28 Aug 2011

Salvation Through Faith or Works?

Religious 77 Comments

I’ve written on this controversial topic before, and I tried to resolve it by saying that faith is a work, meaning that it is a conscious action on your part to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior. (Note, I am technically not disagreeing with staunch Calvinists here. You can still think you were predestined by God from before you were born to “choose” Jesus. In fact I believe that too. I think we have free will, and God is sovereign over everything that happens, simultaneously. I have tried to deal with this apparent paradox in a different post.)

In the present post I just want to relay a neat perspective that literally came to me in a dream the other night. I’m not saying it was divinely inspired, but I’m not making it up when I say this occurred to me in a dream.

Suppose that just before dying, everybody is visited by Jesus Himself. He makes His presence known; the person understands full well that there is a God of the universe, Who created everything and has observed the person’s entire life. Then Jesus asks the person, “Do you want to join Me in paradise?”

Now at that point, born-again Christians are going to answer, “Hallelujah praise the Lord! This is what I’ve been waiting for! Take me home!”

But what about someone who vaguely believed in God, and yet lived a very sinful life? He might be filled with such shame and guilt, that he can’t forgive himself and allow himself to be with Jesus in paradise. He might say, “No, I can’t accept your offer. I don’t deserve to spend eternity in heaven with those who led good lives.”

Finally, what about the hardcore, confident atheists? The people who thought they had logically and scientifically demonstrated that there was no God, or at least, nothing like the God of the Bible?

Rather than being relieved at their colossal error–there is an afterlife after all! Woo hoo!–they might be furious. “Why did you remain hidden until now?!” they might demand. “I reject you! What sort of sick sense of humor do you have?!”

Now if something like the above were the case, it would answer a lot of questions. It would neatly handle all the objections about what happens to people who haven’t heard about Christ before they died. (Answer: there are no such people because Jesus Himself communes with you right before you expire.) It would also justify the passages suggesting that faith in Christ alone is sufficient for salvation.

Yet it would also make sense of all the passages where even Jesus Himself suggests that you need works for entrance into heaven, e.g. Mt 25: 31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[a] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him,[b] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In light of my dream, I would interpret the above as Jesus telling people that if they don’t lead proper lives, they are setting themselves up to make the wrong choice when He asks them whether they want to be with Him in paradise.

In other words, the single most important decision–the one on which your soul hangs–is whether or not you accept Jesus as your Savior. Everything else you do is conditioning, to build up good habits so that you will make the right decision on that crucial question. Every time you sin, you make it that much harder for you to open yourself to receive God’s gift.

In closing, let me reiterate that my speculations above are just that–speculations. However, I hope people can admit that if that’s how things really worked, it would be pretty fair. (At the very least, it would be a lot fairer than some of the scenarios depicted by others.) As a born-again Christian, I don’t really know what happens to serial killers, three-month-old infants, or really “nice” atheists who honestly don’t think the evidence points to the existence of God.

What I do know is that God will deal with all such people with infinite justice and mercy. Once I am with Him, His plan will make perfect sense. I will say, “Of course You did it that way. Thank you, that makes perfect sense. You couldn’t have done it any better. I love You.”

77 Responses to “Salvation Through Faith or Works?”

  1. Major_Freedom says:

    I have tried to deal with this apparent paradox in a different post.

    In that “different post”, you write:

    “Our minds right now can’t comprehend the actual nature of our existence and of God, for obvious reasons. “

    If you argue that humans can’t comprehend the actual nature of the existence of God, for “obvious reasons,” then you are saying that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why anyone should accept anything you or any other Christian says about God.

    • Silas Barta says:

      Fact: Chuck Norris is a born-again because he, alone, can comprehend the actual nature of God.

  2. Mattheus von Guttenberg says:

    I’m an atheist. On my deathbed, if Jesus reveals himself to me and passes the Humean miracle test (meaning that it’s MORE unlikely that I’m imagining him than he is actually there), I wouldn’t be angry.

    I don’t think there’s any scrap of evidence that this universe was created by “anything” and there are literally no good arguments to explain the ontology or cosmology of the universe by reference to a God. So – I’m an atheist in that I think it’s incredibly unlikely anything that you’re talking about exists. But if it does, why should I be angry?

    If anything, it would evoke a gentle “ah” from me. As in, “Oh okay, so I was wrong for a while.”

    Most atheists I know do not try to scientifically prove there is no God. This is a common apologetic straw man. Even Richard Dawkins has admitted numerous times that he doesn’t dispute the possibility a God exists. I don’t bother allying myself with so-called “strong atheists” because there are literally no good arguments to explain how a god *couldn’t* or *doesn’t* exist. We have to remain agnostic on it. So, no Bob, neither I nor any atheists I communicate with would be angry at Jesus. It would simply be that our theory was falsified.

    • Joseph Fetz says:

      Mattheus, I agree with your sentiment. While I label myself an atheist, I don’t think that I am a “true” atheist. Let me explain.

      I am the type of person that if I feel that I do not know the answer to something, I take a non-commital stance. This is true with religion. The fact is that I do not have a definitive answer to existence and from whence it came. However, I do have the ability to reason, and my own ponderings of this question have caused me to logically conclude that there is no God. While I am pretty sure of my own reason, I still concede that my reason is not infallible.

      I am a methodological agnostic, but an intellectual atheist (if that even makes sense). Basically, I believe in my mind that there is no God, but in practice I do not make any claims of correctness on my part or wrongness on the part of others. I take the stance that I believe what I believe, others believe what they believe, and neither of us can express with objective surety our positions.

      • Mattheus von Guttenberg says:

        I think there’s an easier way to put it Joseph.

        You and I are agnostic on the existence of God. Agnosticism, of course, concerns knowledge (from the Greek “gnosis”) not belief. We realize that we can have no positive knowledge for or against the existence of God.

