Is Faith a Work?
We confess with the Bible that our regeneration or new birth in Christ is monergistic (a work of God alone) and not synergistic (i.e. a cooperation of man and God in regeneration). Thus our faith in Christ arises out of a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to change and soften our natural hostile disposition toward God. We likewise affirm that only by upholding monergistic regeneration do we faithfullly herald the biblical doctrine of 'Sola Gratia', or salvation by grace alone. All other schemes in which unregenerate man either takes the initiative or cooperates to be regenerated (by a faith produced or drawn from their native ability), should be considered synergistic. Some may be unhappy with being called a 'synergist' because it implies that they believe man and God work together toward salvation which clearly is a form of semi-pelagianism. So to defend themselves many synergists may respond as follows:
"Why do you call our belief that faith precedes regeneration synergistic? How can this be, unless faith is understood to be a work? Faith is not a meritorious work, by definition. In essence, the two are mutually exclusive. Accepting a gift is not a work, therefore it can't be considered synergism. If salvation is by faith, then works are nowhere to be found in the process. Again, to argue that faith precedes regeneration is synergistic would only be valid if faith = works."
I might respond to this line of reasoning by saying something like the following:
"You are correct that the Bible teaches that faith is not a work, but we make it into a work as soon as we view it as something we can autonomously come up with, apart from any work of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe we can, from our own resources, change our naturally unregenerate hardened hearts in some way that is independent of God are promoting rank Pelagianism. Ask yourself, in light of Scripture, can you believe the gospel apart from ANY work of the Holy Spirit? (see 1 Thes 1:4,5). God commands us to come to Him but unregenerate man is naturally faithless. The reason for this is that he is by nature unspiritual (i.e. w/o the Holy Spirit). We cannot grasp spiritual truth without the Holy Spirit. To claim we might do so would be a contradiction, for spirituality is a condition of spiritual understanding. In 1 Cor 2:12 Paul affrims this by writing, "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." ( i.e. the gospel). That is why through the prophet Jeremiah, God makes the promise, "I will heal your faithlessness" (Jer 3:22). With this in mind do you think we can heal our own faithlessness?
The question we need to be asking ourselves is, "what makes us to differ from other men who do not believe?" ... the grace of God or the will of man? If we say "the will of man" it is a boast and therefore not the kind of faith that is contrasted with works in the Bible. For Eph 2:8,9 speaks of faith that is the gift of God, a faith which leaves no room for boasting. True faith is seen as God's merciful gift which then looks away from its own resources and looks unto Christ for all spiritual blessings, including the very ability to believe. This is utterly distasteful to the natural man, not to mention humbling. And as Spurgeon said, "...no one natually submits to the humbling terms of the gospel". Elsewhere to strengthen this point Spurgeon said,
"...did you ever meet a Christian man who said, "I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?" If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, "My dear sir, I quite believe it-and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity."
In the synergists understanding, what ultimately makes us to differ from unbelievers is the will of man, not the grace of God. For, in that system, God has given all men equal grace ('grace' meaning nothing more than something freely offered to them), so God's blessing hinges upon a condition we meet, our action, our wisdom, our spiritual sensitivity. But it was for this very reason God sent His Son, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, (that is, including providing us with the spiritual resources to meet God's demand of faith and repentance.)
What makes men to differ to the synergist, therefore, is not grace, for, to them, all have grace, so the difference is how one man uses that grace better than another. Grace no longer, therefore, has anything to do with it, for ultimately it depends on a fallen person creating a right thought or affection about Christ thus believing in our ability to believe in Him. That our moral inability to exercise faith, due to a corruption of nature, does not itself need to be redeemed. Why, then, do some believe but not others? In answer to this most synergists say "because some believed" ... but notice that we did not ask what they did, but why they did it.
In John 10 Jesus said some do not believe BECAUSE they are not My sheep, and "My sheep hear my voice". Who they are in essence, therefore, precedes how they respond. Jesus explains this in detail when he says that Spirit gives birth to spirit but flesh gives birth to flesh...for this reason I said that no man can come to me UNLESS God grants it (John 6:63, 65). To believe in Christ God must grant it, and further, the Bible says ALL to whom God grants it, will believe (John 6:37).
It is true that the Bible contrasts faith and works, but biblical faith is never seen as something we, in our unregenerate condition, had to autonomously (apart form the Holy Spirit) contribute. Can the synergist thank God for his faith? How? Consider this prayer, "God I thank you for your salvation, except for my faith, the one thing I exercised on my own." Or consider this prayer, "Thank you Lord I am not like other men who do not have faith. While you extended grace to all men, some did not make use of it, BUT I DID." Such boasting, whether unconsciously or not is the result of believing that what makes you to differ from others is not God's grace but your faith. But the work of Christ redeems us unto faith, not on the condition of faith.
In the synergists' system, all men have grace, but only some have faith, yet because that faith does not comes from God's gift (since not all men have faith), is therefore, something we produce naturally on our own, apart from the Holy Spirit. That is why, after the Rich Young Ruler when away sad when called to repent and follow Jesus, the Lord answered his disciples' question "who then can be saved" with "what is impossible with man [i.e. faith and repentance] is possible with God."
Most of you who visit this site are convinced that the Bible teaches that salvation is by the grace of Jesus Christ alone, that is, that man and God do not cooperate in salvation. Most would further affirm that faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature but comes about as the result of a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit who turns our heart of stone to a heart of flesh, opens our spiritually blind eyes and unplugs our deaf ears to the gospel. We believe the gospel can only be heard by those God has spiritually granted to hear it (John 6:63, 65). This is not only what the Bible teaches from beginning to end, but this safeguards the reality that all glory goes to God for our salvation.
We affirm that our blindness and deafness to the gospel cannot be changed by mere human persuasion, (just as light itself does not make a blind man see) but rather it is by God doing a work of grace in our heart to change our naturally hostile disposition to one of love for Christ. We believe the Bible teaches this because, without the Holy Spirit, the natural man does not understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14) but thinks of them as foolish. He naturally loves darkness and hates the light and will not come into the light (John 3:19, 20) The human will as a 'slave to sin' does not, therefore, by liberty obtain saving grace, but by saving grace obtains liberty.
I would like to leave you with the following bit of the Hebrew Scripture: Sometimes in the Old Testament and the New, God reveals behind the scenes how He enabled particular persons to obey his Word when they were called to repent: In 2 Chronicles chapter 30 when couriers with a message of repentance passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, those who heard laughed them to scorn and mocked them when they were called to repent,
"Nevertheless [the Bible says] some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD." (2 Chronicles 30:11-12)
The text says some resisted the call, but all those tribes which the hand of God gave a heart to obey the Word, repented.
- J.W. Hendryx