Faith and Works – Part 2

In continuing to look at the relationship between faith and works, I wanted to spend some time touching on the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Oneness Pentecostalism problem as it relates to this subject.  The vast majority of Christendom holds to the view that we are justified by faith – we are saved by grace through faith, not by works that we do.  Baptism is viewed as an ordinance – something that is very important in the life of a believer but not something that causes, brings about or merits our salvation in any way.  We are baptized because we are saved, not in order to be saved.

The UPCI view is that until a person is baptized in the name of Jesus, their sins are not forgiven.  But how does this view stand up to the seemingly overwhelming scriptural evidence that our sins are forgiven (we are declared just or right and at peace with God) when we turn to God in faith – that we are justified by faith?

In his book, The New Birth, Bernard addresses the question of grace, faith and works.  He does provide a cursory summary of several primary passages on the subject of justification by faith referring to Habakkuk 2:4, Romans and Galatians and states the following:

The bottom line is this: no one can be justified by observing the law of Moses or by doing good works.  Instead, the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.  Having established this, we must next determine what true faith in Christ is and how to have it.  (pages 35-6).

Bernard then cites to B.B. Warfield, “Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing things instead of doing right.  It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits.”  (citing from essay Justification by Faith, Out of Date?, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1911).  As we will see, Bernard is attempting to build the UPCI case in support of the idea that baptism and speaking in tongues are necessary to justification and completing the process of the new birth.

Bernard interestingly, citing to Warfield and the Reformed camp, seeks to argue that justification by faith does not mean just believing but also “doing right”.  Warfield’s point is not that the sinner must both believe and “do right” or be obedient in order to be justified as Bernard seems to allude.  Warfield argues that we are justified by works but not by any of our works.  Warfield writes, “It is justification by Christ’s works.”

Warfield cannot be any clearer in his meaning:

There is no justification for sinful men except by faith.  The works of sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them.  Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? … Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous?  Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous?  Surely, not from himself; for, is he not a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he is?  He must go out of himself, then, to find works which he can offer to God as righteous.  And where will he find such works except in Christ?  Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ? … If we are to be justified at all, it must be on the ground of the merits of Another, whose merits can be made ours by faith.  And that is the reason why God sent his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.  If we do not believe in him, obviously we must perish.  But if we believe in him, we shall not perish but have everlasting life.  That is just Justification by Faith.  Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ.  (Emphasis added)

Bernard would argue that it is by faith and our obedience to baptism that brings about our remission of sins.  We should recall that Bernard and the UPCI are strongly in the Arminian camp and believers in the concept of prevenient grace.  Bernard does note that faith “is the means by which man accepts and receives God’s saving grace.”  (page 34).  Bernard acknowledges that faith is a gift from God as well and that no one would have faith in God unless God would grant it.

As far as faith is concerned, Bernard cites to Webster’s Dictionary, The Amplified Bible, and Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words to provide some definitions of faith.  He also cites to Charles Erdman who described faith as meaning far more than a “mere asset to dogmas, or the repetition of a creed” but describes a relationship with Christ in which the believer will trust in and be obedient to Christ and that the love for Christ brings about a trust and obedience that will lead to purity and holiness and a life of unselfish service.  He cites theologian Donald Bloesch as presenting a definition of faith as “a radical commitment of the whole man to the living Christ, a commitment that entails knowledge, trust, and obedience.”  (page 41).

From this definition provided by Bloesch, Bernard seems to identify three components of saving faith as meaning more than simply mental knowledge or assent.  These key components Bernard identifies as knowledge, assent, and appropriation.

Clearly, to have faith one must have a certain degree of knowledge or understanding of what it is that one is being called to place their trust in and a certain degree of acceptance or assent to the truth.  I must have had an understanding of my sin and the state of my relationship to God, a degree of knowledge of the gospel, as well as an acceptance of those facts.  I must have understood my need and recognized God’s ability to meet that need and I must have accepted these things a true.  These concepts Bernard would associate with knowledge and assent.  Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Hearing the word of Christ brings life to faith God has put in our hearts and we respond to this new understanding in faith  to the word.

Bernard then comes to the third component of saving faith – appropriation.  “In other words, there must be a practical application of truth.  … Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, involves more than mentally acknowledging Him as the Savior.  We must appropriate this truth and make it the guiding principal of our lives.  We do this by obeying the gospel of Jesus, by identifying with Him….”  (page 42).  Appropriation, according to Bernard, is appropriating the gospel to my life by being baptized and receiving the Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues.

Bernard cites to a number of passages to support that true faith is accompanied by obedience.  As we have previously discussed, it would seem that according to both Paul and James that saving faith will bring about a change in our lives –we will live out that faith through obedience to the word of God and the evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives.  It would seem impossible that one who is truly grafted into the vine would not produce fruit as evidence of their relationship to God.

Here is where Bernard’s reasoning goes off the rails and flies in the face of his quote of Warfield at the beginning of this chapter.  The UPCI and Bernard don’t see obedience as something that naturally flows out of our being in Christ but as something that we must bring to the table in order to find our way into Christ.  Bernard sees an “essential link between obedience and salvation.”  (page 44).  Yes; saving faith produces obedience, good works, spiritual fruit in the life of a justified and sanctified believer.  But no; my justification is based on the perfect work, life and obedience of Christ and his death on the cross alone.  My obedience – however pathetic my attempts– are not the basis for my salvation.  My obedience flows out of my being in Christ and the Spirit of Christ being in me producing the changes in my life that flow out of the grace that I have received through faith.

Bernard repeatedly cites to passages such as, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  (John 14:23) to support the position that my obedience is the basis for my being accepted by God.  Yes; a true believer will keep his words but it was by the obedience of Christ that I stand justified before God.  If my obedience/works are the basis for my salvation, then I am in serious trouble.

