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I am convinced that the scriptures teach of a God who is completely sovereign in salvation. I am a monergist. I can cite several passages that make me think this way. I think if you look at some of my answers on this SE, you'll see that I'm a Calvinist. However, this does not mean that I'm a blind Calvinist. I arrived where I did by many years of study and internal deliberation. I am having another internal deliberation at this point.

If we examine passages like the first half of Ephesians 2, we see that it was our nature to sin, and that we had the spirit of Satan working within us. In the same place, Paul refers to us as being dead in our sins. By all accounts, it looks to me like plain support of a Reformed interpretation of the doctrine of regeneration. In the first two chapters, we see plainly that we have been unified with Christ: he in our death, and us in His life. Because of this unity we have with Christ, God made us to be alive as He made His Son to be alive (and now, being united with Christ, we are sons and co-heirs with Christ). This all paints a beautiful monergistic picture.

However...

In the course of my studies this past weekend, preparing for a Bible study that I lead, I happened upon this verse:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12 ESV)

I get it most of this. Most of it still even paints a monergistic picture, with the phrase "circumcision made without hands," and the whole idea of being "raised" from the dead (the imagery being that it doesn't really involve an act of man's will that he should become alive while he is already dead).

But I have a problem with the phrase "raised with him through faith." I see a logical contradiction that I need help working through (and a non-Calvinistic perspective on the passage does not solve the problem).

Dead men cannot have faith (again, read Ephesians 2). We need to be made alive. However, this passage cites that we are raised through faith. What should I make of this contradiction?

I can think of two options:

  1. The reformed interpretation of regeneration is wrong. Men have the capacity to believe in God before they are regenerate (Wesley's idea of Prevenient Grace would therefore be inapplicable). This simply cannot be. Again, those with faith were once under Satan's influence. A house divided against itself cannot stand; we cannot serve two masters. There was nothing in us to make us want to believe.
  2. Faith must be inherent in regeneration. Not tied to it, but faith would be regenerating. This would mean that predestination would be unto faith, and I've read Reformed authors who would quite disagree with this.

I hope I've made the problem clear. I would appreciate some insight.

Edit:

Please allow me to clarify, I welcome explanations from traditions other than Calvinistic/Reformed. However, I would like these to address the basic doctrinal problem I am discussing. Please see @Eric's comment and my answer to his comment to get an idea of what I mean regarding this.

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Why wouldn't prevenient grace apply? Couldn't you simply say that God enables all to come to faith, and whoever exercises that faith is saved? –  Eric May 21 '12 at 15:20
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@Eric The problem as I see it is an incapability to believe because it is not in our nature. In our natural state, we are dead (and working in the Spirit of Satan). Dead men are incapable of having faith. In order to have faith, our nature must change and we must be made alive. So far, P.G. sounds plausible. However, the passage says that faith is what raises us. There is a logical contradiction here. The very thing that we are raised through, we have no interest in receiving. P.G. would make us capable of receiving it, but at that point our nature has been changed. –  San Jacinto May 21 '12 at 15:30
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It sounds to me like you're struggling with some of the very concepts that have convinced me that Calvinism is an overly strict way of interpreting scripture. It tries to fit very large, complex and abstract theological truths into nice, tidy boxes. God doesn't fit in a box. Of course that's not to say there isn't a good answer from a Calvinist perspective. If anything, Calvinist theology is good at coming up with explanations :) –  Flimzy May 21 '12 at 17:36
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@SanJacinto: I don't see it as laziness if a person chooses to stop grappling with issues that have no known definite conclusion, in favor of loving their neighbor. That's not to belittle those who choose to spend hours pondering such issues--I just don't think it is fair to presume it ought to be a priority for everyone. –  Flimzy May 21 '12 at 18:26
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I also don't think that's a fair criticism of scripture. It is fair to say that no understanding of scripture can form a complete understanding of God, but that doesn't mean that every understanding of scripture must categorize all theology into precise definitions, etc. Many people are content knowing they don't comprehend something. (Being a computer science type guy, I'm not usually that type of person--I suspect many others on this site also aren't that type :) –  Flimzy May 21 '12 at 18:29
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

My friend and bible study teacher Patricia Peterson has written 2 wonderful books about the order of salvation/redemption history, election and God's decree. The Ordo Salutis (her 1st book) & Whatsoever Comes to Pass ~ The Absolute Nature and Precious Comfort of God's Decree. I pulled some of this from her 1st book The Ordo Salutis.

