to salvation, or to something else?  I liked what John MacArthur said in his study bible:

Tasting in the figurative sense in the NT refers to consciously experiencing something (cf. 2: 9). The experience might be momentary or continuing. Christ’s “tasting” of death (2: 9) was obviously momentary and not continuing or permanent. All men experience the goodness of God, but that does not mean they are all saved (cf. Matt. 5: 45; Acts 17: 25). Many Jews, during the Lord’s earthly ministry, experienced the blessings from heaven he brought— in healings and deliverance from demons, as well as eating the food he created miraculously (John 6). Whether the gift refers to Christ (cf. John 6: 51; 2 Cor. 9: 15) or to the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2: 38; 1 Pet. 1: 12), experiencing either one was not the equivalent of salvation (cf. John 16: 8; Acts 7: 51).[1]

So what, then does the author talk about when he discusses ‘if they fall away’?  Well, another study bible has some more comments that were very helpful on that subject:

The verb has a general sense of “trespass, offend, fall away (from a standard),” and the verbs in the rest of v. 6 clarify the specific and serious nature of this “fall.” This is not a matter of everyday sin or occasional failings but a serious “fall,” parallel to 3: 12 (“ turns away from the living God”) or 10: 29 (arrogantly rejecting the value of Christ’s sacrifice), mirroring how the wilderness generation decisively rejected Moses and the Lord (Num 14). This final description (“ have fallen away”) should cause us to look at the first four descriptions (vv. 4b– 5) more carefully. The propositions about Christians in the earlier warning passage (3: 6, 14) indicate that enduring faith is the evidence of truly having “come to share in Christ” (3: 14) or of being “his house” (3: 6). Those who do not hold on to faith in Christ show that their experience was superficial rather than genuine. Describing them in ways that mirror genuine conversion so closely (vv. 4b– 5) heightens the sense of outrage that someone could turn away from such blessings.[2]

So I looked at the verb that is used there in 6:6, and it’s the term παραπεσόντας from the word παραπίπτω, used only one time here in the entire NT, although it is a compound word and the original form of πίπτω is used on many occasions to describe people who fall.  Most major lexicons define this word to mean a full and final rejection of something, with an indication that the decision is a definitive one.  We aren’t talking about someone who is a believer and has ignorantly wandered off or who has deliberately gone astray (5:2).  We’re talking about someone who is in their assembly, who maybe has self-identified with believers, who has seen the preaching of the Word with great power, who has seen the use of the spiritual gifts, perhaps of healing or miracles (since we know that at least some of the audience were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry from 2:2-4) but who walks away when things get difficult.  Because it is too difficult for them to continue with living the things that they see or hear, it is tantamount to second rejection of Christ and it leaves them worse off then when they first began to follow him. It also means that it may appear that God could not, actually, do what he claimed to do by saving them or changing their lives in such a way.  Moving on to chapter 2 verse 7, we see an illustration of this concept.  

[1] MacArthur, John. Holy Bible - ESV MacArthur Study Bible (Kindle Locations 132108-132115).  . Kindle Edition.

[2] Zondervan. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, eBook: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Kindle Locations 284484-284495). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

On the Hebrews warning passages, I take the Andrew Hudson view ... The best thing I've seen on this.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Kevin Miller's picture

TylerR wrote:

On the Hebrews warning passages, I take the Andrew Hudson view ... The best thing I've seen on this.

That was a long read, but well worth it. Now I'm not so sure about my previous understanding that they weren't believers to begin with. I'll just have to keep thinking through and keep thinking through.

Kevin Miller's picture

Jay wrote:

Hey Kevin, 

This is what I wrote for the Sunday School class:

Thanks for the notes. I'm afraid if I was in your class, I'd be raising my hand and asking how you could think "gift" means anything other than salvation.Tyler's article gives an explanation of that perspective, so you're off the hook. Smile

Kevin Miller's picture

(duplicate post)

JohnBrian's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Saving faith is our own faith, we can exercise it if we will, and the truth of that does no damage to the doctrine of depravity or salvation by faith alone without works.

If I'm understanding you to say that faith is sourced in us; and that all mankind has such faith; and has the inherent ability to exercise it at will; why does Peter speak of  it as "obtained like precious faith" [2 Peter 1:1]. Wouldn't his statement indicate that it is a gift.

There is no dispute that we DO exercise this "obtained" faith in believing and coming to salvation. 

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Don Johnson's picture

JohnBrian wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

 

Saving faith is our own faith, we can exercise it if we will, and the truth of that does no damage to the doctrine of depravity or salvation by faith alone without works.

 

 

If I'm understanding you to say that faith is sourced in us; and that all mankind has such faith; and has the inherent ability to exercise it at will; why does Peter speak of  it as "obtained like precious faith" [2 Peter 1:1]. Wouldn't his statement indicate that it is a gift.

