This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Friday, November 30, 2007

What is the difference between "condition" and "basis"?

JGB has asked a question attached to an entry that is in the archives, from August. Find the entry and comment here. The question JGB raises, I think, is one inwhich other readers will be interested.

I've really been thinking about this statement from your post, "The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one's right standing before God."

I keep thinking about the difference between a "condition" and a "basis."Here are a few of Merriam Webster's definitions for "condition," "a premise upon which the fulfillment of an agreement depends; stipulation; covenant; a provision making the effect of a legal instrument contingent upon an uncertain event."

Here are a few of Merriam Webster's definition for "basis," "the bottom of something considered as its foundation; the principal component of something; something on which something else is established or based; an underlying condition or state of affairs."

I realize that these definitions are probably saying different things, but it seems to be a distinction without a difference. Perhaps focusing on "legal" definitions for these terms would be helpful.I know there is a difference here, but I'm struggling as I try to explain these concepts to others in my church.

Can you provide any deeper explanation or perhaps use a metaphor or something to help me understand the difference between a "condition" and a "basis"?

First, I reiterate my statement that prompts the question. "The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one's right standing before God."

Second, I will try to explain. By "condition," I refer first to the grammatical or syntactical form that the call of the gospel often takes. It often comes in the form of a condition or supposition, as an "if . . . then" kind of statement. I refer second to the semantic function or language convention of other ways in which the call of the gospel comes to us. It often comes in the form of an imperative, as in "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."

As we show in The Race Set Before Us (I do not have a copy at hand, so I cannot direct you to the pages.), it matters not whether we say, "If you swallow arsenic, you will die" or "Swallow arsenic, and you will die." Both express a conditional relationship between action and consequence. The consequence (dying) follows upon the act (swallowing). In these cases, both the supposition followed by a consequent and the imperative followed by a consequent are efforts to grammaticalize the relationship between swallowing poison and the consequence to swallowing poison.

Eternal life is the consequence that follows upon believing in the Lord Jesus, according to Acts 16:31. Believing is the necessary condition for the consequence to follow. Yet, believing is not the basis of the consequence.

I am endeavoring to be as accurate as I can possibly be by distinguishing condition from basis. Condition is to means as basis is to ground. Here is an illustration. Breathing is a necessary condition for me to remain alive. I cannot remain alive without breathing or without eating. Yet, breathing and eating are not the bases of my remaining alive. The basis of my remaining alive rests elsewhere, namely in Christ's upholding me with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). Herein is the mystery of the interplay between divine sovereignty and human accountability. I must breath in order to live. Yet, my breathing is not the ultimate cause but only an instrumental cause (instrumental means) of my remaining alive. The effectual cause (effectual basis or ground) of my remaining alive is found outside myself and outside any of my actions. It rests in Christ's power to uphold me as alive. If my continuing alive were to hang ultimately not just instrumentally upon my breathing, then how was I living before I was breathing? Does not the fact that I was alive in my mother's womb apart from my own breathing make it clear to all of us that our continuing to live is not ultimately contingent upon our breathing but that our breathing is ultimately contingent upon something outside ourselves? (I may hold my breath and pass out, but holding my breath will not [under normal circumstances] kill me. Usually passing out reactivates breathing, which also shows that my living does not ultimately hang upon my breathing. Yet, I cannot continue alive without breathing. But my breathing is the consequent of something greater.) (This all reminds me very much of James' discussion of the relationship betwen faith and works [James 2:14-17]).

The same, it seems to me, is true of eternal life. Believing (spiritual breathing) is a necessary condition for me to have eternal life. Yet, belief is not the effectual cause (basis/ground) of my having eternal life. The effectual cause lies outside myself, beyond my breathing, and resides in Christ Jesus. Believing is a necessary condition in the sense that it is a necessary instrumental cause. Believing must be present for eternal life to be present. Yet, if my eternal life were to hang ultimately not just instrumentally upon my believing, my continuing in eternal life would fade very quickly.

Some do not like to distinguish instrumental cause from effectual cause or condiion from basis or means from ground, but it seems to me that such distinctions are essential. Otherwise we will end up confusing the role or function of our believing with the role or function of Christ's sacrificial death.

I trust this provides some assistance to see the distinction with a difference.


jgb said...

Dr. Caneday,

Your post has been most helpful. Thank you for attention to my question. I have a follow-up question (surprise, surprise!).

The condition/basis you discussed most thoroughly was essentially that of faith/election (my paraphrase). I wonder if you might then address the issue of works (Spirit-driven works, not Pelagian or "dead" works).

Do you see faith as being the basis of works so that there 2 "layers" of bases/conditions? If not, can you explain the "basis" of works?

