Both sides of the Lordship debate would agree that faith is the necessary response required of a person for eternal salvation. The debate exists over the definition and content of the volitional aspect of faith. The classic three-fold definition of faith as notitia (knowledge, understanding), assensus (assent, agreement), and fiducia (the volitional aspect) is accepted by some on both sides, 1 but does not resolve the debate; it simply focuses the debate on the nature of the volitional aspect.
This chapter will consider the issue of the nature of saving faith and examine the two approaches commonly used by the Lordship position to define faith. The first involves lexical evidence, and the second key Bible passages. Finally, a biblical understanding of the nature of faith according to the Free Grace position will be offered.
The issue of faith in the Lordship controversy is whether its volitional aspect involves only simple trust or confidence in something, or that plus a deeper commitment that includes surrender and obedience. Lordship Salvation assumes the latter position. Advocates argue that there are different kinds of faith; one which is merely intellectual and cannot save, and one which is volitional and saves. Evidently, volitional trust and reliance upon falls short of saving faith. Enlows remark is representative of the tendency to qualify faith:
To "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" involves more than knowledge, assent and trust (reliance). True, one must know about Gods provision, he must assent to the truth of the gospel and he must rely on Christ to save him.
But to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ means more than to believe that He is Lord and more than to rely on Him to give eternal life. It also means to receive Christ as ones own Lord, the ruler of ones own life. 2
Enlow proposes a definition of faith that involves not only trusting Christ for salvation, but submitting to Christ as Ruler of all of ones life.
The debate, then, is not over the object of faith, but focuses instead on the kind of faith. There is a kind of faith that does not save. Gentry says, "Empty faith is too often promoted today; all faith is not saving faith." 3 This inadequate kind of faith is said to be "only intellectual acquiescence" or "a casual acceptance of the facts regarding Jesus Christ." 4
If simple trust or confidence does not save, then what kind of faith does? Lordship proponents answer with a rather elaborate definition. Mueller claims that faith is "synonymous with obedience." 5 Thus it follows that true faith will have measurable works or visible fruit: "Faith obeys. Unbelief rebels. The fruit of ones life reveals whether that person is a believer or an unbeliever." 6 Furthermore, saving faith is the commitment and surrender of ones life to the Lord as Master. 7 Also, since faith is considered a gift of God, it is viewed as a dynamic which "guarantees its endurance to the end." 8 With this understanding of faith, it is evident why Lordship proponents argue there is such a thing as a faith that does not save, or a spurious faith.
To support their definition of faith, the Lordship side argues from the lexical nature of the faith word group, and also from a number of Bible passages. The task of the remainder of this chapter is to evaluate the credibility of these arguments.
Two major lexical arguments are employed to support the idea of faith as obedience, surrender, submission, and commitment. The first considers the root of the words pisti"/pisteuw. The second argues from the occurrence of pisteuw with prepositions, particularly in the Gospel of John.
This argument claims that since pisteuw is related to peiqw and both derive from the root piq-, faith can have the sense of "obedience". The word peiqw may sometimes be used in the Scriptures to mean "obey," but its basic and overwhelmingly prevalent meaning is "convince, persuade, come to believe." 9 However, to fortify the argument that pisteuw can mean obedience, Lordship proponents also argue from the meaning of the common root piq-.
Gentry asserts that piq- has the sense of "to bind" and from this draws the conclusion that "The idea of bind has a dominant influence on the concept of faith and is of great significance to the Lordship controversy." 10 Likewise, Mueller cites Becker who gives piq- the sense of "obey." 11 Still, Becker admits that this root has the basic meaning of "trust"; 12 a meaning which should only be altered with unequivocal evidence.
The same restraint should govern the interpretation of peiqw. Though there is evidence for occasionally interpreting this word as "obey," these instances comprise a minority of its uses. 13 The normative use in the active voice is "convince, persuade," and in the perfect tense "depend on, trust in, put ones confidence in." 14 If one attempts to define pisteuw by linking it to peiqw, as Lordship proponents do, the comparison should be based upon the primary meanings of each word and the primary meaning of their common root, piq-. When this is done, one can only safely arrive at "trust" for a definition of pisteuw.
At this point a question of methodology must be asked and answered: Should the meaning of a word be determined by the meaning of its root, as the Lordship side does with pisteuw? The linguist, James Barr, answers that such comparisons should never supplant the meaning derived from context and usage:
...the "meaning" of a "root" is not necessarily the meaning of a derived form. Still less can it be assumed that two words having the same root suggest or evoke one another¼
In many cases the "root fallacy" comes to much the same thing as "etymologizing", i.e., giving excessive weight to the origin of a word as against its actual semantic value. . . .
..The main point is that the etymology of a word is not a statement about its meaning but about its history; it is only as a historical statement that it can be responsibly asserted, and it is quite wrong to suppose that the etymology of a word is necessarily a guide either to its "proper" meaning in a later period or to its actual meaning in that period. 15
Thus the Lordship argument that pisteuw has the sense of "obey" merely because of its relation to peiqw and the root piq- is tenuous at best. Such a crucial soteriological term should be handled with more care. Context and usage must determine the meaning of pisteuw.
Still, Lordship proponents argue from several standard dictionaries which define faith as obedience and submission but neglect context and usage. 16 For example, Vines three-fold characterization of faith as "a firm conviction . . .a personal surrender . . . [and] conduct inspired by such surrender" is quoted by MacArthur. 17 But Vine merely proof-texts the second and third elements with the questionable passages John 1:12 and 2 Cor 5:7 respectively. 18 In addition, Bultmann is cited by many for his suggestion that faith can have the sense of "obey." 19 However, Bultmann does affirm that the essential meaning of pisteuw is "to rely on" or "to trust." 20 Also, it should be noted that he supports his conclusion that faith can mean obedience by appealing to biblical passages and to theology. The passages he cites are those often quoted by Lordship proponents and will be discussed later in this chapter. 21
The influence of Bultmanns theology of Heilsgeschichte or "salvation history" on his understanding of faith can be seen from this sample statement:
For the figure of Jesus Christ cannot be detached from its "myth," i.e., the history enacted in His life, death and resurrection. This history, however, is salvation history. That is, the man who accepts the kerygma in faith recognizes therewith that this history took place for him. Since Jesus Christ was made the Kurios by His history, acceptance of the kerygma also includes acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the Kurios. This is expressed in the formula pistis eis ton k?rion jj@hmwn Isoun or the like. 22
The bearing of Bultmanns theology on his definition of faith is emphasized to show that his view of faith relies more on his theology than on semantical usage. 23 On this basis, a Lordship position can easily be argued to the neglect of proper linguistic principles. Relating pisteuw to peiqw or their root piq- does not conclusively prove or attest to a definition of obedience for pisteuw. Meaning must come primarily from the context and usage.
Another Lordship argument differentiates two kinds of faith according to whether prepositions are used with the verb pisteuw or not. This is best expressed by Gentrys own words:
To the Greek mind, the idea of "belief" could have two connotations, each expressed by distinct syntactical structures. To believe a person was one thing, but to believe in or upon a person was quite another.
The prepositions eis ("into"), epi ("upon"), and en ("in") make a remarkable difference in the meaning of a sentence when used in associations with pisteuw. . . .
Thus for a Greek-speaking person to say that he believed "into" (eis plus the accusative), or "upon" (epi plus the accusative or dative) someone, it was a strong statement to the effect that he was placing his entire confidence, trust, or hope into that person or grounding it upon his character as revealed to him. . . The very act of placing faith into Christ must imply submission to Him. . . .
Many people may claim to believe Christ (in the sense of pisteuo plus the dative case without a preposition), but this is a far cry from placing ones trust wholly in Him. 24
The Lordship position thus distinguishes between effective faith (pisteuw ei") that submits to the Lordship of Christ and mere intellectual assent (pisteuw without a preposition) which is empty faith. However, the claim of a "remarkable difference" determined by the presence or absence of prepositions with pisteuw must be compared to the biblical evidence.
Different kinds of faith is most frequently argued from uses of pisteuw in the Gospel of John. However, after noting every use of pisteuw in John 25 Schnackenburg concludes, "In many texts, pisteuw ei" is on the same footing as a @oti-clause . . ." and "Often the absolute pisteuein means the Johannine faith in the fullest sense . . ." 26 Thus one should not so easily delete the soteriological significance of pisteuw plus @oti- in John. This is the construction found in clear salvation verses like John 8:24, "believe that I am He," and 20:31, "believe that Jesus is the Christ". 27 Likewise, pisteuw plus the dative without a preposition is used in a clear salvation verse, John 5:24, "believes him who sent me" (NIV). 28
To agree that pisteuw with a preposition may emphasize the moral element of personal trust or emphasize the object of faith does not mean that constructions without these prepositions represent less than saving faith. A number of scholars observe that to "believe in" and to "believe that" are used interchangeably in John. 29 After studying the data in John, Christianson concludes,
¼The difference between the pisteuw ei" and pisteuw @oti constructions is not one of meaning. Both mean one and the same thing: voluntary acceptance of a specific proposition. The difference between the two constructions is that pisteuw @oti introduces an explicit statement of the proposition which is accepted while pisteuw ei" does not. The pisteuw ei" construction thus functions as an abbreviation for the pisteuw @oti construction. 30
Morris also comments on the various constructions of pisteuw in John:
The conclusion to which we come is that, while each of the various constructions employed has its own proper sense, they must not be too sharply separated from one another. Basic is the idea of that activity of believing which takes the believer out of himself and makes him one with Christ. But really to believe the Father or really to believe the facts about Christ inevitably involves this activity. Whichever way the terminology is employed it stresses the attitude of trustful reliance on God which is basic for the Christian. 31
What is found in John appears to hold true for the rest of New Testament literature. From his study of pisteuw Bultmann is able to affirm that pisteuw ei" is equivalent to pisteuw @oti in the New Testament. 32 The non-prepositional construction of pisteuw is used in verses that clearly speak of salvation (eg., Acts 16:34; 18:8; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; 2 Tim 1:12; Titus 3:8; Jas 2:23). Similarly, pisteuw plus @oti is also used in salvation passages (eg., Matt 9:28; Rom 10:9; 1 Thess 4:14). Berkhof concurs, as seen in his comment on the construction pisteuw plus the dative: "If the object is a person, it is ordinarily employed in a somewhat pregnant sense, including the deeply religious idea of a devoted, believing trust." 33
Thus Gentrys purported distinction between effective faith and deficient faith, or the difference between the volitional act of committing ones life to Jesus as Master and mere intellectual assent to historical or doctrinal facts, has little basis. Such a sharp distinction between the "heart" and the "head," argued from whether pisteuw is followed by ei" or @oti lacks support. The notion of different kinds of faith in John and other Bible books is derived theologically more than lexically. 34 None of the New Testament authors speak of those who truly believe. Faith normally refers to that which trusts in Jesus Christ for eternal life. One may conjecture intellectual and volitional aspects to faith, but this distinction is not clearly seen, especially in such a way as to place one against the other. 35 While pisteuw with the prepositions epi, ei", and en may emphasize or clarify the object of belief, they do not distinguish between qualities of belief.
