Where does my faith come from?
The function of faith in salvation is an important theological issue. Since faith is essential for salvation, where does faith come from? As I was writing a previous post on Ephesians 2:1-10 I was urged to try (note, that I said I’d try!!!) to answer that question – and the question that comes from verse 8 in Ephesians 2. Here’s the text, Paul is writing:
Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
Here is the question: in most translations, there is some ambiguity around the subject of “it” in the last phrase. Here are some other translations to help frame the problem:
Ephesians 2:8 (KJV) — 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) — 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
Ephesians 2:8 (NLT) — 8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
So the problem is this: is “it” salvation, or is “it” faith? Is “it” salvation that is a gift from God and therefore not of yourselves? Or is “it” faith that is a gift and therefore not of yourselves?
One really important, overarching conclusion that Christians agree on – before we get into the trying to answer the question – is that salvation is not of us. I think we all can agree with this. We didn’t do anything to earn it, achieve it or merit it. This is the main point that Paul is actually driving home.
So let me ask this question: is faith the gift that Paul is referring to? Well, one of the cardinal rules of Biblical interpretation is to allow the Bible to interpret itself. That means that we look for other places in the New Testament where Jesus or one of the apostles teaches on this same topic. (Incidentally, given the gravity of the matter, we can assume that there are more teachings to be found, rather than just one verse). Paul wrote to the church in Rome and said:
Romans 6:23 (ESV) — 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Doesn’t that seem to put a nail in the coffin of this argument? Salvation (eternal life) is a gift from God.
Amazingly John Calvin agreed. He wrote:
“And here we must refute a very common error in the interpretation of this passage. Many persons restrict the word “gift” to faith. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God but that salvation is given to us by God.”
So, from Ephesians 2:8 we cannot conclude that faith is a direct gift from God.
However, the idea that faith is a gift of God is not only unbiblical but it also creates a number of problems for us. For example, if faith was a gift from God how is it that demonic activity can restrict that gift? Here’s two verse that highlight that problem:
Luke 8:12 (ESV) — 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV) — 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
A really great problem is found in the gospels when Jesus stands back and marvels at the lack of some people’s faith:
Matthew 8:26 (ESV) — 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Matthew 14:31 (ESV) — 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matthew 16:8 (ESV) — 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?
So, can you see why I have such a problem with understanding faith as being a direct gift from God. For me, it’s neither Biblical or logically sound, and creates even more problems that it solves.
So why do some believe that faith is, in fact, a direct gift from God? Well, it’s not only a misinterpretation from the text, but it’s also drawing a false conclusion from the text. Here’s what I mean: we just agreed that we didn’t do anything to earn, achieve or merit our salvation. That is true. So where does faith come from? Well, so goes the argument, it must come from God because we can do nothing. After all, we’re dead and we need God to first make us alive, then give us faith to respond with, so that we can then be saved.
Ok, so I have a massive issue with something called pre-faith regeneration and I’m not going to go into here because there just isn’t enough room on this here internet …
Here’s the problem with that line of reasoning that says faith comes from God: the Bible nowhere says it. I could point to more, but here are eight examples where Jesus refers to faith as belonging to the person, rather than God:
Matthew 9:2 (ESV) — 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew 9:22 (ESV) — 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
Matthew 9:28–29 (ESV) — 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”
Matthew 10:42 (ESV) — 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Luke 7:50 (ESV) — 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 8:50 (ESV) — 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”
Luke 17:19 (ESV) — 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 18:42 (ESV) — 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”
The truth is that faith, everywhere, is ascribed to man, not to God
Here’s a problem that springs up from the idea that faith does not come from God … if faith does not come from God, but comes from man (I don’t actually agree with that phrase but for argument sake, we’ll go with it ….) …. isn’t that something I’ve done and now God has to respond to my faith? What was that we said about “we’ve done nothing”? Well this problem is easily solved by recognizing that faith is not a work, but is instead the opposite of works. James actually states it clearly:
James 2:24 (ESV) — 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
James clearly draws a distinction between works and faith. They are two different things.
Ok, so now let’s try and answer the question: what is the source of faith? Where does it come from? Well to do that I’d like to ask a number of questions that all have the same answer – they all have the same answer but each one has a different Bible verse to back it up. Then, we’ll draw a conclusion about the origin of faith.
- How are people made alive / born again?
- 1 Peter 1:23 (ESV) — 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
- What does God use to “bring us forth”?
- James 1:18 (ESV) — 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
- What is the order of salvation?
- Ephesians 1:13 (ESV) — 13 In him you also, when (1) you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, (2) and believed in him, (3) were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
- Why is God’s Word so important? (HERE’S THE ANSWER)
- Romans 10:17 (ESV) — 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So let’s summarise ….
- Salvation is a free gift, given apart from our works or merit
- Faith is how we acquire salvation
- Faith is not a work
- Faith comes when the “word of truth” (the gospel) and the “word of Christ” (I take that to mean the Spirit’s call and conviction) coincide in such a way that the person responds positively to both the message, the call and the conviction (through repentance) and as a result is made alive/born again/becomes a Christian.