Faith vs Election–What Is the Path to Salvation?

Question from a Site Viewer
I grew up Baptist/evangelical. Here is what opened my eyes to what I believe is the true Gospel of Christ: Does God save man 100% by himself or does he need the sinner’s assistance (a faith decision), or at the very minimum, his cooperation? If salvation is a free gift, why does the sinner have to make a decision before it is his?

The true Plan of Salvation:

  1. God predestined you, before the world existed, to be his child.
  2. At some point in your life, at a time of HIS choosing, not yours, he quickens your soul by the hearing/reading of the Word, gives you the gift of faith, and you believe and repent. You are saved!
  3. That is how salvation occurs.

    So if God performs 100% of the action of salvation, he doesn’t need your “decision” to save you. He doesn’t need your intelligence or maturity to save you. He doesn’t need your decision making ability to save you. He doesn’t need your ability to make a decision whether or not to repent to save you. God saves you all by himself!

    Before addressing the issue of Baptism, I challenge you to search Scripture to verify that what I have said is the true Gospel. Salvation really and truly is FREE! That is why man has such a hard time believing it: it’s too easy! “I have to do SOMETHING to be saved!”

    The Bible says you don’t!

    Question from a Site Viewer
    As you undoubtedly know, there is a wide range of beliefs that fit within the Baptist/evangelical label. Given that Baptists believe in the autonomy of each locational church, each church can have sometimes strikingly different theologies. Sometimes, baptist churches that share similar theology form associations, and those within the association voluntarily agree to a common core of beliefs. Thus, there are Southern Baptists, National Baptists, General Baptists, Conservative Baptists, American Baptists, North American Baptists, Bible Baptists, Free will Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, Primitive Baptists, and several other Baptist associations. But there also are many Baptist churches that have no affiliation with other churches. The theological spectrum within such churches can be quite stark. So knowing that you grew up a Baptist/evangelical is not very defining as to what theology you may have been taught in your church, except perhaps the common traits of baptism after salvation and the autonomy of the local church.

    I am always a little amused (not in an unkind way) about the way we tend to advance our beliefs, often subconsciously. You pose the question: “Does God save man 100% by himself or does he need the sinner’s assistance, or at the very minimum his cooperation?” You then go on to describe your view that God predestines us to be his children, then, at a time of his choosing, he quickens our souls by the Word and gives us the gift of faith and then we believe and repent. If the question is: “Does God need . . . ?” then the answer is almost always “no.” God is not in need of anything (Acts 17:25). But posing the question “Does God need?” does not get us very far. When we ask the question “Does God desire?” we get closer to an answer that reflects the way God has established the world and men in it. He does all things according to His desire (Ephesians 1:11). The ultimate question is not “What does God need?” but rather “What has God done?” Logic does not help much with this last question, but Scripture throws great light on this question.

    As you know if you have read some of the articles on this site, we stand in the tradition of Justin Martyr, Ireneus, and others in the early church in believing that the Scriptures overwhelmingly teach the free will of human beings. In doing so, we know we are in disagreement with Luther and his position as expounded in The Bondage of the Will. Justin Martyr, after arguing that God is free to do whatever he wanted, states:

    “But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded” (Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 102, see also Ch. 141).

    Ireneus has an entire chapter devoted to this doctrine, which he calls the

    “ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free agent from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God” (Against Heresies, Bk. 4, Ch. 37).

    We think the early church was right in its position.

    But first, there is a need to define “free will.” By “free will,” we mean that individuals have a created ability to make moral choices. As God told Cain, Cain could do well or he could choose not to do well, and there were consequences that went with each choice (Genesis 4:7). As one tracks through Scripture, one understands that repeatedly God in writing Scripture places on humanity choices to follow Him. The commands, exhortations, pleas, prophecies, and calls of God are to people to take certain action. Some listen; some do not. Thus, Abel by faith offered sacrifice, Noah prepared an ark, Abraham obeyed when he was called, Sarah judged Him faithful who had promised, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, Joseph made mention of the exodus, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter but chose rather to suffer affliction, and many similar accounts are recorded in Hebrews 11. As stated with respect to Sarah, these are choices people made in response to the promises of God.

