Do Calvinists Believe Faith is Meritorious?
Today I received the following question in my email box:
question: In saying that individuals putting their faith in Christ are doing something meritorious, are not Calvinists saying faith is a work? But the Bible contrasts them.
response: Hi and thanks for your email. The bible contrasts faith and works in the sense that faith always looks away from itself to Christ for salvation. It no longer has confidence in the flesh but can glory only in Christ Jesus. However, at the same time, the Bible also teaches that even the very humility to believe the gospel is a gift of grace. No one naturally submits to the humbling terms of the gospel. Jesus himself said that "no one can come to me unless God grants it." (John 6:65). So apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit no one comes to Christ in his own native resources. By nature he is hostile to God (Rom 8:7), loves darkness, hates the light and will not come into the light (John 3:19, 20). The man who is still in the flesh (without the Holy Spirit) does not submit to Christ, he does not, indeed, cannot understand spiritual truths and thinks they are foolish (1 Cor 2:14). Only the Holy Spirit can reveal spiritual truth. God must first open our spiritually blind eyes and unplug our deaf ears, and turn our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. (Ezek 36:26-28) No one can believe while their heart is still stone. I.e. it takes a miracle of grace to believe. Faith and obedience are both impossible apart from renewal of heart.
So my point is that while faith and works are indeed contrasted in Scripture, as you say, they were not meant to be contrasted in such a way that it would create another excuse for human boasting. We all too easily find ways of trying to make our own contributions to salvation and our flesh looks for loopholes. Those who claim they can believe apart from the work of the Holy Spirit end up having only themselves to thank for their faith. In reality, however, true Christians all thank God for conversion because we cannot attribute our believing the gospel to our own wisdom, sound judgment, or good sense. May God get all the praise for saving us, including giving us a new heart to believe. Once we somehow believe that faith is not something I can thank God for but my own contribution then I can boast over my neighbor who does not believe. I can wrongly thank God I am not like him because I made a good choice and he did not. No. We were saved by Christ alone. May the multi-faceted glory of Christ shine clear that all may see that our salvation is by grace alone. We conclude 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 from our native resources, apart from any work of the Holy Spirit.
Hope this helps
"It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ.... It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not int he act of faith or the attitude of faith or in the nature of faith, but in the object of faith." - B. B. Warfield
"Faith itself is man's act or work and is thereby excluded from being any part of his justifying righteousness. It is one thing to be justified by faith merely as an instrument by which man receives the righteousness of Christ, and another to be justified FOR faith as an act or work of the law. If a sinner, then, relies on his actings of faith or works of obedience to any of the commands of the law for a title to eternal life, he seeks to be justified by works of the law as much as if his works were perfect. If he depends either in whole or in part, on his faith and repentance for a right to any promised blessing, he thereby so annexes that promise to the commands to believe and repent as to form them for himself into a covenant of works. Building his confidence before God upon his faith, repentance and other acts of obedience, he places them in Christ's stead as his grounds of right to the promise and so he demonstrates himself to be of the works of the law and so be under the curse." Galatians 3:10 - John Colquhoun (A Treatise on Law and the Gospel)
"Let all the 'free-will' in the world do all it can with all its strength; it will never give rise to a single instance of ability to avoid being hardened if God does not give the Spirit, or of meriting mercy if it is left to its own strength." - Martin Luther