Does Grace Save? Does Faith Save? What Causes Salvation?

Before addressing, in the post for tomorrow, the question of why some believe and others do not believe, we must also answer the very basic questions: Does grace save? Does faith save? What causes salvation? Though the Calvinists of Arminius' era reject his doctrine of conditional election, presupposed by faith in Christ, this does not deter him from defending what he believes is taught in Scripture. In his Apology (Defense), he argues that faith in Christ -- agreeing with the charge brought against him -- actually is "a condition prescribed and required by God, to be performed by those who shall obtain His salvation," citing, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them." (John 3:36 NIV)1 This is the consensus of early Church orthodoxy from the beginning.

Giving further defense, Arminius writes, "The propositions contained in this passage cannot be resolved into any other than this brief one, which is likewise used in the Scripture, 'Believe, and thou shalt be saved:' In which the word 'believe' has the force of a demand or requirement; and the phrase 'thou shalt be saved' has that of a [persuasion], by means of a good that is promised." For Arminius, as well as the Remonstrants, this truth is "so clear and [easy to understand] that the denial of it would be a proof of great perversity or of extreme unskillfulness,"2 which is quite telling for the Calvinists of his era who deny the claim -- at least from his perspective.

His opponents do not appreciate, to state the very least, the conditional nature of his doctrine of election, nor his admission that this doctrine seems the most plain when reading Scripture. For the Calvinist, if election unto salvation is conditional, then God is not sovereign (by their deterministic definition of "sovereign"). In this sense, so they maintain, man gets to choose who will or who will not be saved rather than God. Hence follows charges that, in Arminianism, "man saves himself"; or "his faith saves him"; or "decisional regeneration is true after all."

This is not true, however, for even in Arminius' doctrine (which is the historical orthodox position of the early Church), God is still the one who sovereignly saves, and He has decreed or chosen or elected to save believers (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). God does not regenerate and save unbelievers. (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13) Faith does not save; i.e., one's "decision to follow Christ" does not save; only God saves (Titus 3:5). The gift of faith is merely the instrumental means by which God is moved to save someone.

From all appearances, Calvinists would have us view God as somewhat reluctant to save (or, certainly, reluctant to save all); yet He "desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge [recognition] of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4; cf. Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; 2 Pet. 3:9) We know that all will not be saved (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; Rev. 20:11-15); but that has no bearing on God's desire that all be saved. Therefore He has not unconditionally elected to save, by decree, only some. If so, then His alleged desire that all be saved is disingenuous at best, and highly deceptive at worst. If God is the God of truth (Num. 23:19; John 14:6; Rom. 3:4; Titus 1:2; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 1:6; 2:4, 27), then He can in no sense inspire an author of Scripture to allude to any notion that He genuinely desires the salvation of all, especially when He Himself knows that statement to be false.

Arminius' opponents also take issue with his doctrine of election based on God's exhaustive foreknowledge, but this tenet of Arminianism is sorely misunderstood. Arminius interconnects God's exhaustive foreknowledge with the sufficient means whereby a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. "Among those causes [or, means] I consider the [prevenient, or, that which comes before], accompanying and [subsequent, or, that which follows] grace of God, as the principal [or, foremost]."3 Also, God's exhaustive knowledge is directly correspondent with His nature. In other words, when He decreed to create human beings, He also exhaustively knew all that could be known about each human being, and that knowledge included their eternal position in Christ. Rather than faith foreknown, we should state that each person was foreknown, and whether or not each person received Christ by grace through faith. God wants to save; saving was His idea; and He has elected to save those who by grace receive Christ by faith.

The seemingly controversial nature of Arminius' claims strikes at the very heart of Calvinistic dogma. In Calvinism, regeneration must precede faith if God's unconditionally elect are to believe in Christ. Thus faith is the result of regeneration. But Arminius understands faith as did all of the early Church fathers prior to St Augustine in the early fifth century: a condition to the salvation of God; and if faith is a condition to salvation, and God only grants this faith to the alleged unconditionally elect -- and that through the means of regeneration -- then the promise of salvation and the offer, and even the intent, of the gospel are really only for the unconditionally elect, and not for the world, as Scripture teaches (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 28:19-20; John 1:4, 7, 9; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:16-17; 10:13-17; Rev. 14:6).4 God does not save unbelievers.

Though the Calvinists respond to Arminius' argument that, God has decreed the means (faith via regeneration) as well as the end (salvation), Arminius responds that salvation, or the saving act via regeneration, is "not the end [or goal] of God; but salvation and faith are the gifts of God, bound and connected together in this order between themselves through the will of God -- that faith should precede salvation [and, hence, regeneration, cf. Titus 3:5; Col. 2:13], both with regard to God the Donor of it; and in reality."5 In this sense, then, faith, which is a grace-induced response of the individual to the inner work of the Spirit of God, the gospel and the Word of God, is viewed as a gift -- a granting (Phil. 1:29), a drawing (John 6:44, 65), a grace (Eph. 2:8).

Moreover, faith is "a condition required by God to be performed by him who shall be saved before it is a means of obtaining that salvation,"6 since neither God the Father, God the Son, nor God the Holy Spirit believes for the individual. The person him- or herself must believe in Christ Jesus. God does not implant faith into a person (whatever that would mean), for faith is neither a substance nor an object that can be given, but refers primarily and properly to the response of an individual to the work of God in Christ through the Spirit, resulting in an active trust in the atoning and justifying work and merit of Jesus Christ at Calvary and in His resurrection.

Without faith, pleasing God is impossible, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who (some translations add, diligently) seek Him. (Heb. 11:6) All seeking, all means of faith, and all of salvation is derived from the grace of God. He delights in saving sinners, in saving believers, for He is the Savior of all people, but especially of believers, so claims Scripture. (1 Tim. 4:10) Thus God is the only Savior; and neither grace, strictly taken, faith, nor one's decision to believe, actually saves anyone. God has elected to save. He is the One who saves. He has elected to save believers, for He does not save unbelievers.

If Calvinists are correct, and regeneration precedes faith, then God saves unbelievers; for first He regenerates and thus saves an unbeliever, gives the person faith (whatever that means), and then forgives the person of sin. God, then, actually regenerates and saves unbelievers before they are forgiven of sins and believe in Christ. This teaching is, we believe, contrary to any notion of a plain reading of Scripture. If the New Testament at any place taught that God saves unbelievers then we could consider the theory of regeneration preceding faith a viable position for the Calvinist. But God is the Savior only of believers (1 Tim. 4:10).


1 James Arminius, "The Apology or Defense of James Arminius," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 1:748.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 1:749.

4 Ibid., 1:749-50.

5 Ibid., 1:750.

6 Ibid.


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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.