Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Faith and Work: Synonyms?

Happy New Year! How exciting it is to know that we’ve been blessed to experience another year. It is because of God’s gracious mercy that we have another chance to live, breathe, and love. I am truly blessed to be alive!

After finishing up this past Fall semester, I took a vacation home with family for about 10 days to relax, kick back, and catch up on some sleep and family time. How I needed it!! I also got to read William Lane Craig’s “Time and Eternity” as well as Gregory Ganssle’s “God and Time: Four Views.” Both books discussed the philosophy of time and philosophy of language. I was intellectually blessed by Craig’s arguments for a dynamic view of time. In addition, it was good to get some time away from my typical theology reading. I love theology with all my heart---but sometimes, a study or two in philosophy always enhances my understanding of God, His Word, and what His Word has to say to those who believe.

Before I get into my first post of 2010 (how exciting!), I would like to take this time to enlighten the readership about what to expect in 2010. This Spring, I will be taking up a theological project in the study of Molinism, a theological/philosophical system advocated by Luis Molina in the Middle Ages. As I’ve learned by reading, Molina was not the first one to advocate such a view, but was the first to produce a formal layout of the theological view itself. One of the books I will be covering on the subject of Molinism this Spring is titled “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach” by Kenneth Donald Keathley, PhD. Interestingly enough, Dr. Keathley teaches Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I attend Southeastern Seminary and took Dr. Keathley this past Fall semester for my final theology course in the Master of Divinity degree. Let me just say that I have never met a more humble, gracious, and knowledgeable man than Dr. Keathley...and I count it an honor to have sat under him for an entire semester. I was blessed by every single class lecture I had under him.

I know, I know...you’re thinking that, since Dr. Keathley was my professor, and since I value his work so much, that I must be biased---right? Well, I am a little biased. I suppose that all theologians (including me) should just come out and be honest about our biases. Therefore, I will say it loud and clear--- “I’m biased!”
However, I would like to recommend Dr. Keathley’s book on Molinism to all who are interested in studying more about a view Dr. Keathley so eloquently espouses. I will cover Molinism here or there throughout the Spring semester. I will really dive into it in my posts here this coming summer, when I will have had a chance to also read Molina’s “Concordia, Pt. IV.”

Over Thanksgiving Break, I sat down with Dr. Keathley and inquired about what reading material on Molinism I should acquire. He recommended Luis Molina’s “Concordia, Pt. IV,” “Divine Providence: A Molinist Account” by Thomas Flint, Kirk R. MacGregor’s “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” and Keathley’s book on “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” I recommend these books to my readership in the hopes that, by the summer, you all may know more than I know (I’m pretty sure of it), and be able to enhance my knowledge as well. My goal is to educate my readers---but I also embrace the possibility that I, too, may be enlightened by the readership.

In today’s post, though, I am gonna deal with Norman Geisler’s discussion of faith and work in his book, “Chosen But Free.” Now, I wanna say that I’ve discussed the idea of faith as a work here at CTS; and I have argued that faith is NOT a work. Whenever the Scripture writers discuss faith and work, they always contrast the two, never equate them. For instance, in Romans 4, Paul shows that Abraham “believed God” (Gen. 15) before he was circumcised; this demonstrates faith (“believing God”) before work (circumcision).

Geisler shows the problem of Calvinists with “faith” and “work”:

“This reasoning, however, involves an equivocation on the word ‘do.’ Faith is something we ‘do’ in the sense that it involves an act of our will prompted by God’s grace. However, faith is not something we ‘do’ in the sense of a meritorious work necessary for God to give us salvation. Rather, it is something we exercise to receive salvation because we could not do anything to obtain salvation” (Norman Geisler, “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, Second Edition.” Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, 198).

The word “believe” in Scripture is a verb, as the word “repent” is also a verb. And verbs are, by basic definition, “action words.” To repent and believe requires the person to “do” something. However, what is efficacious in the process is Christ’s work, not the faith of the person. Paul writes in Romans 3:26-28 that

“he [Christ] might be JUST AND THE JUSTIFIER of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? IT IS EXCLUDED. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:26-28, NKJV).

While believing is an action, it is not a work of the law. And when Scripture speaks of works, Scripture is referring to the works of the law. By the way, the Mosaic Law was God’s Law given to His people so that they could obey it. However, Paul makes it clear in Romans 3 that no one can keep the entire Law, no matter how hard they try (Rom. 3:23).

However, “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3) is “the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 10:5). And the righteousness of faith has always been the message of the Old Testament. In the same chapter of Romans 10, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16---“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11, quoting Isaiah 28:16). In Romans 10:13, Paul quotes Joel 2:32---“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Even the Old Testament proclaimed that faith was required for salvation!

Salvation, however, is not something we “earn.” Salvation in Scripture is labeled as a “gift” (Rom. 6:23), and the works of human beings, labeled “wages of sin” lead to death.

Paul asks the congregation in Romans 4,

“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, BUT NOT BEFORE GOD” (Rom. 4:1-2, NKJV).

Abraham cannot be justified by works before God; but, if God justified Abraham by “faith,” and “faith” is a work, then God justified Abraham by works. This contradicts Romans 4:2-3!!

Last but not least, look at Romans 4:5---

“But to HIM WHO DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).

It is faith in the one who “justifies,” who did the work of justification (Christ justified us with His blood), that man can ever be saved. Without Jesus’ work on the cross, we would still be yet in our sins--- no matter how great the faith!

The most comforting part of all of this (to me, at least) is that Geisler quotes a Calvinist who affirms what Geisler (and I) affirm here:

“J. Gresham Machen, himself a strong Calvinist, emphatically denied that faith is a kind of good work: ‘the faith of man, rightly conceived, CAN NEVER STAND IN OPPOSITION to the completeness with which salvation depends upon God: IT CAN NEVER MEAN THAT MAN DOES PART WHILE GOD MERELY DOES THE REST; for the simple reason that faith consists not in doing something but in receiving something’” (Norman Geisler, “Appendix Five: Is Faith A Gift Only To The Elect?” from “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, Second Edition.” Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, page 198).

According to Machen, “faith consists...in receiving something,” that is, “the gift of God,” which is “eternal life” (Rom. 6:23).

Think about Christmas, the holiday that just passed us. At Christmas, we received gifts from family and friends; but did we “earn” any of those gifts? Did we “deserve” those gifts? Were the gifts we received really “IOUs” in disguise? If they were, then they were wages (what jobs pay for work done). If they were not “IOUs,” then the gifts were not given according to merit. They were not “earned,” but freely given. Therefore, we did nothing to earn those gifts. And when you and I extended our hands to take those gifts we were given, did we do any “work” to receive those gifts? No, we did not! If we “earned” those gifts, then Calvinists should uphold their theology in practice and give their gifts back!!

Everyone knows that no one person “earned” their gifts when they took them from the hands of family and friends this Christmas. And if we didn’t do any “work” to receive gifts, then what would make Calvinists think that professing faith is a work, and that repenting and believing the gospel is a form of “works-righteousness”?

I think it’s a nice touch to have Calvinists like J. Gresham Machen admit that faith is not a work. It just places one more “seal of approval” on Classical Arminian theology...

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