Is Salvation a Decision?

John Piper recently told a group of college students that “salvation is not a decision.”

Reactions here at SI were, shall we say, mixed. Some understood Piper to be saying something horrible for the worst of reasons; others took him to be saying something great for the best of reasons, and a few in between suggested that while the statement itself was likely to cause confusion, it is not hard to imagine good reasons for saying it.

In all of the flying feathers, the most important question seemed to get lost: is “salvation” properly characterized as “a decision”? Let’s table the “What did Piper mean?” question and consider the bigger one.

How we answer that question depends on two vital factors: (1) how we define the terms (“salvation” and “decision”) and (2) what we believe about salvation. Sadly, a third factor seems to drive most of the discussion: (3) how much pent up hostility we have toward Reformed or non-Reformed views of the human and divine in the saving of children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Intense passion against “Calvinism” or “Arminianism,” or “monergism” or “synergism” (quotes intentional, since understandings of these terms vary widely) results in haste to blame one “ism” or the other for every point of disagreement in the doctrine of salvation.

In reality, most who care at all about a question like “Is salvation a decision?” believe nearly all of the same things about “salvation,” but have strong opinions about which features ought to be emphasized and how they ought to be expressed. But because we’re so passionate about them, these relatively small differences lead us to misconstrue what others are saying—and, too often, lead to conflict over what words mean rather than about the substance of our differences.

Depending on how we define the terms, “salvation” both is and is not “a decision.” Since both “salvation” and “decision” are ambiguous terms (they may be defined in more than one way), many combinations of meaning are possible in the statement “salvation is not a decision.”1

Some ways salvation is not a decision

What is salvation? It’s hard to improve on J. I. Packer’s introductory definition in Concise Theology:

The master theme of the Christian gospel is salvation. Salvation is a picture-word of wide application that expresses the idea of rescue from jeopardy and misery into a state of safety. The gospel proclaims that the God who saved Israel from Egypt, Jonah from the fish’s belly, the psalmist from death, and the soldiers from drowning (Exod. 15:2; Jon. 2:9; Ps. 116:6; Acts 27:31), saves all who trust Christ from sin and sin’s consequences.

Though Packer’s theology is Reformed, nothing in this description of salvation is contrary to non-Reformed views. Regardless of how a sinner comes to be a saved person, all Christians believe God does the actual saving.

So if we define “salvation” as a delivering act of God, how do we define “decision”? We can easily group the possible understandings of “decision” under two headings: decisions of God and decisions of man.

If we start with the latter, we arrive at this:

In the sense that God is the one who saves and man does not decide for Him, salvation is not a decision.

Some non-Calvinists may object at first to the phrase “man does not decide for Him,” but there is really no objection to this in Arminian theology or even Pelagian. Though views of salvation vary regarding the sequence of events and what conditions trigger God’s decision to save, no serious student of Scripture teaches that God’s will is replaced by man’s in the saving moment and God saves like some sort of puppet.

God decides to save and then saves. Salvation is certainly not a decision if we mean that God’s deliverance is a decision of man.

Here, even the definition of “is” becomes important.2 If we’re being sloppy, we might say “is a decision” when we mean “results from a decision.” A whole lot of doctrinal confusion would be cleared up if we’d say what we mean (and then if people would read and listen precisely!).

But even if we change “is” to “results from,” there is a sense in which salvation is not (does not result from) a decision (of man).

Suppose one of my kids leaves a toy (or, more likely, a book) in a poorly lit place where I tend to walk early in the morning, and I stub my toe. What caused me to stub my toe? Under those conditions, I’m likely to identify the child who left the book “where it doesn’t belong” as the cause of my pain. But is that entirely true? Someone might say the cause was the impact of my toe on the object, or the laws of physics, or the firing of neurons in my body—or even my own decision to put my foot in that particular spot.

You could accurately deny that any one of these things was “the cause” of my pain. It depends on what you want to emphasize.3

What’s certain is that there is no reasonable way to construe God’s deliverance of a sinner as being fully caused by the sinner, and to the extent that this is what’s being denied, even a Pelagian could say “salvation is not a decision.”

If we define “decision” a bit more narrowly, the truth that “salvation is not a decision” in this sense becomes even more clear.

Suppose that by “decision,” we mean what sinners do on their own as they wisely see the truth of the gospel and the reality of their need. Most (though too few!) would say such decisions do not exist. Most would deny that salvation is that kind of decision. And suppose we use “decision” to mean something impulsive and superficial a person does only in response to a series of sad or scary stories or dramatic appeals (or long, pleading invitations) and later gives little thought to. Who would say “salvation is a decision” in that sense?

One way salvation is a decision

It’s important to see how “salvation” and “decision” (and “is”) can be defined in ways that accurately deny that salvation is a decision. It’s also important to see some ways in which it’s true that salvation is a decision.

What if, by “salvation,” we mean “conversion”? Depending on how far back you go into the history of theology, “conversion” refers either to the same thing as regeneration, or specifically to the human element in regeneration. I imagine some shouting at their screens right now: “Human element? There is no human element!” But consider the observations of a couple of respected authorities.

The first is from the glossary of William G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. Though added by editors, the entry accurately summarizes some important distinctions from a Reformed point of view.

conversion Latin converse, viewed by the older theologians as either passive or active. Passive conversion (conversio passiva) refers to the habit or disposition, implanted by God, to repent and believe in Christ as Savior. Active conversion (conversio activa) is the actual turning of the sinner in repentance and faith in Christ. Passive conversion is also termed “regeneration” because it involves the renewal of the sinner’s will. Active conversion, or the actual turning of the sinner to Christ, is often termed simply “conversion” without any additional qualifications. Shedd himself adopts the distinct terms regeneration and conversion in his own discussion of the matter, believing that the separate designations are less prone to confusion.4

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones seems to agree.

