Salvation Conditioned on Faith

Dr. Robert E. Picirilli, the former Academic Dean and Professor of Greek and New Testament studies at Free Will Baptist Bible College, now Welch College, carefully parses the elements and aspects of faith in relation to justification and, ultimately, salvation. Detractors of Reformed Arminian doctrine have suggested that Arminians operate within a works- or merit-based systematic theology, given the conditional nature of both election and salvation. Dr. Picirilli notes the unwarranted nature of these claims as the New Testament itself explicitly teaches that both justification and salvation are conditioned upon faith in Jesus Christ. Dr. Picirilli writes the following.

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All parties agree that justification is by faith and that therefore it would be correct to say that "salvation" is by faith at least as a synecdoche [a  figure of speech in which the name of a part is used to stand for the whole, link]; that is, if "salvation" is used in the narrow sense as a synonym for justification, then salvation is by faith. The question, therefore, is whether the Bible connects "by faith" only with justification (or with "salvation" used in this narrow sense) or with "salvation" in the broad sense of the word as including regeneration or other aspects of the application of redemption to the individual. To put it another way, what exactly is it that the Bible says happens "by faith"?

The answer, based on a thorough examination of all New Testament passages that present faith as a condition, is that "by faith" is not limited to justification. Here are only some of the more important passages.

  • Several passages present the reception of the Holy Spirit as "by faith."
1. Galatians 3 provides a good example. In verse 2 Paul makes clear (albeit by a rhetorical question) that the Galatians "received the Spirit by the hearing of faith." Verse 5 looks at this same fact from the apostle's side: he "ministered the Spirit" to them "by the hearing of faith." The "hearing" in this phrase looks at the dynamics involved in the preacher-listener encounter. Paul preached faith as the means of receiving the Spirit; they heard faith preached thus; they did just what they heard Paul say they should do and responded in faith. This is equivalent, then, to saying that they received the Spirit "by faith" (ek with the ablative). Obviously this is not, by any figure of speech, as narrow as justification.

Verse 14 adds confirmation that Paul is describing what happens when one becomes a Christian: "in order that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (dia with the genitive). Pneumatos, here, is probably an appositional genitive; to render "the promised Spirit" is to say about the same thing. The point is that "the promise," in the New Testament, is often a technical term for the reception of the Holy Spirit; see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4 (compare Acts 11:15-18); Acts 2:33, 38, 39; Ephesians 1:13 (where "the Holy Spirit of promise" is essentially equivalent to "the promise of the Spirit").

2. John 7:39 should perhaps be included here: "He said this about the Spirit, whom they who believed (aorist: put faith) in Him were about to receive." In view of the "dispensational" questions raised in interpreting this verse, too much need not be made of it. Even so, it appears to support the conclusion that faith is the condition for receiving the Spirit.

3. Ephesians 1:13 should certainly be included; it presents the same dynamics that were noted in Galatians 3. The order is: they heard the gospel, they responded by placing faith (aorist again) in Christ, they were "sealed" with the promised Spirit. The grammatical relationship between the response of faith and the sealing is tight: literally, "believing, you were sealed."

4. Peter's report on the events at Cornelius' house makes the same basic point: God gave to the Gentiles there the Holy Spirit, just as He did to Peter and the others in Jerusalem, when they put faith (aorist again) in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 11:17). There is room for doubt whether the participle "believing" (pisteusasin) modifies the "us" or the "them" -- or both; either way, the point is the same and the grammatical connection is another tight one: "God gave to them as to us believing."

5. In Acts 15:7-9, at the Jerusalem Council, Peter recalls this same matter. Once again, precisely the same order is set forth as that found in Paul's treatment in Galatians 3 and Ephesians 1: Peter spoke, the Gentiles heard, they believed (still another aorist), and God gave them the Holy Spirit. Only here Peter adds another element as explicative of what happened at the same moment: "(thus) purifying their hearts by faith" (using the instrumental-dative). We must understand "purifying their hearts" as a pregnant equivalent to the giving of the Spirit, or as an added element indicating the results -- the cleansing work performed by the Spirit upon His reception. Either way (and the difference is not great), the meaning is certainly not the equivalent of justification in particular. The possession of the Spirit of life as salvation is meant.

  • Some passages present being sons/children of God as "by faith."
1. As above, Galatians is a good place to start. In Gal. 3:26 we read that "you are all sons (υἱοὶ) of God by faith (dia with the genitive) in Christ Jesus." Obviously this is not "mere" justification but our relationship to God as full-fledged sons -- adoption, in other words. The context of the passage makes this even clearer.

2. John 1:12 indicates essentially the same truth: becoming "children of God" is conditioned on faith, explained both as "believing in His name" and as "receiving Him." Here "children" is tekna, but it may be argued that the Johannine teknon [children] is not radically different from the Pauline huios [sons]. If there is meant to be a difference, the teknon may refer to regeneration while the huios refers to adoption. Regardless, justification is certainly not in view.

3. First John 5:1 might be treated under a separate heading, but may as well be mentioned here: "Everyone who has faith that Jesus is the Christ has been born/begotten of God." It would be possible, of course, to take the faith here as a result, an identifying characteristic of those who have been regenerated; but that is not the most natural reading of the words. If, as seems more likely, the being born is seen as the result of the believing, then the point is that the new birth (regeneration), by which one becomes a child of God, is by faith.



  • Some passages indicate that resurrection from spiritual death is "by faith."
1. Colosians 2:12 is one of these. Here the Christian is identified as one dead, buried, and raised to new life with Christ, as demonstrated in baptism and accomplished by the "inworking" of the God who raised Christ from the dead. Even so, this is said to have been "by faith" (dia with the genitive), and it is certainly not justification as such. This resurrection is, I would assume, regeneration. If not directly that, then union with Christ is directly involved and regeneration is implicit.