        Bob, it seems likely, would have to admit this himself. I doubt very much Bob has absolute, inerrant, perfect knowledge that a being he calls God exists. Technically speaking, he doesn’t even have that kind of knowledge the sun will rise tomorrow! It’s overwhelmingly likely, of course – but not certain.

        In the event Bob admits that he is agnostic on God, he can still be a theist. In the sense that he has no strict knowledge concerning God, but he believes one exists anyway.

        You and I are agnostic atheists. We have no pretense of knowledge one or the way, and we have no reason to believe.

        • Joseph Fetz says:

          “You and I are agnostic atheists”

          Yes, I would say that that perfectly represents my position. To be honest, I always assumed that agnosticism and atheism were mutually exclusive, apparently they are not. Thank you for introducing me to something that I was not aware of. It actually is a far better way of explaining my position.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “I don’t think there’s any scrap of evidence that this universe was created by “anything” and there are literally no good arguments to explain the ontology or cosmology of the universe by reference to a God.”

      There are great arguments, but it’s convenient to ignore them.

  3. Ivan Ivanov says:

    Mr. Murphy, how would you react if it was Odin that revealed himself before your death, and asked you “do you want to join me at the feast in Valhalla?”

    • bobmurphy says:

      I don’t know much about Odin. Assuming he was the source of all goodness in the universe, then yes I would go with him and ask him to explain how I got so mixed up.

      • Yosef says:

        Why is it that you consider yourself more enlightened than an atheist would be at finding out you were wrong? You have looked at life and concluded that Christianity is correct, while an atheist has looked at life and concluded differently. At death you both find out you were wrong, yet you would accept it willingly and ask how you got so mixed up, while the atheist would be furious? Why?

        (Why wouldn’t you ask Odin “Why did you remain hidden until now?!” which you say and atheist would.)

        • bobmurphy says:


          I wasn’t talking about all atheists, I was talking about “confident” ones who thought they had “logically and scientifically” demonstrated that there was no God like the one depicted in the Bible. And I said such a person “might” have the reaction you list.

          If you want to say that a confident evangelical, who is 100% sure Jesus is the savior and spends his days telling others they’re going to hell, would be flummoxed and might fail the Odin test, I would agree with you.

          • Yosef says:

            Bob, maybe I am confused, but aren’t you confident in Jesus and Christianity? If you are saying that confidence equals 100% certainty then I would say that almost no one is ever ‘confident’ about anything.

            I think it’s possible to be confident that you have logically and scientifically demonstrated something without being a 100% sure of it.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Why are atheists not allowed to be confident that God as depicted in the Bible does not exist, but you are allowed to be confident that Odin as depicted in the Völuspá does not exist (since you hold that God as depicted in the Bible does not exist)?

            The funny thing with Christians is that they are “atheists” in all Gods except one, and yet they chastise the Atheists for going one God further.

            “Yes, you don’t have to believe in the Gods

            Agdistis or Angdistis
            Ah Puch
            Ahura Mazda

            Ba Xian
            Bixia Yuanjin


            Damkina (Dumkina)
            Di Cang



            Geong Si

            Hecate (Hekate)
            Heng-o (Chang-o)



            Kinich Ahau


            Magna Mater



            Phoebus Apollo



            Seti (Set)
            Shen Yi




            Xi Wang-mu

            Yum Kimil

            But, if you don’t believe in the God Yahweh as depicted in the Bible, THEN you become an overconfident non-believer, who hypocritically makes logical errors and thus justifies the Christian belief in the God Yahweh as depicted in the Bible, and who can’t be trusted.

            But not believing in those hundreds of other Gods? PERFECTLY FINE.


            • Joseph Fetz says:

              “The funny thing with Christians is that they are “atheists” in all Gods except one, and yet they chastise the Atheists for going one God further.”

              That is a very good point.

            • Major_Freedom says:


              “(since you hold that God as depicted in the Bible does not exist)?”

              should read

              (since you hold that God as depicted in the Bible does exist)?

            • knoxharrington says:

              Very well said.

            • Gene Callahan says:

              “The funny thing with Christians is that they are “atheists” in all Gods except one, and yet they chastise the Atheists for going one God further.”

              What silly nonsense atheists comfort themselves with.

            • Avram says:


              Let me clear it up for you.

              Do you believe in *a* god (any)?

              Yes: Theist.
              No: Atheist.

              Do you believe no god or gods exist whatsoever:

              Yes: Atheist.
              No: Theist.

              Then you have subcategories of theists such as:

              Which god(s) do you believe in?

              Jesus: Theist (Christan)
              Olympian: Theist (Hellenic)
              Allah: Theist (Mulsim)

              and so on.

              But you’re retarded if you say Christians are atheists. Clearly they are not as they believe in a god.

              • Avram says:

                Just to clarify:

                That was directed at Major_Freedom and all the guys who thought his list of gods point was brilliant.

              • knoxharrington says:

                Atheists can’t prove the negative so it would be more correct to say that the atheist doesn’t find any good evidence for a belief in any god. In the same way I don’t believe in unicorns or limited government. It is correct to say that, for example, Christians are atheists in terms of every other god but their own. Christians don’t believe there is good evidence for the Hindu gods so they are atheists as to those. I understand your point – you define atheists in a way I do not. You claim atheists deny the existence of god which is a separate from the definition I use above. MF was using my definition and not yours.

                Personally, quibbling over definitions in this way is almost as silly as believing in a god defined by a book that is the result of the oldest game of telephone I can recall. But, hey, I’m probably just being silly like Gene claims.

  4. N. Moore says:


    I love. as always, your blog’s combination of posts on economics and theology.

    Regarding the works/faith distinction, I understand it to be a well settled issue within protestant theology. My understanding is that faith is the disease, and good works are the symptoms, if you’ll forgive the metaphor.