What do we mean by conversion? It is the first exercise of the new nature in ceasing from old forms of life and starting a new life. It is the first action of the regenerate soul in moving from something to something. The very term suggests that: conversion means a turning from one thing to another. The term is not used very frequently in the Scriptures but the truth which the word connotes and represents appears constantly.5

Earlier, Lloyd-Jones observes,

So as we consider what we mean by regeneration, the one important thing, it seems to me, is that we must differentiate it from conversion. And yet how frequently they are confused. But regeneration is not conversion and for this reason: conversion is something that we do whereas regeneration, as I shall show you, is something that is done to us by God.6

Charles Hodge’s discussion is lengthy and fascinating. A small sample will have to do here. After quoting a portion from Turretin, Hodge observes,

Here as was common with the writers of that age, Turrettin includes under “conversion,” what is now more frequently distinguished under the two heads of regeneration and conversion. The former including what the Spirit does in the soul, and the latter what the sinner, under his influence, is induced to do. With his usual clearness he refers what is now meant by regeneration to the physical operation of the Spirit; and all that belongs to conversion or the voluntary turning of the soul to God, to the mediate influence of the Holy Ghost through the truth.7

How exactly conversion relates to repentance is another discussion. My point is that even in genuinely Reformed soteriology, there is a moment when a sinner does something, and it would be absurd to argue that he does it without making a choice to do so. Regardless of how “free” or “not free” we see that choice, it remains a choice. In the Reformed understanding, God ensures the decision, but the sinner is still the subject who performs the action of some verbs. The sinner repents. The sinner believes.

In the sense that “salvation” is a sinner’s turning to God in repentant faith, salvation is a decision.

Arguably, this is the only sense in which Scripture allows us to affirm that “salvation is a decision.” But let’s not neglect the point or qualify it to death.

Though the Augustinian/Calvinistic view of what happens in the moment one passes from death to life (John 5:24) is often caricatured as a sequence of events in which an automaton is remote-controlled from the broad road of destruction onto the narrow way (and those who hold that view often beg for the caricature by overstating their own position), we can’t reasonably understand the NT to teach that the sinner coming to Christ never actually does anything.

Clearly, he does not “work” (Eph. 2:8, Rom. 4:5), but he does repent. He does believe. He does “decide” in that sense.

My plea to all of us who have an interest in salvation doctrine (and there ought to be many more than there are) is that we reflect thoughtfully on these questions and seek accurate understanding, not only of Scripture, but also of what the people we disagree with really believe.

Notes

1 Even if we suppose each of these terms can only be understood in only two ways, that produces four possible meanings of when the two are combined (S1 and D1, S1 and D2, S2 and D1, S2 and D2).

2 Seems Clintonian, I know, but he was not entirely wrong to suggest that people mean different things by “is.”

3 Aristotle would divide the possibilities into formal cause, material cause, efficient cause and final cause. These are well worth reading up on for thinking clearly about causes and results.

4 Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.) (953). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

5 Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (117–118). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.

6 Lloyd-Jones, 77.

7 Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 2: Systematic Theology (686). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. Hodge continues with a discussion of Owen on this point also.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Lee's picture

DavidO wrote:
Lee wrote:
"Go as far as Scripture goes, but stop where Scripture stops."

Adhering to this dictum, one could never clearly or succinctly affirm same substance trinitarianism, as has recently been demonstrated, and under that same dodge.


Nonsense! Scripture communicates truth in at least 5 ways: by doctrine, by command, by principle, through precedent, and by illustration. All truth is equal truth though communicated differently.

"Same substance trinitarianism" is clearly taught in the whole of Scripture in a variety of ways. That the whole of orthodoxy sees that in Scripture is not based on a logical argument or a theological paradigm, but because it is there. It is those who have a false paradigm or who rely on human logic that are the anomalies to what orthodoxy has clearly seen.

Separating salvation from a point of decision--i.e., repent, call, believe, etc.? Not so much.

Lee

DavidO's picture

Quote:
Separating salvation from a point of decision--i.e., repent, call, believe, etc.? Not so much.

A matter of no small dispute, apparently.

Caleb S's picture

Lee wrote:
DavidO wrote:
Lee wrote:
"Go as far as Scripture goes, but stop where Scripture stops."

Adhering to this dictum, one could never clearly or succinctly affirm same substance trinitarianism, as has recently been demonstrated, and under that same dodge.


Nonsense! Scripture communicates truth in at least 5 ways: by doctrine, by command, by principle, through precedent, and by illustration. All truth is equal truth though communicated differently.

"Same substance trinitarianism" is clearly taught in the whole of Scripture in a variety of ways. That the whole of orthodoxy sees that in Scripture is not based on a logical argument or a theological paradigm, but because it is there. It is those who have a false paradigm or who rely on human logic that are the anomalies to what orthodoxy has clearly seen.

Separating salvation from a point of decision--i.e., repent, call, believe, etc.? Not so much.


I'm sorry, but where is the verse that explicitly says the word "trinitarianism" or "trinity"? I would love to see it.

Lee's picture

Caleb S wrote:
Lee wrote:
DavidO wrote:
Lee wrote:
"Go as far as Scripture goes, but stop where Scripture stops."

Adhering to this dictum, one could never clearly or succinctly affirm same substance trinitarianism, as has recently been demonstrated, and under that same dodge.


Nonsense! Scripture communicates truth in at least 5 ways: by doctrine, by command, by principle, through precedent, and by illustration. All truth is equal truth though communicated differently.

"Same substance trinitarianism" is clearly taught in the whole of Scripture in a variety of ways. That the whole of orthodoxy sees that in Scripture is not based on a logical argument or a theological paradigm, but because it is there. It is those who have a false paradigm or who rely on human logic that are the anomalies to what orthodoxy has clearly seen.

