What Does “Faith Alone” Mean?
A common critique is that this doctrine makes for lazy Christians. The objection goes something like this: If I am justified merely by faith and not works, then there is no need for me to do good works. But the Reformers scoffed at that notion, because it misinterprets what God is doing for us through faith in Christ! Since our salvation is secured by a gracious gift of saving belief in Christ’s works, then that will stir us up to love and good works.
To understand the importance of the statement “faith alone,” we need to remember why the Reformers sought to recover the doctrine of God’s grace. They wanted to emphasize the fact that we are made right with God not through any merit of our own but rather through God’s own free grace. In Christ, we receive unmerited favor from God.
The Roman Catholics in the sixteenth century would have agreed with this to some extent. They indeed believed we needed God’s grace to get to heaven. But how do we get the grace? Here’s what they said at the Council of Trent in 1547 (which is still Roman Catholic doctrine today):
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be accursed. (Sixth Session, Canon IX)
Faith is the gift of God.
This is very strong language. What Rome is saying is that if you believe that it is purely by faith that you receive God’s grace, you will be accursed—that is, damned to hell. What’s the problem with this? It’s the very teaching of Scripture that they are condemning! Paul could not be clearer:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
Rome wanted to say that we are saved by God’s grace in cooperation with faith and works. In fact, it even saw faith itself as one of the works that earns us God’s grace. But you can’t earn grace—otherwise, it’s not grace, not a gift. Rome taught a theological contradiction, one that Paul warned against in Ephesians 2.
In response to Rome’s perversion of biblical doctrine, the Reformers returned to the Scriptural truth that nothing we do can earn favor with God.
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The Changing Face of Social BreakdownBy Yuval Levin — 1 year ago
No single cause can explain this growing challenge of passivity. It is thoroughly global, for one thing. The decline of marriage and child-bearing is much further along in much of Europe and Asia, and can be seen not only in the developed world but also in some of the poorest nations on the planet.
Last month, two of my colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute (Brad Wilcox and Lyman Stone), along with co-authors from the Wheatley Foundation and the Institute for Family Studies, published an important new paper on the state of family formation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a fascinating study, well worth your while, which reviews new data about American attitudes toward marriage and child-bearing and puts them in some historical context.
What struck the authors most about the trends they discerned was their bifurcation along economic, cultural, and political lines. Wealthier Americans are more interested in marriage and kids than those with lower incomes. And, maybe less surprisingly, religious Americans and those inclined to vote Republican are also more interested in forming traditional families than those who are secular and on the left. These aren’t new trends, but the pandemic looks to be reinforcing them, for reasons the authors discuss.
But I was most struck by something else about the portrait they paint. The report embodies a significant change in how we think about the basic character of social breakdown in America, and what we take to be the obstacles to human flourishing in our time. This different understanding isn’t quite new either, but it is often left implicit, so its full significance has been slow to hit us.
Not long ago, it would have been taken for granted that social order in our free society is a function of our capacity to restrain and govern our most intense longings. Human beings are moved by passionate desires for things like pleasure, status, wealth, and power. But these intense desires can deform our lives if we don’t subject them to some structure and moderation through marriage, schooling, work, religion, and other binding commitments. Disordered lives are a product of rushing in recklessly, so that sex or children come too soon while responsibility comes too late if at all.
But a lot of contemporary social science, like this important new report, has come to be quietly premised in a different understanding of disorder. Rather than seeing the drive to have children as a force to be channeled and domesticated by marriage, for instance, we have come to see both the desire for marriage and the desire for kids as endangered and in decline. And more broadly, the challenges to America’s social order now seem less like exorbitant human desires driving people’s lives out of control and more like an absence of energy and drive leaving people languishing and enervated. These are very different kinds of social problems that call for different sorts of responses. We can all perceive the shift from one toward the other in this century, but our cultural and political thinking has been slow to catch up.
