Recently, I was in a conversation with a person who held to a strict Calvinistic position. That is, he believed in the five point TULIP principles. During the conversation, we discussed Ephesians 2:8 and how the word “that” cannot refer to faith because of the Greek grammatical construction, but it must refer to “salvation,” which is elliptical (which means it is implied by the verb “saved”). As the discussion continued, I stated that faith was a non-meritorious decision. There is no merit before God. Then he commented that a decision or faith is an action and salvation is not obtained by a work or an action. I had not heard that argument, so I wanted to be open and went to Scripture for a better understanding. Is a decision considered an action in the Bible?
I have noted two other articles on this subject. The first answers the question, “Is a decision an action?” and the second answers the question, “Does John 6: 28-30 teach that works are required for salvation?” Based on Scripture, I am still trying to understand how someone would say that faith or a decision is an action, which brings us to James 1:13-15. James wrote,
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (Jam. 1:13-16 NKJ)
There are many significant things in this passage. Let me note a few.
First, God is never tempted, because He is God. By definition, God cannot sin, because everything He does is according to His righteousness. Therefore, God cannot even be tempted to sin. It is impossible for God to go against His own character of righteousness.
Secondly, man is tempted, because he is able to choose against God. By definition, prior to salvation, everything man does is sin. Sin is active rebellion, passive indifference or acting independent from God. In each of these man is thinking and acting independently of God, even as the devil chose to act independent of the Lord (Is. 14:12-14).
Thirdly, man has desires. Those desires can be to choose for God’s will or against God’s will. The unbeliever does not choose for God, because he is spiritually dead and does not seek to honor God (Rom. 1:21). The passage is clear, however, that being tempted is not sin. The temptation is to act independently from God, either actively, negatively, or indifferently. The desire, in and of itself, is not a work. It is a desire. The desire can choose to satisfy the flesh, or the desire can deny the flesh and choose to satisfy God.
Fourthly, the flesh, the world and the devil seek to drag and entice man from God. John wrote plainly, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 NKJ) The word “love” is also translated as a choice of one person over another (Rom. 9:13). Do not choose for the world or the things in the world in contrast to God or the things above. At this point there is no sin. However, sin results from conception in James 1:15.
Fifthly, desire can conceive and THAT gives birth to sin. The conception is the result of the desire and the flesh joining together to be independent of God. The desire, in and of itself, is not sin. Although it contains the sin nature, the flesh is not sin. But when desire and the flesh are combined in conception, then sin is born. James further describes that sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death – or, in the case of the converted believer, experiential separation from God (loss of fellowship with God). The unbeliever is always spiritually separated from God. It is only when desire and the flesh conceive is there action and that is sin.
Before salvation, the unbeliever can never do anything to satisfy God. There is a sin barrier that prevents him from doing anything that would satisfy God. Not having the option of choosing the divine nature, he continues to depend on his flesh. He has not been regenerated. Only Jesus could satisfy the Father, which is called propitiation (1 John 2:2).
However, the unbeliever can choose to keep his tongue quiet or he can choose to be spiteful with his words in a difficult situation. If he chooses to keep his tongue quiet, he chooses an action that is better than the spiteful comments, but it still does not satisfy God. It cannot satisfy God, because it is done by the flesh.
Only the converted believer, dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit, can satisfy God, because that action is done by the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, not his own. Work is an aspect of who does the work. If it is a good work, then it is done by dependence on the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5- 8). If it is done without the Holy Spirit, then it is a deed of the flesh and worthless before God (Gal. 5:19-21), no matter how good the work was in the eyes of men! If the converted believer performed the work in order to get attention, his name placed on his pew, or some other human blessing; it was not done by the Holy Spirit and was only wood, hay and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12). That is a good work only when the converted believer’s sins are confessed and he is dependent (empowered) by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). It is good in the sense that it has intrinsic value, which is the definition of the word good, “kalos,” used for “good work.”
Sixthly, desire along with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is a divine or “good” work. The desire is not a work. There must be a “conception of the desire and the Holy Spirit’s energy. Man chooses, he desires, to join with his flesh or join with God’s Spirit. The desire is not sin. Only when the desire conceives with the flesh or the Holy Spirit is there sin or a good work, respectively.
The decision is the choice of the desire. The decision is the point of joining with the flesh or the Holy Spirit. The decision to join with the flesh is sin. The decision to join the Holy Spirit is a “good” work and a partaker of the divine nature. Peter wrote, “…that through these [exceedingly great and precious promises] you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Pet. 1:4 NKJ) There is no merit to man for choosing to rely on God’s promises, because God provides the empowerment (Eph. 1:19). God will share no glory with anyone. It is His glory. Faith is not a work. Faith is a non-meritorious choice that pleases God, but gives the person no glory, only God.