There is no dispute that we DO exercise this "obtained" faith in believing and coming to salvation. 

Many commentaries agree with you, but whatever the faith is, it is described as "of equal honor with us"  - an ambiguous phrase, to some extent, and it is received by the righteousness of Christ.

The phrase "of equal honor" (esv = "equal standing") implies that a comparison is being made, perhaps between Jews and Gentiles, but surely between Peter and the recipients of the letter. They have the received the same faith. Questions arise from this: 1) Is this saving faith or the body of faith (ie, the apostolic doctrine, "the faith" for which we are to contend, see Jude)? 2) Is this a reference to the equal opportunity of salvation between the Jews and the Gentiles, or at least between the recipients and Peter (or the apostles, with Peter their representative)? 3) Is it obtained as the ability to exercise saving faith or is it the authority to exercise saving faith? In other words, to those who receive Christ, he gave them authority to become the children of God (Jn 1.12). So is it access or is it enabling?

In any case, there is enough ambiguity in the verse that it isn't an open and shut case for either point of view.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

What are the didactic passages that specifically address this issue? What do those passages teach about the "behind the scenes" action that results in salvation? The passages that imply an ordo salutis only in passing should be given secondary weight to the didactic passages.

If only there were a passage where Jesus discussed predestination! If there were only a passage where he had an extended dialogue about this very subject! If only it had been recorded for us! Heh, heh ... 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

The idea that 1 Cor 2:14 is about something after salvation seems to fly in the face of the context. 1 Cor 1:18 begins the section by talking about the foolishness of the gospel and how it is rejected as foolishness. Verse 24 makes clear that the only people who accept it are the called. 

2:1-8 builds on this with Paul's determination to depend on the simple preaching of the gospel to convert. It is God's wisdom, not the wisdom of the rulers of this age who rejected Christ and crucified the Lord of glory because they did not see what God had prepared (v. 9--the gospel itself). But we have seen what they missed--the gospel and it is because of the work of the Spirit. There is nothing in 1 Cor 1 or 2 about some extra level of spiritual knowledge that comes after salvation. It is the gospel which is "the things of the Spirit of God" that must be spiritually appraised. The natural man in v. 14 is the unbeliever which is indicated by the "foolishness" that we already saw in chapter 1 as the mindset of those who reject the gospel. 

Which takes us back to v. 24: the "calling." The difference between those who see the gospel as "foolishness" (as in 2:14) and those who see Christ as the wisdom and power of God is the "calling." It is a matter of judgment (or appraisal) of Christ. What makes the difference? It is the call. Before you have it, you reject Christ and the gospel as foolishness. You are, in the words of 2:14, a natural man. After you have it, you accept Christ as the wisdom and power of God. So the "natural man" who does not receive the things of the Spirit is, in context, an unbeliever (wise by the world) who does not receive the gospel (the things of the Spirit).

Part of the problem in this discussion (and myriads like it) is that people either don't know or conflate biblical terminology. In this very discussion, salvation has been confused with justification; regeneration has been confused with indwelling. Yet historical orthodoxy has rightly distinguished these things. Proper distinctions are necessary for clear theology.

Paul Henebury's picture

Perhaps you  would delineate salvation from justification and regeneration with indwelling?

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Paul Henebury wrote:

Perhaps you  would delineate salvation from justification and regeneration with indwelling?

Yes, and also maybe how these distinctions argue one way or the other?

That's not meant as a challenge. Mostly just curious.

ScottS's picture

Larry wrote:

The idea that 1 Cor 2:14 is about something after salvation seems to fly in the face of the context.

Larry, I'm assuming your reply regarding this point (interpretation of 1 Cor 2:14) is primarily in relation to my prior comment. While I can appreciate your attention to the fact that a salvific discussion occurs in the context, and in fact we each make the same point that the call of God through the gospel is critical to coming to faith (based on 1 Cor 1:18-24; see my last paragraph in that prior comment), I still maintain that the context in chapter 2 intentionally shifts away from the discussion of the gospel (of coming to faith) as the focus, and shifts to a discussion about true wisdom:

