***Editor’s Note: Doug is the author of “Chosen or Not?” which is available for purchase HERE.
Someone has wisely said, “The true test of any action lies in its motive” and that is never more applicable than in our Christian faith. We all instinctively (and biblically) know there is a huge difference between a contrite faith, which works by love, and a proud faith that works by intellect, self-interest, and self-righteousness. One wishes to exalt the name of Jesus and the other wants to exalt their own name and avoid hell.
The very suggestion that we could be proud of our faith should immediately raise a red flag in the mind of any believer. It fails the smell test. Now, granted, there may be a sense in which we might use the term “proud’ in an appropriate context. For instance, we might say that we are proud of our kids when they share their toys, say “please” and “thank you,” or overcome some hardship or obstacle in attaining a worthy goal. But we would recoil and look with suspicion at someone who boasts of their faith. Why?
Because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5
This is one of the great themes of the Bible and it is also something of a paradox; some might even call it an antinomy. It is an assertion that appears to be a contradiction… but isn’t.
Q: How can grace, which is defined as God’s unmerited favor, have a condition?
A: When the condition is an admission of failure and helplessness. Boasting is excluded. Rom 3:27
Jesus said the following to some unbelieving Jews:
How can you believe who receive honor from one another and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? John 5:44
We know the Pharisees were guilty of a flagrant kind of spiritual pride. They loved the best seats. They wore special religious clothes. Mt 23 They probably introduced one another at Pharisee conferences with long glowing pronouncements of their academic, religious, and philanthropic achievements. I’ll bet they liked to argue over who would have been the top 5 rabbis of all time. But they could not enjoy a genuine hope of salvation until they cared more about what God thought of them than what other people thought of them. They provide a sobering lesson for professing Christians of all stripes and levels of maturity.
Jesus was most impressed with people like the Roman centurion who did not think he was worthy to have the Lord in his home, the Gentile “dog” woman who was content with the scraps off the children’s table, the publican who would not even look up to pray, and the condemned thief on the cross who confessed that he was getting what he deserved. Mt 8; Mk 7; Luke 18; Luke 23
The condition required of culpable sinners in God’s plan of salvation is not so much an act of righteousness but a confession of unrighteousness. We must admit that we are helpless losers before the perfect bar of God’s holy justice. It’s hard to be proud of that. Possessing only an “island of righteousness” will land you in hell. It is impossible to be proud of godly sorrow. 2 Cor 7 Remorse over sin is the language of human liberty and responsibility – not irresistible determinism. This is yet another reason to reject the Calvinistic understanding of saving faith as an irresistible gift. Contrition is volunteer work and Calvinists know it. This is why they must conjure up an elaborate explanation for how the elect could be irresistibly enabled – to voluntarily humble themselves. (Don’t try this at home without Luther or Edwards close by.)
Humility has virtually no meaning unless we possess, at the same time, the “liberty” to be proud. Saving faith is much like courage. Fear must be present and real danger must be possible for courage to have meaning. For example, if there is no real danger for a platoon of soldiers on a routine supply mission, far from the battle zones, then no one (except their mommies) will say they were brave to go on the mission. Likewise, it takes no bravery to watch a professional football game but it does take a measure of courage to play in one. I think it was John Wayne who said that courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.
Humility, faith, and love work the same way. They are spiritual in nature. The cause and effect rules of physics don’t apply in the things of the Spirit. In order for our love for God to be genuine and meaningful we must be able to hate Him. Love is defined this way by God – not Arminians. The Holy Spirit takes the hard science out of the Christian faith but Calvinists try to shove it back in. When we apply strict deterministic principles to moral and spiritual choices – they cease to be moral and spiritual choices. They would be reduced to physical cause and effect issues, mere functions. The Calvinistic doctrine of “irresistible grace” contradicts the nature of spirituality.
If the Calvinistic theory was correct, God could have simply made some people and placed them directly into heaven and made some other people and thrown them immediately into hell. The choices we each would make on earth would be perfunctory and irrelevant, if they were irresistibly predetermined by forces outside of our control. God would be proving the same thing and receiving the same glory. Instead, He put each one of us on this earth so that He might receive the highest possible glory in those who humbly trust the Truth and those who ultimately suppress the Truth, in spite of the God given ability to do otherwise. Like an ace beats a ten, a love returned to God, in spite of the ability to hate Him, beats an irresistibly enabled love… every time. It is wonderful that God can make the rocks cry out with His praise but it would not be as glorious as a contrite faith that works by love. Gal 5:6
The fact that Jesus sets forth children as examples of faith suggests that we are each endowed by our Creator with some capacity for saving faith. This grace is not equal in everyone but it is sufficient for everyone. Unto whom much revelation is given – much faith is required. Or, as Kenny Roger’s old Gambler put it, “Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser.” It depends on how you play it. We must each play the hand that Providence deals to us and leave the judging to God. Such is the nature of the “law of faith.” Rom 3:27
Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith. Hab 2:4
If you are proud of your faith… you have the wrong kind.