Related to the idea that faith is not a work is the twin teaching that faith is not a gift from God (And no… I am not referring to the spiritual gift of faith… that is different).
3 Reasons that Some Believe Faith is a Gift from God
Some teach that faith is unilaterally given by God to certain people as a gift. There are several reasons this idea is taught, none of which hold merit.
First, some believe that since unregenerate people are “dead in sin,” they cannot even exercise faith.
However, we have already seen in numerous ways that although unbelievers truly are “dead in sin,” this does not mean they cannot believe. When we study the Bible, we not only see God everywhere calling people to believe Him, and faith is everywhere ascribed to man, not to God (Matt 9:2, 22, 28-29; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 8:50; 17:19; 18:42; etc.) (cf. Olson, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, 225).
The second reason some people teach that faith is a gift is because they think that faith is a meritorious work.
If faith is a good work, and people are the ones who believe, then it logically follows that people contribute some sort of good work to the reception of eternal life. But again, as we have seen in numerous ways in previous posts, this problem is easily solved by recognizing that faith is not a work, but is instead the opposite of works.
And since faith is not a work, faith is also not meritorious. Therefore, those who are dead in sin can believe, and since faith is not work, all of the arguments for the idea that faith is a gift become logically unnecessary.
Nevertheless, in a vain attempt to defend a doctrine which is required by faulty theology, various Scriptures are referenced as evidence that faith is a work (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 13:48; 16:14; 18:23; Eph 2:8-9; Php 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Rom 12:3; 1 Cor 12:8-9; 2 Pet 1:1). However, a careful analysis of these texts reveals that each one has been pulled out of context and does not teach that faith is the gift of God (Lopez, “Is Faith a Gift From God?” 266-274).
But aside from not being logical or Scriptural, the idea that faith is a gift of God creates numerous practical problems for the thinking theologian.
For example, how could demonic activity restrict the faith of some (Luke 8:12; 2 Cor 4:4)? Why is it harder for some people to believe than others (cf. Titus 1:12-13)? What would be the point of the drawing work of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44; 12:32), or of evangelism and missions? Why was Jesus sometimes amazed at people’s lack of faith (Matt 8:26; 14:31; 16:8)? Why are there so many Christian in Europe and America, and so few in North Africa and the Middle East? On this last question, missiologist C. Gordon Olson writes that if the Calvinists are right about faith being a gift of God, then “one if forced to the conclusion that God is partial and loves Americans more than others” (cf. Olson, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, 227).
4 Reasons Faith is Not a Gift from God
In his excellent article, “Is Faith a Gift from God or a Human Exercise?” René Lopez lists several other theological problems with the idea that faith is a gift from God (See Lopez, “Is Faith a Gift From God?” 274-276).
First, Lopez writes that the idea of faith being a gift from God resembles the sacramentalism of the Roman Catholic Church, in that faith is transmitted from God to men.
Lopez correctly points out that this confuses the gift of eternal life from God with the instrumentality of faith, whereby that gift is received.
Second, Lopez says that “if God divinely imparts faith, then human responsibility is nullified” (Lopez, “Is Faith a Gift From God?” 275).
There would be no reason to hold people responsible for believing or failing to believe in Jesus if the unregenerate person cannot actually believe. If God is the one who imparts faith to the unbeliever, then the responsibility to believe lies not with man but with God, and therefore, God can have no basis on which to judge people for failing to believe.
Third, although the Bible calls people to believe in Jesus for eternal life, Lopez points out that if faith is a gift that comes as a result of regeneration, then people should not be called to believe in Jesus (for they cannot), but should instead be called to hope and pray to God that He might regenerate them.
Yet although there are numerous calls throughout Scripture for people to believe in Jesus for eternal life (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; etc.), there is not only place in Scripture where people are invited to hope and pray to God for regeneration.
The final reason faith is not a gift from God is related to sanctification.
If faith is the automatic gift of God to those whom He sovereignly regenerates, then it only makes sense that God also automatically and sovereignly would make sure that they are sanctified in holiness and obedience. And in fact, this is what Calvinists teach in their doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. But as we will see in the discussion of this point, such a belief cannot be defended from Scripture, reason, or experience.
If faith is a gift, then many commands in Scripture that exhort, command, prompt, and warn believers to live obediently become superfluous because the ultimate end of infused faith guarantees the sanctification of believers without their involvement (Lopez, “Is Faith a Gift From God?” 275).
So for biblical, theological, and practical reasons, we conclude that faith is not automatic, nor is faith a gift from God.
Faith comes through hearing the Word of God, through the convicting and drawing work of the Holy Spirit, and through responding to the revelation that one has already received from God.If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.