The shift is evident in what the report, like a great deal of other social science in recent years, describes as a mix of good and bad news about American society. The good news is that some of the most troubling social trends of the second half of the 20th century have been abating in our time. Last year, for instance, the U.S. divorce rate hit a 50-year low. Teen pregnancies are at the lowest rate seen since they began to be systematically tracked in the 1930s, and the rate continues to plummet: In 2018, the teen-pregnancy rate was half of what it was in 2008. Even the rate of out-of-wedlock births, which had been climbing steadily since the 1950s, peaked around 2008 and has been declining modestly since—from 52 births per 1,000 unmarried women that year to 40 in 2019. The abortion rate has also been steadily falling, and is now probably lower than it was before the Supreme Court nullified all state abortion restrictions in 1973.
The bad news is that rates of more positive behaviors are declining too. Most notably, both marriage rates and fertility rates are at all-time lows in the United States. Total fertility in our country is now about 1.7 births per woman, well below the population-replacement rate. Younger Americans are having trouble pairing off—so that not only teen sex but also teen dating have dipped dramatically.
This mix of seemingly good and bad news is no paradox. The good news is often just one consequence of the bad. There are fewer divorces because there are fewer marriages, and so more of those that begin survive. There are fewer abortions because there are fewer pregnancies, and so more of those that happen are wanted. There are fewer out-of-wedlock births because there are fewer births in general. The same pattern is evident beyond sexuality and family too. Fewer teenagers are dying in car accidents because fewer teenagers are getting driver’s licenses. There is less social disorder, we might say, because there is less social life. We are doing less of everything together, so that what we do is a little more tidy and controlled.
There’s a case for welcoming all this on net. If social dysfunction is essentially a breakdown of discipline—if the core social problem is unruliness—then American life is getting better. We should want fewer people suffering the consequences of disorder, and it’s a good thing that more people’s lives answer to their own choices and preferences.
But that case is ultimately unpersuasive because the greatest virtues of a social order are not functions of its ability to restrain commotion or even to empower choice but of its capacity to enable human flourishing. To opt for perfect peace and quiet is to opt for death. The problem with broken families and communities is not that they are unchosen but that they are unhealthy and unsuited to making us happy. And we are finding now that there is more than one way to be unhappy.
This is not so much a change in our definition of social dysfunction, but a change in the real-life experience of our society. For many decades in America, it seemed like the chief obstacle to human flourishing was our impulsive recalcitrance—an excess of dynamism and energy that our society failed to shape into responsibility and constructive action. Chaos broke down the lives of millions and denied the promise of the free society to countless children, who then seemed destined to fall into chaos for another generation. Too many Americans were living their lives out of order—having sex too soon, becoming parents too early, jumping into life too quickly and without restraint or preparation.
That is certainly a dangerous kind of disorder, and one that is still very much with us too. It has not gone away by any means. But it has been joined by a more profound and fundamental problem that might be best described as a disordered passivity—a failure to launch, which leaves too many Americans on the sidelines of life, unwilling or unable to jump in.
6 Common Misconceptions about CalvinismBy Jack Lee — 11 months ago
John Calvin’s works are a true gift to the church. If you have never read anything he’s written, I encourage you to try using one of his commentaries in your private studies. They often read like a devotional and can be wonderfully helpful for the Christian.
When it comes to Christianity, few theological subjects are more controversial and polarizing than Calvinism. Since the time of the Reformation, Christians, historians, and theologians all over the world have fiercely debated these doctrines. Subsequently, this has created all kinds of claims about what Calvinism teaches (some accurate and some not). Having been a Calvinist for almost 20 years, I have experienced this firsthand; I have heard it all. From robot analogies to man-worship, to even gross misunderstandings about God’s love and justice. In turn, I thought it would be useful to directly address some of the common misconceptions about the Doctrines of Grace.
This article is intended to be the first in a series on the topic of Calvinism as a whole. As stated, I will begin by addressing many of the misconceptions, then in future articles. I will build scriptural cases for several of the core doctrines represented within Calvinism.
Misconception #1: Calvinism is the Worship of John Calvin
To some (me) this might seem silly, however, I have heard the misconstruction dozens of times. I gather it is rooted in the thinking that because Calvinism is named after a specific man (John Calvin), then this implies some innate level of worship or veneration for the person. At face value, I suppose I can understand this. After all, the term “Christian” is used to describe people who worship Christ.
To put it bluntly, Calvinism does not teach the worship, adoration, or veneration of John Calvin. Rather, I would strongly argue that it teaches the exact opposite! The term “Calvinism” exists because the doctrines contained within gained popularity under the writings of Calvin. However, Calvin did not create them. His teaching large mirrors concepts taught by Saint Augustine, and the Apostle Paul before him. If anything, Calvin rediscovered scriptural truths once suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church.
