Saturday, August 30, 2008

McGee on Salvation being "all of God"

J. Vernon McGee writes: “Because He bore it for us upon the cross, our sins are forgiven, and we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, you don’t have to do anything so that God will forgive you; Christ has already done it when He died for you. All you have to do is believe and receive Christ.” (Thru the Bible commentary series: Hebrews, p.63)

Is McGee being illogical? Clearly, believing and receiving Christ is doing something, is it not? Yet, John Calvin stated it in nearly the same way as McGee:

Calvin writes: “Now it may be asked how men receive the salvation offered to them by the hand of God? I reply, by faith. Hence he concludes that here is nothing of our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all praise, it follows that salvation is not of us. … When, on man’s side, he places the only way of receiving salvation in faith alone, he rejects all other means on which men are accustomed to rely. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.144)

So what's going on? Where is the logic in this?

Question: How can a faith-alone salvation equate to a grace-alone salvation? How can salvation be “all of God” and “none of us,” if we come to God with something, namely, with faith in Him?

Answer: Consider a broader context than just Calvinist vs. Arminian. For instance, lost people come before God saying, “Look at my life. I was a good person, and that should count for something, and if my life isn’t good enough for You, well then….” Meanwhile, the Christian comes before God and says, “I don’t come to you with my life. I come to you with His life. I come to you with the life that Jesus lived, and not my own.” In that way, the Christian comes before God “empty-handed,” as John Calvin puts it. This is why the Arminian (and McGee and Calvin), ultimately say, “It’s all God” when they come before God with nothing but their faith in Christ. However, most Calvinists of today will object, by pointing out that if we come to God with our trust in Christ, then aren’t, in fact, coming to God with something? However, the solution is in what kind of “something” that we come before God with. The lost person comes before God with self-righteousness, while the Christian comes before God seeking Jesus’ Imputed Righteousness. That’s a technical term simply to mean that we get credit for what Jesus did, simply because God said that He would do this for whoever places their trust in Him. Faith in Christ is not reflective of man’s goodness, but of the goodness of the One in whom we place our trust. This is why boasting is overthrown by a law of faith, as Paul states: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” (Romans 3:27) One person explained: “Calvinists say that if you say that YOU believed, you are boasting, but the verse points out something that refutes that idea, which is that when you believe, you can’t boast.” And the reason why you can’t boast, is because faith in Christ removes the logical basis for which one might try, since since faith in Christ credits the One in whom you are placing your trust. This is also why Paul contrasted faith and works, rather than to link them together as one: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

Since faith is treated as a contrast to merit and works, there is therefore a logical basis for which to insist that trusting in Christ reduces to “nothing that you do,” being “all of God,” since what you do, points solely to what Christ did, and therefore faith is merely the channel through which God imputes righteousness to the believer. A faith-alone salvation is indeed a grace-alone salvation, and while Calvinists are free to insist otherwise, I am free to insist that Calvinists are just being stubborn. I like having Romans 3:27 and Romans 4:5 to bolster my argument, and it doesn’t hurt to cite a few Calvinists in agreement with you.


Unknown said...

Where did the faith come from?

Richard Coords said...

Hey Kevin,

Romans 10:17. Based upon our previous discussion on Romans 9:16, the purpose of this post was to present a logical basis for why Arminians can agree with Romans 9:16: "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."

I wanted to explain why Arminian preachers so often echo the sentiments of J. Vernon McGee (quoted in the Opening Post), in terms that salvation does not depend upon anything that you do, but is about what Jesus did, and that all that we need to do is to receive Him. You had commented that this defies logic, and I hope that this post serves as an accurate reflection of how an Arminian would explain that there is indeed sound logic behind these sentiments. Thoughts?

Unknown said...

Well, as I said before, I agree that the "Word of Christ" is the means by which faith comes. But, the question still remains: lots of people hear the Word of Christ and still refuse Him. What made you to differ from those who heard the same Word you did and yet did not believe?

I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to that question. As an Arminian, I do not think you can give one that doesn't point to a believer having some characteristic by which they can boast over another person who refuses to believe. To point to something in us (more spiritually sensitive, smarter, etc.) that merits salvation is not grace, it's works. Further, it's works you either explicitly ("I chose God! I chose God!" Yes, I've had that enlightening conversation before.) or implicitly ("Well, just because my faith was stronger isn't really works.") cling to as the reason you first believed.

There's will and there's free will. We choose Christ, granted. But why? I think Eph 2:8-10, among other verses, explains it clearly. Arminians, not so much.

Richard Coords said...

Hey Kevin,

And Happy Labor Day to all.

In terms of a satisfactory answer to boasting & Romans 3:27, let me ask this:

Are you considering the biblical context of "boasting"?

Essentially you are saying: "Isn't it smart & wise to have faith in Christ, and in doing so, doesn't that give reason to boast, if you received it w/o an irresistible grace?"

Surely, it is smart & wise to trust in Christ, however, that's not the context of boasting at Romans 3:27. At Romans 3:27, Paul is contrasting the Jews who boasted in their flesh, in terms of trusting in their ability to please God through keeping the Law, whereas Paul is saying that salvation is instead about trusting in the life that Jesus lived. Essentially, Paul’s context of boasting is a kind of boasting which says, “I did something” [like the Jews]. However, faith in Christ says “Christ did something.” Citing a modern example, Adrian Rogers states: “I wouldn’t trust in the best 15 minutes of my life to get me into Heaven. No. It’s about what Jesus did. No one is going to get saved by showing them the life that you lived. If anyone is going to get saved it is by showing them the life that Jesus lived.”

