Is Merely Wanting To Be Saved A Work Of Salvation?

October 8, 2007


I will jump right into the heart of my response and say “yes” it is a work. It is a small work, but nevertheless, a work. I conclude this because I believe this to be logically true and I believe this to be Scripturally true. Why logically true?

The illustration was once used on me that salvation for the sinner is no different than receiving a gift. Not like this is an unusual illustration, but the catch is that I must choose to receive it first. Those who sought to counsel me on this matter meant well and are still dearly loved friends in Christ. But there we were sitting at the table. A small box was slipped over to me. “Now Cameron. I’m giving you this present. I want you to have it. Now if you take it, is that a work?” My answer was “Ummm, yes, it is.” The conversation seemed to be going no where. We changed the course of our discussion after that point. We began to talk about agreeable points of the gospel, which was a relief!

Granted, one’s belief of this matter, namely, us choosing God or God choosing us for salvation (rescued from sin and God Himself), is a gospel matter. It is a very important clarification of the gospel in fact. It dramatically effects the way one views their dependency upon God. This is dealing with the very nature and extent of grace to us sinners! If God is jealous for His glory, and particularly jealous for the glory revealed in the extent of grace He gives or withholds from sinners, then we better make sure we see Him as glorious as He sees fit.

Now, in retrospect, I realize what I should have said during this conversation. If I could go back in time to that discussion as I was being told “Cameron… I’m giving you this present. I want you to have it. Now is that a work?” I would have responded “so let me get this straight… I wont have it unless I first take it? How is that not a work?”

Let’s jump into some theological questions now. “Does Christ merely offer salvation in His work of atonement, or does He truly, fully, and completely save in His work of atonement?” The Arminian view only gives the former. The degree to which I must respond to God to receive salvation is the degree to which He has not saved me.

Now, imagine this scenario: You’re floating down a rapid river that is powerful and out of control. It’s about to take you over a water fall that will drown and kill you. There is an emergency rescue worker standing on the shore. Now think about this picture and relate it to your sin and Christ. You have committed lawless acts against a holy God and are heading for Hell (God’s eternal wrath). Pretend that the rescue worker is Jesus and He throws you a life line (the cross). Now STOP! Freeze the entire frame at this point…

Are you out of the river yet? No, you are still in the river, the rope is in your freezing hands, and you are not yet sure if you will make it so shore. Has the rescuer saved you? Have you survived the river? NO! In the Arminian view of salvation, God only does this much to save us. He only offers salvation, He does not truly, fully, and completely pull drowning victims out of the raging river. His work alone does not produce salvation, but his work along with our “correct” response might.

So what’s the purpose for faith? Doesn’t God anticipate faith before He saves us? After all, Rom 4:5 says that “faith is counted as righteousness.”

First, God gives us our faith to save us rather than anticipating it to save us. There are many misconceptions about faith, and its relation to salvation, in Protestantism and modern evangelical Christianity. God does not anticipate our faith to save us, thus making simple salvation the extent of God’s grace to us.

The common Protestant view is that a series of tedious life long physical works is replaced with one quick emotional or mental belief. If this were the case, we are only replacing physical works for emotional or mental works. But we are saved apart from the law, and the law is even fulfilled in the realm of our emotions and wills.

The Shammah in Deut 6:4-5 says that God’s law requires us to to love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength. So if we are saved apart from works of the law, then this must include even works of the heart and willing within ourselves to love God. For this too is the law – in fact it is the law summarized! And how can a sinner who is spiritually dead actually love God? Rom 8:7 says the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so (“0ud gar dainomai” = indeed not capable).

But again, what about Romans 4:5? It says “our faith is credited as righteousness”. Surely God anticipates our faith and then responds with Christ’s undeserved righteousness!

Romans 4:5 “Now to the one who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” There are 5 main things worth pointing out in this verse which ought to shed light on this whole matter. 1. God is doing the justifying. 2. The verb justification is in the present tense. It is not in view of the future, but is completed in the present, contrary to Roman thought. 3. He justifies the one who does not work. 4. He justifies the one who is wicked, or in a state of opposing and condemning God. 5. faith is counted as righteousness.

The final point, point 5, clears up for us whether faith is our doing or God’s doing. Looking at the English translation “faith is credited as righteousness” one would assume that God grants righteousness because He first sees our faith. But the ‘as’ in ‘as righteousness’ is the greek preposition ‘eis’. ‘Eis’ is better translated ‘unto’ or ‘for’. It is a leading into something else. It signifies that something is first established so that something else may necessarily follow.

So by consulting the greek in Romans 4:5 we can see that faith is given (by God) so that righteousness (Christ’s righteousness) may follow and be given as well. “…faith is credited ‘for’ righteousness.” In other words, faith is first credited to the sinner and is used to impart righteousness. Faith is the means or instramentality by which God uses to save us and justify us. Why? Romans 4:16 tells us “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace…”

God has soveriengly established our salvation to happen through His giving of our faith to save us so that salvation may be by His grace, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The word “this” is neuter in gender in the greek. Thus is neither pointing to the salvation (masc noun), or the faith (fem noun), but is pointing to the whole process of salvation mentioned before hand. We are saved through faith, by grace, apart from emotional, mental, or physical works, and all of it is the gift of God. Neither the salvation or the faith which imputes that salvation is from ourselves, but from God alone.