There are a host of Bible passages used to support the Lordship idea of faith. Some passages appear predictably as major arguments while others are of a minor nature. Here, the major passages used will be evaluated. The passages can be categorized according to the various facets of the Lordship definition of faith: Faith as obedience, faith as resulting in measurable works, faith as submission, faith as spurious, and faith as a gift of God. Where faith touches the issue of repentance, discussion will be reserved for chapter three.
Mueller states "Faith is synonymous with obedience." 36 Likewise, Stott claims "Faith includes obedience" 37 and MacArthur contends "Scripture often equates faith with obedience." 38 By far the primary Scriptures used to support this are two passages in Romans which link faith and obedience (Rom 1:5; 16:26). Used less often, but similarly, are: Acts 6:7; 2 Thess 1:7-8; John 3:36; and passages from Hebrews 3, 4,and 5.
The phrase @?pakohn pisteuws, "obedience to the faith," in Rom 1:5 and 16:26 is used to make faith and obedience essentially the same. Gentry states that "Paul often speaks freely of the obedience of faith as the way of salvation (Rom 1:5; 6:17; 16:26). Thus faith binds a man in obedience to Christ." 39
Stott has the same understanding. He defends his interpretation with three arguments. 40 First, he notes that the contexts of Rom 1:5 and 16:26 concern the proclamation of the gospel to heathen nations: "The call of God in the gospel is not just to receive Jesus Christ, but to belong to Him, not just to believe in Him, but to obey Him." Second, he argues grammatically:
¼the Greek phrase is very compact. Neither noun ("obedience" and "faith") has an article, which we should expect if a distinction was being drawn between them and one were to be conceived as a result of the other. Instead, "obedience of faith" appears to be the one response desired by the evangelist, a personal abandonment of obedience-and-faith or, if you prefer, "obedient faith."
Third, he argues that obedience characterizes conversion in Rom 6:17.
Stott is occupied with arguing against the view that "obedience of faith" refers to sanctifying obedience which comes after saving faith. He does not address an alternative interpretation that faith is the obedient response of sinners to the gospel. 41 This interpretation counters his first argument because the command to believe is the only command relevant to the unbelieving heathen nations. However, it must be tested grammatically.
Grammatically, one does see a close relationship between "obedience" and "faith" in @?pakohn pistews. This relationship is variously interpreted: 1) It is an objective genitive in which faith means "the faith," i.e., the body of Christian truth, 42 or "the authority of faith." However, the absence of the article argues against this. 2) It is a subjective genitive in which obedience springs from faith. 43 3) It is an epexegetic or appositional genitive in which faith is the obedience called for. 44 Morris prefers not to understand it strictly appositionally. He comments,
While faith and obedience go together, they are not identical. Why use two words for one meaning? It seems rather that the gospel is seen as demanding the response of faith. Accordingly, the way to obey is to believe. 45
Though the subjective genitive is grammatically preferable to the objective genitive, the context of salvation in chapter 1 (cf. vv. 13-17) favors Morris understanding over both. Stott may be right in noting that the phrase "obedience of faith" describes one response, but it is not necessary to make one aspect the result of the other. The single response would be the obedience of the nations to the command to believe in the gospel. 46
This interpretation is also more consistent with Pauls argument in Romans which condemns men as sinners and pictures their refusal to believe (especially Israel) in the free gift of salvation as disobedience to the gospel which was continually preached to them (10:16-18). Morris concurs in his comment on the phrase "obedience of faith" in Rom 1:5: "It is not without interest that this epistle, which puts such stress on the free salvation won for us by Christs atoning act, should also stress the importance of obedient response." 47 Furthermore, in the section of the epistle where Paul argues for faith as the only requirement for justification (3:21--5:21), obedience is never mentioned to qualify faith. More specifically, in Rom 4:1-4 Paul argues conclusively that faith and works are mutually exclusive because the nature of works nullifies the free gift. He goes on to declare that it is "by one Mans obedience many will be made righteous" (5:19). His argument is that Christ obeyed (He worked), and sinners get the saving benefit of His obedience by the exercise of faith, not by their own obedience or works. To insist that sinners obey or even be willing to obey is to make human merit a requisite of the free gift, which negates the essence of a gift. This asks of the unregenerate a very Christian decision and confuses the issue of salvation with issues of the Christian life, as Godet correctly argues in his comment on Rom 1:5: "It is impossible to understand by this obedience the holiness produced by faith. For, before speaking of the effects of faith, faith must exist." 48
The distinction of the pre-conversion decision and post-conversion commitments answers Stotts third argument that Rom 6:17 characterizes conversion as obedience. 49 This text says, "you were (imperfect of eimi) slaves of sin, yet you obeyed (aorist of @?pakoh) from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered (aorist of paradidwmi)." The obedience spoken of took place subsequent to their deliverance or committal to this doctrine. 50 Paul is thanking God for their salvation which amounted to a change of masters or ownerships (v. 17a). In his reflection on their spiritual history, he now recognizes that they were not only freed from sin, but had also inclined themselves to serve righteousness (v. 18). Newell argues that verse 17b explains how this came about:
These Christians became obedient from the heart to their resurrection position. They not only reckoned that position true; but they absolutely surrendered their all to it. 51
Cranfield similarly reasons that the explanation for Pauls interpolation of verse 17b between 17a and 18 is "Pauls special concern at this point to stress the place of obedience in the Christian life--the fact that to be under Gods grace involves the obligation to obey Him." 52 This honors the immediate context which is unmistakably speaking of sanctification and the decision to "present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness," (v. 19). Only after one is "set free from sin" can there be "fruit to holiness," (v. 22), thus the obedience in 6:17 follows saving faith; it is not part of it.
The evidence presented has suggested that the "obedience of faith" spoken of in Rom 1:5 and 16:26 is obedience to the command to believe the gospel. Therefore, these passages should not be used to support the Lordship position that faith itself is in essence obedience.
These passages are also popularly used by Lordship proponents to equate faith with obedience. 53 The argument from each is similar. These arguments will now be examined.
In the New American Standard Version John 3:36 reads, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." MacArthur asserts that this equates disobedience with unbelief, then continues, "Thus the true test of faith is this: does it produce obedience? If not, it is not saving faith. Disobedience is unbelief. Real faith obeys." 54 His understanding of obedience is explained elsewhere in his book: "obedience to Jesus commands is clearly enjoined by texts such as John 3:36." 55
The participle from apeiqew, translated by the NASB "he who does not obey," is translated by the KJV and the NKJV "he who does not believe." 56 A reason for this is given by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich who recognize the controversy here, but support the translation with this explanation:
Since, in view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their gospel, apeiqew may be restricted in some passages to the mng. disbelieve, be an unbeliever. This sense¼seems most probable in [John 3:36, et al]. 57
A comparison to the parallel verse in 3:18 where unbelief brings condemnation would support this meaning. Indeed, Johns condition for salvation is overwhelmingly framed in the language of belief and unbelief. 58 The choice of apeiqew to suggest unbelief in this passage amplifies the point of the context. John is arguing that a greater than he (Jesus Christ) has come (3:28-31). This One is sent by the Father, speaks the Fathers words (3:34), and has been given all authority by the Father (3:35). Thus framed in terms of Christs authority, the rejection of Christs testimony is characterized as the disobedience or rebellion which refuses to believe Him (3:32). It is therefore consistent with Johns Gospel, the "Faith Gospel," if apeiqew is understood as disobedience to the command to believe.
This passage contains one of the familiar progress reports of Acts (cf. 2:47; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). Other reports of the spread of the gospel refer to those who "believed" (e.g. 2:44; 4:4; 11:21), but here the report is expressed differently:"a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." MacArthur thus comments, "Acts 6:7 shows how salvation was understood in the early church," then goes on to argue that obedience is "an integral part of saving faith." 59 One wonders why MacArthur chooses this single verse to represent how the early church understood salvation, when Acts itself normally uses the word "believed". This verse is the rare exception.
In contrast to MacArthur, Marshall takes the phrase "obedient to the faith" (@?phkouon thi pistei) in the sense of "obedience of faith" as in Rom 1:5 discussed above: "Obedient to the faith means obedient to the call for faith contained in the gospel." 60 While this is plausible, two significant differences with Rom 1:5 should be noted: First, the verb form is used, not the noun, for @?pakouw; Second, pistis is articular rather than anarthrous.
