And now I ask myself another hard question...
SELF>> Is "free will" faith saving faith?
ME>> I have consistently italicized the expression free will throughout my entire book. You may have guessed that I have no faith in our free will. I have written at length about the idea in my article, A Quintessential Defense of Free Will. Now the big remaining question: is the gospel at odds with the idea of free will? If someone claims to have effected their salvation from the Lake of Fire through their free will choice of faith, does that qualify as saving faith? Will this "free will faith" transform their hearts from self-righteousness as well?
Historically Calvinists have differed in their answer to this question. Consider two extremes from respected theologians in the past. Cornelius Van Til, a respected Reformed theologian, maintained a very accommodating view that Arminian Christians ought to be welcomed as brothers even though he had a radically different understanding of grace than they. He was quoted as saying, "Arminians are good Christians and better-behaved Christians than many a Calvinist." Though, Van Til was not consistent in his accommodation. Read about Van Til here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Van_Til. However, Augustus Montague Toplady, an Anglican cleric and writer of the hymn, Rock of Ages, was a major Calvinist opponent of John Wesley's Arminian faith. Though Wesley is also respected by Christendom for his contribution of many hymns in our hymnals today, his free will understanding of salvation was rejected as thoroughly anti-gospel by Toplady. Read about Toplady here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus_Toplady.
So what is a Christ-like view of this? Let me offer my opinion with four propositions.
No doubt the big concern that established orthodoxies have with my happy thought that Jesus is the savior of all mankind is ultimately that they do not believe he is the effective savior of all mankind, though each for different reasons. Perhaps, their concern is that I might cause people to miss their true salvation recipe. However, I propose that the biggest problem is a step before answering the question about the extent of salvation. There is a much bigger concern than answering the question of the percentage of humans beings actually saved by Christ. Ultimately God himself will determine the extent of his grace.
Yet each of us will individually give account to the Lord and the real concern for each of us is answering the question, what constitutes saving faith for even one person in the first place? What is the essence of saving faith? Religious people of all persuasions agree that one might profess faith, but what really matters is to possess faith. If we understand the wrath of God against sin, we must be zealous to possess saving faith to be ready stand before the judge, Jesus Christ.
We can see why common religious models reduce the focus of Christian salvation to rescuing human beings from eternity in the Lake of Fire. We want to avoid eternal suffering! We may not be so concerned about the sin in our character that we have become so comfortable with, but we do want eternal bliss. So what salvation recipes can we pick from?
Arminians view the salvation of each individual as "in the balance" and yet to be determined by each individual's free will choice of faith and obedience. Limited atonement Calvinists view salvation as certain for the chosen few, but they say we cannot know who the chosen ones are until particular individuals are persuaded to have "faith" that Christ died for them. The reason they cannot know who is chosen is because they also believe that Christ did not make payment for the sins of all mankind, but only some. Therefore, their elect are an invisible subset not indicated with any observable sign so they cannot know who they are. Regardless, the common focus of both of these models is the provision of fire insurance.
I propose instead that the focus of the Great Commission is NOT selling fire insurance, but the radical transformation of the individual from self-righteous pride and hypocrisy to Christ-like humility and service, that is salvation from sin. The gospel declares that God has already paid for all the sins of all mankind and commands us to repent and believe it. The fate of the elect is already guaranteed and written in the Lamb's Book of Life from eternity past, Ephesians 1. No one's eternal destiny is "in the balance," but only in the hands of Christ. Faith in Christ is not a pen to write your own name there, but instead the eye glasses to see your name already written there by Christ. Jesus has made the ground level at the foot of his cross for all humanity.
Our Heavenly Father's purpose is to demonstrate his grace, having forgiven the sins of all mankind -- both the believing and the unbelieving. This understanding empties faith of all works and removes all conditions from grace so that the praise goes to Christ alone for the salvation of His people. Faith cannot add anyone's name to the Lamb's Book of Life, but only open our eyes to the fact. The point is that we are saved by grace which is received through faith. Faith does not effect our salvation from eternal fire, but it does effect a change in our self-righteous hearts.
Anyone who agrees with the Biblical doctrine of predestination must also agree that the names in the Lamb's Book of Life are a definite list of people already determined and penned from before the foundation of the world. Believers are those who simply trust that their name is there through faith in Christ. Unbelievers then are those who reject their election, such as Esau. Those who die without faith will be punished in Hades, even though their sins are completely paid.
