We Attain Heaven Through Faith Alone

It is not the case, as some suggest, that we “get in” by grace (e.g., baptism) and we “stay in” by cooperating with grace (abiding).

We confess explicitly that faith alone is the instrument of our justification and our salvation. As it was for Noah in the flood and for the Israelites at the Red Sea, so it is for us. We are united to Christ by the Spirit through faith alone and through faith alone we commune with him and through faith alone we have been delivered, we are being delivered, and we shall be delivered. Through faith we inherit eternal life.

 

Recently an influential evangelical writer (no names please, this is about truth not personalities) wrote “…right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone.” The claim is that Christians should believe that we “attain heaven” by more than faith, i.e., by our cooperation with grace. This proposition fits with a claim made by others that we are justified by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide) but thatsalvation, because it is a broader category, because it includes sanctification, is partly through obedience, faithfulness, or works.

The Argument
Here is the argument in the form of a syllogism:

  1. Salvation involves justification and sanctification.
  2. Sanctification is by grace and cooperation with grace (works)
  3. Therefore salvation is partly by works.

In this discussion there have also been claims about the history of Reformed theology, that the orthodox Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century taught justificationsola gratia, sola fide but salvation (the broader category) partly through works. What the Reformed (e.g., Turretin) frequently said is that good works are necessary ad salutem. Some have drawn the inference that the Reformed intended to teach that good works are instrumental in our salvation. I have disputed this claim in this series beginning here. Before you comment below, please read the series.

Rather, we should agree with Louis Berkhof (1873–1957) who, fairly represented the Reformed tradition, rejected the theory that good works are instrumental in salvation:

“[good works] cannot be regarded as necessary to merit salvation, nor as a means to retain a hold on salvation, nor even as the only way along which to proceed to eternal glory, for children enter salvation without having done any good works. The Bible does not teach that no one can be saved apart from good works. At the same time good works necessarily follow from the union of believers with Christ”(emphasis added)

Berkhof taught that good works are fruit and evidence of salvation. Here is the basic distinction which is frequently missed in this discussion (and in the discussion of justification): is and through. It is the case that believers, who are in union with the risen Christ by the sovereign grace of the Spirit, through faith alone, produce fruit. This is the Reformed understanding of our Lord’s teaching about abiding (John 15:4). It is not the case, as some suggest, that we “get in” by grace (e.g., baptism) and we “stay in” by cooperating with grace (abiding). Any such scheme turns the covenant of grace into a covenant of works since, in any event, our abiding, our cooperating, becomes the decisive factor, the sine qua non of salvation.

I have already sketched a biblical and theological case for justification and salvation sola fide (please read this before commenting) but, in the present climate, it seems useful to elaborate the case.

The Biblical Paradigm For Thinking About Salvation
In order to understand the biblical teaching we must first ask what is salvation? From what must we be saved? To what is salvation? Scripture is abundantly clear. The thingfrom which we must be saved is God’s holy justice and wrath in hell. The thing to which we must be saved is eternal fellowship with God heaven.

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