    So, you can’t be saved without the disease, if you will, but if you don’t have the symptoms, then you ain’t got the disease.

    People who want to stress works like to quote James 2,

    “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

    But I think this quote just proves my point. There is nothing a body(faith) can do of itself to gain a spirit(works), if it is not really alive. But if a body(faith) is alive, then it will show its spirit(works) inevitably.

    And that, as they say, is sanctification.

    As far as the “fate of the unlearned” to use the fancy name for it, I happen to be a Universalist, in the sense that I believe that there is a version of each of us that gets into Heaven (what most theologians don’t appreciate is, since we live in a quantum-mechanical multiverse, many more versions of us are annihilated for choosing sinfulness, but the ones of us that make it are unaware of them– see John 15, to hear Jesus talk about pruning the branch, i.e., the branching outcomes in the Multiverse, and throwing the versions of us that choose sin into the fire.). I also think God has forever in the afterlife to keep working on us, so I believe that He does.

    An interesting point made by William Lane Craig is that, surprisingly, due to growth in population, only 2% of the people who have ever lived lived before the advent of Jesus Christ.

    Craig also referrers to a verse in the Bible that says that all will be judged according to the knowledge available to them, but I forget which verse he quotes as saying that.

    Anyway, my guess is, Jesus not only appears to the dying, and the dead, and gives them a choice, I think he keeps giving the choice forever, and even works with us spiritually, as he has been on earth, to prepare us for Heaven if we’re not prepared already. The eternal fires of Hell are always around to the prune the tree of our Multiversal selves, as needed.

    But no one burns conscious forever. That’s not in the Bible. It’s a result of substance dualism, which is not a biblical concept, nor should it be, since it’s impossible.

    • Mattheus von Guttenberg says:

      Substance dualism is impossible?

      Then we live in a physicalist, deterministic universe.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        No, we live in a universe in which mind is the primary reality.

        (And anyway, physicalism does not imply determinism!)

  5. Kaleb says:

    I agree that faith is a work if we understand it as an action we take or don’t take that is the contingency for salvation.
    Ephesians 6 says “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourself, it s a gift of God lest any man should boast”
    I read this for years the wrong way. Then I finally understood- the gift (it) is the faith. If faith is a gift given to us then it is no longer our doing or our work but grace, a gift of God, his work in us.

  6. Robert says:

    Ivan Ivanov: ‘(H)how would you react if it was Odin that revealed himself before your death, and asked you “do you want to join me at the feast in Valhalla?”’

    Personally, my reaction would be a moment of total surprise, followed by a shrug and “Okay, sire, lead the way.” ;D

    Mr. Murphy, your speculations regarding your dream match up with my own. I believe every person will become aware of Christ’s presence at the moment of death (He has told us that He is there always, but few of us are ever conscious of it), and it is our response to his offer that will determine our eternity. And, like you, I believe that how we live this life will condition how we respond to Christ’s offer.

    I love your final paragraph; it sums up my own faith much better than I could have expressed it. Thank you.

  7. K Sralla says:


    I say this with a sincere heavy heart, not out of any desire to argue or show you up.

    You have made an absolute scriptural mess out the Gospel of Christ. You shove people to Hell with this message, both on Earth and in eternity.

    Sorry to be so harsh, but I hope it gets your attention. To any evangelical (Calvinist or not) who knows beans about the scripture and theology, you have err’d in the worst way.

    i really don’t want to iron this out on a blog, but send me an e-mail, and we can discuss.

    • bobmurphy says:

      K Sralla,

      I’d rather discuss it here, because I will lose track of our emails. If it’s the kind of thing that you don’t want others to see, then you can send me an email:


    • Gene Callahan says:

      K Sralla, to a Calvinist, Bob cannot possibly be shoving people to hell, since that was decided already quite a while back!

      • bobmurphy says:

        Gene I think you are so much more intelligent when you post on religion, compared to (now) politics and economics. I wonder why I think that. You must be a different person.

        (I’m kidding.)

      • P.S.H. says:

        Actually, to a Calvinist, it may have been determined a while back that Bob would shove people to hell. (That is not my position; my only point is that it is not incoherent.)

        • bobmurphy says:

          Right, but I had no choice but to shove them. And of course, K Sralla had no choice but to chastise me for doing so, etc.

  8. david says:

    Why do so many people think that others want to hear them talk about religion?

    • bobmurphy says:


      I’m genuinely curious. I imagine you wouldn’t dream of walking up to, say, a bunch of people discussing a novel, sticking your head into the circle, and then saying, “Why do so many people think it’s worthwhile to talk about this book?”

      So why do you come onto my blog and post that comment? You can see some people like these Sunday posts. If you don’t, don’t read them. I post them every Sunday. You can plan on tuning out on those days if you don’t like it.

      • david says:

        I’m new to this blog, I thought I could learn something about (Austrian) economics. Are you saying that Sunday posts are religious? Of course, you can post whatever you want, it’s your blog.
        Bob, naturally you can’t answer for everyone, but I guess your answer to my question is that some people want to hear your views on religion.

    • Joseph Fetz says:

      David, this is a regular Sunday routine for Bob. It is not as if Bob hunted you down and started talking religion to you, rather you came to his blog. I personally am an atheist, but I do still find these Sunday posts interesting at times.

      If you don’t find any interest in Bob’s weekly Sunday Christian posts, then skip them; its only one post per week.

      • david says:

        But imagine if someone I had heard others mention, was on a soap box in the public square lecturing on, oh, say, government agriculture policies. So I stop to listen. Then after talking about subsidies for a while, imagine my surprise when the speaker starts talking about particle physics. Noticing the puzzled look on my face, the man standing next to me says, “Oh, he always does this at 22 minutes after the hour.”

        • Mattheus von Guttenberg says:

          No one said this is devoted exclusively to economics.

