Stress-testing the
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Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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On the distinction between saving and non-saving faith

A clarification of my previous comments regarding the difference between the belief of a saved Christian, and the belief of an unsaved reprobate.

⇐ continued from ‘The purpose of regeneration revisited’

Following on from the recent exchange with Ben at Arminian Perspectives, it appears that some people are confused about the distinction I have drawn between saving faith and non-saving belief in Christian doctrines. For example, Ben writes in his latest post, ‘Responding To Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith’,

Well, I am confused again. I guess Dominic is saying that God can turn ones will to believe certain facts about Christianity (the basic truths of the gospel) and yet that belief does not constitute saving faith. So one can believe the gospel message but not have saving faith? Is that correct? Or is Dominic saying one can have knowledge of certain Christian teachings without believing them? To have knowledge of something is not the same as believing it, so I am not sure how this can be what Dominic is saying. And faith is just the noun form of believe (the verb form), so again, I am having trouble grasping the distinction here.

It is true that God can turn one’s will to believe any facts which one is capable of believing. God could turn my will, for example, to believe that cats hate milk. That is a proposition which can be believed. On the other hand, God could not turn my will to believe that cats have both three legs and four legs at the same time and in the same relationship, or that cats indish mero louha. Believing a proposition doesn’t require that the proposition be true; but it does require that it be intelligible.

In this vein, God can certainly turn the will of the natural man to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. This is a proposition which is intelligible to most people, irrespective of their having the Spirit; it may therefore be apprehended and affirmed by anyone without distinction. However, Scripture teaches that there is a qualitative difference between this belief in the unregenerate sinner and the regenerate believer. The difference is therefore not in what they believe, but perhaps in how they believe it, or why.

This is a fact which can be deduced not only from my exegesis of 1 Corinthians 2, but from the mere existence of professing believers who are “deceiving themselves” (James 1:22ff). This is something Ben himself must acknowledge, even under his own errant theological scheme—it’s therefore unclear to me why he finds it so confusing. Even under his own view, there are people who genuinely believe, yet who are deceiving themselves about their salvation—as I mentioned in my previous article. Unless Ben denies sola gratia and adopts some kind of works-based salvation (which would be at odds with Arminianism), he must agree that the reason for this self-deception is not that these professing believers aren’t doing something they should, but rather because there is something lacking in their belief itself. There is a qualitative distinction between their belief of Christian propositions, and the belief of those propositions held by saved Christians.

Now, the Bible isn’t specific to the nth degree (that I know of) regarding the precise nature of this difference, except inasmuch as it tells us the cause. That cause is the indwelling Spirit, as I’ve explained in the last two posts. Since the Spirit communicates the truth of Christian propositions directly to the mind of the saved believer, the believer’s apprehension and understanding of these truths is grounded in the Spirit’s immutable, objective knowledge of them—and not in the believer’s subjective perceptions. The converse is obviously true for unregenerate believers who ultimately will not be saved. Thus, I would say (without wishing to get more specific) that the distinction between unregenerate belief and regenerate belief is a distinction not in epistemic content (that which is believed), but in epistemic justification (that which grounds the belief and makes it possible). I’d be unwilling to speculate further without good scriptural backing—but that is the conclusion we are inevitably led to by God’s word. It doesn’t seem confusing to me.

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