If you are an evangelical Christian and someone asks you, “Do you believe in faith alone?, you will probably retort – if the questioner is another evangelical Christian – “What a dumb question, of course I do!” The meaning of “faith alone” is that one is justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works. That is not to say that faith is alone, for works are involved, but not as part of your justification but as part of your salvation.
“[W]hen, says Craig Keener, Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Rom 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Rom 1:5). James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18). In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning. If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined. (“Biblical Interpretation” by Craig Keener).
The prevalent Protestant view is that works are the fruits and signs of justification obtained. It matters much what kind of good works you do once you believe. (See Faith and Jerks: The Bible out of context is a con; that’s why James White is not going to hell).
So far so good: most evangelicals believe in (justification by) faith alone (sola fide), but not a faith that is alone, that is, good works are the compulsory fruit of faith.
I was surfing on the couch very tired after a battle with a rabbi during my nightly soul sleep when my wife said, “Don’t you want to go upstairs for a snooze?” I was just about to do so when I came across Michael Patton’s “Do Calvinists really believe in salvation by faith alone.” At first blush, it seems that this question is basically the same as “Do Calvinists believe in faith alone?” in the sense that works for a Calvinist is not part of justification by faith alone, but only the fruit of justification (by faith alone). But Patton like any good Calvinist theologian, or predestined prestidigitator (presto, voilà!), has a trick up his sleeve. Patton doesn’t disappoint. Patton’s point is that justification is only part of salvation where the latter comprises regeneration, faith, works, and glorification. So if a Calvinist believes in regeneration as well as faith, he does so as part of his salvation, not as part of his justification. So. no, Calvinists do not believe in salvation by fait alone.
The dispute between Calvinists and Arminians arises in the logical progression of regeneration and faith. When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it. A key text in his regard is:
It is 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
“This” must refer to at least the immediate antecedent, “faith.” For the Arminian, there’s no way out of it, grammatically at least. Furthermore, if faith, is not your own doing, it must be God’s doing, and that is exactly what “gift” means. The Arminian will retort that because the Holy Spirit is a gentleman (Noel Coward?) he will not force this gift on to you. Does that mean that we must also give God permission to work in us? No, “for we are his workmanship” makes nonsense of that. The Arminian will then say to the Calvinist, and this is the point of Patton’s question, “you don’t believe in faith alone ’cause you believe in faith, ok not plus works, but in faith plus regeneration. The Arminian is confusing the ingredient of justification (which is by faith alone) with the cake of salvation, which consists of other ingredients such as works and glorification.
Read Patton – what a find! His graphics of the contrast between the Reformed Calvinistic, Arminian and Roman Catholic ordo salutis will make you drool.
“Time for your nap, darling.”