Separating salvation from a point of decision--i.e., repent, call, believe, etc.? Not so much.


I'm sorry, but where is the verse that explicitly says the word "trinitarianism" or "trinity"? I would love to see it.

Neither is plenary-verbal. We could play these word games for a while.

Why not let's cut to the chase? I made a pretty bold statement a few posts up--"Yet throughout the entire inspired communication of the mind of God to man there is not a single narrative, didactic, or implication in either the Old or New Testaments that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation." I'll be honest, I made the statement somewhat off the cuff since threads like this do not lend themselves to an ability to pour hours of research and study into every statement. And if I am wrong I will gladly be corrected by Scripture truth.

What I am looking for is not a proof-text verse, or a magic motto, or anything kitschy. What I am looking for is Scripture, either by doctrine, command, principle, precedent, illustration, or other mode I may have missed, "that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation."

Lee

DavidO's picture

Acts 13:48 wrote:
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.

The belief seems something of a consequence here, no?

DavidO's picture

John 10:27 wrote:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Here the sheep hear because they are His. They are not His because they decide to hear. He says, they are mine--they hear me. I know them, and they follow.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Quote:
My plea to all of us who have an interest in salvation doctrine (and there ought to be many more than there are) is that we reflect thoughtfully on these questions and seek accurate understanding, not only of Scripture, but also of what the people we disagree with really believe.

Lee's picture

DavidO wrote:
Acts 13:48 wrote:
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.

The belief seems something of a consequence here, no?


Belief is still decisional.

DavidO wrote:

John 10:27

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Here the sheep hear because they are His. They are not His because they decide to hear. He says, they are mine--they hear me. I know them, and they follow.


Follow is also decisional.

Lee

G. N. Barkman's picture

To follow is a decision. Not to follow is also a decision. But Jesus doesn't say, "My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they may decide to follow me, or again, they may decide not to."

This is an excellent example of the dynamic at work, and a helpful clarification if considered thoughtfully. Since evidently "to not follow me" is not an option for one of Christ's sheep, it follows that the work of regeneration which enables Christ's sheep to hear His voice also gives them an ability and desire to follow Him which they did not have before. Do they "decide" to follow Jesus? Yes. Can they decide to NOT follow Jesus? Not when you realize that decisions are based upon internal desires, which are related to nature. Can a rabbit decide to eat meat? It might be possible, but extremely doubtful. Why? Because that would be contrary to his desire which is predicated upon nature, and his nature dictates that he doesn't like to eat meat.

This is why unregenerate sinners will always make the choice to not follow Christ, and regenerate saints will aways make the choice to follow Christ. It's a matter of desire which flows out of nature. Old creatures desire darkness rather than light. Always. New creatures desire light more than darkness. When we understand this, we realize that man's will is not really free, and it is certainly not his savior. In reality, for the sinner, his will is his primary problem. His will is enslaved to sin and opposed to God, and will remain that way until God changes his nature and thus his desires.

G. N. Barkman

DavidO's picture

I don't deny that there is a volitional element to it. But I think there's too much more involved to refer to it as merely a decision. So much so that using the term decision may do damage to a proper and full understanding which, I think, is Piper's point (not that I'm a fanboy).

Could those appointed have decided not to be appointed? Could the sheep choose not to hear and follow?

Caleb S's picture

Lee wrote:
Neither is plenary-verbal. We could play these word games for a while.

Why not let's cut to the chase? I made a pretty bold statement a few posts up--"Yet throughout the entire inspired communication of the mind of God to man there is not a single narrative, didactic, or implication in either the Old or New Testaments that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation." I'll be honest, I made the statement somewhat off the cuff since threads like this do not lend themselves to an ability to pour hours of research and study into every statement. And if I am wrong I will gladly be corrected by Scripture truth.

What I am looking for is not a proof-text verse, or a magic motto, or anything kitschy. What I am looking for is Scripture, either by doctrine, command, principle, precedent, illustration, or other mode I may have missed, "that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation."


The bolding was added by me.

Here is a verse for your examination. The passage is 2 Timothy 1:1-9. Clearly, verse five is indicating Paul's recalling their sincere faith. After some discussion we arrive at verse 8. "So don't be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. (2Ti 1:8 CSB)" They are exhorted to not be ashamed, but instead they are to share in suffering. "God" is the antecedent of the relative pronoun in verse 9, so now we are given a description of God through a subordinate clause. This just means that verse 9 is a subordinate thought, piggybacking off the mention of God in 8. Here is verse 9. "He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. (2Ti 1:9 CSB)" God has saved us and called us with a holy calling. This was not done according to our works. Please note, there is no specificity given to this work; it is just a generic "works". God did not save them and call them according to their works; rather this saving and calling was according to His own purpose and grace. Further clarification is given by the temporal element being added into the picture. This purpose and grace was given to them in Christ Jesus before time began. Again, there was no decision made at that time. The verse itself eliminates the generic category of works (of which decisions are a part). Therefore, while faith is mentioned is verse five, and commands are given in verse eight, which should motivate decisions (suffering), due to intervening context, salvation here is being depicted void of human decision. Through both the generic use of "work" and the "non-existent" status of decision makers. (unless, of course, someone wants to isogetically read into the passage what it eliminates, namely foreseen faith, which is a human work) I could bring up other passages that approach "salvation" from a God-centered perspective, but I would rather see what happens to this verse and how other's grids interact with it.

Regarding my "trinity" comment, I was just saying that if Piper's wording goes beyond the Scripture, then the word "Trinity" does too; and if one is going to be consistent in chastisement, then we need to also chastise people who use the word "Trinity" and "verbal plenary". Consistency!

Lee's picture

DavidO wrote:
I don't deny that there is a volitional element to it. But I think there's too much more involved to refer to it as merely a decision. So much so that using the term decision may do damage to a proper and full understanding which, I think, is Piper's point (not that I'm a fanboy).