    And that the choice was the person’s is born out throughout the Biblical record. Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:24). The person the Biblical author tells us is doing the action is Enoch. When God came to Noah and told Noah to build an ark, God adds in His word

    “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.”
    Genesis 6:22

    The word of God was coupled with the obedience of man and wrought a great salvation for eight people. The same motif is found with Abram. God gave Abram a command to get out and go (Genesis 12:1). Scripture then records for us that

    “So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him.”
    Genesis 12:4

    In Genesis 15, God brought Abram outside and promised him descendants as numerous as the stars. Scripture then tells us:

    “And he believed in the LORD.”
    Genesis 15:6

    The person believing was Abram, and the Scripture writer wants us to understand that Abram himself responded with belief. The writer puts the locus of faith in Abram, and no where else. In Genesis 22, God tested Abraham and told him to go, sacrifice Isaac. Abraham’s response again was immediate obedience (Genesis 22:3). We know the end of that story, but we sometimes read past what God says about this account. God says to Abraham:

    “Because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son–, blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your Seed shall posses the gate of His enemies. In your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

    In God’s own view, His blessing on Abraham derived from Abraham’s obedience.

    When God came to Moses, Moses at first was reluctant to return to Egypt but he ultimately obeyed (Exodus 4:1-20). God told Aaron to go meet Moses and Aaron obeyed (Exodus 4:27). In the law, God stated that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me but shows mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:5-6). Does this not communicate to us that God’s hatred and God’s mercy depend on our attitudes towards Him? In Deuteronomy 30:11-20, we have a very significant passage, because Paul quotes this in Romans 10 as being the righteousness which comes from faith (Romans 10:6-8) in contrast to the righteousness which comes from the works of the law. If Paul sees Deuteronomy as the righteousness which comes from faith, it is very much a choice. For in that passage, God states that He has set before the Jews two paths, and urges them to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Joshua set before the people the same choice and made a commitment to serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15). The book of the Judges repeatedly displays the same truth. The people went astray, God sent judgment, the people repented, and God sent deliverance. God’s deliverance was based on the people’s cries (Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3, 23; 6:7-14; 10:10-16). Samuel places the favor or disfavor of God based upon the action of the people (1 Samuel 12:14-15). God ultimately rejected Saul because he was disobedient (1 Samuel 15:19, 22-23) and chose a man who was “better than” Saul (1 Samuel 15:28). David follows Samuel in displaying an understanding that God blesses those who obey Him, and is against those who disobey. He tells Solomon that if Solomon serves God with a loyal heart and a willing mind, he will find God, but if Solomon forsakes God, God will cast him off (1 Chronicles 28:9). David states in Psalm 18:20-27 that the LORD has rewarded David according to David’s own righteousness and that God will be merciful to the merciful but with the devious He will be shrewd. The contrast between the righteous and the wicked and God’s actions towards both is one of the great themes of the Psalms, starting in Psalm 1. The same theme is one of the major themes in the book of Proverbs.

    God does not change the tenor of Scripture when we come to the prophets. The prophets’ call was for the people to repent. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they did not. David repented with Nathan’s pronouncement of judgment (2 Samuel 12:7-13). The people of Judah repented at Azariah’s prophecy (2 Chronicles 15:1-15). The people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s prophecy (Jonah 3). Hezekiah turned to God at Micah’ prophecy (Jeremiah 26:18-19). The people of Israel repented at Haggai’s prophecy (Haggai 1:12) and returned to the LORD as Zechariah told them to do (Zechariah 1:3, 6). Yet, despite the many calls to repentance, with God even giving Israel the words to bring to Him (Hosea 14:1-2), Israel did not repent at Hosea’s prophecies, or Isaiah’s, or Jeremiah’s, or Ezekiel’s. Some listened. Some did not. But He lets Israel know that He wants them to repent, and not be destroyed. He repeats this many times in the prophets, but perhaps in no more plain terms than in Ezekiel 18:32 where after placing the destiny of people on their own obedience to the faith, He states that He has no pleasure in the death of one who dies. He repeats this again in Ezekiel 33:11, to ensure we understand His heart.