          It’s a personal blog, and Bob happens to be a religious man. The other six days, he’s a consultant.

          • Jolls says:

            So on the the 7th day Bob rested and talks about religion? 😉

  9. K Sralla says:

    ‘In light of my dream, I would interpret the above as Jesus telling people that if they don’t lead proper lives, they are setting themselves up to make the wrong choice when He asks them whether they want to be with Him in paradise.”

    Bob, you dreamed that up. I dream a bunch of cooky things. The bottomline is that there is absolutely no biblical or systematic basis for what you surmised. That is neo-gnosticism at its finest.

    We can’t clean ourselves up before we come to Christ. It is not possible. We have no internal power to make ourselves clean, or balance the scales of cosmic justice by our own works. By suggesting that we do, you destroy the entire need for any substitutionary atonement of Jesus on our behalf. in short, you make a mockery of the Gospel. Your view is pure vulgur Pelagianism that would be condemned by all but the most liberal theologians from Protestantism (not just the Calvinists). You cannot rightly call yourself an evangelical and hold these views.

    It only gets worse Bob. You then go on to say:

    “Every time you sin, you make it that much harder for you to open yourself to receive God’s gift.”

    Harder relative to what? Harder than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle?

    Bob, it’s impossible for anyone to have their sins remitted without God’s grace and the sacrificial atonement of Christ. It is impossible for a child to come to Christ under their own power, and it is just as impossible for the vilest of adult sinners to do so. We are all DEAD in sins and trespasses. Nobody is any more cabable of cleaning their own sins than it was for Lazarus to call himself out of the grave.

    Bob, before I am willing to engage you any further on this, you must commit to some serious homework. First, you need to study very intensely the first four chapters of Romans. Notice the uncanny parallels between the premise of Paul’s argument, and Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in (Matthew Chapter 5). Notice how Paul at first seems to be arguing a salvation by works (Romans 2:6). Then notice what happens in Romans Chapter 3. In Chapter 3, Paul turns the tables and completes the argument.

    Bob, I really do not mean to insult you, but you are not ready for real theological argument until you grow up a little. When you study more seriously, come back and we can discuss. However, please refrain from perverting the Gospel with unfounded nonsense.

    I have noticed that some of your acquaintances are good Protestants who probably know some theology. Have you visited with Carlos Laura about your ideas? I think he is an elder at a PCA Church in the Nashville area. If you won’t take my word, talk to some of your friends.

    • Brian Shelley says:


      Keep walking down this line of thought. You’re getting there.

      K Sralla,

      Barf! It seems that you have read many books, which is good, but you, like all Calvinists, are utterly confused. Romans 3 is all about how using “will power” to “be good” is a waste of time and can not be done. Only through loving God like Abraham somehow managed to do without a “subtitutionary atonement” can we begin to do good. Christ did not die to asuage some cosmic justice. God is sovereign, he did not have to send his son because he is bound by justice. He sent his son to intervene in our hearts out of love so that we could break free from the cycle of guilt and failed effort. Love God and believe the beauty of his commandments and you can finally be free from sin.

      Furthermore, you Calvinists and you stresses on “obedience” because you do not understand faith. No wonder you continue to struggle so futily against sin! You continue to believe that righteousness is through your own effort. Do you not understand Romans 7? Why be righteous? Because God will send his wrath otherwise? No! Because righteous living is awesome!

    • bobmurphy says:

      K Sralla wrote:

      We can’t clean ourselves up before we come to Christ. It is not possible. We have no internal power to make ourselves clean, or balance the scales of cosmic justice by our own works.

      Phew! I agree with you 100%. You misunderstood what I was saying in the post. I’m glad we cleared that up; I wouldn’t want to think I was pushing people to hell. (Although, on your view, how could I possibly do that? If people don’t influence their salvation, why would my erroneous blog post matter?)

      I am not saying that if you clean yourself up, God will take you in. I am saying that I do think we have the free will to reject God’s gift of grace / salvation. If you disagree with that, fine, but that’s not some odd Murphyite position I dreamed up.

      Now then, to understand why Jesus (in addition to saying faith in Him is sufficient for salvation) talks about doing good works, I thought maybe part of it is that it conditions you to be more likely to make the right choice, in not rejecting God’s free gift of grace.

      • Steve Maughan says:

        You said, “I am saying that I do think we have the free will to reject God’s gift of grace / salvation”.

        So you must think that Jesus did have his fingers crossed when he ascended into heaven. Hoping someone would take him up on the offer.

        Also, look at John 3. You could not resist your physical birth so what makes you think you can resist spiritual re-birth?

        Also, in light of Ephesian 2 – if you, or anyone else, had the ability to make a dead man alive, could they resist?

        All good things to ponder.


    • Bryan Rosander says:

      I heartily agree that this idea of personal merit improving your chances of salvation is something that should be rejected by any reasonable conservative theologian, not just the Calvinists.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Like, say, all Catholics and Orthodox Christians?

  10. K Sralla says:


    My comments above are too harsh!

    I really do appreciate much of what you say, but inasmuch as I can tell, I genuinely do not agree with your view of salvation by grace through faith. That indeed is a huge issue for evangelicals.

    • Scott says:

      If all of us waited until we were perfectly clear about things before writing or talking about them, Earth would be a quiet place. I don’t think a word would have been uttered before the end of history.

      • P.S.H. says:

        A charming thought. That belongs in a book of quotations.

  11. N Moore says:


    What K .Sralla, despite what he (or she?) says, was really condescendingly castigating you about is just that you’re not a Calvinist. Calvinists and non-Calvinists (such as myself) agree that we are totally unable to save ourselves, and our only hope is to accept the freely-given grace of God, which we accept through an act of faith.

