Ray Says: “Remember the context of Eph 2:8-9! God is graciously offering a gift that is to be received by meritless (I'll justify use of this term shortly.) faith. In that sense, man brings nothing to the table. This is natural and normal language that has been used throughout the history of commerce in descriptions of barter and trade."
Swan Replies: The context of Ephesians 2:8-9 is Ephesians 1:1-2:7 and Ephesians 2:10-6:24. Pay particular attention to 1:1- 2:7. What one needs to do is approach these verses and ask: what do these verses teach about the abilities of man? Do these verses explicitly state what an unregenerate man is able to do? 1:12 speaks of “we, who were the first to hope in Christ”. Does this explicitly tell us that an unregenerate man has the ability to “hope in Christ”? No, it doesn’t. 1:13 says, “And you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal…” Does this explicitly tell us that an unregenerate man has the ability to believe without God first doing something? No, all it tells us is that when a person savingly believes, they are saved. One needs to go to those sections of scripture that tell us what the abilites of unregenerate man are.
And then comes Paul’s bombshell: Ephesians 2:1-7
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Here is an explicit truth: while we were dead in sins, God made us alive and raised us up with Christ. The picture is of spiritual death. Is there any description of merit-less faith that is the product of someone spiritually dead? No. I don’t find that type of language here in the context, at all.
Ray Says: “Let me illustrate. If two men are sitting at a table and discussing terms regarding an exchange of goods, and one offers the goods as a gift, a 3rd party observer would certainly not infer that inherent in this gift of goods was the ability of the receiver to believe and accept the goods as part of the gift. Quite the contrary, the receiver of the goods would have to recognize that there's value in what is being offered and that reception of the gift as a gift (no remuneration) is in his best interest.”
Swan Replies: Of course, there may never be a perfect analogy. In the one you provide above, certain paradigms have to first be in place in order for it to work with Ephesians 2. I offer you mine, which also carries inherent paradigms:
It's the old west. Two men are sitting at a table. One is doctor, very much alive; the other is cowboy, very much dead. His head is slumped down and his hat is barely staying on his head. The cowboy died from a deadly disease. The doctor has fixed an elixir that will heal him, free of charge. The cowboy only needs to reach out his hand and take this generous healing gift. The doctor offers it to him, but the cowboy just stays slumped in his chair…. because he’s dead. The doctor was told the cowboy had just died, so he throws him to the floor and begins beating his chest to jump-start his heart. After a few seconds, the cowboy appears to revive- the doctor quickly offers him the healing elixir: “I’m a doctor- take this it will cure your disease!” The cowboy quickly grabs the drink and slurps it down. But one more thing about this cowboy: he was a mean guy who had killed the doctor's family.
I find there to be nothing within the context of Ephesians 2:1-7 that suggests a spiritually dead man brings a spiritual-faith-ability to God in order to receive salvation. Rather, “Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.” Now, note that earlier Paul says we were dead in our transgressions and sins- gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires. But when God makes us spiritually alive, we follow new desires. My question to you is thus: If a spiritually dead man is able to put forth "merit-less faith," is this not following a Godly desire? How can this be squared with Ephesians 2:1-7? It can’t. It would be saying we were dead in our transgressions and sins- gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires, except for our ability to produce a Godly desire to exert "merit-less faith." But Paul says differently. He says none of our desires are God-ward.
I agree that faith is “merit-less”- but I do so for a different reason than you. It is “merit-less” because it is a gift. Without it being a gift, it cannot really be “merit-less”. The term you use is fundamentally a return to Rome- because faith- in your usage, in effect, becomes a meritorious work.
I’ve always found this explanation from RC Sproul simple and useful:
Usually Arminians deny that their faith is a meritorious work. If they were to insist that faith is a meritorious work, they would be explicitly denying justification by faith alone. The Arminian acknowledges that faith is something a person does. It is a work, though not a meritorious one. Is it a good work? Certainly it is not a bad work. It is good for a person to trust in Christ and in Christ alone for his or her salvation. Since God commands us to trust in Christ, when we do so we are obeying this command. But all Christians agree that faith is something we do. God does not do the believing for us. We also agree that our justification is by faith insofar as faith is the instrumental cause of our justification. All the Arminian wants and intends to assert is that man has the ability to exercise the instrumental cause of faith without first being regenerated. This position clearly negates sola gratia, but not necessarily sola fide.
Then why say that Arminianism “in effect” makes faith a meritorious work? Because the good response people make to the gospel becomes the ultimate determining factor in salvation. I often ask my Arminian friends why they are Christians and other people are not. They say it is because they believe in Christ while others do not. Then I inquire why they believe and others do not? “Is it because you are more righteous than the person who abides in unbelief?” They are quick to say no. “Is it because you are more intelligent?” Again the reply is negative. They say that God is gracious enough to offer salvation to all who believe and that one cannot be saved without that grace. But this grace is cooperative grace. Man in his fallen state must reach out and grasp this grace by an act of the will, which is free to accept or reject this grace. Some exercise the will rightly (or righteously), while others do not. When pressed on this point, the Arminian finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that ultimately his salvation rests on some righteous act of the will he has performed. He has “in effect” merited the merit of Christ, which differs only slightly from the view of Rome."Source: RC Sproul, Willing To Believe (Grand rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 26.