May 30, 2007

John Flavel (1630–1691) and Faith as Our Voluntary Response

"Coming to Christ notes the voluntariness of the soul in its motion to Christ. It is true, there is no coming without the Father's drawing; but that drawing has nothing of coaction in it; it does not destroy, but powerfully, and with an overcoming sweetness, persuade the will. It is not forced or driven, but it comes; being made "willing in the day of God's power," Psal. 110: 3. Ask a poor distressed sinner in that season, Are you willing to come to Christ? O rather than live! life is not so necessary as Christ is! O! with all my heart, ten thousand worlds for Jesus Christ, if he could be purchased, were nothing answerable to his value in mine eyes! The soul's motion to Christ is free and voluntary, it is coming."

Too many Calvinists think that the expression "faith is the gift of God" is contrary to the truth that saving faith is our free, voluntary response to the Father's effectual drawing. Saving faith is the gift of God since he gives us the moral ability to trust him, but it is also our act. God does not give us faculties that we previously did not have when he regenerates us. Rather, he liberates our faculties from their former stubbornness and fixation upon sin so that we may freely come to him. Faith is our free act, which is why it is called our responsibility.

By saying that faith is our act, some fear that we are then saying that faith is a "work." What they fail to realize is that there is a difference between an act and a work. When the bible condemns "works" as being antithetical to grace, it is not condemning actions as such. It is condemning actions that reach within for self-sufficiency and/or self-righteousness. All "works" are actions, but not all actions are "works" in that negative sense.

Faith is indeed our act, but it is an act that reaches out (not within) for righteousness like the hand of a beggar reaches out for the benefits or virtue of another. It is the voluntary hand-of-the-heart, so to speak, that desperately reaches out to the seamless garment of Christ's righteousness in order to be made well (see Matt. 9:20-22).

We are justified by God in Christ alone, on the principle of grace alone, through our act of faith alone.

Query: If our act is required for justification, how can we escape the idea that our justification is by "works"?

Answer: Because, in condemning "works", Paul is not condemning actions as such, but particular kinds of actions wherein the sinner seeks to establish self-righteousness, rather than reaching out to Christ for righteousness.

1 comment:

YnottonY said...

Westminster - Ch. IX - “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.”