    Calvinists, however, go on to say that we are not even righteous enough to make a free decision to choose faith. So, for the elect, and the elect only, grace is “irresistible” (The “I” in “TULIP”). So the freedom of the will is overcome by God, in making the decision, for those he had preordained to decide that way. Armenians and Lutherans, however, believing in free will, like you do, think that, in fact, people have the power to choose faith.

    I could not be a Calvinist, because I could never believe that Jesus only died for the elect.

    • A. Reddy says:

      Throughout the whole Old Testament, Christ is not very concerned with the philistines. Why would it surprise you that he doesn’t save, say, Buddhists, either. Why would it be unjust for Christ to only die for the elect? Isn’t it his Covenant, for him to define the terms? Isn’t it his freedom, to die for whom he wishes?


      My view, as a staunch Calvinist, is that the order of operations is Christ saves you, with no help from your part, which allows you to live a holy life, through him, which we called ‘sanctification. The purpose of good works is to identify regenerated souls (Matthew 7:16) and plays no part in our ‘justification’.

    • N Moore says:

      I mean “Arminians”, not “Armenians”, though I’m sure there are Arminian Armenians.

  12. K Sralla says:

    ‘No wonder you continue to struggle so futily against sin! “.

    Mr. Shelley. Are you honestly telling me you no longer sin? According to the standards issued by Jesus in the SOM?

    I know a bunch of Weslian Holiness folks, but nobody has ever actually admitted to me that they no longer ever sin anymore.

    • Brian Shelley says:

      Of course I struggle with sin. My experience, though, with Calvinists is a lot of frustration on their part. They sin, then they are wracked with guilt and beat themselves up, cycle repeat. They always look to their own will power. They have little patient for my explanations that sin sucks. I have no idea how “good” I’ve become, I can only tell you how far I have come, and it’s a long ways. I have, in the past, been in accountability groups with men who are Calvinists, and they just never seem to make any progress unless they concoct some scheme to avoid the temptations, or use the letter of the law to justify their middling behavior. The fundamental problem is that they don’t see righteousness as it’s own reward.

      • A. Reddy says:

        “They always look to their own will power.”

        That’s pretty strange, since Calvinists believe that Christ alone is responsibility for our justification and sanctification. I’m not sure why they would be looking to their own will power if they’re Calvinists (by definition).

        I agree that righteousness brings its own reward, but I don’t see how that’s particularly relevant to Calvinism.

        • Brian Shelley says:

          Perhaps they are inconsistent Calivinist? 🙂

          The Calvinists assume we have a bent towards sin that can only be altered by God. Thus, they assume we inevitably find sin to be more enjoyable as part of that bent. They are beholden to a supernatural intervention, which naturally leads one to curry God’s blessing through action.

          I propose that this bent is a knowledge problem, and that it continues because as we reject God’s exhortations we have been fooled by Satan into sin. This bent is remedied by faith in Christ and the growing wisdom from the pursuit of his perfect wisdom. We read the Bible and view the world, and become aware of the truth. This truth increases our righteousness, which, in turn, increases our ability to discern more truth.

        • Gene Callahan says:

          Weber explained the mechanism at work here very clearly.

  13. K Sralla says:

    “Armenians and Lutherans, however, believing in free will, like you do, think that, in fact, people have the power to choose faith’

    N Moore,

    You do not understand the Lutheran or Arminian doctrine of election. Actually, classical Wesleyan Arminianism is different from the Calvinist view only so far as God’s grace can be refused. Arminians DO NOT argue that man can make a 100% “free choice” absent the “drawing” of the Holy Spirit. They only suggest that individuals have the power to reject this calling of the Holy Spirit. They do not hold that man ever has the power in himself to accept it. Now that we have cleared that up, let’s move onto the Lutheran view.

    First, Luther himself was an even stauncher double predestinarian than even Calvin. READ LUTHER in his own words in the Bondage of the Will. The great humanist theologian Philip Melanthon, following Luther’s death, softened Luther’s views somewhat. The modern Lutheran view on pre-destination is one of “single” predestination. That being that the elect are pre-destined to salvation by grace through faith (usually through the means of grace given in baptism) while no-one is pre-destined to be lost. Please note however, that the Lutheran view distinctly does not hold to a completely ambivalent human will that will happen to fall one way or another.

    Only in a full Pelagian sense is it held that Man has the full power to believe in Christ as offered in the Gospel, and that this power is mustered up by good works. Not only is a full Pelagian view held to be heretical by virtually all of classic Protestantism, but by Roman Catholicism (4th Century Council of Carthage).

    Why does any of this matter? It matters since evangelicalism holds that salvation is offered as a free gift, and can never be earned or merited by “good works”. The free gift *is* faith in Christ, and this gift can come only from God. As hopefully you now understand from my explanation above, this gift never comes soley from within the believer, but always from without. Short this view, we are left with a works religion that was condemned as heresy early on in Christianity. Among laymen, this is the most misunderstood facet of evangelical Christianity.

    The way I originally understood Bob, he explained that our doing of good works here on earth sort of “butters us up” for being able to accept Christ and his free offer of heaven to us at the end. I hope he did not really mean that, but if he did, it is wrong. I try to understand the comments of others in “good faith”, but I struggled to see that Bob’s view made any sense in light of orthodox Christian doctrine. if i am wrong, then this spat has been about nothing.

  14. Steve Maughan says:

    Hi Bob,

    I do like your posts on your faith. I find your enthusiasm and inquisitive probing of these fundamental tenants of Christianity refreshing.

    To state my position, I am a Calvinist. I have to say when you say, “faith is a work, meaning that it is a conscious action on your part to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior” you are disagreeing with Calvinist if you are implying the point of regeneration is after this acceptance of Jesus or profession of faith. The Calvinist position is that salvation is by Grace and Grace alone. Just as we had no way of influencing our physical birth, we have no way of influencing our spiritual regeneration (John 3). We still have free will but not in domain of salvation.