Faith comes from hearing Rom 10:17. God calls His chosen ones through faith in the truth 2 Thess 2:13-14. Truth is the word of God John 17:17. The call is effectual because the elect sinner is "in Christ" FROM eternity.

We do not enter the "in Christ" relationship when we are called. God chose the elect sinner "in Christ" before the foundation of the world, in the covenant of redemption Eph 1:4; 2 Tim 1:9. The Father elected from eternity, but He elected in Christ. There was no election of the Father in eternity APART from Christ. There has never been a time when those "in Christ" were not "in Christ". Christ is the object of our faith. Maybe some food for thought? Patrictia Peterson's books have been a blessing to me.

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I think a key phrase is the "in Christ." It makes the theology make sense when it's viewed that way. I will think on this. Thanks. –  San Jacinto May 21 '12 at 20:14
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I'm not a Calvinist, but I don't see a problem for Calvinism in this particular passage. The problem that you have, it seems, arises by assuming that being "raised with him" is the act the enables us to have (saving) faith. Thus, you find yourself in a contradiction, for how can we be required to have faith in order to get faith?

But I don't think that the text warrants the interpretation that being raised with him is how we are enabled to be saved. Rather, being raised with him refers to salvation itself.

Colossians 2:12 (ESV)

12  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Notice that the death that the reader is being raised from is not a spiritual death that keeps us from seeking God. Paul is not talking about total depravity when he talks about death (burial) here. He is talking about death in the sense that we died with Christ (were buried with Christ), and will be raised with Christ (as baptism symbolizes). See also Romans 6:3-10 and 2 Timothy 2:11.

One objection to this interpretation may arise from the following verses:

Colossians 2:13 (ESV)

13  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

Some might argue that this indicates that Paul is speaking about total depravity in the previous verse, and God's select regeneration of the lost from that depravity. But I don't think we should ignore how well verse 12 parallels what Paul is talking about in Romans 6. And I don't think that we can ignore that there are two kinds of death talked about in this passage: death with Christ to sin (v12) and death without Christ in sin (v13). It seems much more natural to me to associate the being "raised with him" with the being "buried with him".

So I do not think it is necessary to say that being raised with him refers to faith enabling regeneration. It can easily refer to our salvation itself, as long as you understand that the death we are being raised from in Paul's metaphor is not our depravity, but our death with Christ.

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This was my initial thought, because we're currently studying Ephesians, and our unity with Christ in His death and resurrection is central in the first two chapters. I didn't have anything that told me that the "being raised" is what you said it is, so I "repressed" the thought. Thank you for this. I've received three good answers on this question. –  San Jacinto May 22 '12 at 11:27
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as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God - Romans 3:10-11

So though we were once dead in our sins (and not even able to do good, as you indicated), God made us alive by His grace, having predestined us according to His foreknowledge.

In His sovereignty, what method did He choose by which to accomplish this? It was to be accomplished through faith.

you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead - Colossians 2:12

This transforming event which is accomplished through faith is also when you become a son of God, when Christ begins to dwell in your heart, and when we receive the Spirit as God's seal and promise to us that we are in Christ and will be raised in the end.

But what is the source of this faith? God is!

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - Ephesians 2:8

(Now this is where many people get confused into thinking God arbitrarily predestined some for Heaven and some for Hell, and that we have no free will... but as I mentioned, God's predestination was not arbitrary - it was based on His foreknowledge. But that's another topic altogether.)

Hope that helps.

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Thanks for your insight. If you look at this question, you'll see that I agree christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/7693/…. However, I'm still unsure that this solves the problem of men being saved through faith before they had the capability to want to have faith. I think that Dawn's answer is a little more clear that it is the unification with Christ in His death and if His death, then also His life, that makes us capable of using the faith vehicle. It still feels like there's a problem regarding the Colossians passage. –  San Jacinto May 22 '12 at 0:43
    
I guess for now, I will hope for more explanation and just kind of sit in a non-committal phase :) –  San Jacinto May 22 '12 at 0:43
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