Some teach that faith is a work of God performed in the heart or mind of a person. Another way of saying this is that faith is a gift from God to the heart of human beings.
Those who hold to this view say that God gives faith to those whom He has chosen for eternal life. There are three reasons that some people teach that faith is a gift of God.
People are Dead and Trespasses and Sins, and so Cannot Believe
First, some believe that since unregenerate people are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and have had their minds darkened or blinded (cf. (Eph 4:18; 2 Cor 3:14), they cannot do anything good, including believing in Jesus for eternal life.
Those who hold to this view teach that if a person is going to believe in Jesus for eternal life (or even believe anything good and pleasing about God at all), they can only believe if God sovereignly bestowed up them the gift of faith.
Various texts are often referenced in defense of this idea (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 13:48; 16:14; Rom 12:3; 1 Cor 12:8-9; Eph 2:8-9; Php 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25; 2 Pet 1:1). But in several of these, faith is not even mentioned (e.g., Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25), and the others can all be reasonably explained in the context.
Sadly, I cannot look at all of these texts in this post … but we will consider the primary text below, Ephesians 2:8-9. (I also explain several of the other texts in my book, What is Faith?)
Note, however, that this entire line of thought stems from thinking that faith is a good work.
In other words, the idea that faith is a gift derives from the false idea that faith is somehow meritorious. After all, if faith is a work, then we must say that faith is a gift from God, for we cannot teach that humans are able to work for eternal life.
But Scripture is clear about faith, that it is not a work; it is not meritorious. Faith is the opposite of works (cf. Romans 4:4-5). Faith does not earn, achieve, or gain good standing with God in any way.
Therefore, faith does not need to be a gift from God. People are persuaded about all sorts of things, and no such persuasion is ever considered to be a good work or a meritorious action, or a gift from God.
So the faith to believe in Jesus is also not a gift from God.
But there is a Spiritual Gift of Faith!
The second reason that some people believe and teach that faith is a gift of God is because they confuse this idea with the biblical teaching about the “spiritual gift” of faith.
Even though Paul does write about the gift of faith in 1 Corinthians 12:9, this is the spiritual gift of faith, and is not the same thing as the so-called “gift of faith” which some teach God gives to people before they can believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Furthermore, Paul is quite clear that we all have different spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6). If everyone had to receive the “gift of faith” from God in order to receive eternal life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47), then this would mean that all Christians have the spiritual gift of faith, which Paul says we do not.
So what is the spiritual gift of faith? As I wrote in my book on the spiritual gifts, a person has the spiritual gift of faith when they firmly persuaded of God’s power and promises to accomplish His will and purpose and to display such a confidence in Him that circumstances and obstacles do not shake that conviction (1 Cor 12:8-10; cf. Heb 11).
People with the spiritual gift of faith know what they believe and why they believe it, and are able to inspire action in others based on their beliefs. Those with the gift of faith are often called upon to encourage others to step out in faith and follow God to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.
The spiritual gift of faith to some Christians for the edification and encouragement of others is not the same thing as God giving faith to all Christians so that they can believe in Jesus for eternal life.
So biblical passages about the spiritual gift of faith cannot be used to support the idea that God gives faith to unregenerate people so they can believe.
But Ephesians 2:8 says God gives the gift of Faith
The third reason that some people think faith is a gift from God is because of what Paul seems to say in Ephesians 2:8.
He writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Some people see the phrase “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” as referring back to the word “faith.”
They read Ephesians 2:8 this way: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and faith is not of yourselves, faith is the gift of God.”
There are numerous problems with this approach to Ephesians 2:8, the greatest being that it reveals a complete disregard for the Greek text.
Greek words have gender: masculine, feminine, and neuter. When relative pronouns (such as “that” and “it”) are used to refer back to a noun, they always agree with the gender of the noun. The word “faith” in Greek is feminine. Therefore, if Paul was intending to say that faith is not of ourselves, but faith is a gift of God, he would have used a feminine relative pronoun for the word “that” (the word “it” is not actually in the Greek).
But the word “that” is not feminine; it is neuter.
Therefore, it is impossible for Paul to be thinking about “faith” when he wrote “and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
It is grammatically impossible for the word “that” to refer to “faith” in Ephesians 2:8.
So what was Paul referring to, if not to faith?
Ephesians 2:8-9 in Context
You can read my longer explanation of Ephesians 2:8-9 here, or in my book What is Faith?, but let me summarize the meaning of the text for you here.
As stated previously, Greek pronouns must agree with their antecedent in gender, number, and case. Faith is feminine, and the pronoun “that” is neuter, so the pronoun cannot be pointing back to faith.
So to what does the pronoun refer?
The problem is that there is no neuter noun in the preceding context.
So what was Paul referring to, if not to faith?
The answer is that Paul is referring to the entire “salvation package” that he has written about in Ephesians 2. The description of Paul about what God has provided to us in Jesus contains a mixture of masculine and feminine nouns. So Paul uses a neuter pronoun to refer to the entire “salvation package.”
Paul’s overall point in Ephesians 2 is about how God solved the problem of human division and strife that is caused by racial, religious, and political differences (Eph 2:1-4). Paul shows how God revealed the problem and the solution through the crucifixion of Jesus (Eph 2:5-10) so that we can all live in peace and unity with one another in this life (Eph 2:11-22), as God has always wanted and desired.
Everything Paul mentions in Ephesians 2 is the gift of God to us.
The gift is not faith itself, but everything else that God has done and taught and provided through Jesus Christ, and which we can benefit from when we believe in Jesus for it.
So faith is not the gift of God.
The gift of God is His revelation to humanity and the salvation which comes to us by His grace. When we see, understand, and believe what God has revealed to us and done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, it is then that the peace of God starts to become a reality in our life here and now.
It is then that all who were formerly at enmity with each other are fitted together to grow into the holy temple in the Lord, as a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:21-22). This is the mystery of the church, which Paul goes on to explain in Ephesians 3–4.
All of this is the gift of God, and when we receive it by faith, we begin to experience this new reality in this life and on this earth.
See my article here for more reasons why Faith is Not a Gift From God.
Therefore, since faith is not a gift from God, this means that every person is able to believe in Jesus for eternal life. Just as any person can believe that 2+2=4, or that gravity is a force of nature, so also, anybody is able to believe in Jesus for eternal life, once the truth is presented to them.
Since faith is not a work, but is the opposite of works, a person who believes in Jesus is not doing anything meritorious for eternal life, but is only accepting the free gift of God.
So … have you believed in Jesus for eternal life? If not, what is holding you back?
If you want to learn more about this, try my online course mentioned below, or get my book, What is Faith?
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