The Causation of Salvation
by Richard W. Coffen | 18 May 2021 |
Tuesday, November 9, 1965. It was nearly dusk as 10-year-old Johnny ambled toward home. At 5:30, he found a short stick, which he hurled at a nearby utility pole. It produced a metallic thud when it hit the pole. Instantaneously the light atop the pole went out. Also, the lights inside every house along the route went dark.
Back home, Johnny confessed: “I really didn’t mean to do it” [sob, sob].
“I threw a stick [more snuffles]. . . . It thwacked the pole. . . . It caused the electricity to go out” [more tears].
Would you have scolded Johnny for plunging 30,000,000 people into darkness for 13 hours? Sent him to his room for stranding 800,000 people in New York City’s subway system?
I think you would have soothed, “Johnny, whatever caused this blackout, it was not what you did. You aren’t a ‘good’ cause.”
What was a good cause—a valid cause—for the blackout? A maintenance man at the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station II in Niagara Falls, Canada, had set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines in the wrong position. Within seconds, the resulting overload caused a domino effect. Other generators in the grid system tripped off because of the immense surge of electricity. His behavior, not Johnny’s, was the real cause of the infamous 1965 Northeast Blackout.
Cause-and-effect logic is as follows:
- Event A occurred.
- Event B followed.
- Therefore, Event A caused consequent Event B.
God created us with the “kingly power of reason” (Ministry of Healing, p. 130). Therefore, we rationalize. We use deductive and inductive reasoning processes.
However, although Event A precedes Event B, it does not necessarily follow that Event A caused Event B. Scottish philosopher David Hume reasoned that it can be impossible to determine cause-and-effect.
Therefore, scientists set up double-blind experiments, “an experimental procedure in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know which subjects are in the test and control groups during the actual course of the experiments.” Such tests are performed under strictly controlled circumstances so that variables can be isolated and excluded. Scientists wants nothing to muddle research investigating cause-and-effect.
We Can Be Easily Confused
It is easy to misconstrue a cause-and-effect relationship. We may think that we are believing in a good—valid—cause when, in fact, we are not!
For instance, a cause-and-effect spiritual situation challenges Christian thinking. Who or what is the good cause—the valid cause—of salvation? Is God the Father the valid cause of salvation? Is Jesus the logical cause of salvation? Is faith the effective cause of salvation? Are good works the legitimate cause of salvation?
Paul provides the answer, although he does not use the four specific words I’m using, all of which in English begin with the letter C.
As careful readers of Scripture, it behooves us to maintain the distinctions among these four terms:
- Contingency, and
We can extrapolate these four terms from Ephesians 2:4-10, NET (emphasis added).
“God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!—and he raised us up together with [Jesus] and seated us together with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them.”
Logicians have identified various kinds of causes: (1) material cause, (2) formal cause, (3) efficient cause, (4) final cause, (5) necessary cause, (6) sufficient cause, (7) contributory cause, and (8) first cause. A particular effect can result from two or more of these causes combined. In this essay, we will consider a cause that is both necessary and sufficient.
First, the cause is necessary because the causative factor must be present for the effect to occur. Without the presence of this necessary cause, no effect would happen. Second, it is sufficient because no other contributory factor is needed. This one cause is sufficient in and of itself.
In Paul’s pericope, we need to clarify that which is the necessary-and-sufficient cause of salvation—the good cause (the valid cause) that we should believe in.
Sadly, among some Christians—even among some Seventh-day Adventists—there has been some confusion as to what the necessary-and-sufficient cause of salvation is. Is it (1) correct doctrine? (2) belief in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs? (3) Sabbath-keeping? (4) tithe-paying? (5) teetotalism? (6) vegetarianism? (7) abstinence from caffeinated beverages? (8) absence of jewelry or makeup? (9) baptism by immersion? (10) church attendance? (11) reading the Adventist Review?
At this point, we need to understand another phenomenon in Paul’s letters. He routinely differentiates between “God the Father” and “Lord Jesus Christ.” Two examples should suffice. “Grace and peace to you from  God our Father and  the Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 1:3, NET). “Grace and peace to you from  God our Father and  the Lord Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 1:2, NET).
In Ephesians 2:4-10 we learn the identity of the necessary-and-sufficient cause of salvation. Paul specifies God himself as the necessary-and-sufficient cause of our salvation: (1) “God, being rich in mercy . . . made us alive together with Christ.” (2) “. . . The surpassing wealth of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us.” (3) “It is the gift of [from] God.” (4) “We are his [God’s] workmanship.” Paul identifies God the Father (not God the Son) as the necessary-and-sufficient cause—the good and valid cause—of salvation.
