Thursday, August 05, 2010

John Calvin Describes The Faith That Saves

The disdain I have for Lordship Salvation theology is no secret and I reject all 5 points of TULIP as I have had them explained to me (over and over). However, over the last few days I've been reading John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" to find out what he might think of the Lordship Salvation controversy and the many new interpretations of the word "faith" which seem to add works to Grace through a back door.

Maybe I don't agree with everything Calvin wrote in his Institutes, but I do agree with his view of faith. In fact his descriptions of faith are most familiar, t
hough this is the first time I've read them. For I have uttered such things to my contemporary "Calvinist" friends many times. They reject it when I say that faith is assurance, that unless one trusts that they are actually saved then they are not. The modern "Calvinist" sows doubt in the minds of Christians telling them to examine works for assurance but John Calvin would have had nothing to do with such foolishness.

This post is going to cover a bunch of different points about faith, but they all sum up to the fact that faith is man's responsibility, and is simply trust.

His commentary on Eph 2:8-10 is most worthy of a full reading. Here is a quote about the idea of faith being the "gift of God."

And here we must advert to a very common error in the interpretation of this passage. Many persons restrict the word gift to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it
by the gift of God.
Update: To see why Calvin (and I) interpret this passage in this way check out the genders of the Greek words underlying the English.

Modern Calvinists will claim that if a man can have faith
in God that this gives man reason to boast. Though this topic which is foreign to the Scriptu
res Calvin address it as well.

God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is no
t a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith;and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us.
And he continues the thought...

When, on the part of man, the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means, on which men are accustomed to rely, are discarded. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ.
So having faith gives man no reason to boast, for it is merely receiving what has been done. Update: Bob brought up in the comments how Romans 4:16 addresses makes it clear that a person having faith does not violate grace by giving a person reason to boast about his faith.

With regard to being "created to good works" Calvin is most strong in his language. I will quote this portion of his commentary extensively because he is both so clear, and this is so important.

Created to good works. They err widely from Paul's intention, who torture this passage for the purpose of injuring the righteousness of faith. Ashamed to affirm in plain terms, and aware that they could gain nothing by affirming, that we are not justified by faith, they shelter themselves under this kind of subterfuge. "We are justified by faith, because faith, by which we receive the grace of God, is the commencement of righteousness; but we are made righteous by regeneration, because, being renewed by the Spirit of God, we walk in good works." In this manner they make faith the door by which we enter into righteousness, but imagine that we obtain it by our works, or, at least, they define righteousness to be that uprightness by which a man is formed anew to a holy life. I care not how old this error may be; but they err egregiously who endeavor to support it by this passage.
Finally in this commentary on Eph 2:8-10 Calvin describes the importance of faith, vice performance. His concern is that people would put their faith in Christ entirely.

When Paul lays down the cause of justification, he dwells chiefly on this point, that our consciences will never enjoy peace till they rely on the propitiation for sins.
Such is the object of faith, that the Gospel is true and God has been propitiated for our sins.

Now having looked over his commentary on this all important passage, let us now turn to Calvin's Institutes to see his descriptions of faith.

Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 7 (scroll to section 7) A plain, and full definition of faith.
We shall now have a full definition of faith, if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.
Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 8 (scroll to section 8) Recognizing Who Christ is. - this section is the closest to support for LS theology that I can find in the Institutes. However it does not support LS theology, but does note that one must be aware they are putting their faith in the Judge of the Universe. There must be fear of God, not the LS exchange of self for Christ.. total submission.... and so on.
Since faith embraces Christ as he is offered by the Father, and he is offered not only for justification, for forgiveness of sins and peace, but also for sanctification, as the fountain of living waters, it is certain that no man will ever know him aright without at the same time receiving the sanctification of the Spirit; or, to express the matter more plainly, faith consists in the knowledge of Christ; Christ cannot be known without the sanctification of his Spirit: therefore faith cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.
Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 16 (scroll to section 16) Of true faith.
In one word, he only is a true believer who, firmly persuaded that God is reconciled, and is a kind Father to him, hopes everything from his kindness, who, trusting to the promises of the divine favor, with undoubting confidence anticipates salvation;
In like manner, the same Apostle does not consider that the eyes of our understanding are enlightened unless we know what is the hope of the eternal inheritance to which we are called, (Eph 1: 18). Thus he uniformly intimates throughout his writings, that the goodness of God is not properly comprehended when security does not follow as its fruit.
Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 29 (scroll to section 29) Of the free promise.