The verb form @?phkouon is in the imperfect tense, which indicates a progressive incomplete action. This sets it off from pisteuw in the aorist found in the other progress reports (2:44; 4:4; 11:21). While these aorists denote initial saving faith, the imperfect here could denote continued progress in "the faith." The articular tei pistei indicates that the body of Christian truth as a whole is meant rather than personal faith. 61 In other words, a great many priests who had believed (implied) were continuing to obey the new standard of Christs teachings. Others understand the imperfect to mean that a great many priests kept on joining the church, 62 or joined one by one. 63 Still, their obedience is seen in relation to a new system of belief as a whole, not to initial personal faith.
In any case, the reference to obedience is not surprising at this point in the narrative. In the last half of chapter five, Peter and John are obedient to God rather than men in preaching the gospel (5:29). Then Gamaliel reminds the Jewish leaders of the futility of obedience to a cause that is not of God (5:36-37). In comparison, many of the priests of Israel were now obeying the new Christian teaching (6:7). Finally, the contrast of obedience and disobedience to God is highlighted in Stephens message (cf. 7:35, 39, 51-53). Unlike Israels leaders in the past, these priests have submitted in obedience to Gods will.
The unique language of this verse should guard against using it independently to argue how salvation was understood in the early church. It does not demonstrate that obedience is a part of personal saving faith.
This is another passage used by Lordship proponents to equate faith with obedience. 64 The pertinent words are in verse 8: "in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey (tois mh @?pakouousi) the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." That obedience refers to the command to believe is clear from the context which contrasts the fates of those who do not obey the gospel (v. 8) and those who have obediently believed (v. 10). Also, the second phrase, "do not obey the gospel," is used synonymously with the first, "do not know God," in verse 8. 65 In the context, both point to the lack of salvation and not a lack of works, as the basis of eschatological judgment. To not obey the gospel is to reject Christs revelation of Himself and refuse the invitation of the gospel. Morris notes,
The second clause¼involves the rejection of the revelation that God has given in His Son. The gospel is a message of good news, but it is also an invitation from the King of kings. Rejection of the gospel accordingly is disobedience to a royal invitation. 66
Thus the passage in no way supports the idea of faith as obedience to a set of commands.
These passages in Hebrews are discussed separately because of the distinctive nature of this Epistle and its use of terms. Lordship advocates generally assume the salvation spoken of in the Epistle is eschatological from hell, an interpretation that must be evaluated by the contexts of the passages and the book itself.
The Lordship argument from these verses is similar to that for the previous passages. Disobedience is said to be the same as unbelief since 3:18 says the Israelites did not enter Gods rest because they "did not obey" and 3:19 says they did not enter "because of unbelief." MacArthur and ten Pas claim that this passage equates disobedience and unbelief. 67 Mueller claims the same, and adds 4:6 which states that disobedience prevented entrance into Gods rest. 68
In the context, the author of Hebrews is describing the sin of the Israelites in the wilderness by both its cause and its effect. Unbelief is the cause of disobedience just as faith is the cause of obedience. Unbelief is described as disobedience because this focuses on the Israelites refusal to believe Gods promise concerning the promised land, and their consequent refusal to obey His command to possess it. Their unbelief is also evidenced in their fearful report (Num. 13:31-33) and their desire to return to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4). To say that unbelief is the cause of disobedience recognizes a vital relationship between the two, but does not make them equal. It is interesting that MacArthur quotes Vine on 3:18-19 who says that disobedience is the "evidence" of unbelief, because this is far from making disobedience and unbelief equal as MacArthur does. 69
The words "He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (tois @?pakouousin)," have been used by Lordship interpreters to argue that faith is obedience. 70 The "all" obviously refers to believers because Jesus is the author of their salvation and they "obey". It can also be seen that the present tense of @?pakouw indeed denotes continued acts of obedience. However, the salvation spoken of is not salvation from hell. It must be pointed out that the argument of the book is concerned with keeping Christians 71 from falling away and keeping them in the full benefits of Christs ministry. Also, the concept of "salvation" in Hebrews has a distinct sense of not only a final deliverance from hell, but a present and future aspect that relates to the believers rest (4:1, 3, 6, 9-11). 72 This is emphasized by the adjective "eternal" and the comparison of salvation to a future inheritance (1:14; 7:25; 9:15, 28).
The writer of Hebrews apparently uses "obey" in relation to believers to emphasize the obedience of Jesus Christ set forth in the verses which precede verse 9. As the office of High Priest was obtained through His obedience (4:15; 5:7-8), so believers also obtain their blessing through obedience. The obedient act of initially believing in Christ is the first act of obedience that places sinners under the benefits of Christs priestly sacrifice and ministry. Then by continued obedience, they avail themselves of the benefits of His High Priestly ministry to believers, a privilege that can be forfeited (unlike salvation from hell).
It has been argued that faith as obedience is not supported from these Scriptures, unless obedience to the command to believe is meant. That obedience springs from faith is obvious from some Scriptures (e.g., Heb 11). Also, the inner disposition reflected by ones faith, and the act of obeying the command to believe, surely incline the new believer towards obedience so that faith implies obedience. However, there appears to be no good scriptural basis for confusing faith and obedience in essence.
With faith defined as obedience, it is no surprise that Lordship advocates also argue that true believers will live a life of obedience evidenced by measurable works. The word "measurable" is carefully chosen in this discussion, because Lordship proponents can only evaluate the salvation experience of someone based on what they can measure outwardly. MacArthur states, "The fruit of ones life reveals whether that person is a believer or an unbeliever. There is no middle ground." 73 To MacArthur, the fruit must be measurable or "abundant--not something you have to scrounge around looking for." 74 Therefore, the issue in this section is not whether professing Christians bear fruit or not, but whether they bear measurable fruit, or fruit that can always be seen and measured by some standard.
It will soon be apparent that this Lordship understanding of faith is vulnerable to the charge of subjectivity. While it is clear that God desires all Christians to bear fruit (Eph 2:10), and it is certainly an inference from Scripture that all do (1 Cor 4:5), it must be proved whether the Scriptures ascribe a certain measure of works which validates salvation. Ryrie agrees that every Christian bears fruit, but enjoins three appropriate caveats: 1) This does not mean that a believer will always be fruitful, for if there can be minutes of unfruitfulness, why not days, months, or years?; 2) Fruit is not always obvious to an observer, but can be private or erratic; 3) Ones concept of fruit is often incomplete, for biblically speaking, fruit includes less obvious things such as character traits, praise to God, and giving of money. 75
The Lordship position uses a number of passages to show the necessity of measurable fruits to genuine faith. Virtually all refer to Jas 2:14-26, therefore this passage will be discussed first. John 15:1-6 is used to a lesser extent. Other passages which will be discussed are Matt 7:15-20; 7:21-23; John 6:28-29; Gal 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; and Eph 2:10.
This passage may be the crux interpretum in the Lordship debate. 76 Just as these verses were declared by Roman Catholics to be the Achilles heel of the Reformation, 77 so they are similarly used by Lordship advocates against the Free Grace view. The difference seems only a matter of emphasis. Instead of the Romanist assertion that faith plus works obtains salvation, the Lordship adherent argues that the kind of faith that works obtains salvation.
In asserting this, Lordship proponents have been charged with conditioning salvation upon works. Hodges says,
It is pure sophistry to argue that what is meant in such [Lordship] theology is only that works are produced by grace and are simply its necessary results. On the contrary, if I cannot get to heaven apart from the regular performance of good works, those works become as much a condition for heaven as faith itself. Many theologians who hold to the kind of synthesis we are discussing, honestly admit that good works are a condition for heaven! (emphasis his). 78
The conclusion that works are a condition of salvation is indeed admitted by some commentators who take the words of James at face value. For example, one writes, "Logically, then, good works must be a condition of justification." 79 Another states, "The exegesis has shown beyond doubt that James is very critical of faith alone and insists that works are necessary for salvation" 80 and, "for James works are the necessary presupposition for salvation and the decisive soteriological element without which faith is dead and cannot save (emphasis his)." 81
Of course, Lordship interpreters do not admit this, preferring instead to say that works are the necessary fruit of the faith necessary for salvation. They argue that Jas 2:14-26 denounces a sterile intellectual faith as opposed to a genuine saving faith evidenced by works. MacArthur states,
Not all faith is redemptive. James 2:14-26 says faith without works is dead and cannot save. James describes spurious faith as pure hypocrisy, mere cognitive assent, devoid of any verifying worksno different from the demons belief. 82
Likewise, Mueller uses this passage to argue that
¼the true faith that saves (justifies) is the faith that also produces appropriate works (sanctifies). In James thinking, "to be justified by faith" is equivalent to saying "to be justified by works" when the latter works are the fruit of saving faith. To James, these fruits are indispensable and distinguish saving faith from its non-soteric counterfeit (cf. 2:19). 83
But Saucy admits that calling works in James the necessary "fruit" of faith is including obedience in the essence of faith:
If some kind of obedience, represented by the works of James, is necessarily the fruit of saving faith, then it is difficult to see how some dimension of obedience can be totally excluded from the seed of faith. Surely there is something alike in the essence of a particular fruit and the essence of the seed that produced it. 84
In considering the text itself, MacArthurs view represents well the popular and Lordship view of James 2:14-26. 85 The popular view is that it concerns the reality of faith in relation to salvation. MacArthur says, "[James] says that people can be deluded into thinking they believe when in fact they do not, and he says that the single factor that distinguishes counterfeit faith from the real thing is the righteous behavior inevitably produced in those who have authentic faith." 86 This interpretation arises from the assumption that James is speaking of salvation as eschatological and justification as forensic (in the same sense as Paul in Romans 3 and 4). 87 Therefore, the first question to be answered concerns the central issue James addresses in 2:14-26.
