Posts Tagged ‘Soli Deo Gloria’

The more I’ve read and thought over Christian truth, the more I’ve found this particular idea to be at the heart of so much difficulty and unbelief.


Thus the matter stands: we never truly glory in him unless we have utterly put off our own glory. On the other hand, awe must hold this as a universal principle: whoever glories in himself, glories against God. Indeed, Paul considers that the world only becomes subject to God [cf. Romans 3:19] when men are utterly deprived of any occasion for glorying. Accordingly, Isaiah, when he announces that the justification of Israel will rest in God, adds at the same time “and praise” [Isaiah 45:26, Vg.; cf. ch. 45:25, EV]. It is as if he were to say that the elect are justified by the Lord to the end that they may glory in him and in no other. But he had taught in the preceding verse how we ought to glory in the Lord: namely, that we should swear that our righteous acts and our strength are in the Lord [Isaiah 45:24]. Note that not a simple confession is required but one confirmed by an oath, lest you should think it something to be discharged by any kind of feigned humility. And let no man here allege that he does not glory in himself at all when without arrogance he recognizes his own righteousness. For there can be no such estimation without engendering confidence, and no confidence without giving birth to glorying.

Therefore, let us remember in all discussion of righteousness to keep this end in view: that the praise of righteousness remain perfect and whole in the Lord’s possession, since it was to manifest his own righteousness that—as the apostle attests—he poured out his grace upon us “so that he himself may be righteous, and the justifier of him who has faith in Christ” [Romans 3:26, Vg.]. Accordingly, in another passage, having stated that the Lord conferred salvation upon us in order to show forth the glory of his name [Ephesians 1:6], so to speak, repeating the same thing, he afterward adds: “By grace you have been saved… and… by the gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast” [<490208> Ephesians 2:8-9 p.]. And Peter, when he points out that we have been called to the hope of salvation so “that we may declare the excellences of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” [1 Peter 2:9 p.], doubtless intends that the sole praises of God may so resound in the ears of believers as to overwhelm in deep silence all arrogance of the flesh. To sum up, man cannot without sacrilege claim for himself even a crumb of righteousness, for just so much is plucked and taken away from the glory of God’s righteousness.

– Calvin’s Institutes 3.13.2


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Is faith something that is merely ‘passive’ in nature? Or does it have an ‘active’ principle as well? What is the nature of saving faith itself? Is it something passive, where we merely receive the benefits of Christ gifted to us and poured out for our sakes? Or is it something more active, where we obediently, or faithfully, bring something to the table or add something to the mix?

Some might wonder whether this is even a valid distinction. “Why do you want to dig into this so bad?” one might ask.   I hear you. But first let’s look at the issue a little more.

I’ve recently read something by Mark Garcia where he gives a description of what he believes Calvin taught regarding the nature of faith. Here’s a quote from his book Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology.

“Unlike his Lutheran counterparts, Calvin did not ground good works in imputation or justification but in union with Christ. In contradistinction with Melanchthon, for example, Calvin argued a positive, soteric value of good works as the ordinary prerequisite for receiving eternal life. It appears that basic differences exist in their respective understandings of justifying faith: at the heart of the inseparability in Calvin’s unio Christi-duplex gratia formulation is a justifying faith defined not only passively, as resting on Christ alone, but actively, as an obedient faith that, resting on Christ alone, perseveres in the pursuit of holiness” (p. 260).
So, faith is (according to Garcia) defined not merely “passively,” but also “actively, as an obedient faith” (emphasis mine).
Now let us look at some passages from Calvin himself to see whether this is congruent with what the theologian actually taught. Timothy Massaro at Water is Thicker than Blood has compiled some quotes here, and here, from the French Reformer. Calvin writes:

“How would this argument be maintained otherwise than by agreeing that works do not enter the account of faith but must be utterly separated? The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God.” (Institutes, 3.11.18)

“But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12. For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith.” (Institutes, 3.11.14)

And for Calvin’s short definition, he puts it very simply.

“Faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack.” (Institutes 3.13.5)

There it is: “Merely passive”. Those are Calvin’s own words.  For it was his view.  One might think this sounds awful suspect, and like free-grace antinomianism.  But it’s not. This is the heart of the Gospel and the Reformed faith; by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  And what’s more, we see this same theology reflected in the different Reformed confessions as well.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 14.2

“…the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace”

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 21. What is true faith?

Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Belgic Confession of Faith: Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith

We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.

For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.

Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”

However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.

When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

Now. What do we see in these definitions?  Do we see even an ounce of this ‘active’ principle or idea? No! In fact there is no concept whatsoever of obedience being intrinsic to faith whatsoever. And while we recognize that wherever there is true and vital (living) faith there will also be all other fruit of spiritual life as well (eg. repentance, obedience, good works etc), but faith by definition is something which receives. Faith apprehends. It in and of itself is the conduit by which the benefits of Christ are applied to the sinning soul.  It’s like pouring water from a pitcher through a funnel into our hearts. That funnel is our faith.  It doesn’t work.  For there’d be nothing left for it to do. Indeed, work adds nothing to our justification. Only Christ’s perfect merit means anything for justification; and it can only be applied by/though faith.  And therefor, necessarily, obedience is not in view. It is not the issue.

So this begs the question how and why could we ever be entertaining such notions which go contrary to the reformed faith.  There’s various reasons for this I’m sure.  One is that we (rightly) don’t want to fall into a ‘cheap grace’ antinomianism.  And that would be certainly bad, I agree.  But the answer isn’t in changing the message of the gospel.

In Romans 6, Paul didn’t change the message of the gospel when some people slandered him about how he was teaching it. He just told them they didn’t get it — they didn’t understand. Because if they had understood, they wouldn’t be asking the question: “should we sin more that grace may increase?”)

Finally, let us look at a one more confession — this time from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

143. By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”

The Obedience of Faith

144. To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.

This “obedience of faith” sounds an awful lot like the “obedient faith” described above by Garcia.

Which leads me to my conclusion: Either (1) Calvin was a Catholic, or (2) Garcia is confusing things more than is necessary.

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To whom be glory. (Gal 1.5)

“By this sudden exclamation of thanksgiving, he intends to awaken powerfully in his readers the contemplation of that invaluable gift which they had received from God, and in this manner to prepare their minds more fully for receiving instruction. It must at the same time be viewed as a general exhortation. Every instance in which the mercy of God occurs to our remembrance, ought to be embraced by us as an occasion of ascribing glory to God.” – John Calvin on Galations

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