Bernard states, “Someone who really believes God’s Word will obey it.  God’s Word teaches baptism, so the Bible believer will be baptized.  God’s Word promises the gift of the Spirit, so the true believer will expect, see, and receive this gift.”  (pages 45-46).  Further, he notes, “we are saved by grace through faith. We rely on God’s work and not our own works to bring salvation.  However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to respond to God, to obey Him and to act upon our faith.”  (page 49).  Bernard’s statements are contradictory – according to him, our salvation is not based on our own works but we are responsible to obey him to bring about our salvation.

On the subject of faith and water baptism, Bernard states that faith in God will lead to water baptism.  With respect to repentance and water baptism, Bernard states that they “are not works in the sense of things man does to assist in earning his salvation, but they are saving works of God.”  (page 55).  “Saving faith expresses itself in our obedience to Christ’s gospel and by our identification with Him. … The gospel of Jesus Christ is His death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4).  We apply the gospel to our lives – we identify with Christ and His saving work – by repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  (emphasis in orig., page 61).

Saving faith manifests itself in obedience, among other ways, in the life of a believer.  Yet, because the gospel of the UPCI requires baptism in the name of Jesus to effectuate the remission of sins, they must justify this position in light of the clear teaching of scripture that our justification is by faith.  Implicit in the idea of true faith – being convinced of the promises of God and trusting in Christ and repenting of one’s sins – is the notion of bringing oneself into a state of obeying the gospel of Christ.

Obedience is no longer the evidence of a life in Christ.  My obedience is my faith leading to my justification.  An additional problem if obedience and faith are simply interchangeable, why just stop with baptism and speaking with other tongues.  Isn’t my entire Christian walk, my salvation continually held in a tenuous state dependent on my obedience, my works and deeds to keep me within the good graces of my God.  Bernard speaks of grace and faith and not our works but the works of God but in reality it always comes back to our working to bring about our salvation.  The dangerous aspect of this so-called gospel is that in the end, if one labors, he is paid what he deserves but we need to rely on faith in the work of Christ.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.  Romans 4:4-5.

 

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Faith and Works – Part 1

 Can that faith save him?  James 2:14

In speaking with a UPCI minister once about my newly discovered understanding of justification and sanctification in the scripture, particularly in looking at Romans 3 and 4, one of the immediate responses was, “but you can’t just ignore works….”

On the one hand, when you come from a legalistic mindset that emphasizes man’s performance and meriting the favor of God by doing certain things, it is only natural that you are going to feel that something is terribly wrong with the idea that God forgives me of my sins when I, in my repentant state, turn to God in faith.  Surely that can’t be all.  Yes and no.  Yes, that is all that it takes for God to declare me righteous.  It isn’t about anything that I have done or could do – it is all about what Christ did on the cross and, in his sovereign prerogative, he placed within me the gift of faith and granted me the opportunity to repent.  End of story – and the beginning of the story.

On the other hand, the New Testament does talk about works, obedience, good deeds, and spiritual fruit.  So how does this all fit together?

In Romans 3:38 Paul states, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  In James 2:24, James states, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”  How do we reconcile these two passages?  Are Paul and James simply contradicting one another?  This would seem contrary to our understanding of the divine inspiration of scripture.  Or should we simply look a little more closely at the context in which both men are writing and see if we can harmonize these passages?

Both James and Paul must be viewed in their context.  They are both addressing different issues relating to the subject of salvation but as we will see they are coming at that subject with very different points.

As we are already aware, Paul is addressing justification from the context of redemption.  We are at peace with God as a result of our being justified by grace through faith.  We are saved not as a result of our works or any law keeping but because of our faith in God.  One cannot work their way to heaven or merit God’s favor but the remission of sins is purely a gift of God through the grace of God.  Paul is addressing how it is one moves from being an unregenerate sinner into the church of God and it is through justification by faith.

As we look at the context of James, he is writing to the church and is addressing some very specific issues that he is seeing in the church.  He is not addressing justification from the standpoint of getting “into the church” but he is addressing those that claim to be a part of the church and having been justified by faith.  The problem that James is addressing is those who claim to be believers but that proclamation of faith yields no further fruit.  He addresses situations that he sees in the church that reflect a lack to true faith that would have led to justification in the first place.

James is drawing a line between those who have make an intellectual assent (a form of faith in that it is an intellectual acknowledgement of God) and those that possess true saving faith that results in spiritual fruit, such as obedience, in the life of a person that is truly trusting in Christ.

His point is that true saving faith results in a life of obedience to God – not that we live perfect lives and never make mistakes and fall – but there should be a manifest change in our lives if the Spirit of God is truly living in our hearts.

James writes of true religion being a faith in which professed believers are not merely hearers of the word but doers of the word.  To be a hearer of the word only is to deceive yourself for we must be doers of what we hear.  We must be obedient to the word of God in our lives.  James speaks of true and pure religion being that which produces fruit in the life of the believer.  It will change the way a man speaks and the things which concern man.  He will be concerned with the poor and seek to remain unstained from the world.  (James 1:19-27).  A man will not show partiality among the believers but will seek to fulfill the royal law, which is to love ones neighbors as oneself.  (James 2:1-9).

After showing that faith and religion should produce a change in the life of a professed believer, James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”  (James 2:14-17).

The point of James:  How can you say that you have true saving faith in your heart if your life and behavior does not demonstrate that faith with consistent works of faith?  Your behavior should reflect your profession of faith.  The answer to James’ question, “Can that faith save him?” is No.  A faith that is not accompanied by any fruit cannot be true faith.