Could those appointed have decided not to be appointed? Could the sheep choose not to hear and follow?


Dr. Barkman lost me somewhere around the rabbit. Maybe my mind just went off on a rabbit trail there (joke, Dr. Barkman, joke; I have been a great admirer of yours for many years now).

My emphasis is not that there isn't more involved than a mere decision. Where my point lies is that Scripture does not separate the matter of salvation from a point of decision couched in any number of terms, and since Scripture doesn't attempt it, we would do well not to attempt it either. Piper and others are doing linguistic gymnastics in their effort to do just that for which we had a 2-week thread guessing what he may have meant by it, and now we are days into the second verse of the same song.

Lee

Lee's picture

Caleb S wrote:
Lee wrote:
Neither is plenary-verbal. We could play these word games for a while.

Why not let's cut to the chase? I made a pretty bold statement a few posts up--"Yet throughout the entire inspired communication of the mind of God to man there is not a single narrative, didactic, or implication in either the Old or New Testaments that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation." I'll be honest, I made the statement somewhat off the cuff since threads like this do not lend themselves to an ability to pour hours of research and study into every statement. And if I am wrong I will gladly be corrected by Scripture truth.

What I am looking for is not a proof-text verse, or a magic motto, or anything kitschy. What I am looking for is Scripture, either by doctrine, command, principle, precedent, illustration, or other mode I may have missed, "that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation."


The bolding was added by me.

Here is a verse for your examination. The passage is 2 Timothy 1:1-9. Clearly, verse five is indicating Paul's recalling their sincere faith. After some discussion we arrive at verse 8. "So don't be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. (2Ti 1:8 CSB)" They are exhorted to not be ashamed, but instead they are to share in suffering. "God" is the antecedent of the relative pronoun in verse 9, so now we are given a description of God through a subordinate clause. This just means that verse 9 is a subordinate thought, piggybacking off the mention of God in 8. Here is verse 9. "He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. (2Ti 1:9 CSB)" God has saved us and called us with a holy calling. This was not done according to our works. Please note, there is no specificity given to this work; it is just a generic "works". God did not save them and call them according to their works; rather this saving and calling was according to His own purpose and grace. Further clarification is given by the temporal element being added into the picture. This purpose and grace was given to them in Christ Jesus before time began. Again, there was no decision made at that time. The verse itself eliminates the generic category of works (of which decisions are a part). Therefore, while faith is mentioned is verse five, and commands are given in verse eight, which should motivate decisions (suffering), due to intervening context, salvation here is being depicted void of human decision. Through both the generic use of "work" and the "non-existent" status of decision makers. (unless, of course, someone wants to isogetically read into the passage what it eliminates, namely foreseen faith, which is a human work) I could bring up other passages that approach "salvation" from a God-centered perspective, but I would rather see what happens to this verse and how other's grids interact with it.

Regarding my "trinity" comment, I was just saying that if Piper's wording goes beyond the Scripture, then the word "Trinity" does too; and if one is going to be consistent in chastisement, then we need to also chastise people who use the word "Trinity" and "verbal plenary". Consistency!

I read with interest your comments, if not with understanding. I think I got thrown off somewhere between piggybacking and isogetically. My question is do you really think that this passage was put here to communicate a disconnect between God's salvation and man's volition when Paul concludes the thought with "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." ? Personally, I'm thinking not.

Lee

Aaron Blumer's picture

Quote:
My emphasis is not that there isn't more involved than a mere decision. Where my point lies is that Scripture does not separate the matter of salvation from a point of decision couched in any number of terms, and since Scripture doesn't attempt it, we would do well not to attempt it either.

This is really the problem.
The study of Scripture involves more than repeating biblical statements. We rightly interpret, compare, combine, systematize. In Genesis 1, we meet a very systematic God who makes the world in a manifestly orderly way when He could have simply spoken it all into existence simultaneously. Part of the point is to express the value of "systematicness" for us as His creatures.

Of course, systems can be taken too far or be poorly executed. But my point is that we really are not gaining understanding of Scripture if we don't compare Scripture with Scripture, use reasoning, and arrive at distinctions that are not necessarily explicit in the texts if you look at them one by one in sequence. We need to be synoptic not just sequential in our study.

Then you have the whole business of application. Nobody holds that we should read the Bible, then stop short of applying it to what's actually happening within and around us. That application process often requires arriving at distinctions as well.

But returning to the question of God's deciding and man's deciding... I really don't see how anyone can claim they are "not separate" (i.e., distinct) in Scripture. As one quick example, take 1 Thessalonians (comes to mind only because I preached through it recently). 1 Thess. 1.4 has God's decision ("your election by God") and it's not until 1 Thess. 1.6 that we get the human decision ("you became followers").
This happens all the time in the NT (and the Old, in the case of Israel).

G. N. Barkman's picture

Sorry to be confusing, but this is really at the heart of the subject of decisions. No one that I know denies that men make decisions, and that they make them freely. If by "freely" we mean they are perfectly free to make the decision that pleases them.

The problem arises when we imagine that "freely" means without reference to nature and desire. Am I free to choose green peas? Yes. Will I? Not likely. I'd have to be virtually starving and without any options. For whatever reason, that I cannot explain, I do not like green peas. I like nearly every other vegetable, and eat them eagerly, but I don't choose green peas because I don't like them. It's as simple as that.

The Bible is clear that sinners don't choose light because they don't like it. Are they free to choose light? Yes. Will they ever choose it? No. Not until their desires change. Sinners cannot change their desires any more than I can change my life-long distaste for green peas.

For a sinner to choose light, righteousness, Christ, something must first transpire to change his desires. Regeneration is that something. The natural man does not receive spiritual realities because he does not understand them and they do not appeal to him. For man to desire spiritual realities, he must be inwardly changed. God's Spirit must change his nature from that of "natural" to "spiritual." This is a change of categories, and it is a change of natures.

