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Q308 : Is Faith a Gift from God?

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Q308 : Is Faith a Gift from God?

Hi Pastor Tony,

In response to your answer to question 307a, I was reading the constitution for Mabana Chapelb where you serve as an elder. In the section on beliefs concerning salvation, it states:

God the Spirit applies it [salvation] by convicting men of sin, by giving them faith to believe, and by causing them to be born again (John 16:7-11; Ephesians 2:8,9; John 3:1-7).1

You say that the Holy Spirit “gives them faith to believe.” In Dr. Wood’s lessons on Soteriology, he says that God can't believe for usc, and how could the Spirit give us anything without us first having received Him?


A308 : by Tony Garland

This is a complex topic related to the manner in which God draws the unregenerate, eventually leading to their exercising faith to be saved. This happens to be a doctrine where there are differences in opinion among those who teach on the SpiritAndTruth.org website.

All teachers on our website subscribe to the doctrinal statementa which is Calvinistic in nature as regards election and preservation: “We believe God keeps eternally all those He has elected and called to salvation and that none are lost.” But the statement stops short of addressing whether faith itself is considered a gift of God. Therefore, this is a point of doctrine on which teachers on our website may disagree.

Some of our teachers, such as Andy Woodsb and Steve Lewisc, do not believe scripture to teach that faith itself is a gift. Others of us, such as Paul Henebury and myself, believe that faith itself is part of God’s gift to the elect. (This is also the position of the statement of faith at Mabana Chapel which you referred to and was written by men of God who served there before the arrival of either Pastor Greg Summers or myself.)

Several things of note concerning the position of myself and Dr. Henebury on this topic:

We don’t arrive at the view that faith is a gift (entirely) on Ephesians 2:8-9, which is often given as a proof text in support of the view. Grammatical aspects of the Greek make it difficult to assert dogmatically that the passage is teaching that faith is the gift given.

The real problem is with the demonstrative pronoun τοῦτο [touto], “this.” Barth states, “The neuter pronoun ‘this’ may refer to one of three things: the ‘grace,’ the verb ‘saved,’ the noun ‘faith.’ ” Some commentators think that it refers to πίστεως [pisteōs] (faith), the nearest preceding noun. A serious objection to this is that the feminine noun does not match the neuter gender of the pronoun. The same problem is raised with “grace,” a feminine noun. Some would have it refer back to ἐστε σεσωσμὲνοι [este sesōsmenoi] (you all have been saved), but again the antecedent would be a masculine participle. Furthermore, to refer back to any one of these words seems to be redundant. Rather than any particular word it is best to conclude that τοῦτο [touto] (this) refers back to the preceding section. This is common and there are numerous illustrations of such in Ephesians. For example, in Eph. 1:15 τοῦτο [touto] refers back to the contents of Eph. 1:3-14, in Eph. 3:1 it refers back to Eph. 2:11-22, and in Eph. 3:14 it refers back to Eph. 3:1-13. Therefore, in the present context, τοῦτο [touto] (this) refers back to Eph. 2:4-8a and more specifically Eph. 2:8a, the concept of salvation by grace through faith.1

In support of our view, we would point to Philippians 1:29 as indicating faith itself is granted by God.

For to you it has been granted (ἐχαρίσθη [echaristhē]) on behalf of Christ, not only to believe (πιστεύειν [pisteuein]) in Him, but also to suffer for His sake2

Some comments from Dr. Henebury, (in articles addressing the question of whether regeneration precedes faith, as some teach):

  • “Ephesians 2:8-9 only proves that salvation is “the gift of God” . . . And Philippians 1:29, while convincing many (including me) that faith is a gift, has nothing to say about this subject [whether regeneration precedes faith].” — Paul Henebury, Dispensationalism and TULIP – Irresistable Graced
  • “I am persuaded mainly on the basis of Philippians 1:29 . . . that faith is a gift, but I am far from being persuaded that faith is given after the Spirit regenerates the sinner . . .” — Paul Henebury, Dispensationalism and TULIP? – Total Depravitye
In stating that faith is a gift, we reject the position of some that regeneration precedes faith—this reverses the order found in Scripture where regeneration follows upon man's response in faith.