“I will show you my faith by my works.”  (James 2:18).  Works – not in the legalistic sense of meriting anything from God or somehow earning God’s favor by our actions – demonstrate the faith that is in our hearts.  Our works reveal that faith that is within us and, thus, vindicates our profession of faith.  James points out that the devils believe in God and they shudder.  The point here isn’t that faith alone is insufficient to save because even the devils believe – the point being made by James is that the devils don’t have a faith that can restore their relationship and status with God because it does not and will not bring about a conformity on the part of the devil to the image of Christ.  Their faith does not produce obedience.  Their faith is not a saving faith.

John Calvin stated, “He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works.  Hence we conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name.”  Thus, absent a demonstration of faith, there is truly no evidence that there ever was true faith to begin with.

Abraham

James offers some examples and first cites to Abraham.  In verses 20-24 he states, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.’

Certainly this is a challenging text but if one looks closely at what is being stated by James, we see this comports perfectly with the notion that we are focusing on the evidence of faith in one’s life justifying or vindicating their profession of faith, not resulting in their justification/salvation by works.

We know, according to Paul and a reading of Genesis 15, that it was when Abraham believed God that his faith was counted to him as righteousness.  Abraham was justified before God – he was declared righteous when he believed God.  It was before the performance of any works, including circumcision and years before even the birth of Isaac.  (See Romans 4:1-3).  Nevertheless, Abraham’s claim to faith was justified or vindicated in the sight of man when he obeyed God, left his country and his family, was circumcised, and even when he offered up Isaac on the altar in obedience to God.  When he was obedient to God, Abraham was demonstrating that his claim to faith was true and a reality.

When James cites to Abraham’s offering Isaac up on the altar, from Genesis 22, we know what Abraham had already believed God and was justified.  God was examining Abraham’s heart by asking for his obedience and through his obedience, Abraham’s faith was justified or vindicated.

Abraham’s obedience was not the grounds for his justification in the sense of salvation.  As James points out “and the scripture was fulfilled” – Abraham’s living out his faith through obedience was fulfilling or revealing that his profession of utter and complete faith in God was a true profession of faith.

Paul stresses that faith along brings about our justification but James shows that a faith that can save/justify us is one that will bring about evidence that faith is truly present in the heart.  James is stressing the expression of faith.  As James asked the question, “show me your faith apart from deeds” he looks to Abraham and says that Abraham’s profession of faith was demonstrably true – he was shown to be righteous – by his actions.

            Rehab

James cites to another Old Testament example in the prostitute, Rehab, of Jericho.  “And in the same way was not also Rehab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (James 2:25).

James compares the manner of Father Abraham’s justification with that of the prostitute Rehab.  Rehab hid and protected the two spies from Israel sent to spy out Jericho for its eventual destruction.  Abraham’s faith was revealed in his willingness to offer the son of promise, Isaac, on the alter.  Rehab’s faith was revealed in the fact that she hid the spies when the men of Jericho came looking for them.  This was a demonstration of the faith that was present within her.  It was as clear a demonstration of faith in God as Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac.  Hebrews 11:31 mentions Rehab as one of the heroes of faith and that it was her faith that motivated her actions in hiding the spies.

Afterwards, her words to the spies confirm the faith-based motivation of her actions:  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  … And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.  Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”  (Joshua 2:9-13).

Summary

There is no contradiction between Paul and James on the subjects of faith and works.  To the contrary, Paul wrote many times on the subject of works or obedience or what he might call the fruit of the Spirit that results from a true profession of faith in God.  In Romans 1:5, Paul ties faith with obedience.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  So we have been saved by grace through faith – it is not of our own doing and it is not the result of works so no one can be arrogant concerning their salvation.  In the very next sentence, Paul continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  (Philippians 2:8-10).

Paul further exhorted in Titus (2:7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14):

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity….”

“…who gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work….”

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.  These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

“And lot our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

These are only a few examples from Paul out of Titus alone that stress the importance of living out our faith.  Other passages include:  2 Cor 9:8, Col 1:10, 2 Thess 1:11, 2:17, I Tim 2:10, 5:10, 5:25, 6:18, 2 Tim 2:21, 3:17.

Certainly, Jesus himself taught over and over the necessity of living out our faith and obedience.  Our justification by faith and call to good works are complementary and never in contradiction to one another so long as they are viewed in their proper context and in light of the larger understanding of the nature of man without Christ and with Christ.  As we have previously discussed, can one who is dead in his trespasses and in rebellion to God truly perform good works to somehow earn the forgiveness of sins.  Or is our obedience simply another outflow that results from the change that God has worked within in our hearts?  Paul and James would seem to agree that faith brings about an internal change that brings about an external change through a life lived demonstrating the faith that is now within us.

Thoughts on Justification – Part 6 – God’s Promises are Realized through Faith

God’s Promises are always realized through Faith

 Paul puts the proverbial bow on his teaching on justification with the concluding paragraphs of chapter 4 of Romans by stressing that the promises of God have always rested on faith and not on any works or adherence to law. 

 “For the promises to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”  (Romans 4:13).  As has been noted, the law of Moses certainly did not arrive on the scene for hundreds of years – so how could the promises, according to Paul, have come through the law or law keeping?  Was it other good works that brought about these promises to Abraham?  No.  Paul again makes clear that the promises rest on and are realized through faith.  Paul makes clear in verses 14-15 that if it rested on law keeping than faith matters nothing and, ultimately, the promises are all void.  The purpose of the law was to show us our need for God and to cause us to turn to him in faith. 

