“From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching... (5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost” (J.I. Packer, “Introduction” from “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” by John Owen. London: Banner of Truth, 1959, pp. 3-4).
I think that of all the points Packer provides above regarding Arminians, I think number five is probably the most attacked tenet of Arminian theology. In this post, however, my goal is to show biblically why J.I. Packer should conform to Arminian theology and not make fun of it.
First, the concept of “keeping the faith” is vital to the life of the Apostle Paul. In 2 Timothy 4 he writes,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have KEPT THE FAITH” (2 Tim. 4:7, New King James Version).
Paul evidently felt the Holy Spirit move him to write the words “kept the faith” in his ending words to Timothy about his walk on earth and the reward of eternal life that awaited him. For Calvinists to look at this passage and deny that keeping the faith is important is problematic when one considers that these words, like all the words of Scripture, are “God-breathed” (theopneustos).
What about the words of Revelation 14?
“Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who KEEP the commandments of God and the FAITH OF JESUS” (NKJV).
Here we see that the saints “keep the commandments of God” and “keep the faith of Jesus.” Once again, the saints of the Revelation days will be those who hold onto their faith and endure much suffering, including imprisonment and death (Rev. 13:10). So, if keeping faith is important in the days of great tribulation, why wouldn’t keeping the faith be important now?
Packer’s words regarding tenet #5 above mention “it rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith...” Many Christians today often quote the verses of Romans 8:38-39 regarding the fact that “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God” and say, “See, nothing we do can take us out of our salvation.” However, what about the verse in Jude that states, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21)? Why is it that Calvinists see Romans 8:38-39, but not Jude 21? And why is Romans 8:38-39 deemed more important to Calvinists than Jude 21? Shouldn’t “all” of Scripture be as equally valid and important? What about John 17, the famous High Priestly Prayer of Christ? Calvinists use John 17 to advance their theological agenda all the time...but what about John’s words in his epistles, which state that the godly person “purifies Himself” (1 John 3:3)? It seems then, that God provides preservation power, but I am commanded to persevere.
God is not responsible for “persevering” me in the faith; He has given me all I need to endure in the faith. If I don’t, then it’s my own fault.
What does it mean to “keep yourselves in the love of God”? John provides the answer in 1 John 5:
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
To “keep ourselves in the love of God” means “to keep His commandments.”
What these verses teach is that believers themselves must “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
This issue of “keeping oneself in a state of grace” applies to every Christian
believer. What are we to do with Paul’s words to the Galatians?
“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
What about this issue of “falling from grace”? This phrase becomes significant only after we discover to WHOM Paul is speaking. We are given clues of the nature of the congregants throughout the Galatian letter itself:
“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal. 4:9)
The phrase “you have known God” and “are known by God” tell us all we need to know---that the congregation to which Paul writes is a believing congregation of Christians. Should the believers turn to the works of the law now and deny the grace they have been given, they will be labeled as “having fallen from grace.” Keeping oneself in a state of grace, therefore, involves keeping the faith. A simple syllogism will help:
#1. Salvation consists of grace and faith (Eph. 2:8)
#2 we have access by faith into the grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:2)
#3. To give up one’s faith is to deny oneself access to grace (based on Romans 5:2)
#4. Therefore, to fail to keep the faith is to fail to continue in grace
#5. Since salvation consists of grace and faith, to fail to keep faith and continue in God’s grace is to fall from salvation.
There are a ton of verses I could use to support the above syllogism. For example, I could use Acts 13:43 where Paul and Barnabas urged the congregation to “continue in the grace of God.” I could also use Hebrews 12:28, where the writer states that “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). The word for “let us have” is “exomen,” which means “let us hold onto grace” or “let us keep grace” (laparola.net/greco). This then, refers to keeping oneself in a state of grace, contrary to what J.I. Packer claims.
Next in Packer’s attack is the phrase “keeping up their faith.” I’ve already shown above that Paul evaluates his own walk with God from beginning to end with the words “I have finished the race, I have KEPT THE FAITH” (2 Tim. 4:7). But there are other passages of Scripture as well that indicate to the reader that to continue believing is the key to obtaining final salvation. For example, let’s look at John’s words:
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you MAY CONTINUE TO BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13, NKJV).
John is encouraging them to “remain believing.” Why is this, if one does not have to keep the faith? And this does not take into account Jesus’ words in the Gospels (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) regarding the Parable of the Sower and the seed that fell on stony/rocky soil. If you compare the three Gospel passages just mentioned, you will find that Matthew 13:21 states that the seed “endures for a while”---which is in contrast to Luke 8:13, where the seed on rocky soil “believes for a while.” An interesting question to ask is, “Why do Matthew and Luke use ‘endure’ and ‘believe’ interchangeably in this parable? If endurance has nothing to do with “keeping the faith” (which goes against what Paul believed, 2 Tim. 4), why then, do the writers replace one word (“faith”) with another (“endurance”), or vice versa? Why is the Hebrew congregation told not to throw away their “full assurance of faith”, because they need endurance (Heb. 10:35-36)? What about the fact that “faith and perseverance of the saints” is a good phrase in Revelation (13:10; 14:12)? Not only do we find faith and perseverance linked in Revelation, but even the famous chapter of Romans 8 does the same: while it tells us of the hope of our salvation, it also states that we wait for our faith to become sight “with perseverance” (Rom. 8:25).
I could go on, but I will digress here. My point is this: with all the evidence I’ve provided, how can J.I. Packer be correct in his claims? He isn’t. Instead, he denies keeping ourselves in the grace of God (“continuing in the grace of God”) as well as keeping the faith (2 Tim. 4) and so forth. It seems to me that what Packer is really saying in all this is that a person doesn’t even need faith to be saved. This, however, contradicts so much of Scripture, particularly Hebrews 11:6. My final question to you is, “Do you believe Scripture or Packer?” The choice is yours.