We are free to choose whatever we desire, but we always choose according to our desires. We cannot choose our desires. They are predicated upon our nature. Nature dictates desire. Desire dictates choice. Left to himself, a sinner will never choose Christ. Grace rescues sinners from their self-destruction. Grace gives sinners a nature that desires Christ, the only One who can rescue sinners from freely chosen destruction. We often sing, "O to be saved from myself, dear Lord, O to be lost in thee."

Perhaps this post will not leave you lost on a rabbit trail.

G. N. Barkman

Lee's picture

Aaron Blumer ][quote wrote:
...But returning to the question of God's deciding and man's deciding... I really don't see how anyone can claim they are "not separate" (i.e., distinct) in Scripture. As one quick example, take 1 Thessalonians (comes to mind only because I preached through it recently). 1 Thess. 1.4 has God's decision ("your election by God") and it's not until 1 Thess. 1.6 that we get the human decision ("you became followers").
This happens all the time in the NT (and the Old, in the case of Israel).

And in 3 short verses of a singular context you have the "all of God" nature of salvation and the decisional characteristics of salvation presented in union, not as a matter to be separated. It increasingly appears to me that the drive to separate the two in our minds and, eventually, our presentation of the Gospel is to bolster some personal agenda over the simplicity of the Gospel--"whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Lee

Aaron Blumer's picture

Lee... I'm not clear on how you're using "separated." They are clearly distinct in 1 Thess. 1. By "separated" do you mean talking about one without talking about the other, or teaching that one can happen without the other, or that there can be a gap in time between one and the other, or what? It's not clear to me who is "separating" them in any sense other than accurately observing that they are distinct.

Larry's picture

I think the problem here is that Lee is building a whole construct on something that likely was never intended. I doubt that Piper intended to remove any volitional aspect from salvation. He would clearly affirm it after the work of God in regeneration.

And the easiest way to show this is to read what Piper says: "Conversion is no mere human decision. It is a human decision. But oh, so much more! Repentant faith (or believing repentance) is based on an awesome miracle performed by the sovereign God. " (Desiring God, 65).

Just previous to that Piper speaks about why he doesn't "use the straightforward, biblical command, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved'? Why bring in this new terminology of Christian Hedonism?"

He responds in two parts, and I give only one: "We are surrounded by unconverted people who think that they do believe in Jesus. Drunks on the street say they believe. Unmarried couples sleeping together say they believe. Elderly people who haven't sought worship or fellowship for forty years say they believe. The world abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they believe in Jesus" (54). His point is that the Bible presents saving faith in many more ways that simply "believe." (His second answer talks of the many other ways that the Bible describes coming to Jesus.)

So Piper's point is likely to address this second group of people who "made a decision" but didn't actually get converted.

So Lee, I would encourage you to take another look and walk this back a little ways.

The contrast is not Calvinism vs. decisionalism. Arminians also reject decisionism (including those Arminians who prefer the term biblicist). Decisionalism or decisionism is contrasted with actual belief. Decisionism is praying a prayer and thinking that fixes everything. They are marked by lives with no fruit.

So, if we do away with this false construct, we probably do away with most of the thread.

Caleb S's picture

Lee wrote:
Caleb S wrote:
Lee wrote:
Neither is plenary-verbal. We could play these word games for a while.

Why not let's cut to the chase? I made a pretty bold statement a few posts up--"Yet throughout the entire inspired communication of the mind of God to man there is not a single narrative, didactic, or implication in either the Old or New Testaments that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation." I'll be honest, I made the statement somewhat off the cuff since threads like this do not lend themselves to an ability to pour hours of research and study into every statement. And if I am wrong I will gladly be corrected by Scripture truth.

What I am looking for is not a proof-text verse, or a magic motto, or anything kitschy. What I am looking for is Scripture, either by doctrine, command, principle, precedent, illustration, or other mode I may have missed, "that separates the decisional nature of salvation from the 'all of God' presentation."


The bolding was added by me.

Here is a verse for your examination. The passage is 2 Timothy 1:1-9. Clearly, verse five is indicating Paul's recalling their sincere faith. After some discussion we arrive at verse 8. "So don't be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. (2Ti 1:8 CSB)" They are exhorted to not be ashamed, but instead they are to share in suffering. "God" is the antecedent of the relative pronoun in verse 9, so now we are given a description of God through a subordinate clause. This just means that verse 9 is a subordinate thought, piggybacking off the mention of God in 8. Here is verse 9. "He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. (2Ti 1:9 CSB)" God has saved us and called us with a holy calling. This was not done according to our works. Please note, there is no specificity given to this work; it is just a generic "works". God did not save them and call them according to their works; rather this saving and calling was according to His own purpose and grace. Further clarification is given by the temporal element being added into the picture. This purpose and grace was given to them in Christ Jesus before time began. Again, there was no decision made at that time. The verse itself eliminates the generic category of works (of which decisions are a part). Therefore, while faith is mentioned is verse five, and commands are given in verse eight, which should motivate decisions (suffering), due to intervening context, salvation here is being depicted void of human decision. Through both the generic use of "work" and the "non-existent" status of decision makers. (unless, of course, someone wants to isogetically read into the passage what it eliminates, namely foreseen faith, which is a human work) I could bring up other passages that approach "salvation" from a God-centered perspective, but I would rather see what happens to this verse and how other's grids interact with it.

Regarding my "trinity" comment, I was just saying that if Piper's wording goes beyond the Scripture, then the word "Trinity" does too; and if one is going to be consistent in chastisement, then we need to also chastise people who use the word "Trinity" and "verbal plenary". Consistency!