 “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law [the Jew] but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham [the Gentile and the entire world]….”  (Romans 4:16).  Paul looks to the covenant that God made with Abraham and within that covenant was a promise that he would be a father of many nations and that the nations would be blessed.  The promises that God made to Abraham and his seed [Christ] were that all the families of the earth were to be blessed.  It is pure legalism that Paul is fighting against when he is engaging those who claim that in order to be brought into the Christian faith and find acceptance with God one must first enter through certain old covenant keeping acts, such as circumcision.  Paul stresses that our acceptance with God depends on faith alone in order that all the promises of God may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all the world. 

 Our finding acceptance with God does not depend on our being baptized to bring about the forgiveness of our sins – particularly baptism in a particular mode of baptism.  Our acceptance with God and his forgiving our sins does not depend on keeping certain standards of dress or hair or how much you pray or give.   

 Our walk of faith is enough of a battle.  We do not need to lay additional legalistic burdens on ourselves that we are unlikely to be able to fulfill.  We have been given the Spirit of God in our hearts and are in the process of being conformed to the image of the Son.  Paul described it as being a new man with new desires yet trapped or incarcerated in this fallen, broken humanity waiting the ultimate fulfillment of his release.  We have received great promises and the earnest of those promises is the Spirit in our lives.   Our citizenship is in heaven yet we remain in this fallen world where there is sickness and death.  We are in a battle of faith.

 But, with Abraham as our example, Paul notes that he struggled in his battle of faith.  There was no unbelief present in Abraham concerning the promises of God but a struggle in his desire to see those promises fulfilled in his life.  God, while not always fulfilling all of those promises immediately, was always granting to Abraham that which he needed so that his faith would grow stronger and stronger in the promises so that even at death, when all of the promises were not fulfilled, Abraham could pass those promises to Isaac and then from Isaac to Jacob.  Faith is not something that we are given by God in order to somehow supernaturally change our present circumstances – biblical faith is being fully convinced that God is able to perform what he has promised.  Abraham was the father of those who had faith – the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 were those who did not receive the promises yet remained unmovable in their being convinced that God was able and would fulfill the promises that he made.

 Thus, we wait for certain promises – we have faith.  Paul states that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’”  (Romans 4:21). 

 “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  (Romans 4:23-25).
Continue reading "Thoughts on Justification – Part 6 – God’s Promises are Realized through Faith"

Thoughts on Justification – Part 4

The Just Shall Live By Faith – Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20, 3:11-12, Hebrews 10:38

Once we have an appreciation for the scriptural understanding of man’s state outside of God – that state being one of spiritual death – one can begin to appreciate that to bring about a change requires not the dead to do anything in particular, for the dead can do nothing, but requires the giver of life to take action.  The UPCI would have the general view of Jesus standing at the door and knocking at the sinner’s heart waiting for the sinner to open the door (a twisted view of Revelation 3:20).  Instead, the picture of salvation is best portrayed by the dead Lazarus in the tomb for four days only to be raised and called out by Jesus.  Lazarus would have stayed in his natural state of death had Jesus not intervened.  In that state of death, Lazarus was powerless to do anything of his own accord.  It was only when the call came to him that life came back into his dead body and he was then empowered to walk and be loosed, to eat and fellowship with his family and friends again.

Sinners are in a state of spiritual death and are powerless on their own to free themselves from their state of death.  Paul makes clear that in this state, sinners are the enemies of God, they will not submit to the will of God and are incapable of doing so (see Romans 7, 8).  Yet, the UPCI would teach that a sinner is not born again unless he repents, and is baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in other tongues.  So the spiritually dead – the one who the scripture teaches is incapable of submitting to the will of God and is in rebellion to God – must of his own accord submit to baptism and speak in tongues in order to be brought to a state of spiritual life and peace with God.

What is justification?

We know that the result of justification is our having peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have obtained access by faith into this grace, which brings about our rejoicing in the hope that we have of the glory of God.  (Romans 5:1-20).  Note – the peace that we now have because of our justification stands in contrast to the previous state of our relationship with God as sinners – that being under his wrath, as discussed in the first several chapters of Romans.  Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what it means to be justified.

First, the scripture makes clear that justification is something that is solely an act of God alone – it is something that God brings about and not something we do or contribute to in some way:

…So that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:5).

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33).

What does to be justified mean?

Justification is a judicial or legal proclamation about a person’s relationship to God.  Justification does not necessarily change the person but is a change in the person’s status.  Louis Berkhof noted that justification is a judicial act of God, in which he declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner.  It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification.

Thus, justification is a legal declaration by God concerning my status in respect to my relationship with him.  It is not causing me to become righteous or holy in an ethical sense or necessarily changing my inner man but a declaration of my being new status in Christ – I have been declared to be righteous as I have been put into Christ.

Justification as meaning a legal or judicial declaration is shown in a number of passages as well as within the Old Testament.  Deuteronomy 25:1 and Proverbs 17:15 demonstrate the legal nature of justification with its standing in contrast to condemnation.  To condemn does not mean to make one a sinner – but it is a declaration of one’s state of wickedness.  Thus, to justify does not necessarily make one just or righteous but it is a statement or declaration of their state of righteousness in the eyes of God.

How are we justified?

The passage stated above – Romans 5:1-2 – alludes to the fact that this occurs by grace accessed through faith.

The righteousness of God is access through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:22).  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, further, we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25).

Justification is received because of God’s grace, which is an unmerited undeserved gift from God.  How does one have access to this grace?  It is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  Grace must be an unmerited gift from God.  As Paul makes clear, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).  If we inject works or our efforts into the idea of meriting God’s favor or bringing about our justification, it is no longer on the basis of grace.  Grace and works or man’s effort are mutually exclusive when it comes to our justification and being at peace with God.  We bring nothing to the equation other than faith and repentance.