We now come to the second C in this essay. In certain processes, a catalyst helps to facilitate the desired action. Usually, we think of chemicals in conjunction with the word catalyst. For instance, inside the catalytic converter on the undercarriage of your car is a ceramic core coated with platinum (or another element), which acts as a catalyst that helps change toxic carbon monoxide into harmless carbon dioxide.
Even people can serve as catalysts. “The West High School girls basketball team was behind in the playoff game with a score of 51-45. . . . With two minutes left in the game, the coach put in the substitute point guard, Ella. Ella was fresh with energy and just what the team needed. She scored two baskets within the first minute, sparking energy in her teammates. West High . . . won the game 52-51. Ella was the catalyst that caused her team to win”
Although Paul doesn’t use the word catalyst, according to Ephesians 2:4-10 Jesus is the catalyst, not the cause of salvation. Using different terminology, Jesus is the agent through whom God has worked to save us. Note: (1) “. . . with Christ . . .” (2:5); (2) “ . . . in Christ Jesus . . .” (2:6); (3) “. . . through Christ Jesus . . .” (2:7); and (4) “ . . . in Christ Jesus . . .” (2:10). Jesus facilitated (catalyzed) the salvation that God the Father caused.
According to Paul, as important as Jesus Christ may be, ultimately all—everything—will be subject to God Himself and not to Jesus.
“For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. . . . For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says ‘everything’ has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to him [Christ], then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:25-28, NET).
There is more—contingency. According to Romans 3:23, 24, “All [humans] [are] being justified [declared not guilty] freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (NKJV).
Although God, by means of Jesus, has generously declared that all of us are innocent of sin, he does not force any of us to accept that gift of salvation. Valid personal relationships do not survive coercion. Paul writes that we are “saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). The Greek word connotes “trust.” Our salvation, which is caused by God and catalyzed by Jesus Christ, is contingent as long as we keep trusting God for this great gift that he has caused.
Ephesians 2:4-10 reveals that (1) we do not cause our salvation—God the Father is the cause; (2) Jesus is the catalyst for salvation; and (3) the blessings of salvation are contingent as long as we trust God.
What about works?
When Event A and Event B occur together but when neither event causes the other, there may be a correlation between the two. For instance: People with blond hair often have blue eyes. However, individuals with blue eyes can have hair color other than blond. Having blond hair does not cause blue eyes, and vice versa. There is, however, a correlation between having blond hair and blue eyes. “Correlation is when two or more things or events tend to occur at about the same time and might be associated with each other, but aren’t necessarily connected by a cause/effect relationship” (Https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/logic_causation.html).
We find a similar situation between works and salvation. Paul says in our passage: (1) Salvation is “not from works” (verse 9, NET). (2) We have “been created in Christ Jesus for good works” (verse 10, NET). (3) “. . . good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them” (verse 10, NET).
Works and salvation do belong together. However, works (no matter how good they may be) do not cause salvation. The relationship is that of correlation. (1) Salvation comes first and is caused by God. (2) Good works follow salvation because God created them ahead of time for us to perform. He created the good works—for us. We then carry them out.
CAUSE—God is the sole necessary and sufficient cause of our salvation. (1) “God . . . is rich in mercy” (verse 4). (2) Salvation “. . . is the gift of God” (verse 8).
CATALYST—Jesus is the catalyst for salvation. (1) “. . . with Christ” (verse 5). (2) “. . . in Christ” (verse 6). (3) “. . . through Christ” (verse 7). (4) “. . . in Christ Jesus” (verse 10).
CONTINGENCY—Faith is the contingency through which we remain saved. It is our prerogative, however, to opt out of God’s benefaction to us. Salvation comes and remains “. . . through faith . . .” (verse 8).
CORRELATION—Good behavior serves as evidence of our gratefulness, but it is neither the cause nor the condition of our salvation. God has prefabricated virtuous behavior for us, and he gives these preformed works to us. (1) “We are his workmanship [handicraft] created . . . unto good works” (verse 10). (2) “. . . good works that God prepared beforehand so [that] we can do them” (verse 10, NET).
God (not any human) is the necessary-and-sufficient cause of all aspects of salvation.
Richard W. Coffen is a retired vice president of editorial services at Review and Herald Publishing Association. He writes from Green Valley, Arizona.