Romans 12, 1 to 8 and Ephesians 2, 1 to 10, Does God Give Us Saving Faith? Part 1 of 3 Parts
by Karl Kemp
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These verse-by-verse studies of Rom. 12:1-8 and Eph. 2:1-10 borrow extensively from the verse-by-verse studies of these passages in my "A Paper on Faith" that is available on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). I quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. I frequently make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious. cf., e.g., means compare, for example
I'll discuss Rom. 12:1-8 and then Eph. 2:1-10. Romans 12:1-8 contain some very important teaching. Verses 1, 2 constitute a powerful call for us Christians to present ourselves to God as a living and holy sacrifice, no longer being conformed to the sin of this world, but having been transformed by the renewal of our MINDS (of the way we THINK, especially referring to our most important THINKING, the THINKING that takes place in our hearts/spirits/inner man). THINKING right in our hearts includes making God, His Word, and His righteousness top priority in our hearts and lives and THINKING of ourselves in a humble way, which is the opposite of pride. THINKING right in our hearts includes having the right attitudes, motives, and priorities. In the verses that follow, the apostle Paul gives an important illustration of the need for us to THINK of ourselves in a humble way, not THINKING "more highly of ourselves than we ought to THINK" (Rom. 12:3). Verses 3-8 constitute some very important teaching on the proper functioning of the Body of Christ, especially the ministers. (1 Corinthians chapter 12 is an important cross-reference for Rom. 12:3-8.)
I believe the apostle Paul's use of the word "faith" in verses 3 and 6 is very often misunderstood. Many Christians wrongly use Rom. 12:3 (and Eph. 2:8, which we will discuss below, and a few other verses) to argue for the idea that we get saved (become Christians) through God's giving us faith. As we will discuss, I don't believe Paul says anything in Rom. 12:3 (or Eph. 2:8) about God's giving us faith.
The idea that God gives us saving faith is one of the most confusing ideas in the Body of Christ. Faith is the most important word used in the New Testament to show our role in God's new-covenant plan of salvation: We repent (repentance is another very important word that shows what God requires of us) and respond to Him, to His initiative, to His offer of salvation presented in the gospel, with faith, humble faith, faith that submits to and cooperates with God's saving grace in Christ, faith that doesn't earn anything; we are saved 100 percent by grace, and God must receive all the glory for every aspect of our salvation. Saving faith is nothing for us to boast about any more than a person who is saved from drowning can boast in himself for taking hold of a life preserver instead of drowning.
((One reason (but not the most important reason) this topic is important to me is that I spent some five years on a fence, after I was first confronted with the gospel, waiting (to some extent at least) for God to give me faith. I was not doing an adequate job of beginning to cooperate with God's call to repent and submit to His saving grace in Christ with faith. When it came to going to church, for example, very often I was out late "having fun" on Saturday evening, so I typically didn't make it to church on Sunday morning. At least the churches I was going to were evangelical churches. When I went to church Sunday evenings my motivation was quite mixed. It seems that at least half of my motivation for going was to meet young ladies. I wanted to be saved, but I wasn't making salvation much of a priority. When we begin to make God and His salvation a top priority, we aren't doing God a favor: We are beginning to do what we must do to be saved from eternal death.
Things changed for me when I (by the grace of God) got motivated to make the decision to start going to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, which included a prayer group, for at least six months. Within two months, or so, I had become a born-again Christian. I couldn't point to the exact time that it happened, but it happened, and I have never doubted my salvation since then, and my life quickly and drastically changed. I encourage every person who is interested in salvation to begin to cooperate with God's grace through prayer, Bible study, attending a church where the gospel is presented, beginning to make God a top priority, making the decision to press on even when you don't feel like it. For one thing there will be spiritual warfare trying to keep you from becoming a Christian, or trying to get you to doubt or renounce your salvation after you have become a born-again Christian.))
We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on every topic, including this one. We must understand that we could not have faith unto salvation if God didn't take the initiative in our salvation: He had to send His Son to become the God-man; the Lord Jesus lived a sinless life and culminated His life on this earth dying as the Lamb of God, bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties (including the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin); and Jesus had to be resurrected and taken up to the right hand of God the Father and to pour forth the promised Holy Spirit, starting on the Day of Pentecost, so we could be forgiven, born again, and walk in the righteousness and holiness of God by His sufficient grace through faith.
