June 29, 2005

Faith as the Gift of God

Here's another online interaction. The words of the other person are in blue:
The reason I say that there is nothing I can contribute or do be saved is I can’t have saving faith on my own. God first must regenerate one and then give them the faith to believe. I don’t consider believing faith something I do, but the ability to do so as a gift from God. Yes I do believe, but it is God working in me that allows me to do so. I take no credit for this. Thus I say there is nothing I can do to become saved.
I understand your underlying concern. You are concerned with protecting the biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty in salvation, and that man cannot boast of anything. However, there is some wobbling in what you say above. You say, "I don’t consider believing faith something I do, but the ability to do so as a gift from God." You then go on to say, "Yes I do believe, but it is God working in me that allows me to do so." These two statements are incompatible. The last quote represents sound biblical doctrine. We do believe, but only because God grants us a new heart with the moral ability to believe. Old affections and allegiances are dropped for the sake of our love for Christ. We long for him and pant for him as a deer pants for the water brooks. Nevertheless, it is our act of coming to him empty handed. We believe. It is our act. The faith that we exercise is an act of our will, but our will is not acting autonomously or with libertarian freedom. We act according to our nature and affections. There's a difference between free agency and free will.

In your concern to guard against the errors of free will theology, you seem to have extracted the will of man out of the act of believing in one of your comments. That's a serious mistake, and it undermines human responsibility. This statement is not biblical:
I don’t consider believing faith something I do, but the ability to do so as a gift from God.
It confuses what God does with the act of faith. You correct it later by saying that faith is not something that God does. That's true. We should not confuse the act of God in regeneration with the act of man in believing. In initial regeneration, we are passive. In believing unto justification and salvation, we are active. Salvation is a broad term and properly describes what happens at conversion and what follows. In other words, the bible uses the term salvation in a way that necessarily includes the act of man in believing. Salvation is not mere regeneration. Regeneration necessarily leads to salvation because we immediately believe unto justification. Salvation is justification, sanctification and glorification. Regeneration is God's act, but salvation is a term that describes the events that follow from regeneration, i.e. justification and the rest. Rome confuses justification and sanctification, while some confuse justification or conversion and regeneration. We need to be more careful in our distinctions. Justification describes something that God does as a result of our act of believing into Christ.

If we extract the will of man out of the act of believing, then we undermine human responsibility. In affirming the involvement of man's will in the act of believing, we are not saying that it is the will of man acting autonomously, or apart from God's enabling power. It's all of grace, but God works graciously in man in such a way that man believes willingly or voluntarily. We choose to believe. That's why it is said to be commanded of us. It's our responsibility. Believing is something that we do.

Spurgeon said that "faith is the gift of God, but it is also the act of the renewed man." He's right. He was expressing that faith is something that we do, but not without the assistance of God in granting new affections that begin in resting in Christ alone for our righteousness. I hope that helps to clarify my concern. We should hold divine sovereignty and human responsibility as equally important. It is not one or the other, but both that need to be wholeheartedly affirmed. An attack on either is an attack on biblical truth and the gospel, no matter how well-intentioned the person is. The Arminian's intention and concern is for human responsibility. That's a good concern, but not good if other scriptural truths are warped or minimized. The same goes with Hyper-Calvinism. They undermine human responsibility for the sake of divine sovereignty. Their concern and intention is good, but not when it warps and minimizes other crucial doctrines in the bible. Let's adhere to the entirety of what God has to say, and not favor some truth to the expense of other truths.

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