Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is faith a condition for salvation?

Among certain circles that tend towards or are hyper-Calvinistic, there is a denial that faith is a condition for salvation. After all, if salvation is truly free, then Man cannot contribute anything to his salvation. Faith is something exercised by the individual, and thus it is something the individual has and does. So, if Man cannot contribute anything to his salvation, and faith is a human act, faith therefore cannot contribute anything to the individual's salvation. The reality of faith is not denied, but faith itself is not seen as a condition for salvation.

Now, of course, this seems strange, or it should. Scripture does after all calls us to believe and be saved. Putting both claims together however seems to be pitting the Bible against Systematics. Is the straightforward reading of the Scriptures wrong then, or perhaps more likely there is a serious problem in the Systematic theological understanding of those who deny faith as being a condition?

The main issue at hand is what do we mean by the term "condition"? Does condition mean that the thing conditioned upon would contribute to the process? Such however is not what the term "condition" mean. For the term "condition" is a mere logical term. It describes logical propositions with an "if, then" clause. If X is a necessary condition, then the proposition is simply "If not X, not Y." Conversely, if X is a sufficient condition, then the proposition is simply "If X, then Y." Therefore, when the claim is made that faith is a necessary condition for salvation, we are merely saying "If a person has not faith, then that person is not saved." When we claim that faith is a sufficient condition for salvation, we are merely saying "If a person has faith, that person is saved." Expressed in propositional form, it should be self-evident that the Bible teaches that faith is both necessary and sufficient for salvation.

To this, our objector can of course repeat the claim that having faith as a condition compromises the free grace of salvation. To that, we can reply that our logical propositions are not interested in that issue at all. In other words, saying that faith is a condition says absolutely nothing about whether salvation requires a work of Man in faith (as if faith is a work of Man in the first place!). Monergistic salvation is only compromised if we claim that faith is a purely human work. But isn't faith something done by individuals? Yes. And yet still it is God's doing. Ephesians 2:8-9 claims that the salvation by grace through faith not of works, the whole deal, is a gift of God. But how then can faith be a human action and a gift of God at the same time? Our response to that would be, "Why not"? What exactly about the proposition, that faith is both a human action and a gift of God, is problematic? Wherein lies the contradiction? To claim that there is a contradiction is to claim that God's actions necessarily preclude (genuinely free) human actions, but why should that be the case? Since God does not operate on the same level as us, He being God, why are we trying to flatten the plane of action such that God and Man must compete to see what percentage of actions belongs to God and what percentage to Man?

The problem with using partial truths of systematic theology, abstract it from other parts of Scripture, and then use that new "central dogma" to read Scripture is that it distorts the truths of Scripture. The "central dogma" of God's absolute sovereignty when taken up by the Hypers create all sorts of heretical nonsense. It sounds nice when the statement is made that we want to defend the sovereignty of God in all things. But what is the practical implications for denying the conditionality of faith? It means that those two statements, being expressive of faith's conditionality, must be wrong. In other words, the statements "If a person has not faith, that person is not saved" and "If a person has faith, that person is saved," cannot be true. Ironically, denying faith's conditionality could lead to either (Calvinistic) Universalism or Inclusivism. Faith being decoupled from salvation means salvation is now purely a matter of election. Depending on how one wants to interpret and discern election, that could mean anything from universalism (God elects everyone), inclusivism (God elects some, who may or may not express faith, and thus may or may not be Christians), to Hyper-Calvinistic particularism (God elects some, and how we know who He elects is through them believing in the right doctrine as we do - knowledge being the expressive of election). In all these, there is a unholy desire to peer into God's archetypal knowledge and discern truths that God has not seen fit to reveal to us.

Faith therefore is a condition for salvation. The Reformed tradition of course has qualified it by stating that it is the instrumental condition, since faith does not contribute to our salvation but merely grasps and receives Christ. Yet, it is still a condition, and we should all agree to that.

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