December 30, 2008

Salvation Mechanics

Jason recently commented on a conversation Cameron and I had a while back on the gift of salvation.

Salvation Merit

Cameron essentially asked how salvation is not a reward for faith in Christ. I answered that faith does not merit salvation. The debt of sin we owe is a large debt. Only the work of Christ can cancel it. Faith merely accepts the gift which cancels sin. Faith by its own merit can not save us from sin. All we can do is choose to believe in Christ's work. This is a fundamental difference between Christianity and most other religions. Most religions seek to enumerate good works by which we can please God and His favor. In other words, most religions seek salvation through faith in one's own works. Conversely, Christianity teaches that faith in Christ's work is all that is necessary.

Gift of Faith

Jason's remarks focus on a mechanical detail of salvation within the context of the above discussion:

Yahweh changes the heart, mind and soul to accept Him through sanctification which is part of the lifelong process of regeneration. Without His actions, acceptance of the faith is impossible. Is this free will? Yes. Free will has always been limited by Divine Governance. Those who truly wish to find Him in life are conformed to do so by God.

The noetic effects of sin prevent people from seeing the full extent of their depravity. My mind was made to search for God by Him. First election then, sanctification as an overall part of regeneration. I couldn't find him before then, let alone accept him. The elect cannot elect themselves or accept that path by their will alone.

Is faith rewarded? Yes. Sometimes the faithful are in crisis, some faulter and lose hope; others are steadfast in their faith. No human is perfect. All who have any faith, are made to have faith. Faith alone, through Christ alone, grants justification but, this faith must be received first. God gives faith as part of election. Simply put, salvation isn't open for everyone - Jason

As I understand it, the argument Jason is putting forward is simply this:

Faith is:
  1. A gift from God

  2. Necessary to be saved

  3. Is not given to all

My View

I reject the idea that faith is a gift of God prerequisite to salvation. Rather, faith is simply trust in the work of Christ rather than our own merit for acceptance of us into heaven by God. Anyone can choose to believe this.

At issue are four primary principles regarding salvation:

  1. Freewill

  2. Depravity

  3. Election

  4. Scope


I'm not sure exactly what Jason is claiming regarding freewill. If he is claiming that we still have freewill to accept the gifts of salvation/faith, it is unclear why one could freely accept the gift of faith but not freely accept the gift of salvation. Alternatively, the reference to depravity seems to appeal to the Reformed concept that man's depravity prevents him even from accepting God's gift of salvation. As a result, God elected some to be saved, not by choice, but by intervention. This would violate man's freewill. Jason appears to argue that this is fine because God has overruled the will of man in other cases.

A supposed classic example of God causing someone to do something is the Pharaoh of Egypt. However, it is important to note that Pharaoh refused to let them go before God hardened his heart. In other words, God kept Pharaoh in a previously chosen state of mind. This is hardly equivalent to overruling the will of multitudes and forcing them to be saved.


Perhaps the clearest text regarding depravity and salvation is Romans 3:10-11:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

Some interpret this passage as meaning that man is so depraved that he can not choose to believe in God. However, that is not what this verse says. It says no man seeks God on his own. As a result, God must make the first step to reach out to man. He does this in many ways. First, He has provided general revelation through creation (Rom. 1:18-20), conscience (Rom. 2:14-15), and the inner light (John 1:9). Furthermore, God Himself came in the person of Christ to reach out to us directly. In his absence, God seeks the unsaved through believers (Matt. 28:19) and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11).

In conclusion, although in our depraved state we will not seek God, God actively seeks and confronts us with the message of salvation.


Another issue raised against a person choosing to accept the gift of salvation is a particular brand of the doctrine of election. This view is derived from references to God choosing, electing, or predestining people to salvation. A good example text is Ephesians 1:3-6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Some interpret passages such as this as meaning the primary cause of an individuals salvation is not the individuals choice to accept the gift of salvation, but that choice is ultimately caused by God's overruling choice to predestine some "according to the good pleasure of His will".

But what is the good pleasure of His will? Why does He choose some and not others? Romans 8:29-30 provides the most complete explanation of this process that I am aware of:

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

Of particular importance is the ordering. God's foreknowledge is enumerated to proceed His predestination or election in the causal chain. Therefore, according to something God foreknew about us, He elected us to salvation.

This passage does not enumerate what God foreknew about us that caused Him to choose us, but there is only one criteria that fits. God elects an individual to salvation from before the foundation of the world based on His foreknowledge of that individuals free acceptance of the gift of salvation. The criteria is repeated again and again by Christ and the apostles. Three such examples come from Jesus, John, and Paul:

John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

Acts 16:31 And [Paul and Silas] said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved...

Joh 3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Any other criteria would amount to favoritism or random selection. Favoritism would violate God's fairness, for He is not a respecter of persons, as Peter declared in Acts 10:34-35:

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

Random selection on the other hand, would destory any sense of responsibility for our final destiny. Men would be saved for no reason and damned for no reason. It would be pointless for God to give man freewill, and then make his ultimate destiny a matter of inexorable fate.


Simply put, salvation isn't open for everyone - Jason

The idea of limited election based on God's choice rather than our's logically implies that salvation is not open for everyone. If God selected some to be saved and others to be damned and those who have not been selected can not be saved in anyway, why would Christ pay for their sins?

Unfortunately, for this view, scripture repeatedly contradicts the idea that God desires to save only a few and as a result offers salvation to only a few. As already noted, Peter observes that God is not a respecter of persons. In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter also declares that God is "not willing that any should perish". Ezekiel declares that God has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" but desires him to "turn from his way and live". Mostly famously, the Apostle John declares in the John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

God loves the world and sent His Son to make salvation available to anyone that believes.

Closing Remarks

In closing, I want to be clear that the issues raised in this article or largely technical doctrines. I believe a proper understanding of them is important to understanding God and His work. However, salvation is not dependent on a proper understanding of these matters and I continue to count those holding the opposing view as brothers. I appreciate Jason's efforts and views and I look forward to continued discussion on this topic and other discussions in the future. :)

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