five solas and one more
Faith alone can be misunderstood. Even though Romans 5:1 tells us, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus is not the cause or condition of justification. Of course I have read discussions about distinctions between conditions, where it is explained that faith is an “instrumental” condition. However a mainline term that may be, I don’t agree with that explanation of faith.
My problem is not that the traditional “instrumental” language can be misunderstood. Any explanation of faith’s necessity that I give can also be misunderstood. I believe that faith in the true gospel (which includes “for the elect alone”) is necessary evidence that a person has passed from a state of condemnation to a state of justification. This faith in the gospel is not a knowledge that a person has been justified all along, or assurance that a person has been justified from the time of the cross or before a person was born. This faith in the gospel, which includes understanding of the gospel, is the result of being born again, which is the result of being imputed with the merits of Christ’s death.
In the false gospel which tells all sinners that Christ died for them, faith is misunderstood as making the difference between saved and lost. Even in cases where the fine print tells you that this making-the- difference faith is a result of predestination and regeneration, the credit for salvation does not go to Christ. The credit may go to the Holy Spirit or to predestination, but it cannot go to Christ, if Christ died for all sinners but only some sinners are saved. One of the goals of this essay is to put a stop to the double talk which tells all sinners that Christ died for them, but then explains (not to everybody but only to some who have already professed Christ) later that Christ died for some people to get them something different and more for them than He did for everybody else.
This kind of double talk implicitly says that Christ propitiated the wrath of God for all sinners but that Christ also died extra for the elect to give them the faith to get the benefit of Christ’s propitiation. In other words, there is no antithesis with the false gospel of Arminianism. Since they still want to be thought of as evangelicals, and still want to have influence on evangelicals, they agree to the heresy that Christ died for everybody. Even if they don’t explicitly say that this was to take away the wrath for every sinner, by their silence about the question, they go along with what everybody already understands, which is that faith alone makes the difference.
They can try to put boundaries around that, and say that the object of faith is important. They can even imply that Mormons and open theists are not evangelicals, and maybe not even justified But they are still agreeing, sermon after sermon, every time that they do not say “for the elect alone”, that it is faith alone which makes the difference. And when they do that, there is no Christ alone left. In the fine print, the glory may go to God for predestinating the Spirit to give us faith. But it is no longer Christ’s death which saves, if Christ died for all sinners, and some of these sinners are lost. And though we may talk of Scripture alone, we end up with a canon within a canon, where what the Scripture says about the elect in Christ and therefore being elect in His death becomes segregated out from the gospel and thus unspoken or denied. Instead of saying that Christ died only for the elect and not for the non-elect, they leave out the e word and say that Christ died for believers, which means all of us, which then means that faith alone makes the difference and not Christ. If they want to keep the “thoroughly reformed” happy, they might say sometimes that Christ died for his covenant people, but then later they will make it clear that the covenant is conditional and that the his people are believers, so that it will all come back to faith alone.
back to the sola fide
So what am I saying about faith alone? Is faith alone important? What’s the point of it? According to Scripture, faith alone is “not works”. The point of faith alone is “grace alone”. And according to Scripture, we cannot say grace alone without saying “for the elect alone”. Romans 9:11, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call.” I want you to see the connection between “not because of works” and election. When the mainline attempts to leave out the “for the elect alone” and discuss the gospel without talking about election, then mostly all they can do is say “not because of works but because of faith alone”.
Sometimes of course they do talk about the “but because of his call”. They say that the reason you believe is not your freewill but God’s effectual call. Even if you believe the false gospel that Christ died for every sinner, Reformed evangelicals will tell you that God effectually called you to believe that heresy. Of course they won’t tell you it’s heresy, but in select groups (for examples, conferences that charge you big dollars) they will explain a more educated and precise view of things which you might want to add on to what you already believe without needing to repent of heresy or false gospel. Before you believed in a faith alone gospel, and now you still believe in a faith alone gospel but now you know that the faith came from God, and that this prevenient gift was not to make your faith possible but to make sure that you believed.
The point of faith alone is “not by works”. Faith is not something you bring to the gospel. Faith is something that the gospel brings to the elect. I am not saying we have to hear a preacher or a sermon. But it is necessary for us to HEAR the gospel, and that this HEARING is not works but faith. Galatians 3: 5-8, “ Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. I know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, forseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham….”
Since this text does not talk about election, and since it does talk about faith four times, what then is the gospel preached to Abraham that we should preach? First, notice that faith is a hearing produced by God by means of the gospel. The power is not in us but in the gospel message. I Corinthians 1: 18, “for the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” No doubt this essay will be accused by the mainline as advocating that the gospel be given to the elect alone. And then I will be charged with attempts to get people prepared to introspect to see if they are elect. (But I don’t want to get distracted by what might be said. If you want to explore that kind of thing, read Abraham Booth’s “Glad Tidings” and “Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character”, in which he fully answers the slanders of Andrew Fuller). The truth is that I believe the full gospel needs to be proclaimed to all sinners (and not just those who have the bucks to get into Reformed conferences). The gospel is only good news for the elect, but we don’t know who the elect are until they have believed the gospel. The promise of the gospel is not for the children of the flesh but for the children of the promise, but we don’t know who the children of the promise are until they have been called. As Romans 9: 7 reminds us, not all are offspring of Abraham because they are his offspring. As Acts reminds us time after time, the promise is for “as many as“ are called. (2:39, 4:4 ). Since Romans 8:30 teaches us that as many as He called were also predestined, I see no reason to leave out the idea of election from the idea of calling.