I read with interest your comments, if not with understanding. I think I got thrown off somewhere between piggybacking and isogetically. My question is do you really think that this passage was put here to communicate a disconnect between God's salvation and man's volition when Paul concludes the thought with "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." ? Personally, I'm thinking not.


Do you really not know what a subordinate clause is? I don't wish to be rude, but it seems that if you don't agree with it or it may be used against you, then it is some kind of pejorative confusing jargon or argument. I was just making comments about the text, and I sought my best to keep my comments based therein. The appeal to verse 12 (in your post) completely ignores the intervening context. For clarity sake, "intervening context" means "the verses between verse 9 and verse 12. In particular, the appeal ignores verse 10, which begins with these words in the NIV. "but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior". It is clear from this verse that a progress through time has been made in the Apostle's thinking. It is through this progress of time that we eventually end up in verse 12, which is at the Apostle's present day. Let's cut to the chase. This just means that your posting of verse 12 only serves to ignore the argument made in verse 9 by not properly taking into account the context.

And as Aaron has already said, It completely depends upon what you mean by "separate" here. The text clearly is making a temporal separation and ultimate reason separation in verse 9. So how are you using separation. And as I don't wish to run the risk of being misunderstood, I totally agree that "salvation" (in a broad sense) does include a human exercise of the will. However, the Bible itself uses the term "salvation" in a more nuanced sense that "just" the broad sense.

I'm strongly considering posting some "cut to the chase" material written from long ago; it is where "the rubber met the road" for me on the issue of how one is to view decisions.

Caleb S's picture

The following is a note that I wrote March 2008 for my facebook "friends". I did not have this thread in mind. However, since this thread has such a nearly direct correspondence to this topic, then it seems to be a good idea to post it here. I hope that it will be useful and helpful in this discussion. ---to God be the glory.

=================================================
When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and power, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

In this passage Paul is looking back to a prior visit to the Corinthians. He is telling them about it. He did not come to them announcing the testimony of God with a brilliance of speech or wisdom. He did this in two ways. (1) He determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In the first chapter, one can find that Jesus Christ crucified is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews (1:23). So Paul came with a gospel message that was contrary to the acceptable norms of thought in the two cultures. (2) Paul did not come to them announcing the testimony of God with brilliance of speech or wisdom in a second way. He came to them in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. In a culture that highly prized the ability of public speaking, especially the ability to persuade through speech, to move an audience through one’s words, Paul comes on the scene in a manner with no bravado, no grand oration (certainly the gospel message is profound on a level different than the Corinthian level though), no cultural persuasive techniques. Instead he comes on the scene in contrast with the cultural norms. He comes in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. He comes in such a way, in message and manner, that demonstrates weakness; and he does so that their faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.

Paul’s purpose is stated in terms that exclude men’s faith from being on the wrong object: “that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” He does not want men to be trusting in the wrong thing. It is this issue of a misplaced faith, or having the wrong object of faith, that I would like to comment on further.

Faith has an object. In the gospel one’s faith should be in Jesus Christ, in His atoning work on the cross. He took the hit from the Father for sins. He was the substitute. His crushing was the satisfaction of the wrath of God. And I would add, one’s faith should be in Jesus Christ at the exclusion of all else. This is why it is so important to have the proper understanding of depravity, for a proper understanding of depravity (man’s sinfulness) drives one from self-trust to a trust--whole and complete trust--in Jesus.

Here is the issue that I can finally get to now, and I say these things well knowing that my observations are often fallible. I have a bittersweet enjoyment of listening to people’s testimonies of salvation. It is sweet when I hear them adoring Christ alone and looking in faith entirely to Him. However, it is bitter when I hear (perhaps unknowingly or unconsciously from the person) a person virtually describe their salvation in terms of what they did instead of in terms of what Christ did.

Now certainly our will is active in believing, but it is an error to look to your will in faith as well as to Christ. This is to have two objects of faith. That is the way of stating things in conceptual terms. Here are some experiential terms.

Perhaps this may describe you, but have you ever heard someone say that he is saved because "he believed in Jesus"? Have you ever heard someone say that he is saved because he "accepted Jesus into his heart"? Have you ever heard someone say that he is saved because of the different events that happened in his past? Now certainly there is a personal historical aspect in describing the events that led to our salvation, but it is entirely an error to view those events as ultimately saving in any sense. Why is this? It is an error to view those events as saving in any ultimate sense because those events did not save you; Jesus Christ saved you. I’m just pointing out that it is quite possible that one may be viewing something they did or the events in their life in some sort of saving sense; this is to have a misplaced faith. No one is saved because of his action of believing in Jesus. This is not a proper view of faith. It is to include as the object of faith one’s own believing so that now one is trusting in both his believing and Christ. It is to have two objects of faith. It is no longer “Christ alone”.

Again, I repeat, this is why it is so very very very very important to come to Jesus with nothing to bring, destroyed by one’s own sin, utterly devastated, with an annihilated self. Jesus then becomes everything, and one looks past his action of believing to the Jesus that is everything. He alone can save. He alone is one’s only hope. He alone is the cleft for the sinner. He alone is the rock upon which one stands. A song expresses these things in a grand way.

All the labors of my hands
Could not meet thy laws demands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and thou alone!

Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling
Naked come to thee for dress
Helpless look to thee for grace
To thy fountain Lord I fly
Wash me Savior or I die

As a word of warning, I’m not saying that if you ever said the above things, that now you need to view yourself as unsaved. My only point is that if you have said those things or described your salvation in terms of what you did, I only hope that you would examine exactly who or what you really are trusting in. Is your faith really in Christ “alone”? This is my pet peeve. My question is, “Who are you trusting in right now for your salvation?” And I hope that one would continually say that Jesus is continually my only hope (not because it is the proper response but because it is an accurate reflection of a genuine heart).