Furthermore, God had to keep the devil from destroying us; He had to send the gospel to us as individuals; and the Spirit of God convicts, draws, reveals, enlightens, transforms, etc. Nevertheless, we still need to respond to, submit to, and cooperate with God's saving grace in Christ, in accordance with His Word (especially the gospel), on a continuous basis with/by faith. As I mentioned, faith is the most important word used in the New Testament to show our role in God's salvation plans, as we respond to, submit to, and cooperate with His saving grace in Christ with/by faith. Saving faith is not something that God gives us.
One of the primary reasons I wrote the original 114 page paper on faith in 1997 was to demonstrate from the Bible (especially from the New Testament) that faith is something we do in response to God's grace. (The digital version, which is on my internet site, is 100 pages.) I'll list the headings in that paper: INTRODUCTION; SOME PASSAGES THAT HELP SHOW THAT SAVING FAITH IS OUR PART [IS SOMETHING WE DO IN RESPONSE TO GOD'S GRACE]; SOME VERSES THAT HAVE BEEN USED TO TRY TO SHOW THAT GOD JUST GIVES US SAVING FAITH; SOME MORE VERSES THAT WILL HELP US UNDERSTAND FAITH; Some Verses that Exhort Us to Pray/Ask/Look to God in Faith and Not Doubt in Our Hearts; Some Verses that Speak of Healing Coming Through Faith in God; APPENDIX (The first two passages discussed in the Appendix are Rom. 12:1-8 and Eph. 2:1-10, but more than 20 pages continue in the Appendix after the discussion of those passages.)
I highly recommend that you read the nine page INTRODUCTION to my "A Paper on Faith," and I highly recommend that you read pages 20-24 and 26-35 of my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved? (Those discussions are directly related to the topic of this paper. I recommend reading both of those foundational papers in their entirety. Both papers are included on my internet site.) One thing I discuss in the INTRODUCTION to my "A Paper on Faith" (and that discussion builds on what I had said in my earlier paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?) is that the idea that saving faith is a gift of God originated, to a significant extent at least, with the later view of Augustine (AD354-430). (Augustine's later viewpoint was influenced by his bitter disputes with Pelagius. They reacted against one another. Pelagius very wrongly minimized the effects of the fall of mankind in Adam. Augustine overstated the effects of the fall. How desperately we need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.)
Augustine was extremely influential in the history of Christian theology, including significantly influencing Martin Luther and John Calvin (Protestant reformers). In his earlier years "Augustine believed that we are able to believe in response to God's call in the gospel." But in his later years he came up with the idea that we are so fallen that we are not able to cooperate with God's grace or to have faith. And he included the wrong idea that if we could have faith (or cooperate) with God's grace we would not be saved 100 percent by grace.
I agree that the New Testament teaches that we are saved 100 percent by God's grace in Christ. However, the fact that we have to cooperate with God's grace and respond to His grace with faith doesn't detract from the fact that we are saved 100 percent by grace. In Rom. 4:16, for example, the apostle Paul said, "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace...." We don't earn God's grace by faith (we are saved 100 percent by God's grace, which means that it is totally unearned; it is given as a gift); but we receive and cooperate with His grace by faith. We couldn't receive anything by faith if God had not made it available by grace. A gift, which is a manifestation of God's grace, is no less a gift because we must receive it by faith.
We have a definite role to play in our salvation. God set it up that way. We were created in the image of God, and, even though we were greatly affected by the fall and are spiritually dead, we still have something of free will after the fall. God doesn't just give us saving faith to begin with, and He doesn't override our wills and make sure that we will continue in faith to the end of the race. The New Testament makes it clear that born-again Christians can turn their backs on God and become unbelievers. (See my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?") It is very important though to emphasize that God doesn't want His people to turn their backs on Him and that He provides the enabling grace for us to be strong in faith and to continue in faith to the end.
It is quite significant (but not widely known) that the idea that God will not allow His elect to abandon faith and lose their salvation originated with the later view of Augustine, where God does everything, including giving faith to His elect and making sure that they continue in faith to the end. (Pages 20-24 and 26-35 of my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?," which I mentioned above, deal with the issues of God's supposedly giving us faith and of His making sure that we will continue in faith to the end of the race. The two issues are closely related.) I am not saying that all the Christians in our day who believe that God gives us saving faith, and/or who believe that true Christians cannot lose their salvation, believe (with Augustine's later viewpoint) that man is so fallen that we cannot respond to the gospel with faith or cooperate with God's grace, but that Augustine's later viewpoint is a primary source for both of those ideas.