My problem with the mainline is that they leave Christ out of the idea of election. It is not enough to talk about calling and election, if election is simply to make sure that some sinners have faith alone. If the object of the faith alone is a false gospel which says that Christ loves everybody and desires to save everybody but that faith is some kind of condition of this salvation, then the faith alone is not in the true Christ but is instead in faith alone (for which they falsely give God the credit, even though the faith is in an unholy lie taught by Satan). We don’t bring faith to the true gospel, because the true gospel brings faith (hearing) to the elect. The message (for the elect alone) is to be proclaimed to elect and non-elect alike, but it (the message) is the power of God to the elect alone.
The power of the gospel
I want to get back to Galatians 3: 5-8, which doesn’t talk about election but which does talk about the calling, but first I want to emphasize the power of the message. It’s not simply that God was powerful with Abraham, but also that God preached the gospel to Abraham. The word of the cross is the power of God. I Corinthians 2:12,“ Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we would understand the things freely given us by God.” Freely given by God does not mean that God has made an offer of a free gift if we accept it by faith alone. Freely given by God does not mean that we don’t have to work for it, but that the only condition is faith alone. “Freely given” means “sovereignly given”, given ‘”without a cause”, given by God to the elect chosen and loved in Christ. I Cor 2:12 explains that the elect are given the Spirit to UNDERSTAND the things freely given us by God. One of the blessings given by God in Christ is understanding the word of the cross, which word I Cor 1 calls the power of God. The elect don’t bring faith to the gospel, because the power of the gospel brings hearing to the elect, so that they understand not only that things are given by God, but also that these things are given freely, sovereignly. Faith alone is not the condition, but to see that, we need a message which tells us about God’s election. Salvation is not by works, but to see that, we need a message which tells us about the “freely given”.
Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Evangelicals understand this as teaching that salvation is conditioned on faith alone. Evangelicals don’t understand the gospel. The gospel of “for the elect alone” needs to be proclaimed to every sinner because that very gospel message is the power of God which saves and causes elect sinners to believe. The gospel proclaimed to a non-elect sinner is not the power of God for salvation, but rather “to those who are perishing, a fragrance from death unto death.” (II Cor 2:16).
But what about that one text, Galatians 3:5-8, which does not talk about election and which does talk about faith four times? First, I have shown that the faith is a sovereign gift of God to the elect, not something we bring to God, but what God brings to us. Second, the idea of election goes along with the idea of not works. Romans 9:11, “In order that God’s election might continue, not because of works.” Romans 11: 5, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise grace would be no more grace.” Doesn’t the apostle Paul understand that you can say “not by works “ without talking about election? Why doesn’t he just say: “by faith and not by works”? Why does he bring in this idea of a remnant? Paul writes about election in order to explain what he means by faith. Paul does not regard faith as a substitute for works. Paul does not believe that God imputes or regards or credits faith as if faith were what the law required.
We are back to Galatians 3:5-8, which quotes Genesis 15:6, which tells us that Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Everybody from Martin Luther to John Murray reads this as saying that faith alone is imputed as the righteousness. Of course there are different explanations. Luther reminds us that to have faith is to have Christ indwelling, and tells us that God really is pleased with the faith God has given us, and this faith is really righteous in God’s sight. But Luther does not explain how this righteous faith (produced by God in the water of regeneration) satisfies the law of God . And since Luther taught that, if you were a sinner, Christ had died for you, then Luther’s message cannot be that the elect were saved by Christ’s death alone. But John Murray not only taught that Christ died in some sense only for the elect, but also taught that faith alone for nine reasons could not be the righteousness imputed. I like his reasons, and you can look them up in his commentary on Romans. But still, at the end of the day, Murray claimed that every honest exegete would have to agree with him that Genesis 15 does teach that the faith alone is what God imputes.
To begin to understand Genesis 15:6, we need to know that “as righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. (See Robert Haldane’s commentary, Banner of Truth). That’s important to see, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t explain the imputation. Whether we see imputation as the transfer of something, or if we see imputation as the declaration of something ( without a transfer, or after a transfer), what is the “it” which is being imputed? No matter if we have gone to great lengths to say that it is not credited as righteousness but only unto righteousness, what is “it” and why is God imputing “it”? Liberals in the “new perspective” like N.T. Wright tells us the imputation is without a transfer, and that it only means declaring that certain folks are in the covenant. So in this way of thinking, “it is imputed” simply means that God declares people just without talking about how and why they got that way.
I think “it” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith alone. God imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel unto the righteousness of a person justified by the gospel. In context, “faith” in Galatians 3:5-8 is defined in two ways: not by works of the law, and the gospel preached to Abraham. God did establish a conditional covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 17, he warned that anybody not circumcised would be cut off from the covenant. But that conditional covenant with Abraham is not the gospel God preached to Abraham. God did not say to Abraham: if you believe, then I will bless you. God said, I will bless you without cause, not only so that you will believe but also so that in your offspring there will be one who will bring in the righteousness for the elect alone required by the law. There is not a different gospel for us than there is for Abraham. There is not a different new covenant for us that there is not for Abraham . The “it” which is imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Christ Jesus for the elect alone. The righteousness of God obtained by Christ is imputed unto the elect alone.