Faith and Repentance

As a side note on faith and repentance, it should also be understood that faith and repentance can be described as opposite sides of the same coin.  In our turning to God (faith) we are turning away from the world and our sins (repentance).  Paul makes clear in Acts 10:21 that faith and repentance are inseparable.  You cannot say that you have genuine faith without genuine repentance and vice versa.  Repentance is a change of one’s mind – it is a recognition that one’s righteousness is as filthy rags and that his only hope is in God’s mercy.  Out of this change of mind a person confesses his sin and turns away from those things and to God.  The proof of a repentant heart is the action that flows out of his changed mind and attitude.  To say that faith and repentance is now something that man brings to the table is also a misunderstanding of the scripture and giving credit where it does not belong – the spiritually dead man.

Scripture seems rather clear that both repentance and faith are gifts from God to man.  In numerous passages, faith is seen as being a gift from God to man – that man’s ability to believe, his faith, is a direct result of God’s sovereign activity in opening man’s heart to have the ability to respond.  Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  The “and that not of yourselves” is most likely modifying the idea of “faith” – that is that faith is not of ourselves but it is the gift of God.  Philippians 1:29 shows that God has granted us two things for Christ’s sake – both faith and our call to suffer for him.

Multiple places in Acts demonstrates that God is the source of faith:  Acts 13:48, 16:14 and 18:27.

Similarly, repentance is something that God has granted to people – Acts 5:31, 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

Back to Justification

In addition to instructing us that justification is an act that occurs as a result of grace through faith, Paul shows us that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation by his blood.  To propitiate is to satisfy.  In order for God to be both just and the justifier, this punishment for sin needed to be satisfied.  His wrath needed to be mollified.  This occurred with Jesus’ death upon the cross.  The wrath of God for those who would believe was satisfied in that it was poured out upon Christ, the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, so that those who believe could have the perfect life and righteousness of Christ imputed to them.  This is known as the Great Exchange.  Upon Christ was poured out the wrath and judgment that I deserved and I have been put in Christ so that his righteousness and perfect life is imputed to me and I can now be peace with God and rejoice for the hope that is within me.

Some other passages:

And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.   But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Ephesians 2:1-9.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:3-7

Summary

So what pattern should we be seeing here with respect to how we come to be at peace with God?  We are at peace with God by our justification.  Justification is an act by which God, through his sovereign prerogative, undertakes to declare the repentant believer to be just and righteous.  Not a righteousness based on his own life obviously but the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer and his sins are removed.  The wrath of God has been satisfied as it was poured out on Christ in our stead.  God receives all the glory for there is nothing that we as rebellious sinners could have done in order to ever merit or earn God’s favor through our good works to satisfy the judgment and wrath that was upon us.  It is sole based on the perfect and complete work of Christ on the cross.  You and I bring nothing to the table but the faith and repentance that God has granted to us.  Through that faith we have access to God’s grace.  We bring nothing else.  We do not bring money, we do not bring good deeds, we do not bring baptism or speaking in tongues or any other work to somehow merit or appropriate to ourselves the salvation that was purchased for us on the cross.

Paul continues his explanation on justification through faith with a couple of examples in chapter four of Romans, which we will look at next time.

Thoughts on Justification – Understanding Man’s Condition and Need – Part 3

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism

As has been previously discussed, the UPC and OP holds a very diminished view on the sinfulness of man and how this translates into his inability to do good as defined by God.  In other words, the UPC holds man up with a much higher regard than scripture would otherwise seem to permit.  Let’s take a look at the UPCI and OP view of man in light of the controversies with respect to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.

Pelagius was a monk who lived during the late 4th century and early 5th century.  He taught that man was born innocent and free from the original sin of Adam.  His view, known as Pelagianism, taught that man had the ability on his own to fulfill the commandments of God.  Thus, man through his own free-will has the ability to choose between good and evil without the assistance of the Holy Spirit and that man has the free-will ability to choose God.  The grace of God aids individuals in coming to God.  Pelagianism was thoroughly condemned by councils throughout church history as not representing faithfully the scriptures.

While Pelagianism was condemned, a weaker form of this view continues and is referred to as Semi-Pelagianism.  Semi-Pelagianism affirmed the idea of original sin and its harmful effects on man and his will but it continues to hold that essentially man is not really all that bad.  Man has the ability on his own to initiate belief in God and the view holds that God’s grace is a response to man’s taking the first step towards God.  Man makes the first move towards God by seeking God out of his own free-will and then God responds by extending grace to man.  Further, man must cooperate with God’s grace through maintaining his own faith through his own human efforts.

Along this continuum we also find Arminianism.  Arminianism is closer to Calvinism than the Semi-Pelagian perspective and Arminianism will hold that the first steps of grace are taken by God and not as a result of God responding to man’s steps toward him.

Yet, when Bernard makes statements such as, “When we submit to water baptism according to God’s plan, God honors our obedient faith and remits our sin.”  (Emphasis mine. The New Birth, pg. 131) this sounds quite a bit more like man taking obedient steps towards God and then God extending grace to man in remitting his sins.

As has been previously discussed, the scripture is rather abundant in its assertions with respect to the state of unregenerate man without God and the means by which man finds himself in relationship with God.

Ephesians 2:1-3 teaches us that man’s natural state is dead in trespasses and sin.

The wrath of God is presently being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  Sinful man is currently under the wrath of God.  Sinful man is actively involved in suppressing the truth.  They know God but refuse honor God or give him thanks.  God has given man over to the lusts of his heart and to impurities.  He gave man over to his dishonorable passions.  As man refuses to even acknowledge God, God has given them over to a debased mind.  Not only do they know that their acts are wrong, they continue in them and take pleasure in those who practice such evil things.  (Romans 1).  Man is free and he is free to do as he will – but his will is only to do evil.  He is constrained by his sinful nature.

