D. L. Moody was once asked if he thought faith was a gift of God. He replied, “Some say that faith is the gift of God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it; so is bread, but you have to eat it; so is water, but you have to drink it. Some are wanting some miraculous kind of feeling. That is not faith. ‘Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.’ It is not for me to sit down and wait for faith to come stealing over me…it is for me to take God at His word.”
The teaching that faith is a gift of God is a truth stated in Scripture. It is given by the One who gives every good and every perfect gift. Faith is not the only gift which comes from the Father of lights. The Scriptures also teach that salvation is an unspeakable gift (2 Cor. 9:15). Our daily bread is a gift from God, along with His grace, the Word of God, and the Son of God. These and many others are God’s gracious gifts. Indeed, the gift of faith is one of God’s most precious gifts for it is by grace through faith that we are saved.
The Scriptures and the Gift of Faith
A number of scriptures speak of faith as a gift of God, such as Romans 12:3, “As God has dealt to every man a measure of faith,” and 1 Corinthians 12:8-9, “For to one is given…faith by the same Spirit.” These verses when carefully studied reveal that this gift of faith is not a condition for salvation but a requirement for effective Christian living and service. The gift of faith in this sense is the special ability given to members of the Body to accomplish great things for God. George Mueeller of Bristol, who established an orphanage which thousands would call home, and Hudson Taylor, who reached the previously unevangelized interior of China with the gospel, show examples of this gift of faith. This may have been one of the gifts that Stephen possessed, for he was “full of faith.” This may have been in the apostle’s mind when he wrote, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). But this gift is not the faith which saves but the gift of faith for service.
The important question is not so much whether faith is a gift of God; rather, is this gift given in a unique way exclusively to those whom the Bible calls the elect? These teachers appeal to the words of Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” They are convinced that the gift of God spoken of here is faith, that is, saving faith without which no one can be saved. Their argument runs: since salvation is fully and exclusively of God, saving faith cannot proceed from the natural man; it must be a gift of God. They conclude that faith which flows out of the natural man cannot save, for this faith would be a work, and no one is saved by works.
Is Faith the Gift of God (Eph. 2:8)?
The Greek construction of this verse seems to indicate that faith is not the gift but rather that salvation is the gift of God. New Testament Greek authorities contend that the key to understanding Ephesians 2:8 is to properly identify the antecedent of the pronoun “that” (tauto). A general rule of Greek grammar concerning identifying the antecedent is: Pronouns agree with their antecedent in gender and number. Their case is determined by their use in their own clause. The fact that the demonstrative pronoun “that” is neuter and the words “faith” (pistis) and “grace” (charis) are feminine in gender must rule out faith as the gift of God. If Paul wanted to say that “faith” was the gift of God, he would have used the feminine form of the word “that” (haute).
A number of respected evangelical Greek scholars, commenting on the grammatical structure of this verse, have concluded that salvation and not faith is the gift of God. The word “that” seems to refer back to verses 4-7, to God quickening and raising us up together and in showing His grace toward us. None of this is of works; it is a gift of God. Commentator F. F. Bruce writes, “The fact that the demonstrative pronoun ‘that’ is neuter in Greek (tauto), whereas ‘faith’ is a feminine noun (pistis), combines with other considerations to suggest that it is the whole concept of salvation by grace through faith that is described as the gift of God.”1
W. E. Vine, a respected authority on the Greek New Testament, concerning the word “gift” writes, ”...Doron, to give, is used of salvation by grace, as the gift of God in Ephesians 2:8.”2
What is Faith?
After considering whether or not faith is the gift which leads to salvation, one naturally asks: What then is faith? The biblical faith which leads to salvation, sometimes called “saving faith,” consists of three primary elements: 1. knowledge of the object of faith; 2. mental assent—what the Bible says about Christ, the object of our faith, is true; and 3. the use of the human will to place dependence in Him alone. It is noteworthy that this definition is accepted by Calvinist teachers. It is striking that this definition of faith includes the exercise of the human will. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists concede this point. The Calvinist generally will go further in his theology and state that new birth by the Spirit is prior to the exercise of faith.
This is in striking contradiction to the biblical order which posits that faith comes first and then is followed by new birth or salvation. The non-Calvinist believes that man through the Fall, as the Scriptures describe, is “dead,” “lost,” “perishing,” “condemned,” “in darkness.” The Fall includes all of this and more besides. However, the Fall has not brought to pass an inability to believe in Christ unto salvation. For the boundless grace of God and penetrating power of the Word of God and convicting of the Holy Spirit are more than sufficient to enable a man to exercise faith (Jn. 5:25).
Faith truly is a Gracious Gift of God
What is the source of faith? The Word of God tells us that, from the divine side, the Scriptures, the Spirit of God, and the grace of God work in concert to produce faith. But there is the human side, which is the exercise of the human will in response to these divine promptings. The Word of God tells us: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Concerning the Spirit’s work in new birth we read, ”...except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). Although God enables us to believe through divine promptings, the responsibility to believe is ours. God has done all that is necessary for salvation. Our responsibility is to receive the gift of salvation by faith.
Concerning the inter-working of the divine and human aspects that together produce faith which ultimately leads to regeneration, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost comments, “The Word of God convicts, reproves, enlightens, exhorts, reveals, not only our need but the Lord Jesus Christ who can meet that need. The instrument that convicts is the Word of God, but it is the Spirit that produces the new birth. The Word of God, energized by the Spirit of God, produces new birth.”3
Another respected author, C. H. Mackintosh, comments, “New birth is not a change of man’s fallen nature, but the imparting of a new divine nature. How is this new nature produced? This is a point of immense importance, inasmuch as it places the Word of God before us as the grand instrument which the Holy Ghost uses in quickening dead souls…All who place their trust in Christ have gotten new life—are regenerate.”4
Is Faith a Work?
Some argue that unless faith is given irresistibly by God, salvation is a “works salvation.” It is said that this defective salvation is not of God, for it is partly of God and partly of man. Is this view in accordance with Scripture? Does this view stand upon sound logic?
First, the very nature of faith is an admission that man is unable to earn or merit salvation but rests on God alone and His grace. It is an act of the will prompted by the moving of God’s abundant grace. Faith is not the act of doing something but of receiving something. Does the downtrodden beggar who accepts a handout receive the credit for the gracious deed? The act of receiving God’s unconditional gift of salvation is of no merit to the receiver. All glory goes to the Giver. Faith may rightly be considered a gift of God in the sense that all good things come from God. Faith is of God, who has inscrutably given fallen man the ability to respond to the drawing power of God—through the promptings of the grace of God, the Word and the Spirit working together to form faith in a willing heart. Yet the responsibility to believe is all of man. The charge from God to the lost is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” We are not to pray to receive the gift of faith so we can believe. We are to believe as an act of the human will in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation.
1. F. F. Bruce, Ephesians, (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1961), p. 51-52
2. W. E. Vine, Dictionary of N. T. Words, (Old Tappan: Revell, 1981), p. 146
3. J. D. Pentecost, The Divine Comforter, (Westwood: Revell, 1963), p. 131
4. C. H. Mackintosh, Mackintosh Treasury, (Neptune: Loizeaux, 1976), p. 618