A. B. Caneday said...


Thanks for your questions. I started this blog to receive questions on the subject of the book, The Race Set Before Us. I regret that I am not able, as I wish, to give as much time and thought to questions raised here. But I do make an effort.

I want to be sure that I understand your statement, The condition/basis you discussed most thoroughly was essentially that of faith/election (my paraphrase). I understand you to mean that as I use the term "condition," this entails faith, and as I use the term "basis" this refers to God's grace that shows itself in his electing of us and his gracious provisions for our salvation in Christ Jesus.

Also, I want to be sure that I understand your question as stated, Do you see faith as being the basis of works so that there 2 "layers" of bases/conditions? If not, can you explain the "basis" of works?

With regard to the relationship between faith and works (good works), chapter 3 of The Race Set Before Us (pp. 87-141) provides my fullest expression. If I may quote from the book, here is a portion from the chapter's conclusion.

A full array of metaphors [imageries] provides definition to the abstract concept of faith. To believe in the God who rewards whoever seeks him is to taste, in advance, the glorious salvation of the age that is yet to come. To believe is to engage is strict self-discipline, to compete in the good competition of faith, to run, to land blows on oneself, to look to the Son of God for life, to eat of his flesh and to drink of his blood, to hear and follow his voice. All these and more provide contour and texture to our understanding of what faith is. At once these metaphors [imageries] call us to act in obedient faith to the heavenward call of God in Christ Jesus and provide a standard by which we may know that our faith is authentic, though not perfect" (pp. 140-141).

Faith and works (good works, of course) are organically bound together. Faith and works are inseparably bound together just as the body and the spirit are inseparably integrated (James 2:26). Remove works from faith, and faith is dead faith. Remove faith from works, and works are dead works.

Faith and works are organically integrated as are a seed and growth. If there is a sprout, there is a seed from which it springs. The seed is dead, if it does not sprout.

Is my response reflecting a correct understanding of your question?

jgb said...

Dr. Caneday,

You have correctly interpreted my question, and your answer has been helpful.

An explanation of why I asked the question may be helpful. I grew up in the Baptist tradition, but I always understood (whether it was taught this way or not) faith and works as being rather dichotomous. There was a large emphasis on faith alone. This of course led to serious problems with the text (specifically James) later in life, and it hasn't really been until the past few months that I feel I have understood the faith/works "dichotomy."

You, Dr. Caneday, NT Wright, and George Ladd have all helped me understand that it is actually the doctrine of justification that holds faith and works together, eschatology being the key component that makes this true (at least as far as I understand it).

Therefore, I now see that while there is a semantic distinction between faith and works they are "organically bound together" so tightly that they are essentially different sides of the same coin.

Thanks again for your interaction on this blog. It has meant a lot to me. I think that you are the kind of teacher that I could really benefit from in a mentoring relationship. Too bad you are in Minneapolis!

A. B. Caneday said...


If I'm in Minneapolis, where are you located? Perhaps our paths will cross someday.

jgb said...

Dr. Caneday,

I currently live in Little Rock, Arkansas. I have considered coming to one of Desiring God's national conferences which might allow our paths to cross. However, my wife and I are about to have twins (we already have a son) so any such trips appear quite far into the future. I'm curious if there are any conferences that you attend in the south.

If I may ask another question on justification related to this post...

I haven't seen you deal with ordo salutis anywhere. I'm curious about this because many people are keen on having a very strict, clean ordo salutis that involves faith but not works. Justification plays a huge role in much of those discussions, of course. However, does viewing justification eschatologically mean "elongating" ordo salutis? Is ordo salutis even a Biblical concept?

A. B. Caneday said...


I'm sorry for such a late response to your question concerning ordo salutis.

When Anthony Hoekema published Saved by Grace (Eerdmans, 1989), I immediately resonated with his approach to the question concerning ordo salutis. I had already come a position very much like his. He addresses the question in chapter 2, pages 11-27.

Like Hoekema, I do not advocate for the notion that the ordo salutis (process of salvation) should be understood as a linear series of successive experiences such as:

regeneration --> conversion --> justification --> sanctification --> perseverance --> glorification

Rather, I view the process of salvation as a unitary experience that involves various aspects that all begin and endure simultaneously. Such a view, or variation of it, it seems to me is imperative, given the fact that justification, biblically speaking, is both now and not yet just as all other aspects of salvation are, including reconciliation.

We do not sequentially progress through salvation as though moving through segmented chambers or rooms. Rather, we experience salvation as a whole in seed form with every aspect already present from the beginning. The transformative aspect (holiness) are present simultaneously with the legal aspect (justification). The two aspects are distinguishable but utterly inseparable. Like a seed, such as an acorn that contains ever aspect of the mighty oak within itself, every aspect of salvation from inception to consummation is present from the beginning of our experience of salvation.

That's how I view ordo salutis, if we are to call it ordo salutis.