NOW WE'LL START A VERSE-BY-VERSE DISCUSSION OF ROMANS 12:1-8:
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable [or, well-pleasing] to God, which is your spiritual [or, reasonable] service of worship. [[The apostle Paul exhorts the Christians at Rome (and all Christians) to once-for-all present themselves, including their bodies, to God as a sacrifice, a living and holy [set apart for God from everything sinful and defiling] sacrifice. This new-covenant form of sacrificial worship is obviously much more glorious than the literal animal sacrifices offered under the old covenant.]] (2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [or, of your way of thinking; Greek "nous" for "mind" or "way of thinking"] [[(This double bracket continues for five paragraphs.) I would translate "renewal" with the BAGD Greek Lexicon instead of "renewing." The apostle is not speaking of a gradual process of withdrawal from the sinful/unholy ways of the world, but of a once-for-all transformation to an abiding state of holiness by the renewal of the mind (of the way we think). He said, "do not be conformed to this world." The New Testament frequently speaks of putting off the old man once-for-all and completely. See, for example, much of Romans chapter 6; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:22; and Col. 3:3-9.
It is also true that we should continue to grow throughout our lives as born-again Christians [including growing in wisdom and knowledge of God's Word and growing more like the Lord Jesus Christ], but in the ideal case we will think right in our hearts and live in an abiding state of righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin, from the time we become Christians. See Romans chapter 6 and 8:1-14, for example. (See my paperback book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" on this super-important topic. My recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin," covers this topic and these passages too. The e-book should be read first, but there is much information included in the paperback book that is not included in the e-book. Both books are available at amazon.com.)
It is necessary to understand that our "mind/thinking" is not at all limited to the head. We do our most important thinking in our hearts. This thinking includes our ideas about God, and our priorities, attitudes, and motives. Thinking right isn't all that complicated. If you just heard the apostle Paul for a few hours, you could know enough to live right, in agreement with God's moral law, by grace through faith. I am speaking of born-again Christians; we have been redeemed, born again, made new creations, and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to think right and live right as we walk in line with God's Word by faith and walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis.
We cannot live right until we think right in our hearts. I'm not suggesting that Christians who are living in an abiding state of righteousness and holiness will never have another wrong thought or desire. We are engaged in age long warfare with the world, the flesh (the old man who wants to live in sin) and the devil and his multitudinous host of evil angels and demons (see Gal. 5:17, for example). I am saying that if we walk in line with the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit by faith, which we are called, enabled, and required to do, we will be able to prevent wrong thoughts and desires from becoming sin. Thanks be to God for such a salvation plan! He paid an infinite price in the incarnation and sacrifice of His Son to set us free from being spiritually dead sinners. For one thing, He hates sin!
For more information on this renewal of the mind by the Word of God and the Spirit of God, see Rom. 8:5-8 and Eph. 4:23 (with the translation "be renewed BY THE SPIRIT IN YOUR MIND, or, IN YOUR WAY OF THINKING"); these verses are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" (on Rom. 8:5-8, pages 118-120; on Eph. 4:23, pages 138, 139). They are also discussed in my new e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin."]], that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable [or, well-pleasing] and perfect. [[I would translate "approve" with the BAGD Greek Lexicon, or, "demonstrating," instead of "prove." With a renewed mind, we will "approve" the things that line up with God's will, and we will do them, thereby (in the ideal case) maintaining a state of righteousness and holiness. And when we think and live in accordance with God's will we demonstrate that His ways are "good and acceptable [or, well pleasing] and perfect."]] (3) FOR [My capitalization for emphasis.] [[This word shows the important connection between verses 1-2 and verses 3-8. The apostle Paul's teaching in verses 3-8 gives an important illustration of what he means by having a renewed mind.]] through the grace given to me [[The apostle ministered (and lived his life) by the grace of God in Christ. Because of this his work was done right; God got the glory; and Paul was able to stay humble. (We all must fulfill our assignments in the Body of Christ by the grace of God; the only alternative is to try to do them in the flesh, which is easy to do [a walk in faith and by the Holy Spirit doesn't take place automatically because we have been born again] and guaranteed to make a mess.) Since Paul was speaking with apostolic authority, he expected his readers to submit to the Word of God spoken through him.]] I say to every man among you not to THINK more highly of himself than he ought to THINK [my capitalization for emphasis] [[Note the connection between thinking here and the renewal of the mind (of the way we think) of Rom. 12:2. To the extent that we are thinking the ways of the world/flesh, which is rather easy to do, we probably will think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. This causes serious problems in the Body of Christ, and especially when ministers are doing it.]]; but to THINK so as to have sound judgment, AS GOD HAS ALLOTTED [or, APPORTIONED; Greek verb "merizo"] TO EACH A MEASURE [Greek "metron"; my capitalization for emphasis] [[(This double bracket continues for six paragraphs.) For the time being I'll skip the last two words of verse 3. We won't begin to understand these verses, including Paul's use of the word "faith" in verses 3 and 6, until we understand his use of the word "measure" here in verse 3 and the word "proportion" in verse 6.