    Another way of thinking out this is this. When Jesus said on the cross, “it is done”, did he have his fingers crossed? In other words, after he had died for our sins was there any doubt that some people would take him up on his offer? The Arminian position (i.e. free will) must be that he “hoped” his persuasive teachings were sufficient for his disciples to accept him. Of course this, to me at least, sound ridiculous.

    As for works; they are the sign of someone being a Christian i.e. a sign of regeneration. Someone who says they are a Christian without works is making a false confession – James is strong on this point. Of course those who are not Christians can also do good works but they are not done to glorify Christ.


  15. K Sralla says:

    To use a term often employed by economists, faith is exogenous.

  16. K Sralla says:

    saving faith in Christ is exogenous

  17. K Sralla says:

    One final thought. Why do I refer back to councils and old confessional credes? Why not go straight to the Bible?

    The reason is that there is scarcely a theological argument that can be concieved of which is new.

    Many theologians through the centuries have wrestled with virtually all of these questions involving biblical interpretation. Classic credes and confessional statements made often show where the agreement of orthodoxy stood on any particular issue at a particular time.

    It does not mean that as Christians, we are bound to agree with them all, since as Protestants, we say that scripture alone binds our conscience on doctrinal matters. However, confessional statements do represent points to be explored, and if we disagree with an orthodox position, the burden is on the individual to put up an incredibly sound reason something formerly agreed upon should now be rejected. It is much like citing references in a peer-reviewed paper. It keeps us out of the ditch, and focuses the discussion on key issues.

    Actually, the modern format for nearly all peer-reviewed scholarship and education comes from the theologians and philosophers of the past. The internet may eventually prove to represent a radical departure from the past format of these types of discussions.

  18. N. Moore says:

    K Sralla,

    You are confused.

    “Arminians DO NOT argue that man can make a 100% “free choice” absent the “drawing” of the Holy Spirit. They only suggest that individuals have the power to reject this calling of the Holy Spirit.”

    No one would choose salvation without the drawing power of the Holy Spirit; I’ve already said that. I also said that the difference between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists is that Calvinists think that grace is irresistible.

    You seem to have this distinction in mind that Calvinists and Non-Calvinists agree that no one can “freely choose” but Non-Calvinists think you can resist it, resistance somehow being a less than totally free choice.

    This is a nonsensical distinction. The decision to resist or not is a 100% “free choice”, meaning grace is either 100% resistible, or it’s 100% irresistible.

    “Only in a full Pelagian sense is it held that Man has the full power to believe in Christ as offered in the Gospel, and that this power is mustered up by good works.”

    The Pelagian Doctrine is that man, by his own will, can choose to be holy enough to earn salvation. Again, you come back to this “full” power / partial power of the will distinction, that is not the point. The good works, in Pelagianism don’t muster up the will, the will musters up the good works, and that earns salvation.

    It seems, in your view, everyone is either a Pelagian (free will) or a Calvinist (no free will). In fact, Pelagiansim is a doctrine of salvation by works, which no Protestant denomination believes in.

    The Calvinists believe in Irresistible Grace and Limited Atonement. The Lutherans and Arminians (Wesleyans, etc.) do not, because they believe the sinner has free will in regard to choosing or rejecting the gift of faith (understanding that God made the first move by offering the gift, and drawing us to consider it, in the absence of which initiative we would never have considered it). Your distinction between partial vs total free will is not part any doctrine.

    “Now that we have cleared that up…”

    “As hopefully you now understand from my explanation above…”

    If you’re trying to come across as smug, it’s working.

    Perhaps we should all keep in mind the words of Martin Luther here:

    “A dispute about predestination should be avoided entirely… in thinking about predestination, we forget God… For this you should know: All such suggestions and disputes about predestination are surely of the devil.”

  19. K Sralla says:

    N. Moore,

    Let me go at this another way. Who gets the credit for your salvation? If your faith is 100% free will, and you chose 100% freely to excersize your faith, then you must take at least some of the credit for your own salvation. No? Obviously God gets the lions share of credit, but you must get at least a little, if your 100% free choice is at least part of the reason you are saved. So is it you and God, or God alone who gets the credit for your salvation?

    You say: “You (me) seem to have this distinction in mind that Calvinists and Non-Calvinists agree that no one can “freely choose” but Non-Calvinists think you can resist it, resistance somehow being a less than totally free choice. This is a nonsensical distinction. ”

    N. Moore. I agree completely with you that it is nonsensical. However, the Arminian (more specifically Wesleyan) view is precisely as I have stated it in my comments above, and you have *almost* correctly summarized. You make one big mistake however in saying that I view of the power to resist as being something less than 100% free will in Arminian doctrine. I never said the power to resist was held to be anything less than 100% pure free will.

    Please note also that I made no original comment on the validity of the Arminian view, but out of charity, I conceded in my own mind that many evangelicals hold this view while still preserving an acceptable view of salvation by grace through faith. I mearly meant to fairly and accurately summarize what the Arminian view holds.

    What is not the Arminian view however is the the idea that someone comes to Christ 100% under their own internal power of faith, without God’s intervening grace. The true Arminian view is “synergism”, meaning that God and the person more or less meet halfway to consumate justification. The human choice under this condition is not due 100% to 100% free unmolested human will though, since it relies partly on God’s will power to send a kind of “wooing” grace, and partly on man’s will power to accept or rebuff this.

    In some way, the very act of the Holy Spirit pleading or drawing must pull on a person’s will to some extent, preventing it from being completely indifferent. The line between freedom and coersion is a very thin one indeed. When I have gone to an evangelist’s rally, some plead hard, and some plead harder, trying to use various psychological means to get hands up in the air and the sinners prayer prayed. You must see that we are not always free from having some persuasion applied, only free to resist and say no. Hence that is why I put it in the terms that *only the power to resist* is the key choice, not the power to refuse any persuasion of God.