An important interpretive key to this passage is a correct understanding of the spiritual condition of James readers. There seems every indication that the readers were true believers. They were born from above (1:18), possessed faith in Christ (2:1), and were considered "brethren" (1:2, 19, 2:1; 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19). 88 Clearly, the "brothers" (adelfoi) are addressed in the introductory 2:14. Also in verse 14, the impersonal tis serves as James hypothetical example and gives no clue as to spiritual condition in and of itself. The closest identity to the tis in verse 14 is the tis in verse 16 which apparently speaks of the same hypothetical person and where it is qualified by autois ex @?mwn for the meaning "one of you". James assumes that there are individuals among his Christian readers who can have faith without works.
The nature of this "faith" mentioned first in verse 14 is a controlling factor in ones interpretation. Is it a genuine Christian faith or a false faith? MacArthur argues that it is this persons claim to be a believer, but it is only an "empty profession." 89 He supports this from the articular use of pistis at the end of the verse: "That faith cannot save him, can it?" 90 However, it is debated whether his interpretation should lean so heavily on the articular pistis when the same construction is found in 2:17, 20, 22, and 26 with no such understanding. Examination shows that when James uses faith as the subject, he also uses the article. 91 The fact that this person "says" (legh) he has faith appears only to state an assumption, the reality of which is not challenged by James. James challenges only the "profit" of such a faith without works. The profit he has in mind is expressed in the use of the verb swzw in verse 14. MacArthur understands the verb and the context to refer to eternal salvation. 92 But this may not harmonize with its usage in James. Though it can surely refer to salvation, swzw is sometimes used in the general sense of "deliver" or "preserve" from danger, loss, or physical death. 93 Its use in 1:21, in context, probably refers to deliverance from the deadening effect of sin in the Christians life. 94 Its other use in 5:20 evidently refers to deliverance from physical death. 95
The context suggests from what one is saved in 2:14-26. The motif of judgment brackets this passage (2:13; 3:1). Since he is addressing Christians, the judgment seat of Christ must be in view. Verse 2:14 appears after a discussion of this judgment (v. 13) without a connecting particle showing the continuity of thought about accountability at the judgment. The judgment seat of Christ is a judgment based on the believers works (1 Cor 3:13; 2 Cor 5:10), which fits James concern exactly. Radmacher comments, "Faith without works is useless in this life and results in serious loss at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2 John 7-8)." 96 The illustration of the destitute brother or sister who is verbally blessed but not helped (2:15-16) shows that this lack of works is profitless (or useless, dead) 97 both for the needy person in this life and consequently to the Christian at the judgment seat of Christ. 98
That James speaks of a genuine faith which cannot "save" a Christian at the judgment seat of Christ is consistent with the New Testaments usage of swzw and its teaching on the bema. In 1 Cor 5:5 swzw is used of the believer at the bema who is saved from suffering a loss of some kind. This believer is already saved from hell, therefore he (as those in James) is saved from having his unworthy works burned (1 Cor 3:12-15) or from suffering a loss of reward and whatever other benefits are bestowed at the bema. 99 Thus it seems the profit of which James speaks is not salvation, but advantages accrued in this life and at the judgment seat of Christ.
Therefore, James is not concerned with the reality of the readers faith, but the quality (1:3, 6; 2:1; 5:15) and usefulness (1:12, 26; 2:14, 16, 20 [NASB]) of their faith. Though most assume James argues that a vital faith will manifest itself in works, upon closer examination he is saying the reverse: that without works faith is useless or unprofitable. This is his thesis, stated summarily in 2:17: "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." The word "dead" (nekra) answers to the word "profit" (ofelos) in the question of 2:16 thus rendering the sense "unprofitable" or "useless." This sense fits the overall concern of his epistle. He is concerned that the readers faith in Christ produce maturity (1:2-4) and the righteousness of God (1:19-20) in the face of trials. Such results come only when one acts on the Word (1:22-25), bridles the tongue (1:26; 3:1-12), and engages in good works (1:27). This kind of faith in trials is profitable because it earns reward from God (1:12) and thus is not "useless" (1:26). 100
Another argument used by MacArthur comes from the objectors sequence in 2:18-20. Recognizing the difficulty of delineating exactly which words belong to the objector and which to the respondent, he concludes, "However one reads it, the essential point is clear: The only possible evidence of faith is works." 101 He goes on to argue that verse 19 is James "assault on passive faith" which shows "Orthodox doctrine by itself is no proof of saving faith." 102
In this objectors sequence, a common interpretation takes the first half of the verse as an objectors words and the last half as James reply. The objector is then saying that one person may be gifted in faith and another in works, i.e., that faith and works can be divorced and either is allowable. James then challenges this in his reply. 103 However, it is likely that verses 18-19 are the words of a supporter of James interjected here in response to the speaker of verse 16. "The writer, with his usual modesty, puts himself in the background, does not claim to be the representative of perfect working faith, but supposes another to speak." 104 This may be indicated by the use of tis both in verses 16 and 18. The All of verse 18 shows objection to the speaker of verse 16. Verse 18 recognizes the possibility of faith without works (cwris), 105 but implies the speakers superiority of faith with works. The NASB attributes all of verse 18 to the speaker. However, it makes sense that the speaker says verse 19 as well, since he is arguing against faith without works. Verse 19 shows that faith (Su pisteueis) is good (Kalws poieis), but not necessarily of practical benefit without works, for the demons believe (ta daimonia pistesousi) the same and only tremble. They truly believe there is one God, but there is no profit because their aversion to good works brings them only the fearful prospect of judgment. James then joins his ally in rebuking the speaker of verse 16 with his words in verse 20. 106 His conclusion in verse 20 echoes the conclusion in verse 17: Faith without works is useless. 107
Whatever view of the objectors sequence one takes, it must be admitted that all verses 19 and 20 affirm is that monotheism, though commendable as a belief, can be held by men and demons to no profit if it is without appropriate good works. 108 Monotheism is much different from faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, thus verse 19 does not speak of a deficient soteriological faith.
Another Lordship argument comes from James examples of working faith in Abraham and Rahab (2:21-25). The text states that both Abraham and Rahab were "justified by works" (ex ergwn edikaiwqh; vv. 21, 25). MacArthur understands this to refer to forensic justification before God. 109 Such an understanding fuels the perennial debate about whether James contradicts Paul; a debate that is unnecessary if James use of justification is understood in context.
It appears that the justification of which James speaks is not that which is before God, but before men. As argued above, salvation from hell is not James concern in the epistle. Rather, he is concerned about the quality of his readers faith. Whether verse 22 is considered a statement or a rhetorical question, James is asserting that Abrahams works made his faith "perfect," not vice versa, though his faith was cooperating with (s?nergei) 110 works. The passive verb eteleiwqh has faith as the subject and works as the instrument with perhaps God as the acting agent. The verb itself means "to perfect" (or "to complete, bring to an end, finish, accomplish," 111 cf. 1:3-4). Abrahams works were used to perfect the quality of his faith. Such a faith made perfect or mature 112 was profitable to him. The examples of Abraham and Rahab answer the question posed in verse 20 about the usefulness of faith without works. Faith is proved to be a useful and profitable faith when it is shown before men. The visible display of faith fulfills the challenge set forth in verse 18 ("Show me your faith") and wins the approval of men who declare that Abraham, for one, was intimately related to God ("And he was called the friend of God," v. 23).
It is therefore entirely valid to speak of a justification before men in the sense of a visible vindication of invisible faith. The Apostle Paul alludes to such a justification in Rom 4:2: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God." In agreement with Paul, James 2:24 states there are two kinds of justification; one concerns practical righteousness before men, and the other judicial righteousness before God. Longenecker remarks on the lack of conflict between Pauls and James use of the word "justification,"
James uses it more phenomenally to mean the recognition of existing goodness and of acts of kindness, whereas Paul employs it more forensically to mean that which God gives to the ungodly. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, Paul employs the verb "to justify" with respect to Gods acceptance of man, whereas James employs the same verb to mean the recognition of what is good, helpful and kind. 113
Certainly James concept of practical justification presupposes Pauls forensic concept, but they are not one and the same.
James ends his discussion with an analogy that illustrates and repeats his thesis: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (nekra) also" (v. 26). While most assume that the analogy teaches true faith animates works, James point is the opposite because the animating principle in the analogy is not faith, but works. It is works which vitalizes or makes faith useful, just as the spirit vitalizes or makes the body useful. MacArthur agrees, "There is no question that Jas 2:26 pictures works as the invigorating force and faith as the body." 114 James says the key to a useful, living faith is good works. He does not say a living faith is the key to good works. So the issue in James is not whether faith exists in a person, but how it becomes profitable or useful to the Christian. 115
MacArthurs interpretation of James 2:14-26 does not adequately treat the passage in light of the argument of the book, the immediate context, the meaning of crucial terms, and the direct statements of the text. The alternative interpretation offered above seeks to resolve the theological tension over works in relation to faith in light of these crucial facts. However they may try to explain this theological tension, the Lordship interpretation of Jas 2:14-26 still sadly focuses on the quality ones faith instead of ones Savior.
Though this passage does not explicitly link faith to works, it will be discussed here because that is exactly the interpretation often given it. Laney, in arguing against a dichotomy between faith and fruit, makes the connection to faith in this passage through the verb "abide," which he claims "is equivalent to believing in Christ," and therefore, "There is no fruit without faith, and there is no faith without fruit." 116 Thus the issue is whether this passage teaches that saving faith must bear measurable fruit.
