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Walls & Dongell: Faith is Not a Work

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8 NRSV)

Many Calvinists fear that any retreat from the conviction that God causes faith will make salvation a human accomplishment. If faith is something we do, then salvation rests on our deeds and no longer on God’s grace. If faith is viewed as our part in the process of salvation, then salvation must he viewed as a cooperative affair, and we should then describe ourselves as self-saviors in part.

102121463But the flaw in this Calvinist fear lies in its improper understanding of the nature of faith itself. The Bible itself does not describe faith as a work that accomplishes a task, or as a deed that establishes merit, or as a lever that forces God to act. Instead, we find that genuine faith is something quite different. As Paul’s treatment of Abraham shows, the patriarch’s faith had no power over God, earned no merit before God and stood as the polar opposite to honorific deeds. Abraham believed God, and righteousness was ‘credited’ to him, not paid to him. God alone justified Abraham freely on the basis of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:1-6). Since by its very nature faith confesses the complete lack of human merit and human power, it subtracts nothing from the Savior’s grace or glory. By its very nature, faith points away from all human status and looks to God alone for rescue and restoration.

— Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist (2004) pp. 77, 78.

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Calvin on John 3:16

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” — John 3:16 (NRSV).

JOHN CALVIN COMMENTS (my responses are in blue):

John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

“’That whosoever believeth on him may not perish.’ It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.”

Um. Okay. I think I’m with you there, brother John. (more…)

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A Prayer for Today (Thérèse of Lisieux)

prayer&candleMay today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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A Prayer for the Day

prayer&candleLiving God,
long ago, faithful women
proclaimed the good news
of Jesus’ resurrection,
and the world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them,
that our witness may be as bold,
our love as deep,
and our faith as true. Amen.

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John Wesley: The Nature of True Faith

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

Only beware thou do not deceive thy own soul with regard to the nature of this faith. It is not, as some have fondly conceived, a bare assent to the truth of the Bible, of the articles of our creed, or of all that is contained in the Old and New Testament. The devils believe this, as well as I or thou! And yet they are devils still. But it is, over and above this, a sure trust in the mercy of God, through Christ Jesus. It is a confidence in a pardoning God. It is a divine evidence or conviction that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their’ former ‘trespasses;’ and, in particular, that the Son of God hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that I, even I, am now reconciled to God by the blood of the cross.

Sermon #7 “The Way of the Kingdom”

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Faith, Hope & Love – Colossians 1:3-8

greek-nt-openAs I pointed out earlier, the words of greeting with which Paul begins this letter are pretty characteristic of his letters in general. The language he uses is fraught with meaning, but the greeting itself is nothing unique at all. So it is with the words that follow. It was characteristic of Paul to begin his letters with words of encouragement and congratulation. Now, as we read further in this letter we will discover that he wrote it to correct false ideas that were current in the congregation. But, however concerned he may be about the false teaching at Collosae, it did not approach his anger and outrage over the false teaching at Galatia. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he leaves the encouragement paragraph out altogether and launches into his angry words of correction. But, here he wants his readers to hear a good word first. he takes time to give them encouragement and praise. (more…)
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Wesleyan Perspectives on Faith

IFI attended a men’s Bible study a month or so ago, and the text being read was James 2:14-26. It is an interesting passage. Here we read things like this:

  • “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” [Implied answer: no.]
  • “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
  • “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”
  • “Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”
  • “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
  • “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”

And I was reminded again of the vital relationship between faith and works in the teachings of the Bible. Genuine faith must eventuate in good works — in obedience to God and service to others. While I am never in a position to judge the genuineness of another person’s faith — nonetheless, faith must always make a difference.

And, this is one of the reasons I am thankful for the Wesleyan holiness tradition where my early faith was nurtured. Here are some themes that I especially appreciate in the Wesleyan perspective on faith: (more…)

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What I Mean by Faith

People mean different things when they speak of “faith.” So it’s helpful to clarify. Here is what I mean when I talk about faith or the life of faith.faith-in-science

As I understand it, faith in God (theism, I guess you’d say) is the belief that behind the world we see there is a Power of righteousness, mercy and justice. There is a benevolent, kind and good Creator. God is the reason there is something rather than nothing.

And, atheism would be the denial that any such being exists. The “why there is something rather than nothing” question remains unanswered. Further, in this view, we are here by (enormously unlikely) random chance and there really is no meaning or purpose to any of it. We create meanings where none exist.

I’m not meaning to speak of such an atheistic viewpoint disparagingly — not at all. I can see how a person could come to such a view. It does have a certain simplicity to it. And, to be honest, I can even sympathize with some of the atheist concerns about the dangers and pitfalls of religion. I know them very well. (Though I really think the late Christopher Hitchens was being naive in a way — it is world-views — godless ones included — that threaten to poison everything.) (more…)

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