In proclaiming the gospel to the Corinthians Paul did not want the Corinthians to have a misplaced faith. My aim is the same. I don’t want others to have a misplaced faith, so I am writing concerning my pet peeve. C. H. Spurgeon in his book “All Of Grace” said the following, and with his comments this note will end.

“Still, I again remind you that faith is only the channel or aqueduct, and not the fountainhead, and we must not look so much to it as to exalt it above the divine source of all blessing which lies in the grace of God. Never make a Christ out of your faith, nor think of it as if it were the independent source of your salvation. Our life is found in 'looking unto Jesus,' not in looking to our own faith.”

Aaron Blumer's picture

The degree to which people who say "I'm saved because I believed" think that the power was in the faith itself and that Christ was not the one who did the actual saving is often exaggerated.
I have heard a few talk like faith had mysterious saving power all it's own, but 99.9999% of them were in pop culture (songs, TV, movies, etc.).
And I grew up regularly exposed to the revivalist strain in fundamentalism (though, thankfully, mostly under the expositional strain). My point is that confusing faith itself with the object of faith is really not common in fundamentalism even where long, pleading invitations are the norm.
Slightly more common is the idea--mostly among the very young--that glibly saying a prayer saved them. You just about have to be a child to really think a prayer does the saving (as opposed to the One you were praying to).

But how widespread that particular problem is (confusion between faith and its object) is really not the topic of the OP or the thread.
Nobody here is saying it's a good idea to tell people faith itself saves (like some kind of rope tied to us at one end and nothing at all at the other end as we sink in the mire). And in all my years of sitting through evangelistic meetings, I don't recall hearing anyone even imply that... even once.
(Interestingly, I did struggle as a young child with thinking that praying certain words was required... but even then, I knew the One I prayed the words to was the actual Savior.)

I'm against superficial or misplaced decisions. But the cure for that doesn't depend on any particular theological system. The cure is just the simple gospel.

JT Hoekstra's picture

At their extremes, Calvinists claim Eph. 1 is all about God's doing: that He prompts, tugs, clobbers those He knows will accept Him and believe. It had to be, since man left to his own choices would never be able to see a new creation that he doesn't have until he is saved. I think most of the posts here have agreed with Piper that man almost has no choice and back to Calvin, it is irresistible.

This doesn't jive with all scriptures however, for example Adam and Eve had the choice of which tree to disobey with, and God took away the 2nd choice by driving them out of the garden and protecting His ability to save them. But it had to happen quickly since they still had the choice to eat of the 2nd tree. Praise the Lord He drove them out!

"Whosoever will may come" is another proof text for the reformed-reformation.

Look, my parents are Caucasian. It was predestined that if they had kids, I would be conformed to those genes. Just like one born an Israelite would be a chosen-nation person, he or she would still have to believe in God or choose an idol to worship. Chosen-nation status was their predestination.

The letter to the Ephesians is clear. When the Lord presented the evidence of things unseen, I believed and He performed in me what He predestined (or elected) for me: Among so many other values of the cross - redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, Spirit baptism and sealing, adoption, completeness, citizenship, indwelling, joint heirs, eternal security and some 24 more. He did all that so I could not boast, not even in my easy believing in Him. Trusting Him is to prove that I had a God-sized vacuum only He could fill, and He did so graciously at my request.

When in doubt, it's best to go to The Apostle Paul and not to reformers or neo-reformers.

Caleb S's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
The degree to which people who say "I'm saved because I believed" think that the power was in the faith itself and that Christ was not the one who did the actual saving is often exaggerated.
I have heard a few talk like faith had mysterious saving power all it's own, but 99.9999% of them were in pop culture (songs, TV, movies, etc.).
And I grew up regularly exposed to the revivalist strain in fundamentalism (though, thankfully, mostly under the expositional strain). My point is that confusing faith itself with the object of faith is really not common in fundamentalism even where long, pleading invitations are the norm.
Slightly more common is the idea--mostly among the very young--that glibly saying a prayer saved them. You just about have to be a child to really think a prayer does the saving (as opposed to the One you were praying to).

But how widespread that particular problem is (confusion between faith and its object) is really not the topic of the OP or the thread.
Nobody here is saying it's a good idea to tell people faith itself saves (like some kind of rope tied to us at one end and nothing at all at the other end as we sink in the mire). And in all my years of sitting through evangelistic meetings, I don't recall hearing anyone even imply that... even once.
(Interestingly, I did struggle as a young child with thinking that praying certain words was required... but even then, I knew the One I prayed the words to was the actual Savior.)

I'm against superficial or misplaced decisions. But the cure for that doesn't depend on any particular theological system. The cure is just the simple gospel.


Perhaps the quote by Spurgeon at the end was misleading. In writing that material, I never made a distinction between "faith" and "the act of believing" and (the popular terminology on this thread) "decision". The post was not at all focused upon believing in faith; the post was focused upon believing in one's own believing (faith and the act are joined). Restated, the post was zeroing in on including one's own "will" as an object of belief.

This comes from not looking entirely to Christ on account of never having self destroyed by sin in one's own mind. There is still room for faith in self, if one has not been devastated by the proper view of his sin (as so much more than just deeds or a judicial standing before God, but into the very core of his being). This would most likely be unconscious for the person, if no one ever directly addressed it. Is this version better suited for being relevant to this thread?

Aaron Blumer's picture

JT Hoekstra wrote:
At their extremes, Calvinists claim Eph. 1 is all about God's doing: that He prompts, tugs, clobbers those He knows will accept Him and believe. It had to be, since man left to his own choices would never be able to see a new creation that he doesn't have until he is saved. I think most of the posts here have agreed with Piper that man almost has no choice and back to Calvin, it is irresistible.

Again, I want to encourage non-Calvinists to take the time to understand what it is that they're disagreeing with. It doesn't do any good to shoot down a position nobody holds.
Augustinian (aka Calvinist) soteriology teaches that a sinner is always completely free to choose anything his heart desires. That may actually be something all Calvinists believe (though there are many things Calvinists have a variety of views on).