2. John 5:24 should be included under this heading, as well as under the one to follow. And now we see John (in the words of Jesus, of course) setting forth the same order that Paul and Peter (see above) have set forth: the spoken word, hearing, faith, and then: "has passed out of death into life." Without doubt, this is spiritual regeneration, resurrection from spiritual death, and it is specifically declared to follow faith.

3. We might treat John 12:46 as having the same meaning, even though spiritual darkness is the precise metaphor (rather than spiritual death). Using the aorist subjunctive with hina, in a clause of (realized) purpose, Jesus indicates that everyone with faith in Him no longer abides in spiritual darkness. Faith is the condition, and on that condition one has passed into the light -- another way of saying the same thing as having passed from death to life. I do not see how anyone can doubt that regeneration (rather than justification, specifically) is meant.

  • A number of passages state that possession of eternal life is "by faith."
1. Among these, in the Gospel of John, are John 3:36 and John 6:40, 47. I suppose one might argue that possessing eternal life, in these verses, is -- by a figure of speech -- a "judicial" matter, rooted in justification. It seems far more likely to me that having eternal life, which is obviously more than a promise for the future but a present possession, is rooted in regeneration.

2. Consider also 1 Timothy 1:16: Paul regards his own experience as a pattern for anyone who will "believe in Him unto eternal life." Logically, in the ordo salutis [the logical order of the events of the entire salvation process], one has eternal life from the moment of regeneration.

  • Finally, there are a number of passages that make salvation "by faith." These will not help to decide the point of this chapter if they are using the word in the narrow sense as equivalent to justification. But if in fact -- as seems the case -- the context of these verses is such as to show that "salvation" is being used in the broader sense (inclusive of aspects of the ordo salutis other than justification), they will help.
1. Acts 16:31, for example, will probably not help us. The Philippian jailor is told, in response to his question, "Put faith (aorist) in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." We do not have enough context to indicate the breadth of meaning in "saved"; still, there is really no good reason to think that Paul meant, specifically, justification as distinguished from the whole ordo salutis.

2. The same may be true of Mark 16:16 (whether it belongs in the original or not). Here, at least, the opposite of "saved" is "condemned," and that might easily be interpreted in an exclusively judicial sense.

3. First Corinthians 1:21, however, has more in the context that may clarify what Paul means when he says God is pleased "to save the ones believing." The immediate context contrasts this with those who, by wisdom, did not come to the knowledge of God. "Knowing God" is certainly broader than justification. In the wider context, being "saved" in verse 21 may well be defined by "You were (effectively) called in the fellowship of (being on common ground with, participation in) His Son Jesus Christ" (verse 9); or even by verse 30: "Of Him (God) are you in Christ." In context, then, Paul seems to be thinking about being in union with Christ and all the fruits of that  union.

4. Consider also Ephesians 2:8, 9: "You have been saved by faith" (dia with the genitive). Considering the whole of Ephesians, with its treatment of all the spiritual riches possessed by being in Christ (Eph. 1:3), it is patently unlikely that "saved" in Eph. 2:8 is meant in the narrow sense as equivalent to justification. More than that, the immediate context of chapter 2 makes this all the more unlikely: Paul is speaking specifically of the quickening of those dead in trespasses and sins, as verses 1, 5, 6 show. Here "salvation" is not being viewed from the point of justification at all but the deliverance of the unsaved from spiritual death and their fashioning as new creatures, ordained for good works. One could hardly find a better contextual description of, or set of words to elucidate, regeneration.

5. In view of the context of Romans, I will not attempt to make much of Romans 1:16 or Romans 10:9, both saying that faith leads to "salvation." It is obvious that the predominant aspect of salvation discussed in Romans is justification; the presumption might therefore be that "salvation" in these verses is justification specifically. I will at least observe, however, that, since Paul can so readily speak of justification in Romans -- using dikaiosunē [righteousness] and its cognates over and over again without apparently needing synonyms for the sake of variety -- one might as logically think that when he uses "salvation" the change of words is deliberate.

6. Luke 8:12 should, however, be considered. There, in interpreting the parable of the sower, Jesus indicates (referring to the seed that fell by the way and never sprouted) that Satan takes away the word "lest they, believing (aorist), be saved." Perhaps it would be possible for the Calvinist to argue that this is entirely a reference to the possibility of conversion (including justification, specifically) that attends the gospel for the regenerate. But that would leave us with the intolerable view that Jesus [is referring to] regenerated people whose conversion is successfully prevented by the Satanic hiding of the Word. While this is a negative sort of argument, it seems quite clear that conversion-justification, as narrowly distinguished from regeneration, cannot be the meaning of "saved" in this verse, since these persons never experienced salvation at all.

In conclusion, no one disputes the fact that justification, as such, is truly by faith. In view of the passages dealt with above, there should also be no disputing that "salvation" in its widest sense is also by faith. Regeneration and things rooted in regeneration are also said to be by faith [a biblical fact that contradicts the false notion that regeneration precedes faith]. Furthermore, there is no reason to think that "by faith," when linked with these other aspects of salvation, including regeneration, means anything different from what it means when linked with justification specifically. That is, it bears the same conditional relationship in both linkings. One may compare, for example, the syntax and terminology Paul uses when declaring that justification is by faith in Galatians 2:16 with that which he uses when declaring that reception of the Spirit is by faith in Galatians 3:2, 5.

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Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views on Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002), 170-75.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.