These wicked unbelievers maintain their own self-righteous distinction from the remainder of sinful humanity and reject the precious blood of Christ, no matter how religious they may appear. Thus they will not escape punishment in the afterlife for their crimes against Christ. They reject their own election, yet even so I believe that their election by grace will not fail to extract them from Hades and finally save them from the Lake of Fire in the end as I have already fully explained, Romans 11:28.
You might ask why I would bother to jeopardize my respected position in religious circles to insist this point. As a Christian, I have been entrusted with an understanding that I am saved by grace alone and seek to be faithful to the message that the only difference between me and the unbelieving is that I believe our sins are already paid for and forgiven while they do not believe it. The point is that God hates religion! Why not quit "playing church" and be my Christian brother?
In light of these facts, do the Arminian Christian and the Limited atonement Calvinist possess saving faith? If predestination has already guaranteed salvation from the Lake of Fire for the elect apart from works, then the only question remaining is: are the Arminian Christian and the Limited atonement Calvinist saved from the sin of self-righteousness and saved from punishment in Hades? Have they received the grace that exterminates self-righteousness? Or will they join the unbelieving and be punished in Hell for holding to "forms of religion" that miss the real deal?
It seems clear from the New Testament that all that is required is simple repentant faith in Christ to be saved. So a true Christian might sport any label provided that his heart is bowed before Jesus. Grace must allow for the fact that the heart can be true while the head is still confused.
Yet the New Testament also places a knife edge along the line of salvation by grace which IS saving and salvation by works which IS NOT saving. Those who reject their election and the grace of God in favor of straw will be punished for the duration in Hell.
Again, God hates religion! As such, the Arminian Christian cannot answer the question as to why they chose Christ and others did not without suggesting a work of man such as their free will choice of faith. Their definition of "faith" is NOT simple trust in the finished work of Christ for all His people, but instead it is a "faith" loaded with works that supplant grace as the condition of salvation. Their faith / work plus the supposed "general" offer of salvation to all mankind is their hope. How can their heads be bowed maintaining this view? Their theology openly confesses that they themselves made the difference in their salvation and not the precious grace of Christ. They are rejecting the grace of God in favor of religion. We are warned that Hell is a fit punishment for those who reject grace.
Perhaps the Limited atonement Calvinist definition of "faith" passes the bar. Limited atonement Calvinists are persuaded to have "faith" that Christ died for them, while they also believe that Christ did not die for all. They suggest that we cannot know who the elect are until specific individuals place faith in Christ. Stop. Read that sentence again a couple times. Ultimately by their own confession these people are logically saying that they cannot have confident knowledge that they are elect, either. What special revelation, in addition to the Scriptures, do they have to confidently claim that Christ paid for their sins and did not pay for the sins of others? Christian faith is rooted in the truth of Scripture and historic fact that Christ became a man and vicariously atoned for the sins of ALL mankind through his substitutionary death. Assurance must stand on this objective fact and nothing else. Calvinist "faith" is not faith built on the rock of Jesus Christ, but built on a hypocritical self-deception. Again, we are warned that Hell is a fit punishment for those who reject grace.
Yet there is such a thing as a good Calvinist. I once shared my view of Christian faith with a friend. I explained that true faith is merely receiving what Christ has already finished for His people. True faith does not change God's heart toward us, but radically changes our heart toward God. He then said the terrible thing about my view is that everyone who believes it eventually concludes that all mankind is saved from the Lake of Fire. I've never received a better compliment in my entire life! So I'll take the label of a good Calvinist because I also believe that the atonement is "limited." Jesus' love is limited to all mankind, but he has not atoned for the sin of fallen angels who will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
My last proposition is that those who are born again, have truly received grace, and possess true faith must not maintain ambivalence or objection to the idea that Christ paid for the sins all mankind. Friends, mankind's salvation is also the salvation of each individual, Romans 11:16. Join me and happily embrace the salvation of all God's people!
If the first fruit is holy, so is the lump. If the root is holy, so are the branches.
Romans 11:16 (WEB)
Will you reject your election by grace to salvation in favor of religion and conditional salvation? Why not laugh and rejoice trusting that your sins are already forgiven as well as the sins of all mankind?