devotional

08OCT
2012

Reflections on the Gift of Faith

 

     A solid understanding of all that we rightly call “salvation” is that regeneration (a precise term) precedes everything of spiritual good in a Christian’s life. Regeneration is what being “born again” is. Until a man is born again he cannot truly follow Jesus, John 3:3-8.

     I very recently listened again to a respectable teacher who spoke against the Reformed understanding of salvation. He argued with many Bible verses that faith is something individuals can have if they only choose to. You don't need a miracle to be born again. Those who choose Christ are saved; those who don’t are lost. It’s all a matter of the will and faith that at any time can be exercised by any person. Faith, he argues, does not need to come from outside of man; it must come from within us. In his message, he mentioned the seventeenth century French philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous maxim, “Cogito ergo sum” or, “I think, therefore I am.” He said that Descartes had it backwards. That it’s not, “I think, therefore I am,” but rather “I am, therefore I think.” With his tongue then firm in his cheek he said that people who believe that regeneration is the work of God alone get the cart before the horse, or, “De cart before de horse.” While I might not argue with his case against Descartes, his case against the Reformed view doesn’t stand for very long.

     This teacher I listened to said that men are not dead in sin, meaning they have no ability from birth to believe what Jesus preached. He said with zeal that we’re saved, “through faith” quoting Ephesians 2:8-9. As is our custom today, he re-introduces faith as something we have inherent in us, and are thus saved by if we choose to believe the gospel.

     The Biblically un-substantiated view of salvation is that we must believe in order to be born again. Belief or faith (from the individual) is therefore that which precedes everything spiritually good in a Christian’s life, not regeneration.  

     Aside from all the speculations of men, however rational their positions may at first appear to be, the Bible student boasts the distinct advantage of being far more certain concerning many things by continually going back and forth in the Bible with all that he or she is taught.

     Let’s now hear the matter: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV). Break down-

     “For by grace…” I’ve never heard anyone argue that the “grace” of which Paul speaks here is anything other than, “God’s unmerited favor.” I agree. Let me say this quickly lest any should feel that logic diminishes clarity: it’s not unmerited if you had to have faith in order to get it. If God’s grace is contingent upon your faith then it’s not grace.

     “…you have been saved…” The unmerited grace of God alone is why I have been saved, why I am being saved, and why I shall one day ultimately be saved.

     “…through faith,” Here’s where the author says you get “De cart before de horse” if you think, as I do, that regeneration must come prior to you having faith in Jesus. He said, “You have to have faith in order to be saved.” It’s not God alone who saves according to His eternal election, he says, it’s our faith in Christ that saves us under God's eternal election. I have a very different view because of what follows-

     “…and that not of yourselves;” What is the “that” that Paul clearly says here is not of me? What is that? That’s the question. What is the antecedent to “that” here? There are three possibilities from the previous part of the sentence: 1) grace, 2) saved, and 3) faith. I’ve never heard anyone boast so openly that the “grace” in view here is of us, so that’s out. It’s God’s grace, of course. “Saved” is our present state. “Saved” is the current result of whatever the “that” has produced. It doesn’t flow well to use “saved” here. That’s out. That leaves only faith. If it’s “faith” then the matter is settled that my faith did not come from me! If I say to my daughter, “Here’s a dollar, a kiss and your coat. When you get to the bus, it will get you a ride.” The antecedent of “it” is the “dollar.” When Paul says, and “that not of yourselves”, the antecedent to “that” is “faith.” Your faith, Paul says, is not from yourselves. If it’s not of us then where, pray tell holy writ, is it from? We most willingly received You…but how? Read what follows closely-

     “it is the gift of God,” That which saved us is not from us! “It” is most specifically the faith, based on the grace that produced the salvation in you. It’s all of God alone. This author says that’s getting “De cart before de horse.” Dr. Geisler should get God’s grace before his boast. He says you have to have faith to be saved. That’s not a gift of unmerited grace! This is why I care so much. I want Christians to boast in Christ alone, and not in themselves.

     “…not of works, lest anyone should boast,” There is a purpose to this that’s beyond us all, and it’s God’s full credit for eternity. God doesn’t want anyone to claim credit for saving himself. It wasn’t your faith that has saved you, o arrogant clay…it was a grace bestowing God. He can condemn and He can save as He sees fit. Just as with Gideon, his victory (with obedience as real as it was) was designed to remove Israel’s boasting, Judges 7:2. How much more should we corpses give the Spirit His honor where it is due?

     The confusion only comes in here when men fail to focus on the cause of being born again and instead only focus on the result(s) of it. We preach Christ by planting His word. The fruit of that is what we see. We are to presume nothing. Salvation is a gift. Faith is a gift. A gracious gift that God was in no way required to give. This gift is not offered to us externally. It’s not something you have to open to receive. This gift is life! “It” is what brought you out of the depths of sin and death. "It" is why you have repented and trusted in Christ.

     “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” 2 Timothy 1:9. We have no boasting. We are sinners. Let it go.

     “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” Titus 3:4-7.

     Have your works, Christian. They are your joy and the proofs of God’s untouchable election that you’re to be working out. Have them, but have them second to the cross.

 

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

 

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die. (Augustus Toplady. 1763).

 

 

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