  1. Leading up to chapter 2, it is not until one is called that "what was preached" (1 Cor 1:21), "Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23), and "Christ Jesus" himself becomes "the wisdom of God" to that individual (1 Cor 1:24, 30). So it is not until belief that wisdom really begins to arise regarding what God has done in and through Christ.
  2. So Paul declares in 1 Cor 2:1-5 that the coming to faith is not about wisdom, but God's power through the "testimony about God" (1 Cor 2:1), about "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2), and "the Spirit's power" (1 Cor 2:4).
  3. But in context, he very evidently shifts in 1 Cor 2:6, "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing" (emphasis added). There is a shift, translating δέ in the NKJV as "however," that wisdom is spoken to "the mature" (i.e. those who are believers, and even perhaps referring to more than mere "babes in Christ," given his in context statement in 1 Cor 3:1 that spiritual things were still hard for such babes to handle in their carnality). This wisdom he is going to speak of is not of "this age," which implies he is referring to "future age" things. He confirms this in 1 Cor 2:7 that he is talking of the hidden things related to what "God ordained before the ages for our glory" (that is, things related to the glorification of the saints). Had unbelievers been able to grasp what the glorified state planned for us really involved, they would never have crucified the One who would bring it about (1 Cor 2:8).
  4. And so my prior comment picks up in 1 Cor 2:9, that the discussion has shifted to "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him," and as I noted, "those who love Him" are those who believe, and the "things" are those future things of glory that come about in relation to our salvation. It is these "things" that form the context of 1 Cor 2:10-16, and are the things the natural man cannot receive, nor even grasp, and are also foolishness unto them (just as it was noted the gospel of Christ crucified was as well, 1 Cor 1:18).

So the whole reason I hold to my view of that passage is precisely because of the context (to me clearly) shifting focus on wisdom being about the things of glory for those who believe.

Larry wrote:

In this very discussion, salvation has been confused with justification; regeneration has been confused with indwelling. Yet historical orthodoxy has rightly distinguished these things. Proper distinctions are necessary for clear theology.

I actually agree with you on this point, that things can get conflated that sometimes ought to be more distinct. Paul had a follow up question for you on delineating "salvation from justification and regeneration with indwelling," that Aaron seconded. I certainly cannot answer for Larry, but my specific delineation would be this:

  • Salvation, technically, is being saved from the second death (the casting into the lake of fire; Rev 20:11-15) that is due all those whose works are not seen as righteous as they were designed to be in reflecting the God they were designed to be like (Gen 1:26). While salvation does include such things as saved from the presence and power of sin, et al., the eternal dividing point between saved and lost is whether one is facing this fate of second death or not.
  • Justification is the crediting (accounting/imputing) of righteousness that comes through faith (Rom 4:5, et al.), which causes God to not judge believers' righteousness by their works (Rom 4:4; Rev 20:12), but by Christ's righteousness (which is equal to God's and fully like God's, as man was designed to be). Justification is needed for salvation (so there is a distinction, even though one flows from the other).
  • Regeneration is the cleansing of the human spirit by the renewing (παλιγγενεσία = "regeneration" in many translations) of the human spirit's nature (Titus 3:5) from that of a sinful nature, setting up the conflicts of believers between the new spirit with the still sinful flesh (Rom 7:22-24), the new man that believers are to put on versus the old man we are to put off (Eph 4:22-24).
  • Indwelling is the cohabitating of God's Holy Spirit with those who are Christ's (Rom 8:9-11; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Tim 1:14; James 4:5, 1 Jn 4:13), which are those who now have a regenerated human spirit, which regeneration is needed for the renewal of such a relation with the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). This cohabitation is dependent upon one first coming to love God (Jn 14:15-17; note the order and condition, "if you love ... " then "the Father ... will give you another Helper ... the Spirit of truth"; likewise Eph 2:19-22, it is only after becoming a "member of the household of God," through "having been build on the foundation of the the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" [i.e. the testimony of those messengers of the good news during the various phases of history], that the foundation so in place makes for a fit place to then become "a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit").

Related to the topic here about coming to faith, all of these things come after belief, after that love of God has come into our hearts (1 Pet 1:7-9; genuine faith is a love for Jesus), which love comes because of recognizing God first loved us (1 Jn 4:19), and His love continues because of our love for Jesus (Jn 16:27). It is the receiving of Christ, which is "those who believe in His name," that gives one the "right [ἐξουσία, in this context I think = free liberty] to become children of God" (Jn 1:12), which right "to become" God's child, only occurs as a an actual becoming by "a birth from God" (Jn 1:13). This birth, however, comes after the belief, for the belief is what gives one the "right" to be so born (God has only promised to save those who believe), and so faith manifests as love for God and leads immediately to that birth (1 Jn 5:1) so that the indwelling occurs, justification accounted, and ultimately salvation from the second death so that one lives eternally in the resurrected state.

It is for these reasons, and many more, that I believe an illumination upon the hearts of unbelievers must bring them to faith and love for God (through His power and calling through the gospel; Rom 10:14) before regeneration, indwelling, justification, and salvation occur. God can turn the hearts of unbelievers to Him, open their eyes and hears to hear, before regenerating their spiritual nature.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

G. N. Barkman's picture

Yes, but...if regeneration is the impartation of life, it must precede faith in Christ and love for God.  Spiritually dead sinners neither desire Christ, nor are they able to love God.

G. N. Barkman

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