Contrary to this common misconception, at the heart of Calvinism, is a principle wholly focused on the glory, holiness, and worship of God alone. Reformed Theology teaches that man is completely devoid of being worthy of any type of worship. Additionally, John Calvin never sought any worship or any type of adoration; his focus was fully on directing all praise and honor to God. If you have met a person who seems to carry some undue adoration for Calvin, this is that person’s error and has nothing to do with the person or the theology of John Calvin – he taught the opposite.
As a type of exclamation point to this misconception, I will offer a small anecdote. When Calvin was dying, he requested that his grave be unmarked. He did so because he did not want people making pilgrimages to his burial site to pay him homage. Calvin never sought the attention he has received. His concern was only to honor God through the faithful teaching of Holy Scripture.
Misconception #2: People are Robots/God’s Sovereignty Undermines Man’s Responsibility
I have heard many times this notion that if God is completely sovereign then people are like programmed robots. Implied in this accusation is that because God is sovereign man is not responsible for his actions. This is simply not true. Any casual reading of God’s Word demonstrates that man is an independent moral agent completely responsible for their actions; Calvinism would agree. However, moral responsibility does not always automatically equate to ability.
In John 6:44, our Lord Jesus Christ said, “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. He is effectively saying that no one, outside of the working/drawing of God, has the ability to come to Christ. Christ also taught condemnation for those outside of Him. Both are true. Paul makes this point extensively in Romans 1-5. All men are dead in sin because all men are naturally in Adam. At the same time, God is completely sovereign in salvation. Both realities are true.
Undoubtedly, there is an element of deep mystery in this. That’s OK. God never promised that we would know everything in this life. Rather, such mysteries allow us an opportunity to die to ourselves and trust God’s Word/truth to be correct even if we can’t fully grasp it. Likely, this relationship (God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility) is some of what Paul had in mind when he exclaims in Romans 11, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (11:33).
Humans are not robots controlled by God. Instead, we are moral agents made in the image of God. We live, move, and act according to our natural ability (more on this when I come to Total Depravity). Yet, in all of this, God remains sovereign and just; He uses our brokenness and sin to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps one of the best examples of this in scripture comes to us in the last chapter of Genesis. Joseph, when confronting his brothers on their sin against him, famously says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (50:20).
Misconception #3: Calvinists Don’t Believe in Evangelism
This claim is rooted in some faulty logic that suggests since God elects those whom He wants to save, there is no need for Christians to evangelize. What’s the point? God will do it and save anyway. This thinking is not merely wrong, it is heretical (Hyper Calvinism). Scripture is clear: Christians are called to evangelize and share the truth of God’s love with the world; it is a fundamental role of the church.
Held TightlyBy Blake Long — 1 year ago
We are secure in Christ. When we think too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3), this is a much-needed reminder that our progression is not due to our abilities, but Christ’s. The times we fall down repeatedly and not sure we will ever advance, we can look to this truth and know he will complete the work he started in us (Phil. 1:6). And, ultimately, we can continue on in sanctification, reminding ourselves of his hold on us, knowing we are secure in him.
We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because he holds tightly to us. (RC Sproul)
Recently my family went to a small boutique in our hometown (where my wife enjoys spending all our money). In order to get there, we had to cross a very busy street. I told Jovi, my oldest daughter, to hold my hand as we walked across the road and into the store.
While holding my hand, she would loosen her grip and act as if she was pulling away, but I tightened my grip all the more to ensure she stayed with me. It didn’t matter how loose her grip was on me since my grip on her was extremely tight. She could try to let go, pull away, or run off—it wasn’t going to happen.
The same is true with us and Jesus. As we hold Jesus’ hands through the trials and temptations of life, it can be easy to become distracted and loosen our grip. But his grip is firm, tight, and never letting up.
If you are in Christ, he is holding onto you and will never let you go. This precious truth should cause three things to happen for Christians.
Christ’s firm grip on you should humble you. It’s hard to be conceited when we know it’s Christ’s hold on us—not our hold on him—that keeps us moving forward.