More to the point, you cited Eph 2:8-10, and yet Calvin's quote is a commentary on Eph 2:8-10, when he says, "if we bring nothing but follows that salvation is not of us...." However, it is the Calvinistic perspective that says, "if we come by irresistible follows that salvation is not of us." So that's why I feel that the Calvinist perspective espoused today, is at a real disconnect with the context of boasting at Romans 3:27, as well as being disconnected with the perspective of famed Calvinist, John Calvin himself.

a helmet said...


whether someone who hears believes depends on the ground he is on. Those on the good ground come to faith.

So why do some believe and others don't? You must be a fruitful ground.

Unknown said...

Richard and Helmet,

Still waiting for an answer to Paul’s question, “Who made you to differ?”

Did I make myself to be a “fruitful ground”? Did I get saved because I was more spiritually astute when someone showed me the “life that Christ lived”?

Lots of words; still no answer.

a helmet said...


How to become a fruitful ground:

Unknown said...


So, we can make ourselves fruitful ground by: having more knowledge, cutting through deceit to get to that knowledge, having sincere honesty (as opposed to unsincere honesty, I guess), dumping our sorrows, anxieties, prejudices and convictions unto God.

First thought: Wow, what a wonderful person this must be who can do this out of whole cloth. God is truly lucky to have him, especially when the rest of humanity is dead in sin and by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:1-3); hostile to God and cannot submit to the law of God because by nature the commands of God (repent and believe) are foolishness to them (Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14); and, frankly, cannot change (Jer. 13:23), having every intention of the heart bent on evil continually (Gen. 6:5). What a truly remarkable person this must be!

Second thought: What does this person have that he did not receive? (1 Cor. 4:7) Did he choose to be born? Did he choose to be born in the country he was so that the Gospel would be preached to him? Did he provide his food, clothing, adequate health as an infant so that he would survive to gain such knowledge? Did he give himself a good mind to comprehend the beauty of the Gospel? Did he give himself the determination and ability to cut away these "thorns" of deceit, etc.? Did he give himself discernment to recognize what was truth apart from the arrogance of gnosticism masking itself as Christianity?

Third: How is this not boasting in ourselves if we differentiate between others who are lost in sin because of some characteristic in us? Is salvation truly a gift from God, or our gift to Him because we're something special?

I repeat: there are three main analogies for regeneration in the New Testament: new birth, new creation, resurrection. None of them start with you. They start with the God Who creates order out of chaos, something out of nothing, life out of death, faith in a heart of unbelief.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Richard Coords said...


What made me different? Why shouldn't I also ask, "What made the angels different?" Arminians say "freed will."

Two major points have been introduced in this post:

1) The argument presented by Calvinists in terms of "boasting" is inconsistent with the context of boasting in the biblical setting, that is, of Jews boasting in their flesh through keeping the Law, vs. faith in Christ which boasts only about the life that Christ lived, died and rose again.

2) The concept of a grace-alone salvation is indeed a faith-alone salvation, so that when you come before God with faith, you come before Him with "nothing" so that you can proudly say, "It was all God," doing so with logic on your side, because you are not presenting God with your life, but presenting God with your trust in Christ's life.

These two potent points set aside some of the peculiar arguments that we see raised today, which aren't even necessary in the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, especially evident by the fact that some Calvinists, even John Calvin himself, agreed with the Arminian perspective on this point.

a helmet said...


If you do not believe this, how to become a fruitful ground, then you will probably be left with no explanation at all.
Why are you asking "What made you differ" If you don't want this mystery to be answered?

You seem to be saying that the only answer you would accept is, that it is out of your control and comprehension

You want it to be incomprehensible and out of control.
Concerning incomprehensible:

Let me pose a question: how do you know whether you are a good ground believer? How do you know that you are not fooled?

Do you want answers to these questions at all?

Chris said...

Hey Richard

I can see where are you coming from. McGee has not phrased his point very well - I think he means to say that salvation is all of grace and there is nothing you can do to deserve it.

It is true that believing is "doing something" and therefore not "doing nothing". McGee should say that there is no work you can do to earn salvation.

A mirror argument on the Calvinist side is "if you have to have faith then you have earned your salvation". However this is a fallacy because faith is not meritorious. If you were in debt and someone offered you a cheque to pay that debt, you can either accept or reject his offer. Your acceptance of the gift does not make you worthy of it, and it is still a gift. So yes, we have to do something: accept God's gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Unknown said...


I reiterate what I started with in this comment section: Where did the faith come from?

Who/what made you different from your neighbor/brother/sister/mother/father/cousin who has heard the same message as you and yet has not believed? Is it something in you that is better/more intellegent/more spiritually sensitive? Who/what made you to differ?

James Scott Bell said...

Kevin is engaging in a legal game called "framing the issue," which sets up false alternatives. This is done all the time in the legal (and Calvinist) arena, in order to guarantee a debating point. But if you see through it, there's not a problem.

Faith is exercised by the individual with free choice. That is "where it comes from."

But the issue is not, then, how "meritorious" that is. There is no value put on that vis-a-vis others who do not exercise faith. None at all. It is what it is, and does not "earn" anything. It does not result in "boasting." It is not what the Bible defines as a "work" of merit.

Once this false alternative is dropped (as it should be, for it is mere rhetoric) the objections disappear.

Here is the better question to ask: Why did God elect some to salvation, and leave others to hell, others who in no way, shape, form or function can ever be saved?

Unknown said...

Johnny D,

"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

So, is Paul just simply framing the question or is he asking THE question?