Let's look at several other verses where Paul uses this same Greek noun for measure ("metron"). EPHESIANS 4:7 says: "But to each one of us grace was given according to the MEASURE ["metron"] of Christ's gift." Every Christian is given assignments to fulfill in the Body of Christ and the appropriate MEASURE of grace to fulfill those assignments, and it is Christ Himself (the Head of the Body) who determines what these assignments are and distributes the appropriate MEASURE of grace to fulfill these assignments. The grace spoken of here goes beyond the all-important foundational grace given to each Christian that enables us to be born again, to live in the righteousness and holiness of God, to walk in love, etc.
EPHESIANS 4:16 says: "from whom [Christ] the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies [I believe the literal translation given in the margin is to be preferred: "through every joint of the supply." Apparently the "joint(s)" of the body represent those in the ministry. This viewpoint fits the context in that Paul speaks of the five-fold ministry in verses 11, 12. They are the joints of the supply, in that the body is supplied by God with much of what it needs through the ministry.], according to the proper working of each individual part [Here the literal translation given in the margin is strongly to be preferred, especially since we are studying Paul's use of the word "measure": "according to the working in [the] MEASURE ["metron"] of each individual part." In other words, the Body of Christ cannot fully function and grow as it should without every Christian fulfilling their MEASURE by the grace apportioned to them.], causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. I'll quote the sentence using the readings in the margin: "from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together through every joint of the supply, according to the working in [the] MEASURE of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love."
In 2 CORINTHIANS 10:13 the apostle uses "metron" referring to the MEASURE of his assigned ministry: "But we will not boast beyond our MEASURE [Greek adjective "ametros, on"], but within the MEASURE [metron] of the sphere which God apportioned [Greek verb "merizo"] to us as a MEASURE [metron], to reach even as far as you." Paul's MEASURE included, for one thing, being the primary minister of God to bring the gospel to Corinth (see 2 Cor. 10:15).
Let's look at one last verse that uses metron in a way that will help us understand Paul's use of this word in Rom. 12:3. JOHN 3:34 says: "For He [the Lord Jesus] whom God [God the Father] has sent speaks the words of God; for He [God the Father] gives the Spirit [to the Lord Jesus] without MEASURE [metron]." Jesus was the only man (He was much more than just a man; He was the God-man) who was given the Spirit WITHOUT MEASURE. Each Christian is given the Spirit (including the gifts of the Spirit) BY MEASURE.
So then, the word MEASURE here in Rom. 12:3 speaks of the place assigned to each Christian in the Body of Christ. It includes their special assignments and the grace required to fulfill those assignments. (Now I'll quote the last two words of Rom. 12:3; it's only one word in the Greek; the word for faith in the genitive case]] OF FAITH [my capitalization for emphasis]. [[(This double bracket goes on for six paragraphs.) If we translate the Greek this way ("of faith"), it makes it essentially impossible to understand what the apostle is saying here. A translation like "IN THE FAITH" is required (with the word "THE" supplied in italics). It is common for the New Testament to speak of THE FAITH, and sometimes it is necessary to supply the definite article "the" in the English translation when it is not included in the Greek. (I'll give two relevant illustrations as we continue.) This is not surprising in that the use of the definite article in English is not fully equivalent to its use in Greek.
We will discuss these important words at the end of Rom. 12:3 in some detail in Part 2.
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