Quoting a series of passage from Psalms, Paul reiterates that all are under sin:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

No one understands;

No one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

No one does good,

Not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave;

They use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood

In their paths are ruin and misery,

And the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

There is none that is righteous, no one understands and no one seeks God.  No one does good.  There is no fear of God.

Romans 7:18 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  Even as Christian, Paul understood that in his flesh he completely lacks the ability to carry out good works.

Romans 8:7 teaches that those who are in the flesh are hostile to God and not only don’t but are incapable of submitting to God.

Yet, the UPC holds a view of salvation in which man in this state of spiritual deadness must act in a manner that appears completely contrary to his abilities and be obedient to the faith in order for God to extend his grace him.

Matthew 12:34 – You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

John 6:44, 65 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him on the last day. … And he said, this is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.

This view that creates dependence on man to bring about his own salvation through his conjuring up sufficient faith and obedience to God is a view that is dangerous on many fronts.  The UPCI view seems closer to that of Semi-Pelagianism than simple Arminianism as it stresses man’s obedience in bringing about his salvation.  Any view that emphasizes man’s performance in justifying his position with God is a dangerous and tenuous one.

When man’s actions are the basis for our judging our status with God, man will typically fall into one of two positions.  First, the man, lacking a proper understanding of grace and recognizing his inability on his own to measure up to the standard of God will continually live in a state of being subject to condemnation and feeling that his salvation is tenuous at best.  Second, the man who feels that he is performing pretty good may well be deluded into thinking he has something to offer God – he will be presenting a self-righteousness and not the standing before God with the righteousness of Christ.

The UPCI makes salvation a very performance based process – it is dependent on your repentance, your baptism and your receiving the Holy Spirit as evidence by the physical/spiritual performance of speaking in unknown tongues.  This performance based mentality continues throughout the life of the Christian and is then marked by adherence to holiness standards, dress codes, refraining from any and all activities deemed worldly by the church and an emphasis on spiritually based activities.  While the Christian should put off the works of the flesh and produce the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, the UPCI emphasis tends to focus heavily on performance of or refraining from certain activities and conformity to the standards of the organization.  Outward manifestations do not always reflect inward changes – sometimes they are actions reflecting a desire to be acceptable to God or simply obedience to the local ministry.

Rather the scripture provides a liberating and freeing message reflecting my utter need and dependence on God.  God has provided everything to bring about my salvation and to keep me through until the end.  I have confidence in God and what he has done for me and he creates within me the desire to good and obedient works. It is not out of a sense of needing to appease my God but of thankfulness and the changed nature that he has brought about in me.  I appreciate that many in the UPCI share this sense but it would be in spite of the teaching that they receive.

Thoughts on Justification – Understanding Man’s Condition and Need – Part 2

In the previous post, we discussed bit about the nature of man and the extreme Arminian view of the UPCI with respect to the contributions that man must make through obedience to the faith in bringing about his own salvation.

It must be noted that if man has the ability to contribute faith and obedience in response to God’s offering of grace to bring about regeneration and salvation in man, it could be argued that this view holds a rather elevated view of man as compared with the view that appears to be espoused in scripture. One might argue that this view is born out of man’s rebelliousness against God in denying God sovereignty in the area of salvation and making it about man and man’s freewill decision. It is certainly a denial of God’s ability (whether self-imposed or not) to alone bring about salvation or work his will to his own glory in bringing about the salvation of man. God cannot bring about man’s salvation for God is limited to the extent man is willing to cooperate.

The alternative view is that salvation is entirely the work of God. Man can contribute nothing towards his salvation. His salvation is unconditionally by grace through faith. Faith itself is a gift from God and is not the cause of man’s salvation but evidence of God’s regenerative grace having worked in man. There is absolutely nothing meritorious on the part of man to warrant the work of God in his life but it rests completely on the good pleasure of God’s sovereignty. God knows that man, based on his rebellious nature, spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, is both unwilling and incapable of doing good and believing on his own. Therefore, God’s working his salvation in our lives is completely an unmerited gift of grace based on nothing in man.

Again, this view begins with the premise that man is unable on his own to come to God because the “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Cor 2:14). As a result of man’s having no spiritual life in him and being spiritually dead in his, man has no moral ability to come to Christ apart from the drawing of the Father (Eph 2:1-3, Col 2:13, John 6:44, 63-65). Man is in the business of repressing the knowledge of God and creating idols – of elevating the role of man to that of God – he can do nothing in accordance with the standard of God’s law (Rom 1:18-25, 3:9-12). Man is the enemy of God, in rebellion against God and incapable of acting in according with God’s law. Therefore, God must supernaturally act in the heart of man to bring him to a place where he will have faith and repent. If unregenerate, sinful man is to believe in God, God must initiate a change in man to bring man to a place where he will place faith in Christ. Thus, regeneration or new birth is the change that God brings about in man to initiate relationship with him rather than the ultimate goal of salvation as asserted by the UPCI.

John 3 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [Greek here is uncertain/ambiguous and can both ‘again’ and ‘from above’] he cannot see the kingdom of God….Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sounds, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of Spirit….. Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

The UPCI views this passage as teaching both the need for baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit with speaking in other tongues as part of the new birth/regeneration. As noted in the passage, the Greek is ambiguous and may be more properly rendered as born from above rather than born again. This is evidenced by the emphasis on contrasting born of flesh and spirit and the earthly rather than heavenly source of these things. Nicodemus understood this to be a rebirth. What we can see is that this birth is a spiritual birth that originates from God. As man has no control over the wind, man has no control with respect to the blowing of the wind – the wind blows where it blows, and so is everyone that is born of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit is a sovereign act of God.