    Thus I repeat my original argument that the only true difference between the Calvinist and the Wesleyan Arminian is that the latter asserts a power to resist God’s grace, yet cannot credibly assert a freedom from having the will prodded by grace.

    100% pure free will infers that the power to come to Christ initially lies totally in the hands of the sinner. In other words, the sinner must make the first move toward God. Inasmuch as faith is a work, a 100% free will with no need of God’s persuasive power to intervene in the indifferent soul is 100% Pelagianism. I doubt you are arguing in favor of this N. Moore.

    Finally, many must be asking what practical application any of this high theology may have in one’s life here on earth? It would be a good question. The key is that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by any works or acts that we do to merrit God’s favor or forgivenss. My original concern was that Bob’s statements might have compromised the foundation of how one gets saved (by repenting of sins and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ alone), and that was the reason for my initally harsh comments. I had absolutely no intention of delving into Calvinism, but rather stay on the plane of broad evangelicalism. I should have never mentioned the word Calvinism, as it was bound to set some folks off. I did, and this has cascaded against my previously indifferent will into a too long comment.

  20. complexphenom says:

    Of course science has nothing to say with respect to the God question either way. Neither does logic. It really does require an act of faith to commit to either atheism or theism. Given that there’s a lack of supporting evidence (other than the spiritual/religious experience which can be profound, yet confined to he who experiences it) we must make use of our free will in choosing our preferred belief. Which we choose will ultimately depend on a variety of nebulous factors including cultural upbringing, personal sensibility, exogenous influences, emotional tendencies, etc. Intellectually the safest, and most honest, choice would be that of the Socratic, namely to admit that we know only that we don’t know the answer to the God question. And so I choose to be an agnostic. But since we are clearly much more than rational creatures, and since the universe is so very grand in scope, and since we must resort to making particular assumptions when analysing given phenomena while at the same time neglecting countless influential factors (for simplicity’s sake), we realize that whatever worldview we’re able to construct, as rational as it may be, it must necessarily leave much unaccounted for. Our minds can only logically “make sense” out of a limited portion of experience at a time, much is yet unaccounted for. Call some of it qualia if you will, but there’s a lot more to even the simplest of experiences than what can merely be picked up by the senses, though what the senses pick up is surely highly influential in dominating much of our experience. Then there’s the whole mind body issue which I’ll skip for today. All of this leaves me, emotionally, very willing to accept a sort of pantheism with respect to the whole God idea. There are aspects of the universe yet to be uncovered by our more pedantic/scientific tendencies which currently remain hidden, waiting to be stumbled upon. These may represent a deep, underlying order that some of us wouldn’t mind calling God. But for the reasons I mentioned above I believe our ability to achieve a complete understanding of all experience via scientific means is constrained, and is similar to what may be represented as a function f(x) ever approaching its asymptote, “the truth”, yet on closer inspection always remaining a positive distance away. So I believe in Einstein and Spinoza’s God, though I am sympathetic to Christian believers, having been raised Catholic, and allowing myself to consider the possibility that Jesus may just be the son of whoever it was (God) that created this whole smorgasbord, this idea being no more ridiculous than what it’s taken for the universe to allow me to emerge after billions of years of cosmic, biological, and cultural evolution. Sir John Eccles (Nobel neuroscientist) had an interesting, and just as plausible, belief in Jesus Christ as his savior, Jesus having emerged through the same evolutionary process as the rest of us, only he’s the son of God, of the universe. Maybe Jesus and/or his avatars eventually pop up anywhere that’s produced sentient beings capable of allowing the universe to ponder itself. Then we get into the whole extraterrestrial discussion which I’m not going to get into today.

    But I did want to mention that while intellectually I’d rather not commit myself to either the atheist or theist camp, I have noticed that many who are of the left, socialists, modern liberals, progressives etc, seem to be more willing to accept the scientific “experts” conclusions on religion, namely that God doesn’t exist, without much thought. Having a physics background I understand why many of my scientific colleagues choose to not believe in God (though I remind them that ultimately their decisions rest on faith), but I am also saddened by how easily the general public is willing to accept their authority, even though science really doesn’t have anything to say w.r.t. God. And many laymen who will accept atheism because “we” supposedly know more now than we did before (even though they individually don’t know much w.r.t . science, theology, or even philosophy) are only too willing to fill the supreme-top-down-manager in the sky figure void with government. It’s like they’ve replaced God with Big Brother, and along they way, “since God doesn’t exist” his moral teachings mustn’t be so credible either, so they say. Of course this is a non-sequitur. The tradition of religion, while no longer needed AS MUCH to be a crutch in explaining much of the physical phenomena, has always contributed greatly in keeping important culturally adapted moral norms and standards in the forefront many societies. And unfortunately these important moral teachings are now being abandoned because “we know so much” specifically that “God doesn’t exist”. I don’t get how even if you were to accept the latter statement as true, that should automatically disqualify the validity of those moral teachings which have traditionally served their societal purpose in helping to keep harmony across most human communities.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “Intellectually the safest, and most honest, choice would be that of the Socratic, namely to admit that we know only that we don’t know the answer to the God question.”

      But, of course, that was NOT Socrates conclusion! Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all arrived at what was essentially monotheism, in a polytheistic culture, through reason.

      “I don’t get how even if you were to accept the latter statement as true, that should automatically disqualify the validity of those moral teachings which have traditionally served their societal purpose in helping to keep harmony across most human communities.”

      Something with such a utilitarian aim is not morality at all.

      • Avram says:

        Morality can be worldly and social.

  21. Thomas L. Knapp says:

    For all that I consider Paul the first heretic, and hold that the religion taught by Jesus was Judaism, I very much enjoy your Sunday posts, Bob.

