Calvinists contend that belief - meaning faith - is a gift God imparts to the elect; otherwise, so they insist, salvation is not wrought by God alone, but is instead a shared venture – implying that the praise and glory of salvation is likewise shared - which, so they claim, is impossible because the human heart is wholly incapable of producing anything that’s genuinely praiseworthy. J. I. Packer, for example, comments, “The two theologies (Arminianism and Calvinism) ... conceive ... of salvation in quite different terms. ...one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God and man ...” (Italics mine) Packer, however, is wrong on both logical and exegetical grounds.
To suggest that the mere choice on the part of a sinner to avail himself of God’s mercy - that mere choice alone - is itself meritorious and deserving of praise is logically absurd - and is so on its very face. Anyone who opts for God’s mercy does so because merit, which affords praise its only genuine rationale, is beyond his reach. Is Richard Nixon praiseworthy merely because he seized the pardon President Gerald Ford granted him – and so escaped the consequences of his guilt? Of course not! Quite the contrary: the pardon afforded Nixon actually confirmed his guilt and underscored his complete lack of merit; after all, only the guilty avail themselves of a pardon; the innocent insist on a new trial to vindicate themselves.
In Romans 3:27, Paul concludes that salvation, because it originates in God’s mercy, slams the door shut on pride and the boasting it invariably provokes. Paul, however, suspects that the Jews will trot out Abraham to prove that his conclusion is wrong. And his concern is well founded: the rabbis acknowledged it was faith that secured for Abraham God’s favor, but only because belief, so the Jews insisted, is itself meritorious – exactly what the Calvinists contend.
Paul’s whole point in Romans 4:1-5, therefore, is to make it plain that belief, in and of itself, is not a “good work” - meaning it is not meritorious; that therefore belief does not warrant a “wage.” In short, whatever God’s response to our faith might be, it does not arise from a debt he has incurred. It secures God’s favor; but it doesn’t earn God’s favor. The implication here is obvious: the fact that belief arises from within the human heart does not mean that man can claim a share in the glory and praise which is salvation’s due. God alone is the author of salvation and to him only all praise, honor, and glory belong.