Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Reformed Theology: Works Necessary for Salvation

Gerstner and MacArthur make unBiblical separation between meritorious and non-meritorious works. There is no such distinction in the Bible.

Again, the gospel message of Reformed Theology makes faith and works necessary for salvation.

Understand why: It is because man is spiritually dead, and is regenerated by God apart from any response on the part of man, and because God’s purpose cannot be thwarted ("true" faith cannot fail to issue in works), that a saved person will inevitably and absolutely "persevere" in the faith. Thus, works, as an inevitable result, are necessary for salvation.

Yes, Reformed Theology advocates usually object to this by describing the gospel message as not "faith + works = justification," but "faith = justification + works." I submit that anyone with a basic knowledge of logic can easily demonstrate that these two end up in the same place.

In the first equation, faith alone does not lead to justification; works must be added. But in the second, once again faith alone does not lead to justification; if works do not follow, then there was no faith. This is no more than a word game. It is best seen in the old Calvinist saying: "You are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves you is never alone." Let me complete it: "You are saved by faith alone (apart from works), but the faith that saves you is never alone (apart from works)." This is internally inconsistent.

Suppose you go to a car lot to buy a used car, and purchase a car for $5,000. If you have the $5,000, you may pay it right then. If you don’t, the salesman may arrange a loan for you to pay it back over a period of years. But does the fact that you don’t pay anything up front mean that you got the car free? Absolutely not. You are paying for it—the payment is just an inevitable result of your buying the car. To paraphrase the Classical Calvinist saying: "You are a car-owner by signing a sales agreement alone (apart from any money changing hands), but the signing of a sales agreement by which you are a car-owner is never alone (apart from money changing hands)." If the money doesn’t change hands, you lose the car (this wording reflects Arminian theology; in Calvinist theology, you never had the car in the first place!).

So too it is foolishness to say that salvation is by faith alone, but that faith is not true faith unless it comes with works. Let’s be honest: this is salvation by works! And in unguarded moments Reformed Theologians often say exactly this.

Again! John Gerstner is one such theologian. He writes:

"From the essential truth that no sinner in himself can merit salvation, the antinomian draws the erroneous conclusion that good works need not accompany faith in the saint. The question is not whether good works are necessary to salvation, but in what way they are necessary. As the inevitable outworking of saving faith, they are necessary for salvation."

And again:

"Thus, good works may be said to be a condition for obtaining salvation in that they inevitably accompany genuine faith." (Wrongly Dividing..., 210)

The apostle Paul would never agree with this! In fact, he is precise on the distinction between faith and works. For example:

"Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Rom 4:4-5).

In Galatians 2:16, with an eye toward the legalistic theology of the Judaizers, he writes:

"…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; for by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified."

And again:

"…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5-6).

Of course, Lordship Salvation theologians know these Scriptures too. So how can they support works as necessary for salvation? They do it by creating two categories, non-meritorious works (works which inevitably result from salvation), and meritorious works (works which result in salvation). The former verify or validate one’s salvation; the latter, of course, are impossible.

These two categories of works result in comments like these from MacArthur:

"Meritorious works have nothing to do with faith. But faith works have everything to do with it…faith that does not produce works is dead faith, inefficacious faith. Faith that remains idle is no better than the faith the demons display." (MacArthur, Faith Works, 53)

Again on the same page:

"The believer himself contributes nothing meritorious to the saving process."

Later in the same book, he again writes:

"As we have seen time and time again in our study, meritorious works have no place in salvation." (Faith Works, 207)

Likewise Gerstner, in his book attacking dispensationalists, writes that virtually all dispensationalists do not see the elementary difference between non-meritorious "requirements," "conditions," "necessary obligations," "indispensable duties," and "musts," as the natural outworking of true faith, in distinction from faith in the Savior plus meritorious works as the very basis of salvation (Wrongly Dividing... 226).

Guilty as charged! I confess, I do not see this distinction in Scripture. In fact it isn’t there. It exists in Classical Calvinist/Lordship Salvation theology, but not in the Bible. Works are works; they either are or are not necessary for salvation. With the apostle Paul, I say they are not; we are saved "by grace…through faith…not of works" (Eph 2:8-9).



Blogger Rose~ said...

I am so surprised that the Calvinists would subscribe to the idea that works must accompany their faith or else they are not saved. Are you sure? If this is true, I guess I really did not know this about them. I didn't put it all together. (I'm still learning and I may be misunderstanding their true position).

You see, I have always understood the Bible to say that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. This is the condition for election. This is something the person must do. His parents cannot do it for Him, His priest cannot do it for Him, God does not do it for Him.

