And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Most Protestant church leaders today believe and teach that Christ’s death has actually “made it possible” for all of mankind to be saved, if they will turn and believe in Christ. This is the central and most cherished doctrine of the system sometimes known as Arminianism.1
An allegory often used by such preachers has “Jesus” in a lifeboat, ready to rescue people who are drowning at sea. This “Jesus” calls to them, offering and desiring to save them all. He reaches out his hands to grab them all—and yet he does not save anyone unless they deliberately put their hand in his.
I have even heard such a preacher describe this “Jesus” as a “perfect gentleman, who does not force salvation upon anyone against their free will.”
What a strange kind of “Rescuer” this is! For in this illustration, the people are drowning—dying out there. And this would-be “Rescuer” restricts his saving power and limits his rescuing by the determination of these dying people themselves. He desires to save all mankind—but he might have saved none—it all ultimately depends upon man.
So, the underlying message of this “gospel illustration” is that people must choose to believe in Christ in order to be saved—it is up to them to grasp the Lord’s hand. (Many preachers call this personal contribution the essential “decision for Christ”.)
What is the foundation of your hope and assurance of salvation, Christian reader?
Have You Been Saved by the Saviour?
Is the Lord Jesus Christ your Saviour—or did your faith-decision save you? Is your faith resting in the Lord Jesus Christ or is your faith resting in your own faith?
Many true Christians struggle with this question. The Holy Spirit has convinced them of their sinful state, of Christ’s righteousness, and of his right as Judge to condemn them to hell for their sins (John 5:22; 16:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10). So they really do beg God for mercy, and they actually look to Christ for salvation.
However, they have attached themselves to a church which teaches that Christ’s redeeming, propitiating, atoning sacrifice was made on behalf of all mankind, and yet also teaches that not all mankind will be saved.2
Precisely here is root cause of the deepest distress of soul in these saved people.
This doctrine throws them back upon their own spiritual resources—which they know are all corrupt, requiring of them to provide faith (belief)3 as the essential component in their salvation.
They seek to “grasp Christ’s offered hand” by believing in him. But, knowing themselves as well as they do, they fear that their faith is not strong enough, or that it is not real faith, or that it will not survive under temptation and the world’s constant anti-Christian propaganda, or that they are not believing in Christ “for the right reasons.”
And so for a while, perhaps for many years, they tell themselves, “There is no hope for me.” And that is the truth! There is no real hope for any of us if our salvation depends upon anything which we must provide out of our own fallen, spiritually dead, totally depraved souls.
Meanwhile, in reality, there is every hope for them in their actual Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Justification by Faith
Some people will respond to this by arguing, “But, did not Jesus himself say to some people, ‘Thy faith hath saved thee’? And does not Paul teach that Christians are ‘justified by faith’?” (compare Luke 7:48-50; Romans 3:28; 5:1).
Yes, indeed! But this does not mean that a person’s faith itself—their own mental (or spiritual) activity of believing in Christ—is the work that saved them and justified them (i.e. put them right with God).
When the Lord Jesus declared to someone whom he had healed, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (e.g. Matthew 9:22; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19; 18:42). it is evident that he did not mean that their faith itself had worked their miracle of healing. But Christ himself, in whom they believed, was their Healer. Jesus Christ was her healer, not her faith.4
And when Jesus told a woman whom he (being God) had forgiven, that “Thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 7:48,50), it is evident that he did not mean that her own belief in him is what saved her. He meant that Christ himself, in whom she believed, had saved her. Jesus Christ was her Saviour, not her faith.
Likewise, when Paul taught that a person is “justified by faith,” he did not mean that through believing in Christ they made themselves right in the sight of God. Paul meant that a person is justified by Christ in whom they believe.
So, do not think of “putting your faith in Christ” as though this were a kind of mental (or spiritual) religious work.
Salvation is wrought by Christ alone, and is not earned or merited or contributed to by any kind of work that we do, whether physical, mental or spiritual.
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4,5).
Faith-Healing, Faith-Prosperity and Faith-Salvation
Many Pentecostal5 preachers go further that historic Arminianism did. They have added “faith-healing” and “faith-prosperity” as analogous doctrines to their “faith-salvation” doctrine. They teach that faith is a mysterious power or force by which they can reach up to heaven, as it were, and pull down blessings from God.
(I myself attended a church where this doctrine was preached in my early twenties. Indeed, these were my favourite teachings and practices in those days.)
They portray God as willing that all mankind should be saved, healthy and wealthy. But then they say God can do nothing to effect any of this—because, according to their interpretation of the Bible, this world belongs to Satan after Adam gave allegiance him in the Garden of Eden. They say that Satan is actually the “god of this world” (compare 2 Corinthians 4:4), and therefore people must change allegiance from Satan to the true God by putting their faith in God—in order to let God begin doing these things in their lives.
They teach that a person’s faith-decision is what works their healing and prosperity—and salvation. In other words, you can be your own saviour, healer, and wealth-magnet, if only you have (enough) faith!
