Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Measure of Faith

This morning I had the opportunity to listen to (free mp3 download) yesterday afternoon's Iron Sharpens Iron five day radio debate on"The DOCTRINES of SOVEREIGN GRACE: Biblical Truths or Dangerous Fallacies"

One of the callers who phoned in (clearly non-Calvinistic) brought up a commonly mis-quoted partial text of Scripture:

"but God has given all men a measure of faith"

This is consistantly used by non-Calvinists to declare that all human beings have the ability to exercise that God given measure of faith, take that step and just decide to believe. The problem with this argument is a.) The Bible clearly refutes this in numerous places and b.) the partially quoted text is completely out of context

I was a little surprised the guest of the show (DR. F. LaGARD SMITH, author of Troubling Questions For Calvinists ) didn't clear up the context of that verse from Romans 12:3, since he did say that he stresses proper context in his own study. I've not read his work so I don't know if he addresses this, but he didn't address it on yesterday's show.

In the first place, the Scripture is clear that human beings are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), incapable of saving faith on our own (Eph 2:8), at enmity with God (Rom 8:7), do not seek God (Rom 3:11), do not desire or understand the things of God (Rom 3:11, 1Cor 2:14), and cannot come to Him or believe on Him apart from His drawing us and regenerating us - enabling us to believe, repent, and have faith (John 6:44,65, Php 1:29, Titus 3:5, Heb 12:2) .

This isn't "Calvinism", this is Bible.

These are the inspired words of God, given to us to understand our utterly desperate spiritual condition and need of His saving grace.

In the second place, the partial verse used to defend or support man's mythical free will, is always taken out of context. It has to be, because if left in context it cannot and does not support the claim being made:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:1-5)
The very first thing we understand when we read this in context, is that believers are the ones being addressed here: "I beseech you therefore, brethren". A clear exhortation for believers to live a certain way, a way in which is becoming a believer and brings glory to God. A warning that we not be influenced by the world (unbelievers), but be continually transformed by God's grace. This is an exhortation and warning that would fall on deaf ears, if heard by an unbeliever, since living according to the will of God is definitely not a goal an unbeliever would ever care about. This passage continues on in telling us (believers, "every man among you") that we not have an elevated idea of our own role among the household of faith - but that we should remain humble and serve where it is we've been called to serve. The NASB renders the text this way:

"For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."
The "measure of faith" mentioned here is not a wee little glimmer of saving faith given to all human beings so as to at some point "just believe". Not at all. The measure of faith spoken of here is the office or the calling or gift that each has on their life, or has been granted to them, to enable them to serve as a part of the body. (see 1Cor.12).

Continuing on in the context of this passage proves this out since that's exactly what the very next two verses say:

"For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another."
If that doesn't make it clear, the next portion of this passage certainly does:

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." (Romans 12:6-9)
It is very clear that with a careful examination of this text, that the "but God has given all men a measure of faith" free will, saving-faith claim, falls incredibly short of what it's supposed to be supporting. This passage of Scripture does not support this at all, but speaks directly to the attitudes and servanthood of believers.

In the beginning of the last chapter of 2Thessalonians (3:1,2), Paul begins this way:

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. (KJV)

Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. (NASB)
Paul's heart was that the good news of Christ would be unleashed and given free course and that God would be glorified in that. Paul prayed this way and asked fellow believers to pray this way because he knew that all men did not have faith, and would make every effort to not see this come to pass. Paul, being the author of Romans and the author of the second epistle to the church in Thessalonica would certainly not tell one group of believers that God has given all human beings a measure of saving faith, as it's incorrectly taught from Romans 12:3, and then turn around roughly 4-5 years later and tell another group of believers that all men do not have faith, as he says in 2Thes. 3:1,2.

It's so important to read the Bible in context.

We cannot just pull a portion of a verse out and say "see, it says right here, exactly what I want it to say!" Rather, we have to allow the Scripture to speak for itself and we have to allow our thinking to be conformed to what it actually says.