  22. Driganx says:

    It would probably be worth your time to read Steve Ray’s “The last nightmare.” It’s a short story covering a situation very similar to the one you’re discussing:



  23. K Sralla says:


    Quite a thoughtful and candid comment! I too come from a background in the physical sciences, and even as an orthodox evangelical believer, have wrestled with a panentheistic view of God at times. I fight it off in my orthodox moments, but much of what you say, I agree with. Your view is quite Hayekian by the way.

    In several previous posts on this websight over the last couple of years, I have made many of the same observations that you do above. I do not believe hard atheism is a viable stance. In the end, one places the ontological power in the stuff itself (or the set of laws behind creation and evolution), or outside the stuff (the mind of God). From a purely philosophical standpoint, most fail to notice that these views in the end are quite similar.

    As an evangelical, I go further by holding that God is personal, though knowing his mind to any significant degree is far out of our human reach unless God supernaturally breaks into our lives. We rely on natural revelation through physics, the social sciences, ect., but critically, also special revelation through the written Word, to gain knowledge of the mind of God.

    In the person of Jesus Christ, the logos became incarnate, willingly died in a primitive act of human sacrifice, and thus atoned for the unrighteousness of his people, and conqured death through the resurrection. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we recieve foregivenss of sins and are granted eternal life.

  24. K Sralla says:


    It might surprise you that I also view the religion taught by Jesus as 1st Century Judaism. However, have you ever considered that Paul, as a scholar of 1st Century Judaism, knew much more about the rabbinical school of Jesus than most liberal scholars today? As a contemporary of Jesus and a student of Judaism, why would we assume Paul did not have a birdseye view of his own contemporary Jewish scene. 1st Century Christianity was a sect of Judaism that likely had close affiliation with the Essenes.

    As an aside, when I read the translations of the extant material from the Dead Sea Scrolls, I am amazed at how similar some of the doctrine looks, not only to the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus, but also Paul.

    In fact, I have made the observation that if we read many of the DSS translations in my own Reformed congregation in the form of a confessional statement or responsive reading, most folks would not have a clue it was pre-Christian. I hate to go here and re-ignite the flames, but many of these documents also feel eerlily like Calvinism on doctrines such as grace and pre-destination. The Dead Sea Scroll community were very strong predestinarians who believed that the Grace of God was necessary for re-birth.

  25. sec_tcpaipm says:

    To stir the pot further:

    Let’s say that through the power of the Holy Spirit I find myself a believer, but I have many vices in which I indulge. Jesus in His mercy comes to me at death, proves His Humanity and Divinity, and asks me to join him in Paradise. I humbly ask, “I am not worthy, for no sin can enter heaven, and I have a multitude of faults. However, if You will, You can make me clean and worthy to come to You.” He does so, and I enter Heaven.

    Did I just go through Purgatory?

    • Driganx says:

      That would certainly be the Catholic/Orthodox/Coptic view.

  26. Driganx says:

    Since my comment with a link in it is forever awaiting moderation, I’ll say the same thing without the link:

    It would probably be worth your time to read Steve Ray’s “The last nightmare.” It’s a short story about a guy that dies and goes into the afterlife. Your dream distinctly reminded me of it. Just google and you’ll find it very quickly.

  27. Ben Kennedy says:

    ‘Suppose that just before dying, everybody is visited by Jesus Himself. He makes His presence known; the person understands full well that there is a God of the universe, Who created everything and has observed the person’s entire life. Then Jesus asks the person, “Do you want to join Me in paradise?”’

    Just strike that “Suppose that just”, because I think what you are suggesting is actually the present reality. The incarnation was Jesus making his presence known to the entire world, and from an eternal perspective, aren’t we all mere moments away from dying? Nobody can say with absolutely certainty if they will be alive tomorrow, or in five minutes. We need not wait until we have lived our lives to answer this question, and in fact we asked about it the moment we first hear about Jesus.

  28. K Sralla says:

    Mr. Shelley says: “The Calvinists assume we have a bent towards sin that can only be altered by God.”

    KS asks: Does Mr. Shelley deny this?

    Mr. Shelley continues: “They assume we inevitably find sin to be more enjoyable as part of that bent.”

    K.S. responds: Calvinists assume that the *unregenerate* find sin more enjoyable as part of that bent (original sin). Calvinists *do not* hold that born-again believers find sin enjoyable, but quite the opposite. In fact, one of the marks of the elect is that they no longer enjoy sinning, but are repulsed by their own sin. As the writer of I John makes plain, a Christian cannot go on practicing sin as a general way of life. To do so is a ghastly thought. Mr. Shelley apparently has 0 understanding of Calvinist doctrine on this point. I have been a Reformed Christian for years, and a student of theology, and honestly, I had no understanding of what Shelley was getting at in his comments above.

    Calvinists do hold that although the “life of sinful practice” has been done away with, Christians will indeed continue to commit sins at times (if they live long enough after their conversion), sometimes too often, and these should be confessed and repented of. The process of sanctification indeed mortifies sin as the Christian grows, though Calvinists do not believe in the concept of a practical “sinless perfection” this side of glorification.

    In fact, experience itself shows that such a doctrine is contrary to experience, if one is honest.

  29. Robbie says:

    Bob, your post has brought some 73 comments and very few have tried to help you interpit your dream. I will make the case that if you add to your line of reasoning as you weigh Faith and works in a scale, that if you look to how the Mormons describe it, your understanding of Faith and Works will be complimented and you will find greater peace in serving your fellow man in following the Great example of a perfect life , such as the Saviors. By your fruits ye shall know them, if you have love unto one another.

  30. Jolls says:

    Great post Bob. As a Christian and Austrian I appreciate your theological thoughts as well as economic ones. Anyways, nothing else really useful to add, just a bit of appreciation.