When Martin Luther held that faith precedes regeneration, he was still advocating the spirit of solafide, which is salvation apart from merit. Luther in his latter years probably did believe that regeneration preceded faith, and that faith was not something God responded to with our righteousness but gave unto our righteousness. This would have been around the time he was most pressed on the issue by Erasmus and penned ‘The Bondage of The Will’. Calvin, however, seemed to have always held the latter position and expounded on it beautifully. Calvin stated,

“For if faith justified of itself or through some intrinsic power, so to speak, as it is always weak and imperfect it would effect this only in part; thus the righteousness that conferred a fragment of salvation upon us would be defective. Now we imagine no such thing, but we say that, properly speaking, God alone justifies; then we transfer this same function to Christ because he was given to us for righteousness. We compare faith to a kind of vessel; for unless we come empty and with the mouth of our soul open to seek Christ’s grace, we are not capable of receiving Christ. From this it is to be inferred that, in teaching that before his righteousness is received Christ is received in faith, we do not take the power of justifying away from Christ.”

God tells us in scripture that we are saved by faith, apart from any works, while in the state of condemning God, because of His grace and love. This faith we are saved through is not so that salvation would be easily attainable, thereby making simple salvation the extent of God’s grace to save. More correctly, God uses faith…to save us. Our faith is the mark that we are right with God, by acknowledging not what we have done (not even our faith), but by only acknowledging what Christ has done!

Romans 10:9 tells us what this faith looks like. It looks like confessing with our mouths that Christ is Lord, and believing in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (which is the guarantee of our justification). Our genuine faith is not one of profession so much as it is one of a changed heart.

What we profess can signify a changed heart, but profession by itself cannot pave the way for a changed heart. Only a heart first changed by the Spirit of God can profess that Christ is Savior and Lord. Otherwise, one remains left in their sin only to hate God and deny His existance, let alone admit that He is Savior and Lord.

Our faith first and foremost is a faith wrought into us by the Spirit of God after having changed our deadened spiritual state, bringing us to life. The Holy Spirit is in the business of bringing about this work to the sinner as the clear gospel of scripture is proclaimed. God uses the gospel as light which shines into the mind and heart of the sinner, thereby alluminating truth into the darkened heart of the sinner to pave the way for His regenerating work of the soul.

This understanding of scripture goes back to the patristic period (around the 3rd century) with St. Augustine’s predecessor Ambrose. His quote was used in the Augsburg confession (A Scriptural based confession of faith presented to Rome during the Reformation). This is found in article 6 of the confession which reads “Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification 2] before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17, 10. The same is also taught by 3] the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.”

And as the confession reads in article 4 on Justification, “This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.”

This doctrine was even confused by certain Reformers, especially Martin Luther! Martin Luther held more of an Arminian view (even though Jacob Arminius was born after Luther died), which was that God saves us in response to seeing our faith. The two views are as follows: faith precedes regeneration (Arminian view), or regeneration precedes faith (Calvinistic view), with regeneration being the work of the Holy Spirit restoring our minds and hearts to see, hear, and love God. Martin Luther held to the former, while Calvin held to the latter. Both views, however, are in the spirit of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, to the the glory of God alone. Either view given is antithetical to Roman Catholicism, along with any world religion, which all advocate personal goodness for salvation.

But let us not forget that ideas have consequences. Arminianism, though claiming justification by faith alone, is still a subtle form of Semi-Palagianism (man cooperating with God unto salvation). It offers a work which is the farthest away from works based salvation, thus almost seeming as though no works are required, but nevertheless requires an emotional or mental cooperation with God. This still gives sinful man liberty where he is not given liberty scripturally. This has enormous ramifications on how one will view their salvation, and how one will witness to others.

Christians eventually begin viewing salvation as something they permitted God to give them. Because of this notion, we attach false assumptions to the gospel, namely, that the pivotal point of salvation rests upon man, not God. Then, because of this, our emphasis in witnessing is not to preach the offensive clear cut message in confidence that God will use it to impart faith and grant repentance, but our emphasis becomes to get sinners to permit God to save them. Therein lies the error. That is, when we think sinners are able to have faith before they are first reborn of the Spirit. Because of this assumption, all of our efforts are poured into trying to get people to have good feelings towards God. Then we have it backed with a little prayer and it is falsely assumed that God was responded to in the way He was expecting. Walla! Someone is now saved! This is why the church is now so hung up on saying that “God is a loving God. Jesus loves you. He hates the sin but He loves the sinner. etc” The reason the church is emphasizing a single attribute of God, namely His love (even though it is falsely represented), and not emphasizing the offensive yet beautiful gospel of scripture, is because we think that mere fuzzy love will more surely move people’s wills to pray little prayers which we then falsely label as salvation. The great commission was meant to be fulfilled with the gospel of scripture, not the gospel of man. It is first a gospel of God’s needs (justice carried out in us or Jesus Christ), not a gospel of man’s felt needs. It’s no wonder why churches in the U.S. have such high turn around rates. We think if we can just move a person to have good emotional feelings or mental peace towards God, that they will be more prone to fulfill the Arminian work of self-conjured faith. Finally, because of all this, the gospel is dumbed down and made less offensive, less biblical, and sadly becomes everything but the gospel. This leads to false conversion, unfaithfulness to God’s word, and manipulation of the lost.

(cross reference this post with ‘Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. Do They Contradict?’)

I recommend reading John Piper’s book ‘Counted Righteous in Christ’. You can purchase it here on Monergism for cheap. This book will give much clarity from scripture of this matter.


One comment

  1. Thanks for visiting my website. Yours is pretty interesting too!

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