By Leon Goff
There is always a great need to restore people to confidence in New Testament teaching on these important themes. God’s truth does not need to be restored for it has never been lost or destroyed. The so-called “Restoration Movement” does not need to be restored, but men who have departed from the truth need to come back to New Testament teaching in all areas of belief and practice. The New Testament church does not need to be restored for it has never been destroyed, but men, and women who have apostatized from the doctrine of Christ need to come back to belief .and practice of New Testament teaching concerning the church (1 Tim. 4:1-2; Acts 20:28-32).
Controversy has raged, especially since the days of John Calvin and the Protestant reformers, over the place of faith and works in man’s justification. Calvinism has had wide influence upon protestant denominationalism in general, and those of the “Restoration Movement” have persistently fought the battle against Calvinistic influence with regard to faith and works. However, in recent years, many of us have been surprised and disturbed to see a number of preachers and brethren among churches of Christ promoting some of the Calvinian views relating to faith and works. Brethren, we need to know the difference between New Testament and Calvinistic teachings on salvation by faith and works.
New Testament Teaching on Faith
Justification by faith is a New Testament teaching (Rom. 5:1; 1:16,17; Heb. 10:38,39; Gal. 3:11,12), but the doctrine of justification by faith only is opposed to everything taught in the New Testament (James 2:14-24; Heb. 10:38-12:4; Rom. 6:17,18).
1. Justification by faith is justification by the gospel, the faith. Paul preached “the gospel” (Gal. 1:11), but in so doing he preached “the faith” (Gal. 1:23). He also wrote of the faith that was heard (Gal. 3:25), the faith that came (Gal. 3:23,25), the faith revealed (Gal. 3:23), and the “word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 10:8). Jude speaks of “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Then Paul wrote of the faith that was believed (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:22). But, does the existence of the gospel, the word of faith revealed, automatically assure everyone salvation? Only the universalist so affirms.
Justification by faith is not justification by an opinion (Heb. 11:29; the Egyptians had the opinion they could make it). Justification by faith necessarily includes justification by the gospel, for without this word of salvation from God man could not believe in his heart unto salvation (Rom. 10:17). The Israelites heard God’s word and marched by faith, but the Egyptians marched by opinion because God did not command them to march (Heb. 11:29).
2. Justification by faith is justification by belief in the heart of the individual produced by the preaching of the gospel, or the preaching of the faith (Rom. 1:16,17; 10: 8- 10). These Scriptures make it clear that believing is an act performed by man in his heart. These passages that show the importance of believing do not exclude other acts commanded in other Scriptures. For example, faith passages do not exclude repentance, confession, ot baptism simply because they do not specifically mention these acts.
3. Justification by faith is justification to the faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:25,26; Acts 6:7). Since “the faith” and “the gospel” are synonymous, then “obedience to the faith” and “obedience to the gospel” are equal ideas. Paul says that his Israelite brethren in the flesh were lost because “they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16). At the same time he argued they were lost because they tried to be justified or made righteous by works of law and not by faith (Rom. 9:31,32). Therefore, Paul distinguishes between justification by works of law and salvation by obedience to the faith or the gospel.
In Hebrews 11, the list of Old Testament faithful is a demonstration of the kind of faith that is “to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:38,39). Saving faith was a faith that “offered,” “moved,” “prepared,” “obeyed,” “refused,” “chose,” “forsook Egypt,” “kept,” “passed through,” “marched,” etc. (Heb. 11). It was always an obedient faith, or a faith that obeyed.
In James 2:14-26, the point is the same. What kind of faith presents one acceptable, righteous, justified before God? Not a faith “without works” (2:20,26); not a faith that is alone” (2:17,24); which is described as “dead” (2:17,20,26); and one that does not profit (2:14-16). Saving faith is a faith that is perfected in works of, or obedience to the faith (2:21-25).
New Testament Teaching On Works
Just as there are different kinds of faith (dead, weak, alone, without works, and saving faith), there are different kinds of works. Both Webster and Vine define a work as being an “act” or “deed.”(1) The word is used to refer to an “act” or “deed” performed by (1) God (John 10:37; 14:10; Heb. 1:10); (2) Christ (Mt. 11:2; John 5:36); (3) the devil (John 8:41; 1 John 3:8); (4) Babylon (Rev. 18:6); (5) unbelievers (Mt. 23:3,5); and (6) by believers in Christ and God (Mt. 5:16; Rom. 13:3). It should be obvious that the works of the devil, Babylon, and unbelievers do not justify, but this does mean that works of no kind have anything to do with our salvation.
There are different kinds of works that professed believers sometimes perform: works or deeds that are the traditions, doctrines and commandments of men (Mt. 15:9), works done to receive the applause of men (Mt. 23:5); works of the law of Moses done after the New Testament came into force (Acts 13:39; Gal. 2:16; 3:16-25; Rom. 9:30-10:4); and works of sinless perfection by which a person would merit or earn salvation, or works, even though not perfectly sinless, in which a person has the attitude that he has paid for or earned his justification (Rom. 4:4,5; Eph. 2:8,9; Gal. 3: 10; Rom. 10:5). Again, it should be obvious that none of these works has anything to do with our salvation.
