The following is a short discussion about the texts in which Paul thanked God for the faith of those to whom he was writing. Now, if as some claim, Paul was only thanking God for His part in their coming to faith, then who are we to thank for the part we play? Therefore, I intend to explain why God, not in part, but in whole delivers us from our corrupt estate, and for this, He deserves not part or even most of the thanks, but all of the thanks and glory. Here are some of the passages in question:
"For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. I Thess. 2:13 (...which effectually worketh also in you that believe.)
Notice that it is man's reception of the Gospel that is the explicit grounds for which Paul is thanking and glorifying God! Paul gives God all the glory for man's initial reception of the Gospel, and correspondingly thanks God for it. In his second letter to the same church Paul reminds them again who deserves thanks for their faith:
"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
Our entire salvation, from first to last, is due to God alone, "the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2), for from Him and to Him and through Him are all things ... and, therefore, all the praise, glory, thanks and honor for our new life is to be given to God alone. "...It of Him you are in Christ Jesus ... that no human being might boast in the presence of God.(1 Cor 1:29) We must conclude that it is not scriptural to thank and praise God for His "95%" in salvation, and then give man credit for the last remaining bit. If God is thanked for man's new life in Christ, it must be because He alone is perceived as responsible for it.
Theologically Consistent Prayers
If the synergist were true (we only thank God for his PART and ours for the rest) then he could pray the following prayer without wincing:
"God, I give you glory for everything else, but not my faith ... This is the one thing that is my very own that I produced of my natural capacities. For this little bit the glory is mine. I made better use of Your prevenient grace than others did. While You deserve glory for all I have Lord, yet my faith was the one part that I contributed to the price of my redemption, apart from and independent of the action of Your Holy Spirit."
Of course, no synergist would dare pray such a proud and offensive prayer but it is entirely consistent with his theology. Isn't it odd that most synergists, when they pray for other people's salvation, suddenly sound like they actually believe that salvation is by "grace alone" even though they would deny the doctrine of "grace alone" in theological discussion?
Grace Exalts Christ, Abases Man
So why is "grace alone" so vitally important? First, it exalts the glory of Christ. Everything about the gospel is designed to glorify Christ and abase man. Therefore, anything that diminishes Christ’s glory is either directly or indirectly inconsistent with the gospel. Salvation by "grace alone" rightly abases man and duly exalts Christ. Paul, after declaring that “By God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness” (I Corinthians 1:30) follows it up by stating that the design and purpose of the gift of justifying righteousness is “that just as it is written, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (verse 31). In other words, the bible ensures us that our boasting is is to be entirely in the Lord. It ensures that He receives all the glory. There isn’t anything we’ve done or will do that we could boast of for our new life. Therefore, any teaching on grace that in any degree involves man’s doing for its accomplishment diminishes boasting in the Lord, and detracts from His glory. Paul explicitly says that all boasting is entirely excluded in grace for the simple reason that all human involvement is entirely excluded as its cause.
Why? Because our salvation is grounded ENTIRELY on what Christ has done for us. What we could not produce or provide (faith and obedience), Jesus produced and provided for us. It is based solely on His objective saving work, a work done entirely outside and external to us. First, it is grounded on Christ’s work of atonement. We are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The design of the gospel is to magnify God’s glory and this is done to the greatest degree by a free, justifying grace. It is done when man’s involvement is entirely excluded, when man is entirely debased.(Fernandez) So then justification by faith alone exalts Christ’s glory because God's grace produces in us a faith that looks away from self unto God for salvation (with even the spiritual ability to comply with the conditions of the gospel (faith) itself being a gift of God - Eph 2:5, 8; John 6:63-65).
The Folly of Synergism
To a synergist, those who cooperate with God's grace are saved and those who don't are lost. But not all men have faith. Why?...why does one man cooperate with God by exercising faith and not another? Synergists would make salvation ultimately depend on our meeting God's condition ... on what we independently do with that data by drawing on some innate principle (moral ability) within us THAT OUR UNBELIEVING NEIGHBOR APPARENTLY DOES NOT HAVE. Does the Bible teach that God only takes us all to a certain half-way "neutral" point by grace, but then leave the final decision whether to believe entirely in the hands of autonomous, natural man? If so where? And if one man responds positively and another negatively. Why? Synergists believe their own independent faith cooperates with grace, but remember, others did not cooperate. Again, why? Are some people simply more insightful, wise, good intentioned or internally virtuous than others? Then salvation would no longer be all of grace, but partly due to who is good enough to obey God. Since certain people respond differently to grace, we can only conclude that some people draw upon some virtuous affection or impetus within his unaided natural self to determine his/her salvation (something his neighbor did not have). This means that one man naturally had an innate capacity (to receive Christ) while another (who rejected Christ) did not. But our salvation does not depend on the humility or obedience of man since it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble. God is not responding to some virtue or humility He sees in us, but saves us because of His mercy alone. The cooperative view, therefore, breaks the most fundamental Scriptural principle that "anything that diminishes Christ’s glory is either directly or indirectly inconsistent with the gospel." For...
"Who has ever given to God,
...........that God should repay him?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
........To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Rom 11:35-36)
"What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Cor 4:7)...Believe the Scriptures when they say, "no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3)... All men should glorify God for the Holy Spirit who works the affections that give rise to faith in you as well (John 1:13, Rom 9:16) "...just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. (John 5:21)
Take time to meditate upon this great truth hammered out by the Puritans' reflection on the Bible in the Westminster Confession:
Under the terms of the covenant of grace, God "freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe." (EZE 36:26; John 6:44)
- Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3