    Of course, John the Baptist came calling people to repentance, which is what Christ did as well (Matthew 4:17), and Paul followed suit (Acts 17:30; 20:21). Some believed, and some did not. From the beginning pages of Scripture to the end, God calls upon us to take an action. Whether termed in terms of belief, obey, honor, love, serve, keep, or other similar commands, the commands of Scripture come to us. Jesus says that those who believe will be saved, and those who do not believe will be condemned (John 3:16-18). Our destiny, in the words of Jesus Himself, depends on our faith.

    If one reads through the gospels, one is struck by where Jesus places the locus of faith. It is never something given by God. Rather, it is the response of people. I urge you to do a study of Jesus’ words on faith. In Matthew 8:10, Jesus marveled at the faith of the centurion. In Matthew 9:2, Matthew tells us that Jesus saw “their faith” and He healed their friend. In Matthew 9:22, He tells the woman with an issue of blood that her faith had made her well. He tells the blind men that according to their faith it would be to them, and they were healed based on their faith. In Matthew 15:28, Jesus says of the Canaanite woman that her faith was great. Blind Bartimaeus was made well because of his faith, at least if we accept Jesus’ words (Mark 10:52). He said of the woman who washed His feet that her faith had saved her (Luke 7:50). He tells the leper who returned and glorified God that his faith had saved him (Luke 17:19). He tells the blind man who was on the way into Jericho that his faith had saved him. In speaking of believing, Jesus repeatedly speaks of people believing or not believing. Thus, if we are to take Christ’s own words, we come to understand that we are the ones who believe. Faith is something that belongs to us. Faith is our response to our God. Jesus repeatedly stated that the faith of individuals had saved them. And Jesus many times marveled at the faith and contrasted it to the faith of others. One does not gain the idea that faith comes from God in Jesus’ teachings.

    This is not to say that we are saved by our works. Paul makes it clear in Romans 4 that faith and works are opposites. Paul sets both faith and works as something we do, but one saves and one does not save. Thus, to Paul, Abraham did not work but Abraham did believe (Romans 4:2-4). Paul then tells us that to the one who does not work but who believes, that one is justified. The subject of the verb “work” and the subject of the word “believe” is the same person. Stated another way, the same person who could work is the same person who could believe. The locus of saving faith is in the individual just as the locus of damming works is in the individual. Our faith is not a work, at least not in the mind of Paul. Rather, our faith is the proper response to God’s promises.

    We continue to see the locus of faith in individuals throughout the book of Acts, with the apostles continuing to urge people to believe. Peter urged the people at Pentecost to take an action, saying:

    “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . “

    He exhorted them to be saved (Acts 2:38-40). These are actions that the audience was exhorted to take to be saved. Peter does this again in Acts 3:19-26. The Samaritans believed Philip and were baptized (Acts 8:12). Paul was not disobedient to the heavenly vision and he was saved (Acts 26:19). Peter is taught by God that in every nation whoever fears God and works righteousness is accepted by God (Acts 10:35). I know I am belaboring this point, and I will not cite all of the passages, but I think sometimes we forget the weight of Scripture on this issue. Repeatedly, in the Old Testament and in the New, people are said to have taken action in response to the call of God and they are saved. Others do not choose God and they are condemned.

