The Gift of Faith

A question at the crux of one’s view of God’s work in salvation is, “Where does faith come from?” In this post, which in a sense follows a prior post HERE, I would like to address this issue specifically. I expect that some readers will find this piece terribly elementary, though others may think it completely ridiculous. Yet may our gracious God use something presented for His purposes.

Sometime this past year, I came across the following on a Southern Baptist church’s website, in their beliefs under the heading of Salvation:

“Due to our sinful nature, mankind can do nothing to earn God’s favor or salvation, other than accept Jesus as Savior.”

According to this statement, accepting Jesus is the one thing we can do to earn God’s favor and salvation.

My desire is not to pick at this wording, and it is quite possible that it comes across in a way that was not intended by the writer(s). However, I think it serves as a good picture of a very real perspective prominent in the SBC today.

We know that faith is essential for us in order to be partakers in the redemption and salvation procured by Jesus Christ. The basic question here is whether faith itself is something given to us or something we ourselves generate and offer of our own natural ability.

In T.H.L. Parker’s biography of John Calvin, he states, describing Calvin’s theology,

“Why, when the gospel is preached, do some believe and some reject it? The answer that some will to believe and some will to reject cannot be final; it [this answer] is merely explaining faith and unbelief.”

Similarly, John Owen has discussed the evidence that our faith, along with all other things comprising our salvation (i.e. reconciliation, justification, sanctification, adoption and glorification), has been procured for us (that is, the elect, and thus believers) by Christ absolutely – that is, without condition. In his masterful “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”, Book III, Chapter IV, Owen shows that claiming Christ has procured faith conditionally is essentially saying, “Christ procured that they should believe, upon condition that they do believe!”, which reasoning is obviously problematic.

There is an important observation here. If one insists that faith hinges upon man’s choice, there is never the finality of a logical, biblical answer as to how faith came about in one man and not in another. One can always ask, “But with what faculty did he make that choice?” The inevitable conclusion of such logic is that there must have been something inherently (naturally) better in that man who chose to believe. Though few would argue that anyone actually deserves heaven, it does appear that the logical implication of this view of faith is that those who believed were in some way inherently better than those who rejected Christ. (Otherwise, again, why was their choice in this most critical issue better?) I will leave it to the reader to determine whether such an implication is at all scriptural.

To reinforce the point, we all in our original, carnal state do not possess faith – we reject the things of God; we can’t even understand them. This is certainly clear from scripture. So when some of us “acquired” faith, where did we differ from those who did not? Were we smarter, wiser, more holy, etc. in our natural state than the man down the street, so that we made the correct choice, and he did not? That is not in line with scripture.

Or perhaps, did God orchestrate the circumstances in our lives such that we were drawn to such a decision, while He did not do so for the other man? Though the latter proposal would still indicate God’s distinguishing between us, eternal sovereign election of course involves much more than God’s mere direction of our circumstances.

Or is faith just an arbitrary choice that happens to be made by some?

The scriptural, and thus reasonable, answer is that faith involves the very life of God implanted in the souls of His children. And without delving deeply into the oft-disputed concept of “irresistible grace”, or effectual calling, we can see that this definition of faith implies that, where it is graciously given, it is indeed received – we simply demonstrate a “life response”. (See Eph. 2:5.) When God gives us life, we live – when sight, we see. And we willingly do so, because now made alive spiritually, we gladly respond to the Father of spirits (Heb 12:9). When we see the truth with new eyes, we embrace it.

Moreover, then, if faith is indeed granted by God, and not all have faith, it follows that God gives it to some, and not all.

In II Thess 3:2, Paul asks for prayer “that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.”

Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” – Matt 11:27; also Luke 10:22.

The biographer T.H.L. Parker further stated,

“How can one who has hitherto willed to reject now will to believe? Man is a sinner, that is, a being who wills to reject God. It is clear from the New Testament that faith is the gift of God, that man’s will is changed from a rejecting to a believing will by the creative act of the Holy Spirit. So, then, those who believe the gospel do so because their rejecting will is changed into a believing will.”

This is solid historic orthodox theology.

The oft-quoted Eph 2:8 reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” What here does “this is not your own doing” apply to? Is it referring to grace? That is obviously not of ourselves, by definition. Salvation? Certainly true also. But what of faith? It appears that an accurate analysis of this passage shows that “this” applies to the whole package. This interpretation is consistent with the whole counsel of scripture.

In Phil 1:29, we are told, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Note that “believe” here is included in what “has been granted [given] to you”. If I tell you, “I will not only give you my notebook, but my pen as well”, you should certainly still expect my notebook!

In John 6:29, the Lord states, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Isn’t our Savior saying that God Himself works this in us? Or is it that we in our natural state, as “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), as touched upon HERE, were capable of accomplishing God’s work of our own power? (And are we then deity?) Even the remainder of that 6th chapter of John attests that the former must be true.

Indeed Christ is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2) – and that for both the body of doctrine and our possession of it; the latter as described in Heb 11:1.

Faith is the means by which grace is extended to us – we are “saved by grace through faith”. Both are from God.