Ezekiel 36:2-7 – I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my rules.

Many cite to this passage in Ezekiel when looking at John 3 and being born from above. As the Spirit is does what it does and being born again is initiated as an act from above, in Ezekiel we also see that God is the one taking the initiative to remove our heart of stone and to give us a heart of flesh – a new heart and a new spirit within us. It is once we have this heart of flesh and a new spirit that we come to believe and obey.

This is demonstrated in the example of Lydia. When Lydia was taught the gospel by Paul, the “Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14). Lydia did not open her own heart and the ability to give heed or pay attention to the words of the gospel as proclaimed by Paul were a direct result of God opening her heart to pay attention. The UPCI would say that the Lord opened her heart but it was still up to her as to whether she would pay attention to the word of the Lord. Lydia could have resisted the will of God. This would appear to be a contrary statement to the express statement of scripture – the Lord opened her heart with a purpose, that Lydia would pay attention to the words of Paul.

When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16:17). The revelation of Christ is a direct result of the act of God in regenerating the heart of man.

John 1:12-13 – Those who receive Christ are those who believe in his name. Those that receive Christ have been born of God. Verse 13 emphasizes that being born of God is a divine action and not something that is tied to the will of man. The person who receives Christ has first been born of God.

If man is truly in this lost state of sin and incapable to act on his own, it requires a sovereign act of God to move in the heart of man to bring him to a place of repentance and faith. This is not something that man can bring about on his own – faith and obedience – to merit salvation but man must be utterly dependent on the sovereign grace of God to bring man to a place where he will bow the knee in faith and repentance. Further, if God is to sovereignly act in this respect in man’s heart, it is inevitable that man will bow the knee. There is an inevitability in the notion that, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30).

The UPCI view tends to elevate man beyond that which scripture would seem to dictate. The UPCI would ascribe to man a moral and spiritual capability to possess and act according to faith in obedience to God’s will even while in an unregenerate state. It must necessarily follow that the UPCI also diminishes the idea of sin. The scriptural teaching on the doctrine of man’s sinful state and nature and what that ultimately means. The UPCI also must diminish the sovereignty of God and his role with respect to salvation. God would be unable to accomplish his will – man has the ability to thwart the will of God. Thus, man is not as bad and God is not as capable or powerful as scripture would seem to indicate.

 

Thoughts on Justification – Understanding Man’s Condition and Need – Part 1

As a Oneness Pentecostal, the term justification was not something that was in my vocabulary.  Recall that the UPCI hermeneutical approach to understanding salvation is to start and end with Acts 2:38 and to understand the rest of scripture through the lens of that one verse, even if it means twisting other scriptures to make them fit within an Acts 2:38 viewpoint.

Justification is a concept that is foreign to people within the UPCI.  Looking back over my 25 years in the UPCI, I can confidently state that I never heard any teaching about justification.  I asked others – some of whom have been in the UPCI for 40 or more years – and none recalled hearing teaching on justification.  I asked a UPCI pastor who had been raised in a pastor’s home if he had ever taught about justification and the response was no.  The concept of being ‘justified by faith’ was spoken of by this pastor like some unfamiliar concept and doctrine.

Before looking more closely at this critical concept, I think it is important to step back and look at man and attempt to understand the state of man without God.  What is the condition of man in his sinful state.  In my experience, I have been in UPCI churches that preached and taught very strongly on the subject of sin and its consequences.  I have been in another church where the subject of sin rarely is mentioned.  Where sin is rarely mentioned, living a life for Christ is more about the benefits that one can receive from being in relationship with God.  Regardless of where one finds himself – in a church that emphasizes the sinful nature of man and his need for God or the church that emphasizes benefits of living for Christ rather than man’s need, seeking to follow Christ in either place can be rather precarious for the Christian if he does not have an adequate understanding of what it means to be saved by grace through faith.

As a member of a UPCI church, you are a part of the Arminian tradition as opposed to Calvinism.  I address this subject now because, in my experience, the distinctions between Arminianism and Calvinism were never taught as a part of our study of scripture in the UPCI and I believe that the vast majority are unfamiliar with these concepts.

This a subject for deeper exploration another time but at its most fundamental level the difference between the two positions relates to how an individual comes to salvation.  Arminianism espouses the view that God provides a degree of grace to all people (something called “prevenient grace”) but that man has the free will to make the final determination as to whether or not he will respond to the call of God.  Man, even while in his sinful state, has the ability to choose the right, to do the good and spiritual thing of responding in faith.  Thus, man is tainted by sin but not to the extent that he is unable to place faith in God of his own accord.

In his book, The New Birth, David Bernard reflects the Arminian view in some of his comments regarding man and his sinful state.  “The Scriptures teach that God gives everyone the ability to believe and therefore He is the source of a Christian’s faith. ‘God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).”  (page 37).  This reflects the Arminian view of unlimited atonement versus the view of Calvinism which holds to particular redemption or limited atonement (a point of considerable debate).  Bernard states further:

Due to our sinful natures, none of us could ever seek God on our own in the absence of His drawing power (John 3:27; 6:44; Romans 3:10-12).  No one would ever have faith if God did not grant it.  However, Christ died for the whole world so that He could bestow grace upon all (John 3:16).  Although man on his own is so depraved and sinful that he cannot of himself choose God, God gives every man the ability to seek after Him and respond to Him.  This grace that precedes salvation and is given to all mankind is what theologians call “universal prevenient grace.”  (page 37).