    I think one of the remarkable passages on this issue is found in 2 Chronicles 15. As in the days of Jephthah, this was a time in Israel when Israel was without the true God. God had withdrawn. But, like in the days of Jephthah, when the people returned to the LORD, He was found by them. As recorded by the Spirit, the exact words are:

    For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the LORD God of Israel and sought Him, He was found by them.
    2 Chronicles 15:3-4

    Of course this is also one of the major themes of Scripture–if we seek Him we will find Him. Jesus Himself repeats this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 and in His teaching on prayer in Luke 11. Repeatedly, in the pages of Scripture, people have sought the LORD (2 Chronicles 15:15; 17:4; 22:9; 26:5; Psalm 34:4; 77:2; 119:10; Isaiah 65:1, 10; Acts 17:27) and found Him. God draws near to those who draw near to Him (James 4:8).

    I do not say this to convince you. I say this only to let you know that there is a great weight of Scripture that would support the notion that we are not mere nonparticipating recipients of God’s great gift. Rather, the great gift of salvation comes to those who draw near to the God who has come to us. The hope of eternal life is with those who reconcile themselves to the God who has reconciled the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). Free gifts must be received. In fact, Scripture uses this very idea in John 1:12. To those who receive Him, He gives the power to become children of God. Receipt is not works. It is rather the belief that what God offers is true. The writer to the Hebrews writes in Hebrews 11:6 that the one who comes to God must believe that God is and that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Notice again, the author places the locus of belief and seeking on the person. But again, I belabor the point.

    So, when some of us follow what was handed down and believed by the earliest church on this subject, we do so based on a great deal of Scripture text. The doctrines of predestination as developed by later church fathers and the argument against free will that arises from more of an Augustinian theology has had a wide berth in the church. Many fine Christians have believed strongly in such teachings. And they reach such conclusions based on their understanding of some texts in Scripture. Others have read the very same texts and reached far different conclusions. I do not wish to say that one is right and one is wrong. Perhaps neither is fully right even though both sincerely attempt to understand the Scriptural passages. I am sure that I do not have a full understanding of how the sovereignty of God interacts with His created beings. I pray for grace to articulate what I read in Scripture rightly. But when I read Scripture, I read that God has given us a choice and called on us to choose Him. I also read that I will be judged based on my choice. I never read that I will be judged based on the choice He has made for me.

    I am sure that many Scriptures will immediately come to your mind, including Romans 3, 9, John 6, Ephesians 1, and perhaps Ephesians 2:8-9. What I have found is that those who have a worldview focused on sovereign grace and dead sinners will naturally read these passages one way. Those who have a worldview focused on individual responsibility will naturally read the passages a different way. I find that what we bring to these passages more often than not dictates what we take from these passages. This is because the verses and their contexts provide plenty of data susceptible to being read in different ways and therefore are particularly prone to being interpreted based on the view one brings to the passage. Neither side is convinced that the others’ reading is correct. For instance, when Paul is quoting the Old Testament in Romans 3, is the point that Jews also are sinners or is the point that there is no one who seeks after God, but all are totally depraved? In Romans 9, is Paul’s point an individual election towards salvation or damnation, or is Paul’s point a group election in which individuals in the group may or may not be saved? In John 6, is the point that only those individuals whom God has chosen can come to Christ or is the point that God has restricted access to Christ to belief? In Ephesians 1, is the predestination based on salvation (those who are saved have a certain destiny) or logically a prior act of God to salvation? In Ephesians 2:8-9, does the “that” refer to faith or salvation? Strong arguments from the text can be made for and against each of these positions. I know; I have read them and thought about them probably more than is good for me.

    I come back to the centrality of Jesus Christ. Whether we are saved because we believe or we are saved because He places faith in us, we all are called to follow Jesus, to fix our eyes on Him, to be His disciples, to bring glory to God through our good works, to love others, to disciple others, and to be His blessing to our world. All of Scripture focuses on Him and calls us to do the same. We want to be good ambassadors, to model Him as we are conformed into His image. Obedience is still His call upon His people.

    May the Lord guide you in all things. Peace be with you.

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