If we are able to exercise faith in the gospel, then aren’t we saving ourselves?

By James M. Rochford

Calvinist James Montgomery Boice writes, “The efficacy of the atonement does not rest on Christ’s saving work alone but also on the sinner’s faith and repentance. Although God’s grace is attractive and persuasive, it is not powerful enough to triumph over those who stubbornly resist his love.”[1] However, we would retort that faith is not a work. Calvinists might believe that accepting Christ is a work, but Scripture does not define this as a work. Faith and works are contrasted as opposites in the NT:

(Rom. 4:5) But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

(Gal. 2:16) Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

Can we really claim that it is work to accept a gift? Consider if a man is standing on the top of a burning building. At the last minute, a rescue helicopter flies above his head and lowers a rope. The man desperately reaches out and clings to the rope, as the chopper carries the man to safety. If the man didn’t make the decision to grab the rope, he would have died. But can we really claim that the man, therefore, saved himself? In the same way, while humans have the decision to receive Christ, no one can claim that they saved themselves. Likewise, if a person wins the lottery and redeems the winning ticket, they can’t claim that they earned the money—just by cashing in the ticket. Total depravity does not mean utter depravity (Rom. 2:14-15; see “Total Depravity”). Therefore, perhaps humans are totally depraved, but they are still given enough freedom to receive the gift of grace.

[1] Boice, James Montgomery, and Philip Graham Ryken. The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002. 26.