“For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” – I Cor 4:7
This is most directly applying to believers’ differing gifts, but is applicable here as well. It is God who sets us apart, of His own sovereign choice, not based on any foreseen merit in us.

It seems that the assumption that we provide faith ourselves may indeed qualify as strange fire, in that it lessens the work of Christ and what He has obtained for us through His sacrifice and intercession. It also elevates carnal man too highly, neglecting the full effects of the Fall, and making us the ultimate actuators of our own salvation, on which the sovereign Trinity would depend for their work to be effective.

What praise should should come forth from us poor sinners upon the recognition that God has Himself, by His own doing, brought us into this covenant relationship with Him! “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Heb 8:10

And so we say, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” – II Cor 9:15

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12 Comments on “The Gift of Faith”

  1. mark12ministries Says:

    Asking this question, “Where does faith come from?” is one of the best ways to present the case for the full gospel of God’s grace. I have never had anyone give me a coherent answer to that question when they are trying to defend the self help Arminian position; they just get flustered.

    Preach on brother! Good job!

    Bryan

  2. Jeff Says:

    “Where does faith come from?” Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

  3. Darrin Says:

    Bryan – thanks very much for the feedback.
    Jeff – Absolutely; Thanks for the scripture. Surely the preaching of the Word is the great means by which God works faith in His children. The desire of this post is to seek the biblical reason that faith is produced in some of those who hear the Word. For the unregenerate, hearing alone may lead to knowledge, perhaps even mental assent, but for trust/faith to be produced it requires a work of the Spirit of God.


  4. “For the unregenerate, hearing alone may lead to knowledge, perhaps even mental assent, but for trust/faith to be produced it requires a work of the Spirit of God.”

    Jesus asked, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because…” He then gives the reasons. The cannot bear it… tranlated they are not vessels of it. They are from below… translated of this world. They are not of the Father and do not know him… translated unless they are of the Father they cannot. They are of their father the devil… translated their nature is opposed to the words and they hate it.

    Solution: Read the rest of the book. Unless one is born from above, given to Jesus by the Father and is not of this world, unless he is made new, (They are not of this world even as I am not of this world) they cannot understand the word. Something must be done: They must be anothen gennao. Born from above, made vessels fit for use and filled with the heavenly calling. Otherwise they simply end up killing Jesus.

    John is too clear. Faith indeed comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God and Jesus says that as Isaiah spoke, except they have ears to hear and eyes to see they cannot understand. And more, that he has made both the eyes that are blind and the eyes that see. So what does the Word say: “No man is able to come to me except that the Father draws him…All that the Father gives me will come to me.”

    Then to paraphrase, “So what the complaint? If you do what you will? But mine do as I will just as I do what the Father wills. If it is your choice then it is not I who have chosen you because you reject the Word that you are what God makes you to be.”

    Simple formula. Unless God creates faith, it does not exist. If it exists God has done it not another creator. Man in his fallen state believes he determines what is good and evil and makes himself to be as God. The freewill of the creature if not the will of God is sin and if the will of God then it is not free to reject Him, for God cannot deny Himself. Faith is sure and certain because it possesses in itself the thing hoped for and it does not disappoint because it has entered in, behind the vail, where it has been secured by our High Priest’s blood.

    The world hates this message because they find it unfair. What is fair? That the creature should determine what the creation should be? Well, that is what makes them the children of their father the devil.

  5. Darrin Says:

    Thomas – thanks for your input. You bring out many good points.
    Certainly the potential “knowledge” for the unregenerate I refer to in my comment is a mere intellectual awareness of the gospel (even the lost can memorize scripture), but not a real salvific understanding of the things of God. I was thinking of the historic view that noticia, assensus, and fiducia are ALL present in the elect, being a part of the work of salvation.


  6. Hi Darrin,

    I was merely commenting again Darrin, not contradicting. I put in your quote just as a touch stone.

    I think intellectual understanding is open and available for the unregenerate. Some of the brightest and most articulate opponents of the Faith, know what it teaches. They actively suppress it.

    I absolutely agree. When Jesus said, “Why do you not understand what I say?” It was not that couldn’t. He follows up with they were willing to kill him because their language was lies.

    I like to listen to James White’s debates. And as is always the case, he knows his opponents position as well as the opponent knows his own. The devil is the master of the craft of knowing the truth. It is written of the devils that they believe and tremble. And what they believe is a first hand knowledge of Christ.

    Then it goes to reason, that reason alone cannot save, knowledge alone cannot save. It takes the regeneration of the person before anything else becomes a benefit.. And you are right. Jesus said, “When the Holy Spirit comes he will take what is mine make is yours” (my paraphrase). Thus once regenerated, we are not receiving a “new revelation” one that is gnostic knowledge behind the knowledge of Scripture. We are receiving what Scripture says. Then noticia, assensus, and fiducia, or as John Murray puts in in the ‘common’ vernacular, knowledge conviction and faith (trust), are the present reality of FAITH in the believer.

