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Saved by grace, but proved by works

John Calvin (July 10, 1509 - May 27, 1564) was as much a polarizing figure at the height of the Reformation as he is today. Calvin is infamous for taking the doctrine of faith, not works to its logical conclusion, a conclusion few in the Christian religion dared to profess either then or now, that of double predestination. He then persevered to conclude that salvation was evidenced by good works, a state that he taught was irresistible to the soul saved by God.

John Calvin in pursuit of logical ends.

Calvin's logic is actually pretty straightforward and had been intimated by a few Christian theologians before his time, including Augustine. If salvation is given by the grace of God alone and is not earned or deserved by any human effort, how is it that some individuals gain access to salvation while others do not? Evangelical Christianity today - including that practiced by Dwell Community Church - will urge you to accept Jesus into your heart by which they mean for an individual to take some sort of action: to pray or to think or to say or to believe. Calvin naturally asked, are these not verbs? Do they not have a subject? I pray, I think, I say, I believe... How is salvation contingent upon this work of man - this fundamental I do - no matter how small?

Calvin boldly answers this question with its obvious conclusion - salvation is not dependent on works! Salvation is an act of grace, freely given and not earned by any works, however insignificant. To make matters even worse, Calvin logically concludes that since God stands outside of space and time, he has divine foreknowledge of this entire project of man and has therefore known since the creation of existence whether you will end up in the fires of Hell or singing Amazing Grace for all eternity. And since God is omnipotent, he does not just foreknow your eternal fate, he has orchestrated it by freely extending you grace (or not!) by no merit of your own. And if you would like to question any of this - don't even think about it - for God cannot be subjected to man's judgment.

"By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death."

John Calvin

Calvin maintained that the elect enjoyed absolute certainty regarding their salvation which was entirely a gift from God, freely given and not earned by works. One would think that this radical certainty in salvation may even lead to complacency, but rather it resulted in significant levels of psychological doubt for Calvin and his followers alike. How to assuage the crippling fear that one may in fact be predestined for eternal damnation rather than receiving the unearned blessing of salvation from God? Indeed, Calvin taught that the soul preordained for salvation would irresistibly bring forth good works as evidence of the internal power of God. This is the twofold nature of Calvin’s brand of predestination: that it at once aggravates feelings of powerlessness and insignificance before God and increases the desire to silence the irrational doubt and fear by exercising good works as a comforting proof of salvation.

"O, this faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It is impossible that it should not be ceaselessly doing that which is good. It does not even ask whether good works should be done; but before the question can be asked, it has done them, and it is constantly engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works, is a man without faith. He gropes and casts about him to find faith and good works, not knowing what either of them is, and yet prattles and idly multiplies words about faith and good works."

Martin Luther

With or without a strict belief in the doctrine of double predestination - a doctrine often swept under the rug these days since it does not sit well with our modern sense of justice or with the Declaration's self-evident truth that all men were created equal - the believer's salvation is evidenced by good works. For if good works are not necessary for salvation itself, both Calvin and his more famous contemporary, Martin Luther, argue that good works are only possible for a soul saved by grace. This is a lovely little Catch-22 that underpins much of the culture of the modern megachurch, largely characterized by frenetic activity in the realm of evangelism, monetary giving, extreme submission, and scriptural study. This furious activity has at its heart theology as illuminated during the sixteenth century in the Protestant Reformation. This leads us to the following questions for thought:

Is the size and reach of Dwell Community Church evidence of the faith of the group and its leaders?

Are the good works performed by Dwell Community Church in the community and in its members' lives evidence of their unique claim to salvation and interpretation of scripture?

Is it possible for Dwell Community Church to perform good works and engage in abuse at the same time? Must Dwell Community Church be either good or bad? A cult or not?

Is the demanding level of activity required of members an irresistible result of salvation or an attempt to demonstrate salvation?

Does the American culture of success and productivity influence Dwell Community Church's interpretation of what a holy life looks like?

If we are saved entirely by grace and not by works, why is Dwell Community Church so intent on controlling members' behaviors such as where they live, where they go to college, what they do for work, who they marry, and how many meetings they attend per week?


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