Free promise we make the foundation of faith, because in it faith properly consists. For though it holds that God is always true, whether in ordering or forbidding, promising or threatening; though it obediently receive his commands, observe his prohibitions, and give heed to his threatening; yet it properly begins with promise, continues with it, and ends with it. It seeks life in God, life which is not found in commands or the denunciations of punishment, but in the promise of mercy. And this promise must be gratuitous; for a conditional promise, which throws us back upon our works, promises life only in so far as we find it existing in ourselves. Therefore, if we would not have faith to waver and tremble, we must support it with the promise of salvation, which is offered by the Lord spontaneously and freely, from a regard to our misery rather than our worth.
Book 3, Chapter 13, Section 5 (scroll to section 5) Of saving faith apart from performance.
Thus those who pretend that justification by faith consists in being regenerated and made just, by living spiritually, have never tasted the sweetness of grace in trusting that God will be propitious. Hence also, they know no more of praying aright than do the Turks or any other heathen people. For, as Paul declares, faith is not true, unless it suggest and dictate the delightful name of Father; nay, unless it open our mouths and enable us freely to cry, Abba, Father. This he expresses more clearly in another passage, “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him,” (Eph. 3:12). This, certainly, is not obtained by the gift of regeneration, which, as it is always defective in the present state, contains within it many grounds of doubt. Wherefore, we must have recourse to this remedy; we must hold that the only hope which believers have of the heavenly inheritance is, that being in grafted into the body of Christ, they are justified freely. For, in regard to justification, faith is merely passives bringing nothing of our own to procure the favor of God, but receiving from Christ every thing that we want.
Though quoted above, this following statement by John Calvin sums most of the argument against LS theology. Talking about the promise of Salvation by grace through faith;

And this promise must be gratuitous; for a conditional promise, which throws us back upon our works, promises life only in so far as we find it existing in ourselves.
It is most obvious then that John Calvin, like all the other Reformers, would be appalled at the use of the term "Reformed Theology" and "Calvinism" as a cloak for slipping works into Grace through a back door.


bobfromchicago said...

Kev, thanks for the great post! So John Calvin would be, what, a 3 point Calvinist maybe?

Regarding faith as a gift, a couple points to add: 1: The Greek language is clear that faith is not the gift in Eph 2:8-9. (It has to do w/ the gender of the nouns not matching). 2: I love Rom 4:16a.."Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace..." Faith does not nullify grace. Faith is not a work, and it is non-meritorious.

Kevl said...

Hey Bob,

Thanks for the comment. I'm wondering the same thing, how many points of TULIP would Calvin have agreed with?

Total Inability - no

Unconditional Election - I think yes

Limited Atonement - I've been told no.

Irresistible Grace - unsure.

Perseverance of the Saints - a similar doctrine at least.

I've discussed the Greek of Eph 2:8-9 with modern Calvinists and I have yet to find one be convinced by the argument. It makes perfect sense to me.... and it is the reason that Calvin interprets it the way he does.

Romans 4 is the ultimate passage for ensuring that salvation is not dependant on works in any way shape or form. - he who does not work.

Neat point about Rom 4:16a "Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace..."

I love it!!! I get frustrated by the "if you have faith then you have reason to boast" argument. Thanks for this jewel!


Kevl said...

No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief.
John Calvin

Robb said...

This may be of some value:

Jan said...

I get frustrated by the "if you have faith then you have reason to boast" argument.


Perhaps we should ask them to site the verse for that. I admit I am unfamiliar with it.

I can site the one that says that if we have works, we have something to boast about:

"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'" Romans 4: 2-3

But here Abraham's believing (and he is the one identified as doing the believing, as opposed to working) is accounted to him for righteousness, not as something to boast about.

Then in verses 4-5 we are told the same standard applies to us:

"Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."


Robb said...

One more thing, Kev. Calvin did believe in Total Depravity. Yet it was Arminius who believed in an even harsher view of Total Depravity. One could say that Arminius believed in Total Inability. He pushed the doctrine to the max.

The problem is that the followers of these two men do not read the men they follow!

Kevl said...

Hi Robb,

Yup, I see that about Calvin. He would have believed in "total depravity" yet not "total inability."

You're right about the followers of men, they seldom examine the one they follow. I'm actually pretty shocked by the good and the bad that I read from Calvin.

And what's this about someone who "claims" to be a "christ follower" being able to murder??? repeatedly? I thought that was fruit of an unregenerate person.


Robb said...

If Calvin was unregenerate, Luther must have been the Devil himself:

"If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . . Pray boldly-you too are a mighty sinner.” (Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282)


"No sin will separate us from the lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."


"Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to."

""The imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far from perfect. As long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then, too, we sometimes drive away the holy spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter, David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we may always take recourse to this fact, that our sins are covered, and that God will not lay them to our charge. Sin is not held against us for Christ's sake."

Now do you see why the Evangelical Church is Apostate? They have deviated from the Reformers!

Robb said...

Was Arminius -- not Calvin -- the one who lit the fire of Lordship Salvation? Look at this:

"According to Arminians, biblical saving faith expresses itself in love and obedience to God (Galatians 5:6; Hebrews 5:8-9)."[6]

Kevl said...

Hi Robb, a local friend of mine who is a scholar often says of Arminianism and Calvinism that other than the words used... they preach the same thing. If you're not good you're not saved.

The Calvinist says you never were saved, and the Arminian says you lost it. The end result is the same... they also focus on performance instead of propitiation.

It is interesting that perhaps the modern calvinist movement is actually following Jacobus Arminius.