February 2, 2006

The Term "Salvation," The Office of Faith and Conditionality

I was recently asked the following question by a hyper-Calvinist (an "OutsideTheCamp" type) on a discussion board:
"Tony, do you know the difference between necessary fruit of salvation and a condition for salvation?"

My reply was the following:

"Salvation" can be an ambiguous word. Do you mean salvation in the sense of conversion/justification? If so, then of course I know the difference between justification (our being declared righteous for Christ's sake) and sanctification (the good works or evangelical obedience that follows).

Are you aware that the term "condition" can also be ambiguous? Are you aware that theologians have made a difference between instrumental and meritorious conditions? What the scriptures (as well as Calvinistic/Reformed theology) teach is that we are not justified on the basis of our own merits or good works. In that sense, our justification is not conditional. However, the scriptures plainly teach that we believe unto justification. Belief/trust/faith is that necessary prerequisite without which we cannot be justified. Faith preceeds justification, and faith is our act and responsibility. Even though faith is our act and responsibility, it does not qualify as the meritorious grounds by which God declares us just in his sight. Christ alone is the meritorious cause of our justification. Faith is that instrumental act (the prerequisite) by which we are joined to him who is our righteousness. In that sense, justification is conditional. We believe unto justification.
II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. WCF CHAPTER XI. Of Justification.

John Flavel expounds on the issue of conditionality in his reply to Baptistic Hyper-Calvinists here:
"(1.) What we mean by a condition in the gospel-covenant. By a condition of the covenant, we do not mean in the strictest rigid sense of the word, such a restipulation to God from man of perfect obedience in his own person, at all times, so as the least failure therein forfeits all the mercies of the covenant; that is rather the condition of Adam's covenant of works, than of the evangelical covenant: nor do we assert any meritorious condition, that in the nature of an impulsive cause shall bring man into the covenant and its privileges, or continue him in when brought in. This we renounce as well as you: but our question is about such a condition as is neither in the nature of an act perfect in every degree, nor meritorious in the least of the benefit conferred, nor yet done in our own strength. But plainly and briefly, our question is, Whether there be not something as an act required of us in point of duty, to a blessing consequent by virtue of a promise? Such a thing, whatever it be, hath the nature of a condition, inasmuch as it is antecedent to the benefit of the promise; and the mercy or benefit granted, is suspended until it be performed. The question is not, whether there be any intrinsical worth or value in the thing so required, to oblige the disposer to make or perform the grant or promise, but merely that it be antecedent to the enjoyment of the benefit; and that the disposer of the benefit do suspend the benefit until it be performed? Thus an act or duty of ours, which has nothing at all of merit in it, or answerable value to the benefit it relates to, may be in a proper sense a condition of the said benefit. "For what is a condition in the true notion of it, but (1) the suspension of a grant until something future be done?" "Or, (2) as others to the same purpose, The adding of words to a grant, for the future, of a suspending quality, according to which the disposer will have the benefit he disposeth to be regulated?" This properly is a condition, though there be nothing of equivalent value or merit in the thing required."

Moving on, I suspect that you are thinking of the term "salvation" in the sense of mere regeneration. That's a subtle mistake. The bible never uses the term "salvation" to refer to MERE regeneration or the initial impartation of spiritual life to a sinner alone considered. The term "salvation" properly refers to conversion/justification and what follows. When we are justified by Christ alone through the instrumentality of faith alone on the principle of grace alone, then we are called saved. Also, there's a sense in which we are being saved (sanctification) and will be saved (glorification). The biblical order looks something like this:

Regeneration or the initial quickening of the soul ---> Faith/repentance into Christ with the result that we are justified (salvation begun)---> Sanctification (salvation in process)---> Glorification (salvation completed).

Regeneration preceeds faith logically, but not necessarily chronologically. As soon as a soul is regenerated, it perceives the significance of Christ's work in truth and clings to him in faith. There's no chronological gap. Regeneration has causal priority similar to how the flipping of the switch causes a light to go on, but they occur simultaneously. But, regeneration ALONE is never called "salvation" in the bible unless it is connected with faith and repentance into Christ, i.e. when we are converted and justified.

Subtle errors can occur when people employ the vague term "salvation" to smuggle in false theological assumptions. We are not saved when don't exist, nor are we saved prior to justification. We are saved when we believe in Christ.

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