Puritan Gems

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Faith: A Gift From God

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
"Scripture does not seem to support the idea that faith is a gift from God. The Bible simply calls upon people to believe." (Gregory Sapaugh - Is Faith A Gift?)
The question of where saving faith comes from and how it is obtained is a sticky issue, particularly among those who oppose the doctrines of sovereign grace. As pointed out in The Christian "P" Word, the majority belief today is that God's "predestination" (for lack of a better word) is contingent upon His foreknowledge of a person's faith. Yet even if this were true (it's not), one still has to account for the faith that a person does have, since not all have faith (2 Thessalonians 3:2).

Thus it is no surprise that the most straightforward, clear meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9 has been challenged. For if it can be established that faith itself is a gift from God, then the opponents of sovereign grace are still stuck with Unconditional Election, since they would have God predestine people based upon something that God alone can give.

The objection states that the word "faith" in the passage is not a suitable antecedent to the pronoun "that" (despite the fact that every translation of the Bible has it as such), because the term used for faith (πίστεως) in this passage is a feminine noun, while the pronoun “that” (τουτο) is a neuter demonstrative pronoun. However, as Robert Reymond states, "It is permissible in Greek syntax for the neuter pronoun to refer antecedently to a feminine noun".

That faith is a gift can be confirmed in this passage by examining the possible antecedents for "that" in Ephesians 2:8. They are as follows:

1.) Faith.
2.) Grace.
3.) The concept of salvation by grace through faith.

#2 is the weakest possibility. Not only does the term "grace" have the same feminine gender as "faith", but it would be quite silly and redundant for Paul to suggest that grace is "not of yourselves, it is a gift of God". #3 is the most popular interpretation among those seek some sort of human autonomy in salvation, but the concept of salvation does not appear as a noun in the passage, leaving us with no real antecedent for the pronoun. Yet, even if we were to allow this, it still leads to the conclusion that faith is a gift from God. One cannot allow for the concept of salvation by grace through faith to be "not of yourselves" while at the same time allow for any component of that salvation to be of ourselves. If, as Gregory Sapaugh suggests, "Faith is not a divine gift from God" but rather a "personal conviction which a person exercises...", then Ephesians 2:8-9 is incorrect, and we do have a right to boast.
"However the text is exegeted, when all of its features are taken into account, the conclusion is unavoidable that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift of God." (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 732)
Thanks be to Jesus Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

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