Laneys argument is summarized here: The fate of the fruitless branches of verse 2 is determined by the word airei, best translated "remove," which denotes judgment. These branches are the same as in verse 6 which says they are "cast out," something Jesus promised never to do to believers (John 6:37), therefore they are professing believers severed from their superficial connection with Christ. Furthermore, their fate of being burned is the destiny of unbelievers only. He also notes the progressive nature of belief in Johns Gospel as an indication of the possibility that faith can fall short of salvation. 117 "Abide," therefore, is said to equal genuine faith, and those who abide will bear visible fruit.
Observation should begin with the wider context. In John, chapters 13-17 form a unique unit of intimate dialogue between Jesus and the disciples on the eve of His arrest. The evangelistic interest of Jesus, prominent in chapters 1-12, is left behind as Jesus addresses His believing disciples. The vast proportion of His message is delivered after Judas, the only unbeliever, leaves (13:31ff.). The lack of an evangelistic appeal signals that an evangelistic motif for 15:1-8 is out of place. Instead, Jesus is concerned about the future fruitfulness of the disciples who will do "greater works" than He (14:12) with the resources of prayer (14:13-14) and the Holy Spirit (14:15, 26).
In verse 1, Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and vinedresser as He reflects Old Testament symbolism in which God pictures His covenant people as a vine (Ps. 80:8-16; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; 5:10; 12:10; Eze. 15:1-8; 17:1-24; Hos. 10:1). Since Jesus is the true vine, any branches in Him belong in a special relationship to Him. He says of the branches in verse 2 that they are "in Me," thus designating this vital relationship. Laney prefers to take the "in Me" adverbially as the sphere in which fruit-bearing can take place, rather than adjectivally as a modifier of "branch." He asserts that word order is not definitive. 118
The fact that most commentators do not consider the phrase problematic and also assume the adjectival interpretation is significant. 119 The closer proximity of en emoi to Pan klhma than feron supports the adjectival interpretation. Also, the phrase, "You are the branches" (@?meis ta klhmata) in verse 5 specifies that the disciples are the branches in Christ. Furthermore, Laney admits that "in Me" is used elsewhere in John to signify genuine salvation (6:56; 10:38; 14:10-12, 30; 17:21). 120 The statement of verse 3 is that the disciples are "already clean" (Hdh...kaqaroi), a reference to their salvation (cf. 13:10). One must ask why Jesus abruptly reminds them of this. It appears he is laying the foundation for his following exhortation which will challenge them in an aspect of Christian truth: "Abide in Me." This command in verse 4 is addressed to the disciples (the imperative Meinate is second person plural), as is the possibility of not bearing fruit expressed by oude @?meis ean mh en emoi meinte: "neither can you, unless you abide in Me." In verse 5 a similar possibility is assumed in the phrase cwris emou ou dunasthe poiein ouden: "without Me you can do nothing." The third class condition used in verse 6 (Ean mh tis meinh en emoi) also supports the possibility of not abiding just as it also shows conditionality in verses 7, 10, and 14. 121 The indefinite tis may temper Jesus statement of possibility by giving the benefit of the doubt to the disciples in regards to the possibility of judgment without totally excluding them. Yet it remains a real possibility that the disciples could not abide. The meaning of "believe" for menw in this passage does not make sense if the disciples are addressed, for they are already clean (v. 3).
The consequences of not abiding are stated most graphically in the controversial verse 6. Laney, holds that the consequences of being cast out, withered, gathered, cast into the fire, and burned speak of those who profess to be Christians but are not and thus are severed from their superficial connection with Christ. He cites only one view consistent with the interpretation that these are Christians; the view that the consequences speak of believers disciplined by death. He then refutes this by noting that the removal of the branch is a prelude to judgment, not the blessing of fellowship with Christ in heaven.
But Laney does not consider another interpretation consistent with his assertion that judgment is in view. 122 According to this interpretation, the judgment is not the final judgment of unbelievers, but that of the believer at the judgment seat of Christ. As Harrison notes, "Since the subject is the bearing of fruit and not eternal life, the burning is a judgment upon fruitlessness, not an abandonment to eternal destruction." 123
A number of commentators admit that the symbolism of verse 6 is obscure. Erdman cautions appropriately that the figure cannot be taken too rigidly: "The thought is not to be pressed as to raise the question of the loss of souls who are once united with Christ. We are concerned here with service rather than salvation." 124 Westcott also believes this refers to the fate of true believers and refuses to press the figure. Commenting on the identity of "they" (the ones who gather), he says, "The indefiniteness of the subject corresponds with the mysteriousness of the act symbolized." 125 It is likely Jesus Himself did not clarify the figure so that the hearer would be left with the single impression that fruitlessness in His children would be severely judged.
In light of subsequent New Testament revelation, the only judgment facing the Christian is the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:10). Paul acknowledged a certain sense of fear involved in the accounting before the bema (2 Cor 5:11), therefore the unpleasant imagery of burning is not inconsistent. Moreover, the judgment seat of Christ will result in the burning of unworthy works (1 Cor 3:15). If the figure must be pressed, the unfruitful works of the believer could be those which are burned in verse 6. 126 Even Boice, a Lordship advocate, comments,
True, the matter of burning is often associated with hell and therefore the loss or non-possession of salvation. But that does not mean that it is always associated with it or that it is associated with it here. On the contrary, burning is not always used of hell, as the passage in 1 Corinthians about works proves. And it is its association with the destruction of useless works rather than with the loss of salvation that is most appropriate in this passage. It is always dangerous to try to interpret a parable on any level other than that involved at its most basic point. 127
The change from tis as the one who "does not abide," "is cast out as a branch, and is withered" to the neuter auta for that which is actually gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned may support Boices view. Somewhat more convincing is the view that the figure simply points to the uselessness of the life of a believer without fruit. It was well known to Johns readers that grape vines without fruit were virtually useless and burned as debris (Eze. 15:1-8). 128 Thus Jesus graphically pictures the life of the fruitless believer as a useless life, as He also indicated in verse 5: "without Me you can do nothing." There is no reason that the fire must be literal since the other elements (Vine, branches, fruit) are allegorical.
If fruitfulness in service is the subject, airei in verse 2 would then speak of something other than eternal judgment. One possibility is to translate airw as "remove" or "cut off" so that it refers to believers whom the Lord removes from earth through death. 129 However, a better view translates the word "lift up." In this view, the vinedresser is seen lifting the blossoming grape branches off the ground so that they will be more exposed to the sun and less susceptible to damage, and thus become fruitful. 130 Once fruitful, the second half of verse 2 (connected by kai) 131 says they are pruned to produce "more fruit." This interpretation of airw is consistent with the figure introduced in verse 1 and the ultimate desire for fruitfulness mentioned at the end of verse 2 and in verse 8. It is also consistent with the use of the word airw as "lift up" elsewhere in John (cf. 5:8-12; 8:59; 10:18,24). Significantly, Jeremias, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, defines airw first as "to lift up from the ground." 132
Therefore, the word "abide," though it may have some conceptual overlap with "believe," 133 is chiefly a word for Christians which describes the most intimate union with Christ. Lexically, menw has the meaning "remain, stay, continue, abide." 134 Not only is it distanced lexically from "believe," but the immediate context does the same: Verse 7 indicates it is the condition for answered prayer, and in verse 10 abiding is a result of keeping Christs commandments (cf. 1 John 3:24). The fact that Christ also abides in the disciples (John 15:4, 5, 7) shows that menw does not denote saving belief, but rather an intimate relationship presupposing faith. It is a word used to describe a fuller progression of faith in John; a faith not progressing to salvation, but from it.
Besides the evidence cited, the inevitable weakness of Laneys view of John 15, and Lordship insistence on quantifiable fruit in general, is the subjectivity of determining when a person is fruitful enough to be considered saved. The use of John 15:1-8 to support faith as resulting in measurable works is in essence an unprovably vague and subjective argument. It can hardly be claimed that "fruit is the ultimate test of true salvation." 135
This passage is used similarly to John 15:1-8 to argue that fruit is the necessary proof of salvation. 136 The key thought is found in verse 16: "You will know them [false prophets] by their fruits" (cf. v. 20).
But here the subject of the passage is false prophets (v. 15), not professing Christians in general. Strictly speaking, the test in 7:15-20 is not for discerning true salvation but for discerning whether a prophet is of God. Also significant is that the test itself is not no fruits but bad fruits (v. 17). In their initial impression (when they first "come to you," v. 15) these false prophets are indiscernible in words and works from other believers (they have "sheeps clothing," v. 15). However, given time to ripen, their fruits will betray them (v. 16). Likewise, a tree cannot be judged good or bad from its outer appearance, but from what fruit it produces (vv. 17-18). Thus the true test of a prophet is whether his fruits are good or bad. "Fruits" can refer to both works (Matt 3:8; 13:23) and words (Matt 12:33-37). 137 This passage, therefore, only teaches how to discern a false prophet, not how to discern whether one is saved or not.
This passage is also quoted by Lordship proponents as evidence that faith which saves must manifest itself in works of obedience. 138 Given their understanding, the passage would actually teach against using works as proof of salvation, because the works performed in verse 22 do not reveal the professors true spiritual condition as shown by the subsequent rebuke (v. 23).
In context, 7:21-23 is chiefly concerned with the false prophets discussed in 7:15-20 (cf. v. 22they "prophesied"). Their prophetic "ministries" of good works are acknowledged (v. 22), but have no merit in the day of final judgment. The only criterion given is whether they did the will of the Father (v. 21). However, the Fathers will could not be good works lest it be concluded that they are saved by works. 139 Those who hold that this refers to a life of obedience must acknowledge that the Fathers will is perfect obedience (Matt 5:48), an impossible standard for unsaved men to reach. Jesus elsewhere characterized believing as doing the work of God (John 6:28-29). It would therefore be consistent if here "My Fathers will" referred to the response of repentance and faith in the gospel (cf. 2 Pet 3:9).
