Plus Nothing

The points made in the previous post apply in another way to the problem posed for sola fide by theological Arminianism. To be faithful to Scripture we have to reject all notions of “faith-plus-something-else” salvation. Salvation must be all of God.

The ground of our salvation must be Christ and His work alone. Just as we are lost through our union with Adam, so we are saved through our union with Christ in His perfect life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. When we speak of the ground of salvation, we are talking about the basis for it, the reason for it. Everyone who comes to salvation is saved because of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, plus nothing. His work is the sole reason we are saved.

But does this mean that we do nothing? And if we do something, is that something “our part” which is the partner with God who does “His part”? Not at all. Of course, we do something (we repent and believe), but everything we do is built upon the foundation of Christ’s work. We do not extend our work out from Christ’s work; rather, we build our work upon Christ’s work. We do not build out, we build up.

But in order to build upon God’s work, instead of extending out from God’s work, it is necessary for us to grasp the biblical truth that both repentance and faith are gifts of God. Repentance and faith don’t get us grace; repentance and faith are grace.

But this distinction between the ground of our salvation and the instrument of our salvation is only possible if faith is God’s instrument for saving us, not our instrument for getting the job done. If it were our instrument, then our wielding of that instrument would necessarily become part of the ground of our salvation–that upon which our salvation rests. “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:5-6).

But we don’t have to depend on theological extrapolations. This is what the Bible says. Apart from repentance we cannot believe, and apart from faith we cannot be saved. And both repentance and faith are gifts from God.

First, we see that the Bible speaks of repentance being granted to us. “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life’” (Acts 11:28).

The apostle Paul speaks the same way. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

The same thing is true of faith. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake . . .” (Phil.1:29).

Luke describes Christians as those who have believed through grace, not “believed in grace.” “And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:27).

The conclusion is plain. God gives the gifts of repentance and faith, so that no one can boast. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it [i.e. faith] is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

The first good work we were created for is conversion–turning away from sin in repentance, and turning to God in faith. This work we do because we are God’s workmanship, and the work we do was prepared beforehand by God so that we could walk in that work.

And what is the work of God? “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” (John 6:29). This is the work of God, that you believe.

Now if this is true, and it is, then what becomes of those who deny it? What becomes of those who believe, contrary to Scripture, that faith is our contribution? Are they lost? The biblical answer is–of course not. We are saved by faith in Christ, plus nothing. We not saved by faith in Christ, plus a passing grade on the theology exam.

This is where self-righteous Calvinists so often trip up. Imagine an exam that God made us all take. It has ten questions on it, each of them amounting to something like “Who saves you?” with the correct answer being “Jesus.” Two men take the exam — an arch Calvinist and an Arminian. Further in our supposal, imagine the exams are being graded by John Owen, John Murray, and the apostle Paul. The Calvinist got a 100% and the Arminian scored an 80%. The Arminian had put down a couple of things about “God voting for him, the devil voting against him, and so he broke the tie, voting for God.” The Calvinist dances back to his desk, trusting in his 100%, and the Arminian bowed his head and asked God to be merciful to him, a B-minus Christian. Which one went home justified?

The Arminian was justified because his answer was wrong. The Calvinist went home unjustified because the glory of all those right answers dazzled his eyes.

So there it is — faith in Jesus, plus nothing else. Nothing else.

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