Good men disagree on whether faith itself is a gift from God. For example, Lewis Sperry Chafer, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary (Andy’s alma mater), makes the following statements in his Systematic Theology regarding faith as a gift of God:

  • “Ephesians 2:8–9. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” So conclusive is this passage relative to man’s inability in the field of saving faith that much has been attempted in the way of exegesis which proposes to make the salvation the gift of God, rather than the faith which receives it.When thus interpreted, the phrase “through faith” is practically eliminated and serves no purpose. The contrast which the passage sets up between faith and works becomes a contrast between salvation and works, for which there is no ground either in Scripture or reason. If the passage stood alone in the Word of God, declaring a truth not elsewhere propounded, some reason might be assigned to such exegetical attempts which divest the context of its assured meaning; but, when rightly interpreted, it stands out as but one of many of the same general character.”5
  • “Faith accordingly is declared, in one aspect of it, to be “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). . . . While faith, basically considered, must be divinely inwrought, it is ever increasing as the knowledge of God and experience in His fellowship advances.”6
  • “Christ declared, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44); and the Apostle has written by the Spirit, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8; cf. Phil. 1:29).”7 (In citing Ephesians 2:8, Chafer refers to Philippians 1:29 as being related, in his mind, to the meaning of Ephesians 2:8.)
Additional miscellaneous commentary on Philippians 1:29:

  • “Here [Php. 1:29] Paul clearly testifies, that faith, as well as constancy in enduring persecutions, is an unmerited gift of God.”8
  • “The faith which works such steadfast endurance of suffering clearly proves that both are from God.”9
  • “In His sovereign grace, God not only gave believers the marvelous gift of faith to believe in Him, but also the privilege to suffer for His sake. Such suffering provides the reward of future glory (Rom. 8:17; 1 Peter 4:12–16). The first thing believers have been granted for Christ’s sake is saving faith to believe in Him.”10
  • “Unto them it was given to suffer for Christ, as well as to believe in Him.”11
  • “The believing includes the initial act of faith and also continuing to believe [EBC].”12
  • “TRANSLATION: [Indeed you have no reason to fear,] since your suffering no less than your faith is God's gracious gift to you on behalf of Christ . . . That faith is both a necessity and a gift is suggested by the whole thrust of Eph. 2:8-9, even though pisteus is not the grammatical antecedent of touto.”13
You also asked: “How could the Spirit give us anything without us first having received Him.” All viewpoints on the means of salvation, be they Calvinistic or Arminian in persuasion, believe it is the Spirit first who does a work in unresponsive man—without which nobody would be saved. For a brief introduction to these topics, see my recent sermon: The Lord Opened Her Heart (Acts 16:13-15)f and other related questions and answersg.


Endnotes:

1.Ref-1484, 342-343
2.NKJV, (Philippians 1:29)
3.Ref-0334, 876
4.Ref-0617, #4409
5.Ref-0700, 3.216-217
6.Ref-0700, 7.147-148
7.Ref-0700, 7.240
8.Ref-0696, 49
9.Ref-1304, Philippians, 29
10.Ref-0446, 95
11.Ref-0893, Acts to Philippians, 499
12.Ref-0392, Php. 1:29
13.Ref-1485, Php. 1:29


Sources:

NKJVUnless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ref-0334Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996, 1979).
Ref-0392J. H. Greenlee, An exegetical summary of Philippians (Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1992).
Ref-0446John MacArthur, Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999).
Ref-0617James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
Ref-0696J. Calvin Calvin's Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998).
Ref-0700Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 1948, 1976).
Ref-0893John N. Darby, Synopsis of the Bible, Volumes 1-5 (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers, 1950).
Ref-1304John Peter Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008).
Ref-1484Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).
Ref-1485Mois├ęs Silva, Philippians: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1988).


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