They talk about "regeneration preceeding faith" becuase they say that the person CANNOT do it. If I understand them corrrectly, a person must be born-again first by God's Spirit, THEN he WILL believe...so there are no real choices in regards to salvation on the part of the person prior to salvation. I have also heard them say that this belief would be a work required for salvation and they vehemtly defend the fact that salvation is ALL OF GOD. Our belief would be a work required for salvation and that is unacceptable to them. But now, if you are correct, their system does not require belief from the person, but it requires works from the person? Huh?!?

I wonder if one of my favorite Calvinists was getting at this over here. I may have to re-read it.

I am quite perplexed by all of this! I hope I am not misunderstanding it. Either way, I am glad I have the Bible and i don't have to follow man's theological systems, but can read the Bible myself.

November 11, 2005 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


I would only re-affirm Antonio's perspective here. Of course the Calvinist will posture here--and say they don't believe in "works" that are meritorious--but all have to do is look at their anthropology and in fact the functional outworking of their view of sanctification; and one will notice, like Antonio has brought out, that justification and sanctification are subsumed as one reality in the salvation process (read PILGRIMS PROGRESS) and you'll see a wonderful analogy of what Antonio points out about the process involved in Calvinist salvation. Also look at Puritans in history, and you'll also see what Antonio is discussing, being lived out.

November 11, 2005 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

BTW, Antonio, thanks for including me on your blogroll--I like the little hovering description you provide . . . "so called Affective theology guy," I suppose this is your response to my description of you on my site ". . . so called Free-gace theology guy". Funny :), heh, heh . . .

November 11, 2005 11:02 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...


I believe that you are thinking through things correctly.

When you say:
But now, if you are correct, their system does not require belief from the person, but it requires works from the person? Huh?!?

You are displaying the illuminating mind that you have. You are absolutely correct.


As always, you are articulate, knowledgable, and thought-provoking. Thank you for your affirmative comment.


November 11, 2005 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish you would chose to put as much energy into something constructive rather than finding every opportunity to bash Calvin.

Reformed theology emphasizes God rather than being man centered (Arminian). God chose us rather than we chose God, only those chosen by God will come to him and those who come to him he will not cast out. According to R C Sproul reformed theology is sometimes called covenant theology being based on the covenants of redemption (within the trinity), works (made with Adam) and grace (made with sinners). The idea of unconditional election means that there is nothing within us, even in God's foreknowledge of us that moved Him to elect us. His choice of election was based on His good pleasure and wisdom and not on anything good or bad in us i.e. it is not conditional on us, hence our election is unconditional. Reformed theology places regeneration before faith. The perseverance of the saints or preservation of the saints effectively means once saved always saved.

Wouldnt it be nice if we were more centered on God than election?

November 16, 2005 9:15 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...


you write:

The idea of unconditional election means that there is nothing within us, even in God's foreknowledge of us that moved Him to elect us.

I can turn it around and say:

The idea of unconditional reprobation means that there is nothing within us, even in our sin, our depravity or the fall of Adam, that moved Him to damn us.

This would make our God unjust and unloving.


November 16, 2005 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Disobeying His commands damns us. That makes God a just and loving God. Read Romans 2, let me know what you thinkg

November 17, 2005 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Rose Said: You see, I have always understood the Bible to say that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. This is the condition for election.

Actually, Rose, according to Calvinistic theoplogy believing isn't the condition required for election. Belief in Jesus Christ is the evidence of election.


November 18, 2005 10:56 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Rose, you write:

You see, I have always understood the Bible to say that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. This is the condition for election.

You are right on the money here. But the election is not unto eternal life! It is unto the reponsibilities and office that Christ has for us within the Sphere of His Body.

Election and predestination do not speak as to individual eternal salvation. They speak as to the prescribed present purpose and future destiny of those who are "in Christ".


November 18, 2005 2:27 PM  
Blogger Earl said...


Interesting post. I like how you bring the issue to a focus. The focus is this:

"It is best seen in the old Calvinist saying: "You are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves you is never alone." Let me complete it: "You are saved by faith alone (apart from works), but the faith that saves you is never alone (apart from works)." This is internally inconsistent."

I am going to use some very strict definitions. When you say something is "internally inconsistent," it means that for all possible interpretations, every one of them has logical contradictions (that is, it affirms a logical proposition and its logical opposite at the same time and in the same sense).

You provided one analogy (car loan) that gives a certain kind of interpretation. If all interpretations of that Calvinist statement yielded the same kind of analogy, then you would indeed have a logical contradiction. However, there is another analogy that provides a different interpretation that models better what the Calvinist means (and Lutheran, for that matter, because while I would, as a Calvinist, like to claim that statement, it was Martin Luther that came up with that).

