Great words from Charles Wesley:
“Let us plead for faith alone,
faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
only faith the grace applies.
“Active faith that lives within,
conquers hell and death and sin,
hallows whom it first made whole,
forms the Savior in the soul.
“Let us for this faith contend,
sure salvation is the end;
heaven already is begun,
everlasting life is won.
“Only let us persevere
till we see our Lord appear,
never from the Rock remove,
saved by faith which works by love.”
— Charles Wesley (See: “Let Us Plead for Faith Alone.”)
In this view, there is no separation between faith and works, or between faith and spiritual formation.
The same faith that sets us right with God is also the faith that: “conquers hell and death and sin, hallows whom it first made whole, forms the Savior in the soul.”
“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.
But 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.
- “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…)