Both MacArthur and Mueller use this dialogue between Jesus and some followers to argue that faith is a work. 140 Jesus answer to those who ask, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" is "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." Believing is not here called a work that God produces, 141 for the question from the followers is "what shall we do" (v. 28, emphasis added). Rather, "the work of God" refers to that which God requires of men. 142 This work, however, is not something done as a human merit or a work of the law, which was what the questioners expected to hear as signified by their use of the plural "works." It is only the act of believing that God requires, as indicated by Jesus answer using the singular "work" (cf. 1 John 3:23). As Blum observes,
Jesus response to their question was a flat contradiction of their thinking. They could not please God by doing good works. There is only one work of God, that is, one thing God requires. They need to put their trust in the One the Father has sent. 143
In these verses faith is associated with works. The phrases "faith working through love" (Gal 5:6) and "work of faith" (1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11) are sometimes referred to as proof that "faith is active in the life and manifests its activity within by producing results in the life." 144 It cannot be denied that faith produces these results. 145 In the Thessalonians passages, however, the faith referred to is not initial saving faith as supposed, but that faith which relates to living the Christian life. 146 The parallel phrases "labor of love" and "patience of hope" in 1:3 confirm that the post-conversion life of faith is in view. Just as labor is prompted by love and patience by hope, work is prompted by faith. Besides, the Apostle Paul is simply acknowledging that the Thessalonians faith was seen in works; he says nothing about whether it must be seen to be legitimate.
Galatians 5:6 is also used to argue that the faith which saves works through love, as if love proved this faith to be genuine. 147 However, it appears the passage discusses faith in the context of sanctification, not justification. Paul speaks to believers (4:31; 5:1) who are "in Christ" (5:6) to persuade them to walk in the Spirit by faith (5:5, 16) and keep the ethic of love not law (5:14). The benefit in view ("avails anything") is not salvation from hell, but the righteous fruit of a life governed by faith (5:5, 22-23). 148 Luther seems to recognize this context in his comment on 5:6:
Paul goeth not about here to declare what faith is, or what it availeth before God; he disputeth not, I say, of justification (for this hath he done largely before), but as it were gathering up his argument, he briefly sheweth what the Christian life itself is¼
¼Wherefore, seeing this place speaketh of the whole life of Christians, no man of good sense can understand it as concerning justification before God. 149
Paul, therefore, is not addressing the reality of justifying faith, but the efficacy of sanctifying faith.
This verse is used in much the same way as those above: to argue that the faith that saves will produce measurable works. 150 But this seems more than the verse really says. "Created . . . for (epi) good works" means that God purposed 151 that every Christian have good works, and though it may be inferred that they will, this phrase says nothing about the fulfillment of the purpose or what measure of works validates faith. These works were prepared by God beforehand (ois prohtoimasen ho qeos) so that Christians might walk in them (@ina en autois peripathsawmen). The purpose clause signified by the @ina uses the subjunctive mood of peripatw to express expectancy and probability, but not certainty. 152 The clause states a purpose, not a promise. Ephesians 2:10 shows that Gods desire for every believer is to walk in the good works He has designed, and surely every believer has some good works (1 Cor 4:5), but it does not make them the decisive validation of genuine faith.
The issue of submission/surrender/commitment in relation to salvation is fully discussed in chapter five under the subject of discipleship and salvation. However, one passage sometimes used to support the idea of faith as submission, John 1:12, should be discussed here because it mentions faith explicitly.
Since submission of ones life to the Lord is at the heart of Lordship theology, it is not surprising that saving faith is defined as such a commitment. Stott writes,
¼ in true faith there is an element of submission. Faith is directed towards a Person. It is in fact a complete commitment to this Person involving not only an acceptance of what is offered but a humble surrender to what is or may be demanded. 153
Arguments to support this idea of faith often refer to the interpretation of pisteuw eis in John, as discussed earlier. In John 1:12, however, appeal is also made to the use of "receive" as a synonym of "believe." Taking the argument further, it is insisted that Christ must be received as Lord of ones life if there is to be salvation. 154
The word "receive" can be taken as a parallel to "believe," but this in no way proves the Lordship argument. The basic meaning of lambanw is "take, receive, accept" not "submit, surrender, commit." 155 The word "receive" is used in 1:12 in contrast to those who "did not know" and "did not receive" Jesus Christ (1:10-11). These negative parallels show that to "receive" is also to "know" (ginwskw). Therefore, acknowledgment and recognition of who Jesus is (as the Messiah and Son of God, cf. 6:69; 8:28; 20:31) is in view, not submission to Him as Lord of ones life.
In view of Lordship Salvations understanding of faith seen thus far, it is not surprising this position sees some examples of believing in the Scriptures as inadequate for salvation. They claim these are examples of only intellectual or emotional faith, not the necessary obedient or submissive faith, and thus spurious. Though "false faith" is usually argued from Jas 2:19 as discussed above, John 2:23-25; 8:30-31; and Luke 8:4-8, 11-15 are claimed as examples of this kind of insufficient faith. In interpreting these passages, the preponderance of commentators assume the same position as the more vocal Lordship advocates.
The argument from this passage focuses on the significance of the terminology in verse 23 and the reaction of Jesus in verse 24. Speaking of Jesus in Jerusalem at the Passover, it is said that "many believed in His name when they saw the signs which he did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men." Commenting on those said to have "believed" in verse 23, MacArthur states,
Their kind of belief has nothing to do with saving faith, as we see from Johns testimony that "Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men" (2:24). Thats a clear statement about the inefficacy of artificial faith. 156
Many commentators agree with MacArthurs assessment of an artificial faith for these "believers." 157 Typically three reasons are posited for this conclusion: 1) They only believed in Christs name, not His person (v. 23); 2) They only believed in the signs, not in Christ as the Messiah (v. 23); 3) Jesus rejected their faith (v. 24).
The first argument must admit that there is no explicit denial of the reality of true faith in this passage. The phrase "believed in His name" (episteusan eus to onoma autou) in 2:23 would be taken the same as in 1:12 were it not for verse 24 (explained below). In 1:12 "those who believe in His name" are those who receive Christ and become Gods children. Likewise, in 20:31, the purpose statement of the book, salvation is indicated by the phrase "life through His name." Also, the conversenot believing in the name of the Son of Godmerits eternal condemnation (3:18). Furthermore, it seems inconsistent for commentators to argue that "believe in" (pisteuw eis) is Johns technical term for saving faith, yet deny that same meaning in 2:23. 158 That John chose to use such language when he could have easily used other is convincing evidence that he meant these people were saved.
Second, the supposed inadequacy of sign-based faith (insufficient faith prompted by signs) is not supported by the text which states that they believed "in His name." This is significant faith regardless of what prompts it because the person of Christ is the object of faith, not signs. The verb qeorew for "saw" can have the basic meaning of "see" or "perceive" with physical eyes, but could also denote the perception of mind and spirit, 159 which may be the sense here. It is used more clearly with this meaning elsewhere in John. 160 Christianson uses three other lines of argument to show that faith based on signs can be fully effectual: 1) Signed-based faith is seen elsewhere in John (1:47-49; 2:11; 4:52-53; 10:41-42; 11:42, 45; 20:26-29); 2) The Lord Himself encouraged faith based on signs (1:50-51; 10:37-38; 14:11); and 3) The Apostle John expected signs to prompt faith (12:37), something he declared in no less than his purpose statement for the Gospel (20:31). 161 Finally, one should consider faith that is prompted by the resurrection of Christ, the greatest of His signs. Faith based on signs may not be on the same level of blessedness as faith exercised apart from signs (20:29), but there is nothing to indicate it does not result in salvation in 2:23.
The third argument appears the most viable because the response to faith described in verses 24-25 is not typical of Jesus. What then is the significance of the words "Jesus did not commit Himself to them" (v. 24)? John evidently intends a word play against the use of pisteuw in verse 23, for "commit" is a transitive use of pisteuw and is used nonsoteriologically. The negative use of pisteuw in verse 24 indicates Jesus lack of confidence in these believers, the reason for which is given in the remaining clauses. The phrases "because (Dia) He knew (ginwskein) all [men]" (v. 24) and "He knew (eginwske) what was in man" (v. 25) indicate a supernatural knowledge about these people that led to an unfavorable impression. The phrases say nothing explicit about the salvation experience of the believers or the genuineness of faith, so the conclusion that Jesus did not commit Himself to them because they had not truly believed must come from inference or theological presuppositions. A better inference incorporates the conclusions cited in response to the first two arguments: that "believed in His name" and sign-based faith legitimately describe genuine faith. In this way the unclear "Jesus did not commit Himself to them" is interpreted in light of the clearer language of "believed in His name."