Suppose you moved from an arid desert to a climate zone where it rained a lot. You will see green vegetation during the year. We can say when it rains a lot; the rain will not be alone. There will be green vegetation that will result from the rain. Did your move from the desert to the rainy climate zone cause the green plants to grow? No, the rain did that. But you will have a lot of green plants around you giving evidence that you live in a rainy zone.

You see, strictly speaking, the statement by Martin Luther (that Calvinists steal) is not internally inconsistent. There are possible ways of interpreting it that do not yield contradictions. That is the key to determining if something is inconsistent (or the subset of inconsistent, internally inconsistent), all possible interpretations must yield a logical contradiction.

But let’s also examine this further. James tells us we are saved by our works (James 2:24). Is this a contradiction to the doctrine we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone? No. We must again look at the strict definition of a contradiction. A contradiction is when all possible interpretations yield at least one set logical propositions where the proposition and its logical opposite are both affirmed at the same time in the same sense. James speaks of the consequences of saving faith, which if not present, indicates there was no saving faith. Paul makes clear, as well as Jesus in the Gospels, that faith is the essential element for justification, apart from works. Thus faith is what God credited as righteousness to Abraham, and good works followed from that faith. It wasn’t the good works that justified Abraham; it was his faith. But good works resulted from the faith that justified Abraham, just as a green forest results from the rain in the wet climate zone. As the green trees are not the cause of their green vegetation, but the rain is the cause, so works is the cause of justification wrought by faith, but the evidence of faith. Thus James is speaking of being saved by faith in a different sense than Paul of how faith saves us.

This brings me back to the issue of inconsistency. For something to be inconsistent, it must be that under all possible interpretations there must result propositions that assert something is both true and false, in the same sense and at the same time. The Calvinist statement of “we are saved by faith alone by the faith does not stand alone” does not fit in the category of being inconsistent, and hence, as a corollary, it is not internally inconsistent.

December 13, 2005 5:13 PM  
Blogger Earl said...

One other thing I need to note. Analogies, as illuminating a point of discussion, particularly a point of contention, are in the eye of the beholder. If someone is rather sympathetic towards the point of the person putting together the analogy, then the analogy will make sense. If the person tends to be opposed to the idea behind the analogy, then the anlogy will not make sense.

For instance, take the various analogies of the Trinity (e.g., an apple, one whole apple, that has a core, flesh, skin). To many Christians, various analogies of the Trinity will make sense -- but to those hostile to orthodox Christianity, they will pick apart the analogies (I speak from experience).

The analogies of the car loan and the rain and green vegetation will also bring similar reactions. Analogies are only helpful to a very limited point to a very limited audience.

It is the concepts associated with a particular doctrine that need to be analyzed, not the contrived analogies. Here again strict, careful, reasoning is required. The terms "inconsistency" and "contradiction" are thrown around without the careful consideration of their technical definitions. This is where I have found the tight, careful definitions in mathematics and logic (and metalogic) to be very helpful in these kind of discussions.

December 13, 2005 8:40 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...


We are discussing James on this blog. James concern has nothing to do with whether they are regenerate or not, within the confines of his epistle.

And according to your analogy, what be it if I decided to move out onto the ocean in my sailboat. Could I then expect it to be green out over the waters because green landscape is always a necessary result of rain?


December 13, 2005 9:39 PM  
Blogger Earl said...


Analogies always have their restricted set for their discourse. You're choosing to go outside of the restricted set. That is part of the reason why analogies (my second comment) are usually not useful to people who are strongly disinclined to a view.

What I was showing is that for you to prove a viewpoint is inconsistent, you must show the following:

All possible interpretations of a view or statement must be inconsistent. To be inconsistent, each interpretation must simultaniously assert something that is both true and false, in the same sense, at the same time.

Merely coming up with one interpretation in an analogy of your car loan example does not meet that criteria, hence you have not shown your point.

December 14, 2005 5:31 AM  
Blogger Earl said...


Let me make one further comment. I really not so much interested in what your position is on James and works, but that you see there is no logical contradiction between Paul and James. I see you've worked through some thoughts so that you've got a system of thought that does not make those parts of the Bible contradictory. Hence I won't make a statement that your view is inconsistent.

My point on that was that even though there are places in the Bible that look inconsistent, there are interpretations which are not contradictions. You and I know that there are no contradictions in the Bible, so we'll work to uncover a good interpretation that does not have a contradiction -- of course you and I will disagree on some of the interpretations because of our respective backgrounds. I have no issue with that.