    The reality of FAITH is that His Spirit bears witness with our spirits, not just that the Word bears witness, that we are the children of God. The breaking point is between knowledge conviction/ faith. Among those who knew the Lord face to face were those who rejected him such as Judas. The intellecual believer will trust in the first two, but have no abiding trust in the object of them. Jesus’ complaint in judgement is, “I never knew you.” They knew him, but it was in the things he did, the things he said, and not in him where their peace was founded.

    My comment was not meant as criticism Darrin; it was affirming this: “for trust/faith to be produced it requires a work of the Spirit of God.” The written word does not produce it, preaching does not produce it, for if that were the case then Jesus would not have condemned the teachers when he said that they read the Scripture, they saw his miracles, and still they could not believe. Not because they were lacking knowledge or even conviction, for they surely were convinced of his miracles. What they lacked was the proper fear of the Lord which throws itself upon the mercy of God in Truth, trusting the promises revealed by the knowledge of God. The only Mediator between God and man is the Lord. What so often passes as FAITH, more often denies that and puts something else there as the effectual cause of our salvation.

    I guess I am going to have to find a new approach.

  7. Darrin Says:

    Thomas – no that’s fine. I was trying not to sound defensive – just clarifying for readers in general.
    I’m glad you brought this out, because I’ve struggled a bit with how one can have conviction/assent yet not faith. I was thinking that, if one assents to something being true, how could he not believe it? You make a good point that he can still be lacking “abiding trust in the object of them”.
    PS – I wanted to post the link to the article on monergism.com which you linked from your fine blog’s post called “Why?”. It goes deeper into this issue and looks very promising: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/syngergistchallenge.html

  8. thomastwitchell Says:

    There is another part of conviction that I should explain. Conviction has two parts. The first is being convinced of the knowledge; such as those who were witnesses but did not savingly believe, or like the devils who believe because they without doubt know, but do not believe savingly. The second part of conviction includes conviction as that which we associate with guilt of sin as opposed to the love of sin. The depraved only know of sin and love it. It requires regeneration, and the love of righteousness and abhorance of sin to work conviction of repentance that thrusts itself before the mercy seat to find remission and repose.

    The arbitrary distinction that I made was without this clarification for simplicity. The unregenerate can have a true knowledge that salvation is found only by grace through faith in Jesus; they cannot love that truth. Somewhere in the midst of conviction the love of God is shed abroad in the regenerate heart which works trust. It is not bare knowledge as the apostle writes; the children had the knowledge and the presence of the Pillar and the Angel of the Lord with evidences abounding, but they did not mix it with faith. A true knowledge that saves is founded upon a much deeper reality which I think is best explained by a love which surpasses understanding, is so deep, so wide, so broad, that it indwells and invelopes the believer to the extent that we trust because we are one with it such that we know that nothing can separate us from that love. This kind of love casts all upon Christ’s work in procurring and producing it. There is nothing else it can or wants to do.

  9. Dave Macy Says:

    Very good discourse on election and the gift of faith. Each is given a measure of faith– some are given the actual Gift of Faith as Paul refers to in Corinthians. But the fact is that the doctrines of GRACE as understood by Reform Theology are very hard to disagree with. I recommend the following book by Richard Phillips which I reviewed for Ligonier Ministries and Dr. R.C. Sproul– What’s So Great About The Doctrines of Grace. This review follows:

    It is easy in today’s culture of ‘comfy’ Christianity to sit back and absorb popular teachings and traditions that really don’t stand the scrutiny of Biblical scholarship. If you ask the average Christian about doctrines of the faith you’ll more than likely get a blank stare. And in many cases doctrinal issues are precisely those which divide us into various denominations and ‘camps’ of belief.

    In Richard D. Phillips book WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE he masterfully lays out with Biblical precision the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) contrasting each doctrine with the Arminian positions. However, this is much more than a side by side comparison. Phillips deftly draws from Scripture a solid foundation for God’s predestination, election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints by establishing God’s sovereignty first and foremost in the life of the Christian.

    It could be said that the Reform theology of GRACE is based on solid and substantial Biblical fact, while the Arminian concept relies more on feelings and man’s concept of fairness. The author takes great care not only to contrast the doctrines but also to substantiate the doctrines of grace within the context of Scripture.
    Many Christians today are quick to discount these doctrines because they think perhaps predestination conflicts with free will, or election and limited atonement does not jibe with the true attributes of God. Before reading this book I had already embraced much of Reform theology’s doctrines. I had even defended this understanding of grace to some who hold to Arminianism.

    I truly believe that the arguments set forth in Phillips book are sound enough to not only under gird and enlighten those who have a cursory understanding of these doctrines of grace, but could very likely help those who struggle with the fear of losing their salvation.

  10. Darrin Says:

    Dave,
    That looks to be a great book – I’d read an online review at some point – and I hope to get to read it. Thanks for the reminder about it, and for your comments.
    -Darrin

  11. fabi Says:

    cuando recibes el don de la fe a que te comprometes

  12. Darrin Says:

    fabi, I don’t know Spanish; please translate. All I get here is something like “when you receive the gift of faith”, and something about compromise or jeopardize.


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