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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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2 Responses

  1. Joshua June 4, 2014 / 8:17 pm

    I will post my question here for you to reconsider.. Is there a distinction to be made between obedience and works. Is obedience a work in itself? Is not participating in what God has commanded not to participate in considered a work? Or is there a vast distinction between obedience, a free will choice not to lie, steal, lust ect, and lets say giving to the church, or praying for someone, or acts of charity or kindness to others, or feeding and clothing the poor, ect…
    Sure, we are not saved by charitable deeds done in the flesh, yet we are told to pursue sanctification by which without no man shall see the Lord.
    Thanks for your response.

    • Craig L. Adams June 4, 2014 / 8:53 pm

      Well, it’s a fine point, but the issue this quote seeks to address is whether one’s (initial) salvation is by faith or by works. The standard Protestant answer has always been: by faith. But, of course, obedience is the out-working of faith — it is, in fact, living out one’s faith — and this will produce good works. Thus, in Ephesians 2:8-10 we read: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV) So the order is God’s grace —> our faith —> good works. Does that make sense, at all, Joshua?

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