If taken as genuine faith, Jesus did not want to commit Himself to these believers because their faith was lacking in obedience at this early point. The word "commit" would then denote the intimate relationship with Jesus that brings further disclosure of His person and which is conditioned upon obedience (14:23; 15:14-15). The immature faith of "untrustworthy believers" 162 is a subtle motif in John (9:22; 12:42-43; 19:38). 163 Sadlers words form a fitting conclusion to this discussion:
It has been said that their faith was a false faith, because Jesus, who saw their hearts, did not trust Himself to them. But we have no right to say this: for in the scriptures, especially in this Gospel, every degree of faith is recognized as faith. If it exhibits weakness and deficiency, it is not because the faith is deficient, qua faith, but because the heart is shallow. Faith is a product of the Word of God, received into the heart. It may spring up, and afterwards wither, or be choked; but the springing up is real for the time, and it withers because it has no root, on account of the shallowness of the ground of the heart¼
His not committing Himself to them may be best understood by contrasting His conduct to them with that of His Apostles, to whom He says, "I have called you friends for all things that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you" (xv. 15). 164
Speaking again of Jesus ministry, this passage says, "As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed." Spurious faith is also claimed in this passage, as exemplified in this statement by Morris:
This section of discourse is addressed to those who believe, and yet do not believe. Clearly they are inclined to think that what Jesus said was true. But they were not prepared to yield Him the far-reaching allegiance that real trust in Him implies. 165
The usual reasons for this position are several: 1) It is argued that "believed Him" in verse 31 indicates inadequate faith by the use of pisteuw without the preposition eis; 2) Jesus gives a condition for becoming disciples which is equated with salvation (v. 31); 3) It is said that the hostility of these believers continues (vv. 33ff.) and Jesus calls them children of the devil (v. 44).
The first argument goes against evidence to the contrary. It is obvious that those addressed in verse 31 are the same as those in verse 30 who "believed in Him," a strong term denoting salvation. 166 As argued earlier in the chapter, the construction of pisteuw without the preposition in verse 31 does not prove faith is inadequate. 167 In the context, salvation must be meant since in verse 24 pisteuw with no preposition is used when Jesus states "if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." Also, in John 5:24, a clear salvation verse, no preposition accompanies pisteuw. Sadler rightly concludes,
All this shows that too much stress is laid on the difference between believing on Him and believing Him, particularly when we find that believing Him that sent Him (Ch. v. 24, Revised), expressed the fullest belief unto life. 168
The second argument should be evaluated in light of this evidence. In verse 31, the condition for becoming disciples (Ean @?meis meinhte en tw logw) need not be construed as an admonition to unbelievers. In fact, the opposite is indicated by the emphatic pronoun @?meis which distinguishes the true believers from the rest of the Jews. 169 Also, Jesus admonishes them not to enter His word, but to abide (menw) or continue in it. The aorist subjunctive (Ean...meinhte) indicates a difference among believers: "All are disciples of Jesus who in any way believe in his word, but those are truly disciples who once for all become fixed in his word. Hence also the if." 170 Those who do abide in His word "are" (present tense eimi) "disciples indeed" (alhqws maqhtai) who "will know" (future tense ginwskw) the truth and will be set free (future tense eleuqerow) by it. Knowledge of the truth and freedom are results of both initial faith in Him as well as future results from continuing to abide in Christs word, or teaching. The assumption that they are already in His word indicates "abide" is a condition for further knowledge of the truth and freedom in Christ. Discipleship, as intimacy with Christ, is elsewhere in John made conditional on love and obedience (e.g., 13:35; 14:15, 21, 23; 15:4, 7, 10, 14). 171
The third argument from this passage notes the hostile objections of verses 33 and following. This continuing hostility reflects the opposition of the Jews, which is a major motif of this section. In light of what has been argued thus far, verses 31-32 show Jesus briefly directing His attention to those Jews who were saved as He taught in the temple. Johns commentary in verse 30 is inserted before Jesus remarks to direct the reader to a change of focus by Christ before the opposition resumes in verse 33 as a reaction to Christs remarks.< 172 Lenski notes that the editorial significance of the information is similar to that in verse 27 which explains to the readers why Jesus turned to prophecy in verse 28. 173 As soon as He finishes his remarks to these believers, the Jews raise another objection, just as they have been doing from the start of the dialogue (cf. 8:13, 19, 22, 25). The objection of verse 33 is totally out of character with the inclination of those mentioned in verses 31 and 32. The identity of those in verse 33 is assumed, as Lenski argues, "John does not need to say in v. 33 who these objectors are, for we have heard them from the very start, and their objection is of the same type as before." 174 Jesus thus calls the unbelieving Jews children of the devil (v. 44).
The above interpretation is most reasonable because it prevents Christ, who says in verse 45 "you do not believe Me," from contradicting John in verses 30-31 who said they "believed in Him" and "believed Him." It also has greater textual and theological consistency than that which labels these "unbelieving believers."
The parable of the soils is also used by Lordship advocates to argue for spurious or temporary faith. 175 The parable and its interpretation is found in Matt 13:3-23 and Mark 4:3-20, but the account in Luke is of special interest to this study because it says that the second soil (shallow soil on the rock) represents those who "believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (8:13). Luke is the only author to say these believed. 176 Concerning this second group, the argument for the Lordship position says of their reception of the gospel (the seed sown),
No thought is involved, no counting of the cost. It is quick, emotional, euphoric, instant excitement without any understanding of the actual significance of discipleship. That is not genuine faith. 177
It could be argued that hermeneutically it is unwise to press every detail of a parable for theological subtleties. Whether these groups genuinely believed or not may not be significant to the main point of this parable which simply teaches that people respond differently to the gospel and those with good hearts bear abundant fruit. However, it is significant that the word "believe" is used of the second group, for it has been argued in passages studied so far that "believe" signifies authentic faith.
There is evidence to suggest that "believe" means no less than saving faith here. First, it is observed that only the first group has the word (obviously the gospel) snatched from them by Satan "lest they should believe and be saved" (v. 12). But those of the second group (v. 13) receive the word and believe apart from Satans interference. 178 The text indicates by grammatical (de) and literary contrasts that belief clearly secures salvation, something the devil understands when he takes away the word in verse 12. This being so, it would be a hermeneutical travesty to give "believe" in verse 13 a different meaning from verse 12 without overwhelming support. 179 Marshall argues that Lukes use of pisteuw in this passage is in no way distinctive from other soteriological uses in the Synoptics. 180 In addition, this formula of decomai with ton lwgon ("receive the word") is used consistently by the early church for belief that brings genuine salvation (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6 [which adds "with joy" as Luke does]; 2:13). 181
What may make this belief in verse 13 seem spurious is the phrase "for a time" (pros kairon) that modifies pisteuw, and the related fact that in time of testing these believers "fall away" (afistantai). Obviously, both indicate a faith that does not endure, but they also fall short of denying the initial reality of that faith. If these details are to be pressed for significance in relation to the reality of faith, then it must also be admitted that real germination and growth also occurred, because the seed (word of the gospel) "sprang up" (v. 6). Furthermore, it should be noted that Luke gives the reason for the withering of the second groups growth as both "it lacked moisture" (8:6) and "these have no root" (8:13), to which Matthew and Mark add mention that this group "did not have much earth" (Matt 13:5; Mark 4:5). The concepts are all related, but in no way jeopardize the integrity of the initial reception of the word as all relate to growth, not germination. 182 In fact, the concept of being "rooted" is used elsewhere of the basis for ongoing sanctification after salvation (Eph 3:17; Col 2:6-7). Finally, the possibility that real faith can fail seems implied by the Lord Himself in Luke 22:32 when He tells Peter, "I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail." 183
There must always be caution when using parables to teach doctrine, especially the major doctrines of soteriology. The interpretation of parables must be held accountable to the plain teaching of Christ and the rest of the New Testament. 184 In this context, Jesus is teaching there will be various degrees of acceptance of the message of the gospel. He is not teaching how people are saved. There is sufficient evidence not only to question but also to reject the Lordship argument that the parable of the soils, specifically Luke 8:13, teaches the possibility of a spurious faith.
The Lordship concept of faith relies heavily on the assumption that saving faith is a gift of God which contains a divine dynamic to sustain the believer in a righteous life. Faith is said to be a "saving energy" which is "divinely produced." 185 The logical conclusion is stated by Miller: "¼if it is accepted that faith is a gift of God, then it would seem possible to assert that part and parcel of the gift of faith is the ability and will to commit ones life to the object of saving faith, Jesus Christ, not just the ability to place trust in His promise to deal with the sin question." 186 Likewise, MacArthur concludes, "The faith God begets includes both the volition and the ability to comply with His will¼In other words, faith encompasses obedience." 187
Support for faith as this kind of a gift from God centers on the text of Eph 2:8-9 which says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone one should boast." 188 The crucial interpretational problem is the identity of the antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun touto, "that," connected by kai to the preceding Th gar cariti (grace) este seswsmenoi (perfect passive participle of swzw) dia ths pistews (faith). Is it "grace," "faith," or salvation as a whole? Less common is the view that "grace" is the antecedent, for then it would be redundant to call it a "gift." A few commentators argue that "faith" is the antecedent, 189 a view just shown to be most conducive to Lordship theology. However, this is unlikely since "that" (touto) is neuter but "faith" (and "grace" also) is feminine.
The antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun "that" is best taken as the concept of salvation presented in the verse. Exegetical support for this is compelling. First, this is consistent with salvation by grace as the governing theme of the context beginning in chapter 1, and especially in 2:4-9. Second, as Hoehner notes, it is common for the neuter touto to refer to the previous phrase or clause, as in 1:15 and 3:1. 190 Third, there is parallelism between "not of yourselves" in verse 8 and "not of works" in verse 9 which best harmonizes with the concept of salvation by grace through faith rather than faith only. Many commentators support the view that the antecedent is salvation. 191 MacArthur concedes somewhat, but contends that since faith is part of the process of salvation in this passage, it is a gift of God also. 192 But this too easily confuses the gift (salvation), the grounds (grace), and the means (faith). 193
The Lordship conclusion that faith is a gift of God is a theological inference as Hoekema admits:
It is hard to find specific biblical texts teaching that faith is the gift of God. The fact that we are completely dependent on God for our salvation as well as everything else certainly implies that we cannot have true faith unless God enables us to do so. 194
However, there are some theological problems with faith as a gift of God in the way Lordship advocates interpret it. 195 First, when faith is called a dynamic (the same as calling it a power), it is confused with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the agent of salvation and the Power that effects a changed life. Faith is the instrument of salvation which, when exercised as a response to Gods grace, secures the Spirits salvation. Second, the idea of faith as an infused substance resembles Roman Catholic sacramentalism and neglects the aspect of human response. 196 Third, if faith is the gift of Gods saving power, the demand for people to "believe" seems misplaced. A command to "accept Gods power" would be more appropriate, yet this is not how the gospel is presented in the Bible. Finally, if faith is infused as a divine dynamic that guarantees good works, the many admonitions to good works in the New Testament seem eviscerated of real significance.