My issue is the when you say a view is inconsistent. I am actually doing you a favor in my comments. Saying the Luther statement is inconsistent is not correct for some very clear reasons. This does not in any sense vindicate Calvinism or Luther, it merely shows your line of reasoning with that statement is incorrect. What I would like to do is show you were your reasoning is wrong so you can get to the real issues. The logical inconsistency of "We are justified by faith alone but that faith does not stand alone" is really a red herring, because there are perfectly valid interpretations of that statement which are not contradictory. What you really want to do is focus on the Biblical reasons why Calvinism is wrong, not on these rabbit trails.

Speaking as a Calvinist, I much prefer dealing with the real issues, not these rabbit trails. If I see people stuck in these rabbit trails, I get bored and move on. I want to see your arguments compelling and interesting, based on the real issues.

That's the motivation behind my comments. You can become a much more powerful apologist for your position, and it makes life more interesting for me.

December 14, 2005 10:32 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Wait, it wouldn't REALLY be rain, but a SPURIOS rain, a FALSE rain, and a "so-called" rain, if I moved out on to a houseboat!

I notice that you do not interact with my analogy, nor state why it doesn't accurately describe your position.

You write:
I [am] really not so much interested in what your position is on James and works, but that you see there is no logical contradiction between Paul and James.
Listen, lets be honest. My position shows that there is no contradictoin between Paul and James. But the Reformed traditional view of James makes them at odds. As clear as language can present itself, James is talking about a salvation where faith is not enough to enact. The salvation James is talking about needs works.

If you take this salvation to mean justification salvation/eternal life, then you therefore must accept the premise of James, that works are indispensible as a CONDITION of eternal life, thus works-salvation.

This is indeed diametrically opposed and antithetical to Paul!

No amount of sophistry in the traditional interpretation of James 2:14ff can guard it from the fact that James is requiring works for salvation, and, since the Reformed tradition states that this salvation is eternal life/justification salvation, they are preaching a works-righteousness, which is condemned by Paul.


December 14, 2005 1:17 PM  
Blogger Earl said...

Sophistry *chuckle*, okay, this is your blog. You can say those words. ;o)

I'm curious. I'm reading yout take on James 2.14ff. Salvation, according to your, is salvation from physical death. So, in your mind, when Paul says we are saved by faith alone, there is nothing in a Christian's life that accompanies or results from faith at all? Just curious.

So what happens when someone dies? Does that mean they did not work hard enough? So, no one is saved in the James sense of the word?

If your interpretation of James is correct, Luther and the rest of us owe you a debt of thanks. Still, Luther's statement does have an intrepretation that is logically consistent: Faith results in justification and good works. Faith is the proper cause of both. Thus works is not, in that view, a cause of justification, merely evidence that faith that produces justification is present.

You analogy. My objection to it is this: it does not fit the concept of Luther's statement. A better analogy would be you were given a gift of a car from a favorite uncle, who does not expect repayment, but you decide to repay because he sacrificed to give you the car. Out of your love to him you make payments.

You see, your analogy makes Luther's statement have works a manditory requirement for justification. This other, a completely plausable interpretation of Luther's statement, has works the result of saving faith. This is why Luther's statement is not inconsistent.

...and I am happy to see you are against works righteousness.

December 14, 2005 3:27 PM  
Blogger PatrickS said...


December 17, 2005 9:32 PM  
Blogger PatrickS said...


Is there not a difference between a necessary cause and a necessary effect?

December 17, 2005 9:33 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

first, define both, then I will answer

December 17, 2005 10:48 PM  
Blogger PatrickS said...

If "I" define them, I would be answering my own question. But I would like your definitions. Thanks in advance.

December 18, 2005 6:35 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...

In my "Featured Posts" log on the main page, click on the first entry. In it is the answer to your question. There is a quote from Joseph Dillow from his book "The Reign of the Servant Kings" which should answer your question.

If you can't get my answer, after reading it, I would be happy to cut and paste the pertinent details here.

Thanks again for visiting my blog!


December 18, 2005 9:44 AM  
Blogger Ryan S. said...

So, we believe in salvation by works, huh? I am so surprised you are prone to erecting and attacking straw man arguments about what the Reformed believe. :-)

This is funny.

Have you ever taken a course in logic, or studied logical fallacies?

With respect, you have a proclivity for using them in your attacks on Reformed Theology.

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
-Ephesians 2:10

July 31, 2006 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to Ryan - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." - should he have placed his tasks before the disobedient?

October 18, 2006 2:14 AM  

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