But, there is yet another kind of works of which the New Testament speaks, called works of faith (1 Thess. 1:3), or works that perfect faith (James 2:22); good works or works of God’s righteousness, because they are authorized or commanded by God. They are works, acts or righteousness done or performed by man arising out of the faith in the God who commanded the works (Tit. 3:8-14; Acts 10:34,35; 1 John 2:29; 3:7, 10). Even faith itself is called a work of this kind (John 6:28,29). This kind of works or obedience is absolutely necessary to our salvation (Heb. 11:6; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).
If we can understand that the act of believing (performed by man in his heart) is not a work that merits or earns salvation, why cannot we understand that the acts of repentance, confession of faith in Christ, and baptism in the name of Christ are not works that merit or earn salvation? They are, rather, works (acts/deeds) of faith performed by man that show confidence and trust in Christ our Savior as surely as the act of believing shows trust in Christ.
In fact, in Galatians 3:26-29, in the context in which Paul is setting forth justification by faith without “works of law,” he classifies baptism as an act under justification by faith, not under justification by law. He wrote that they were children of God by faith for (for the reason) that they had been baptized into Christ. In Galatians 5:1-6, Paul classifies circumcision under law by which we are not justified. Where did the idea originate that if a person is baptized under the commandment of Christ in order to receive forgiveness of sins he is saying by his act of baptism that he is sinlessly perfect and has earned his salvation? Not from the Bible, but from Calvinism. As the Bible does, we must distinguish between acts performed by man in faith toward Christ to receive forgiveness, and acts performed designed to say that I am so good that I do not need forgiveness, for I have earned salvation.
Calvinism In Contrast
Calvinism teaches that a person is a sinner before he ever commits one sin. He inherits at birth the guilt of Adam’s sin (Total Hereditary Depravity) and that “His will is not free . . . he will not – indeed he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm.”(2) He is not a sinner by choice, but he was born a sinner and has no choice but to sin. Secondly, Calvinism teaches that each person is chosen individually by God to salvation or to remain in condemnation of sin without any choice or without “any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc.”(3) (Unconditional Foreordination, Predestination and Election). Calvinists further state: “Thus election was not determined by, or conditioned upon, anything that men would do. . . . “(4) Thirdly, those elected to salvation are the only ones Jesus died for (Limited Atonement), and remember that the elect and non-elect are not such by their choice. Fourthly, that “the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call. . . (which is only to the elect) cannot be rejected. . . . By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ”(5) (Irresistible Grace). At this point even though they speak of the Spirit causing the elect to come freely and willingly, such a thought is contradictory because the point has already been admitted that they are irresistibly drawn (forced) to be saved. Lastly, Calvinism teaches the doctrine of the “Perseverance” of the saints, or “once saved, always saved.” They state: “True believers do fall into temptations, and they do commit grievous sins, but these sins do not cause them to lose their salvation or separate them from Christ.”(6) Why is this? “Christ, acting on behalf of his people, perfectly kept God’s law and thereby worked out a perfect righteousness which is imputed or credited to them the moment they are brought to faith in Him. . . Consequently, when his people are joined to him by faith, they are credited with perfect righteousness and are freed from all guilt and condemnation.”(7) In the Calvinist’s view, God would have to condemn His own Son in order to condemn one of the elect regardless of what sins he may commit and continue in.
Many Calvinists beg the question on this point (including Calvin himself)(8) by saying the elect will do good works and not evil. But they meet themselves coming back, arguing in one breath that what one does has nothing to do with his salvation, and in the next breath arguing that a person’s evil works is proof that he never was one of the elect. It cannot be both ways.
Calvinism teaches that one is a sinner and lost without his choice, then he is saved or left in a lost condition without his choice. Once he is saved, he could not be lost if he wanted to be, and if he is lost (non-elect) through no choice of his own, he could not choose to 6e saved even if he wanted to be.
In pointing out the consequences of Calvinism, I realize that I have not satisfied Calvinists by the manner in which I have commented upon their teaching, but I have shown the inescapable conclusions of these false doctrines. Remember, because Calvinism teaches that no kind of good work or obedience done by man has anything to do with his salvation, they are forced into the position that no evil works will condemn a Christian. If evil works condemned, then they would have to teach men the necessity of quitting evil works and doing good works in order to be saved. But, they are already committed against that proposition in spite of all the Scriptures that teach obedience of faith being necessary to salvation. Calvinism is not an innocent optional religious philosophy, but is a false system to the core, and will condemn one’s soul to hell.
Let us have the kind of faith in Christ that will lead us to do what He commands (Lk. 6:46).
9.(NOTE: No corresponding notation found in original document) Ibid., Book 111, Chap. X1, 14.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 11, pp. 333-334, 353
June 5, 1986