The Holy Spirit is the effectual power for both salvation (John 3:5) and the believers sanctification 197 through the exercise of ones faith. Faith is not an "energy" or a "dynamic;" these terms must be reserved for God the Spirit. The Lordship understanding of faith as an infused energy seems beyond biblical validity, especially if Ephesians 2:8-9 is the chief appeal. 198
Having argued what faith is not, it is necessary to articulate a definition and description of faith consistent with the biblical evidence. The purpose of this section is to state the nature of faith in a way that reflects the biblical evidence as that to which Lordship advocates must respond.
It is clear that faith is a human response for the simple reason that God commands it of men (Acts 16:31). As shown above, the gift of Eph 2:8-9 is salvation, not faith. 199 Faith does not come from outside a person, but from within. Berkouwer rightly says,
¼faith is not a gift in the sense of a donum superadditum added to the human nature as a new organ. This would mean that an unbeliever is less of a human than a believer. Such a notion is the result of cutting off faith from total concreteness of human life. 200
God the Spirit convicts people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) by His revelation of the truth about Jesus Christ in the gospel (2 Cor 4:6). In this way God stirs people to respond and draws them to Himself (John 6:44), but in the end faith is a persons own responsibility. It is not necessary here to harmonize this human side of salvation with the doctrine of divine election, but only to note that the Bible clearly teaches both, and a person must accept both whether or not the mystery can be fathomed. 201
Since faith is not a "divine dynamic" but a human response, it can be stripped of the cumbersome requirements attached to it by Lordship teachers. Obedience, measurable works, and submission, if included in faith, would depend on a divine infusion of power. Faith would be the result of salvation instead of salvation the result of faith as Acts 16:31 so clearly demonstrates. Faith as a simple response is evidenced in many Bible passages; so many that discussion of them all would be redundant. Some exemplary ones will be mentioned briefly.
Since the purpose of Johns Gospel is to bring people to faith in Christ (20:30-31), it should be the primary source of instruction on the nature of faith. Here the verb pisteuw is used almost one hundred times in relation to salvation. One example of a full invitation to salvation through faith is found in the simple words of 3:15 and 16: "Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." There are no conditions attached here, only the synonym "look" for believe (3:14; cf. Num. 21:8-9), the force of which is captured by Hogan: "In looking, there is no idea of committal of life, no thought of healing being deserved, no question concerning the subsequent life of the looker, no possibility of surrender to the object of vision." 202 With equal simplicity Jesus told the woman at Sycar, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." If there are hidden conditions to salvation other than the simple request of faith, Jesus would be guilty of deception. 203 Other offers in John are just as simple and clear (1:12; 5:24; 6:47; 7:37-38; 8:24; 9:35-38; 11:25-26; 12:46), as is the purpose statement in 20:31: "but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."
Another key passage that explicitly argues the necessity of faith alone for salvation (justification) is Romans 4. Nothing in this passage includes in faith the ideas of commitment, submission, or obedience. Faith is instead contrasted with anything that would make justification a reward for human merit (Rom 4:4-5, 16).
The general nature of simple faith is seen in the unencumbered formula "Ask, and it will be given to you" in Matt 7:7. Such a promise assures that the simple response of man to Gods free gift of salvation will also be rewarded. As Machen asserts, "Certainly, at bottom, faith is in one sense a very simple thing; it simply means that abandoning the vain effort of earning ones way into Gods presence we accept the gift of salvation which Christ offers so full and free." 204 Godets comment on Pauls concept of faith is similar:
"Faith, in Pauls sense, is something extremely simple, such that it does not in the least impair the freeness of salvation. God says: I give thee; the heart answers: I accept; such is faith." 205
The simplicity of faith for receiving the gift of salvation persists to the closing words of the Bible: "And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17).
If one claims that there are different kinds of faith, one empty or intellectual and another effectual or volitional, it seems unsafe to claim support from the Bible. The passages studied in this chapter can be used to argue that in the Scriptures, the response of faith in the gospel anticipates genuine faith. And though Bible passages may on occasion emphasize either the aspects of knowledge and assent (e.g. John 11:26-27; 20:31; 1 John 5:1; 1 Cor 15:1-11) or the volitional aspects (e.g. the commands to believe), the three are never wholly separated, nor can they be. 206 Saving facts are necessary to saving faith, 207 so is agreement with the facts, but the response to the command to believe those facts is also essential. While it could be said that mere knowledge and mental assent without a personal response falls short of the biblical understanding of saving faith, it is doubtful that such psychologizing of faith should really be imposed on the Bible. The construct of faith as knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and volition (fiducia) may be used to describe the nature of faith psychologically, but should not be used to distinguish different kinds of faith biblically. 208
Still the volitional aspect of faith must be articulated, because this is where the Lordship controversy centers. Hodges defines faith as "receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true." 209 But he also calls it "an act of appropriation," 210 which seems to imply a personal response of embracing as trustworthy the object (or promise) in view. No more than this can be understood by saving faith. Faith as a commitment of the totality of ones life to the Lord simply has no biblical support. The only commitment that might be said to characterize faith is the commitment of ones eternal destiny to Christ for salvation. 211 But this is actually secondary to the primary idea of passive appropriation. Machen notes,
The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, over against love and over against everything else in man¼is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in the slightest measure, but that God saves us. 212
Since faith in the Bible always speaks of genuine faith, what determines its validity in the Scriptures is not its quality, but its object. Warfield writes, "The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith." 213 Properly speaking, one is not saved by faith as a condition, but through faith as a means. 214 To examine the quality of ones faith is therefore a misplaced emphasis. Again, Machens words are appropriate:
The efficacy of faith, then, depends not upon the faith itself, considered as a psychological phenomenon, but upon the object of the faith, namely Christ. Faith is not regarded in the New Testament as itself a meritorious work or a meritorious condition of the soul; but it is regarded as a means which is used by the grace of God: the New Testament never says that a man is saved on account of his faith, but always that he is saved through his faith or by means of his faith; faith is merely the means which the Holy Spirit uses to apply to the individual soul the benefits of Christs death (emphasis his). 215
To emphasize the quality of ones faith necessarily means that the object of faith is de-emphasized. 216 The proper object of faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ as declared in the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-11, 14, 17). Genuine faith in an improper object cannot save (Jas 2:19).
This truth is born out in the many miracle narratives which show that simple faith secures the power of God. Most notable is the account of the boy with the mute spirit and his father who received a miracle though his faith was small (Mark 9:14-29). In the parallel account (Matt 17:14-21) Jesus used the occasion to teach that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to secure miracles (cf. Luke 17:6). A small faith is not inferior in quality, but in amount. Such is also the case with saving faith.
Weak faith will not remove mountains, but there is one thing at least that it will do; it will bring a sinner into peace with God. Our salvation does not depend upon the strength of our faith; saving faith is a channel not a force. 217
The sad consequence of examining the quality of faith instead of its object is simply that one begins to put faith in ones faith instead of its object. Objectivity is surrendered to subjectivity and inevitably assurance of salvation is impossible. 218 Machen expresses it this way:
¼it is not as a quality of the soul that faith saves a man, but only as the establishment of contact with a real object of the faith.
¼Faith is, indeed, nowadays being exalted to the skies; but the sad fact is that this very exaltation of faith is leading logically and inevitably to a bottomless skepticism which is the precursor of despair. 219
It has already been observed from Pauls definitive theology of the gospel, his Epistle to the Romans, that salvation is a free gift (Rom 6:23) secured by the obedience of Christ, not the sinner (Rom 5:15-21). Faith in and of itself can have no merit (Rom 4:4-5, 16). Faith as a divinely prompted yet human response in no way makes it a meritorious work that earns salvation.
The lexical evidence and Bible passages do not support the Lordship definition of faith as obedience, willingness to obey, or submission. Neither can it be shown that faith is a "divine dynamic" which is a gift from God or that it guarantees a certain measure of works, though it implies works. Furthermore, there is no strong argument that the Bible contains examples of spurious faith. Faith is always real faith.
The lexical evidence shows that faith is trust, reliance upon, or confidence in something. Biblical passages demonstrate its simplicity as a human response. It involves man in his intellectual and volitional capacities which should not be separated. The validity of faith is determined by the quality of its object, not the quality of faith itself.
What makes saving faith different from any other faith is its object. Therefore, saving faith is defined as trust or confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior from sin. It is a personal acceptance of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for the sinner. There is full agreement with Calvins definition of faith:
Now we shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say, that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence towards us, which, being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our minds, and confirmed in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. 220
When one believes, he takes God at His word and personally appropriates the provision of Christs free gift of salvation for himself. This is saving faith.
1 Louis Berkhof elaborated this definition of faith attributing its origin to the Reformers (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939], 496-97, 503-5). Berkhof, Charles Hodge, and John Murray are favorably cited by Ryrie (Salvation, 119-121), which shows some agreement between Reformed theology and the Free grace position on the volitional aspect of faith as the issue in salvation. Cf. Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 29; John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 138.