The Scriptures are clear that, by nature, a sinner does not want to believe. He is hostile to God and alienated. His foolish heart is darkened. He does not seek after God. (Col.1.21, Eph.4:18, Rom.3:11, Eph.2.1)

If the sinner, by nature, doesn't want God and doesn't even want to want God, something outside Him must free him from his nature. In classical Arminianism, prevenient grace does that freeing. In Augustine/Calvin/etc. the Holy Spirit does that freeing as part of the effectual call (or some very closely related event... I confess to getting pretty bored with some of the fine distinctions some Calvinists enjoy expounding on at great length).

There are only so many possibilities for accounting for when/how a sinner who has no interest in God acquires that interest.

1) Random circumstances (I think we all reject that one, don't we?)
2) He himself (somehow he fixes his own "wanter" even though he is not interested in fixing it?)
3) The Spirit of God acting directly or through some secondary cause
4) The Spirit of God responding to the sinner (but this is circular, see #2... what is there in the sinner to "respond" to?)
5) Circumstances brought about by God (but if we're willing to have God arranging it via circumstances, why not let Eph. 2.1 mean what it says and have Him arranging it via the Spirit?)
6) Something I've overlooked?

As for "whosoever will may come"... this has never been a problem. Whoever wants to may indeed come. But how does he begin wanting to?

Jay's picture

The best answer that I have to your question, Aaron, is that the enabling grace to want to repent is itself a Divine Gift. I would say that it is 'built in' to the presentation of the Gospel witness, but we have all heard stories of men and women who said that they finally started searching for God after their life fell apart, and God graciously saved them. Eric Metaxas told that same story in the Filing posted earlier today.

To be honest - it really doesn't matter. At some point, we just have to let go of our own questions and logic and just trust that God will draw and that God will enable and man will respond. We might all be better off to spend as much time doing the evangelist's work instead of trying to make all the pieces fit into our minds or logical systems.

"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

Larry's picture

Quote:
the enabling grace to want to repent is itself a Divine Gift. I would say that it is 'built in' to the presentation of the Gospel witness
Do those who never hear a "presentation of the Gospel witness" have this divine gift of enabling grace?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Some would say that enabling grace to understand and believe the Gospel is "built in" to the Gospel presentation. So I have heard. The question is, what does God say? Does the Bible teach this? Where does the Bible teach this? (Or is this assumed. Is it a logical necessity to make a particular theological position "work.")

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

Quote:
To be honest - it really doesn't matter.

I think it matters... but how much it matters depends a lot on where people go with it. I definitely believe some overemphasize these questions. But where it matters is when answers to those questions (or that question.. how does a sinner start wanting salvation?) become the basis for other ideas and methods and attitudes.

If the sinner is automatically brought to zero (on a "hostility to God" vs. "trusting God" scale) when the gospel comes to him, we really still have a problem: how does he get from zero to plus one, etc.? He doesn't become a believer by having hostility neutralized. He becomes a believer by finding God's grace and forgiveness positively attractive.

So how we think that happens has implications. If we think he does so by being a tiny bit wiser or better than the next guy, he has reason to boast (cf. Eph.2.9). Also, if he is at zero and people have the power to tip him over toward faith, then the "soul winner" has reason to boast... and maybe reason to develop methods that (seem to) move people to faith, testing them mostly by their seeming effectiveness.
Granted, the latter (in the case of Finney's version of revivalism), requires a bit more in the mix than just the idea that "I might have the power to persuade a sinner to believe." It usually also has a faulty view of depravity--and therefore conversion--in the mix: "The sinner has no guilt or corruption from Adam. His guilt and corruption come when he sins, so just I need to persuade him to stop sinning." I think none of us would quite take that position (I hope not... it's the Pelagian heresy).

Still... my point is just that answers to these questions to have implications for how we do Matt.28:19ff, as well as other things we believe and do.

I remember asking someone of the classical Arminian persuasion in a previous thread whether "prevenient grace" comes to everyone who hears, has already come to all who are born, comes only to some who hear at a certain point in the process, or what. I don't remember getting a clear answer on that. I'd love to know what Jacob Arminius himself held on that question if that can be determined.

What we do know is that things in this contingent universe (only God is not contingent) have causes. Some people try to account for the change of a sinner's heart from hostility to faith in terms of God causing it. Others go in a direction of the sinner himself or other human beings causing it. Many try to take a "cause-evasive" position: not in so many words, but when boiled down, they have some kind of uncaused change. Randomness... which is impossible.

To me it boils down to this:
1- It cannot be man caused (man is only instrumental at best)
2- It cannot be uncaused
3- It must be God-caused

This is a logical argument. When you look at Scripture--surprise--that's also what it seems to say.

Jay's picture

@ Larry - I don't know; that's not my problem to figure out. I'm commanded to go, teach, and evangelize. Not to worry about the eternal state of those who have never heard. I'm no Pelagian, if that's what you are asking.

@ GN Barkman - good question. I'll have to look into that, but I am immediately thinking of John 6:44-48 and tying that in to this discussion.

@ Aaron - whose problem is it to resolve? You say that 'we still' have a problem to resolve, but I don't see anywhere in the Bible that God commands us to reconcile this whole process together. That's not a 'me' problem - that's a God problem, and we ought to leave it with Him. I believe what I believe because it's what makes best sense to me as God reveals some of what goes on in His Word, but I'm not prepared to die for it. As I just said - my responsibility is to obey, not to determine all the secret workings of God.

And just for the record, I'm not the only one with a 'cause-evasive problem' - Reformed and Compatibilist Calvinists have the same issue, as http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-origins-of-evil-and-will-of-man ]this thread pointed out.

"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

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