And if you fail to possess health, wealth and salvation, this is because you don’t have enough faith. Or because you have also expressed doubts that have undone your “word of faith”. Or because some secret (unconfessed and unforgiven) sin is neutralizing your faith. Or because you have an ancestor who placed a generational curse on your bloodline or DNA. So they say.
This is none other that the false gospel of modern paganism,6 dressed up in wrongly-interpreted Bible quotes and Christian jargon. It is essentially the same as the teachings of the “law of attraction” groups and many motivational coaches. Indeed the teachings on “faith” are the same as the teachings on “positive thinking”, except for the terminology being changed in order to make it more acceptable to be taught from a church pulpit or on Christian television. Much of this goes back to Phinehas Quimby in the 19th Century, and to Franz Anton Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” a century earlier, and to Eastern mysticism long before that.
Both Calvinists and Arminians (including Arminian Pentecostals and Charismatics) agree that a person must have faith in Christ instead of seeking to earn salvation by works of obedience to God’s moral law—which can never be done. But in the Calvinist understanding, saving faith involves a desisting from all works—that is, from all self-conceited attempts at saving yourself through attempting to establish your own righteousness through religious acts or good deeds (compare Romans 10:3).
We Are Not Saved by Our Own Spiritual Work
The apostle Paul teaches that God saves people through sending Jesus Christ to die for them, and that through this substitutionary sacrifice God imputes Christ’s righteousness to them. It is not that their faith justifies them, but that God justifies them by Christ’s blood (Romans 5:9).
Yes, faith in Christ (i.e. believing in Christ) plays an instrumental part in this salvation—but this faith, too, is a gift from God to the sinner being saved, by which they understand, accept and trust in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29).
Saving faith is not an altered state of consciousness, as some “Christian mystics” teach and practice. They think that faith is essentially a trance-state in which the practitioner “desists from [the physical] self” through “spiritual exercises” such as by:
depriving themselves of food, hydration or sleep for long periods;
becoming hypnotically fixated on an image (a statue or icon) of Christ or an exalted “saint”;
deeply imagining and meditating upon Christ’s passion (i.e. his pain-filled sufferings and crucifixion);
being enchanted by the repetitive singing of choruses or inhaling incense;
being engrossed in a great ceremony or pageant.
All of these religious practices (and more) have been adopted from paganism.
True saving faith in Christ is a simple trusting in (or, as is sometimes helpfully described, resting upon) Christ alone for salvation.
Paul made this clear when he referred to Abraham as our example. He said of the believer, not only that he “worketh not” (i.e. he stops attempting to save himself by doing the works of the law), but also that God reckons this “reward” of imputed righteousness (i.e. justification) to be his entirely “of grace” and not at all “of debt” (Romans 4:4,5).
To summarise, God’s “grace” is his unmerited favour. We are not saved by our works but saved by God’s grace. Therefore, saving faith is not a meritorious work.
The Good News is this: God, of his sovereign and free grace alone, imputes the righteousness of Christ (his works of obedience and atoning sacrifice on the cross) to the believer’s account, in the salvation of his or her soul.
To be continued.
- Jakob Hermanszoon (better known by his Latinized name, Jakobus Arminius, or James Arminius in English), was a professor of theology in the Netherlands in the 16th-17th Centuries. His views became the basis for the Remonstrant movement of younger men who opposed the soteriological teachings of the Reformation and who organised their challenge in a document known as the Remonstrance (1610). The Dutch Reformed Churches’ Synod of Dort (1618-1619) was called together to discuss and respond to the Remonstrance (and the Synod was also attended by delegates from Reformed churches of other countries). Their response is the document known as the Canons of Dort. Most people who essentially follow the Remonstrant teachings today know little (or nothing) about these things, and they usually don’t call themselves Arminians. Meanwhile, the Reformed system of Gospel doctrines has become labeled as Calvinism, and believers of the old Reformed doctrines of salvation are often called Calvinists.↩
- From Article II of the Remonstrance: “Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer…”↩
- Note: the English words “faith” and “belief” mean the same thing—they are used to translate one New Testament Greek word.↩
- So that we can be sure we understand what Christ meant by the phrase, “thy faith hath healed thee,” let us consider another occasion, where Jesus healed two blind men (see Matthew 9:27-31). He asked them, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” And when they had replied, “Yea, Lord,” he healed them while he declared “According to your faith be it unto you.” If was not their faith that healed them, but Christ himself.↩
- The name Pentecostal comes from their absurd claim that their ecstatic babblings (which are not any kind of language) are the “gifts of tongues” that God the Holy Spirit gave the apostles and other early Christians (see Acts chapter 2, for the prime example). However, they are clearly not the gifts of tongues (i.e. languages), for those were gifts of real language abilities. “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language… [W]e do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:4,6,11). Therefore these modern babblers are not truly “Pentecostals” and are wrongly so-called.↩
- Several decades ago this was called the “New Age” movement. But I haven’t heard that term used much recently. Anyway, it is not modern or new.↩
- “Saving faith” is a phrase commonly used in some churches. It is even used as the title of the 14th chapter of the Westminster COnfession of Faith.↩
- I have also heard some Pentecostal preachers of the Word of Faith variety describe faith for healing and faith for wealth as “using the force” of faith!↩