Calvinism, on the other hand, holds that man is corrupted by sin and unable to come to God of his own accord.  Calvinism would say that man is totally depraved or radically corrupted.  Total depravity does not mean that man is as sinful as he could possibly be.  The depravity reflects the brokenness and inability on the part of man on his own to do good.  Even the “good” that man does is tainted by his sinful nature.  Within the scope of salvation, total depravity or total inability holds that man is unable and not even inclined to love God but are instead inclined to serve his own nature, desires and will and to reject God.  Therefore, salvation must be brought about exclusively through the sovereignty of God who elects, calls and justifies a people for himself.  Man brings nothing to the table – man, according to his nature, does not seek God and is unable to submit himself to the will of God.  God does the work of salvation in us.

R.C. Sproul describes the problem of man as follows:

The ability to make righteous moral choices requires righteous desires and inclinations. Without a righteous inclination to the good, no one can choose the good. Our choices follow our inclinations. For man to be able to choose the things of God, he must first be inclined to choose them. Since the flesh makes no provision for the things of God, grace is required for us to be able to choose them. The unregenerate person must be regenerated before he has any desire for God.

I wish to lay these thoughts out briefly now as to demonstrate that there is a vast difference of view with respect to the nature of our salvation and how it is brought about.  Fundamentally, this difference of view on the sinful state of man is particularly important in light of the gospel proclaimed by the UPCI.  As Calvinist, Dr. James White, noted in his book The God who Justifies, “Every fundamental error regarding the doctrine of justification that man has ever invented flows from a denial of the nature and impact of sin in man’s life.”  (page 53).

The Arminian view of the UPCI is, fundamentally, that faith is something that the natural man must add or contribute towards his salvation independent of the actions of God’s grace.  Man, in his unregenerate (pre-new birth) state has the freewill and natural ability to either believe in or reject God and his extension of grace.  God’s grace is extended to all and takes man part of the way to salvation but fallen man will determine the final outcome with respect to whether he will respond in faith, become regenerate or new born, and ultimately saved.  Thus, grace is an offer and a help to man but will not change man.  Grace is merely Jesus standing at the door and knocking but he is waiting for us to respond and open the door.  God will only respond to and reward those who, in their fallen state, are able to produce sufficient faith to contribute to their salvation.

Thus, the view of your typical Arminian is that God extends this prevenient grace to all to draw men to him but man himself, in his unregenerate state, must contribute his faith to bring about his regeneration/new birth and salvation.  Man has the ability to decide for himself whether he will respond in faith or reject God.   Once man has received the grace of God through the exercise of his faith, his is regenerated/born again.  From here, man is progressively sanctified or conformed to the image of God’s son and would participate in baptism, the Lord’s Supper and be a part of the church.

The UPCI takes your typical Arminian view and moves it to the further extreme.  Not only must man, in his unregenerate, fallen state contribute faith to salvation.  Unregenerate, fallen man must bring faith and obedience.  Bernard, throughout his book The New Birth reiterates obedience, particularly obedience to Acts 2:38, as man’s responsibility in contributing to his salvation.  While lip service is offered to the work being on the part of God and received through faith, man must contribute to his salvation through the acts baptism in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in unknown tongues.  As Bernard states, “Regeneration…occurs at the time we repent, are baptized in the name of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit.”  (Page 329-30).  Thus, the new birth/regeneration is a process that begins with repentance and is not completed until such a point in time when we are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit – in the UPCI view baptism must be in Jesus’ name to be effective in the remission of sins and the reception of the Spirit is to always be accompanied with the initial evidence of speaking in unknown tongues.

The question must be asked, does the scripture teach that man, in his unregenerate state, have the ability to respond in both faith and obedience to the extension of God’s grace in salvation?  Is man capable of contributing anything to his salvation, even in the form of simply faith, much less obedience to baptism and tongue speaking.

In another post we will need to address those scriptures that would affirm man’s ability and responsibility to choose God and those that seem to stress man’s inability to come to Christ.  It is clear that there are many scriptures that include a general call to all to repent and to come to Christ but there seems to be an absence within those passages regarding man’s ability to come to Christ on his own.  Yet the scriptures seem to make clear that within this general call, there is a particular or effectual calling for some.  In the end, many are called but few are chosen.

The question is, does the scripture teach that man, who is universally guilty of sin, and “storing up wrath” for themselves for the “day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”, who is dead in his trespasses and sin, following the course of this world, living in the passions of his flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, a child of wrath, hostile and in rebellion to God, who has his mind set on the things of the flesh, which is hostile to God, unable to please God and both unwilling and unable to submit to God’s law, able to contribute faith and willingly on his own accord to choose God?

A similar question was asked in Jeremiah 13:23:  Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?  Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.  The answer is no.  Just as a leopard cannot change his spots, man is unable to change something that is a part of his fallen nature – that is his inclination to do evil and his natural state being in rebellion against God.  As Paul stated in Romans, the mind set on the flesh does not submit to the will of God, “indeed it cannot.”  Thus, the image of Jesus standing at the door and knocking (which, if we were to look at that passage in context, is a picture of his knocking on the door of the church and not an image of the state of the relationship between Christ and sinner) is misguided.  The sinner will never come to the door and open to Christ of his own accord.  It is contrary to his nature.

The image that would more accurately reflect the relationship of sinner coming to Christ is that of Christ standing before the tomb of the dead Lazarus.  The effectual call of God will bring forth the dead to life – the dead brings nothing to the equation, indeed he cannot by his nature and state.

In my next blog, we will take a look at the alternative view of scripture on the condition of man and God’s role in bringing about his salvation.