February 23, 2012

Is Faith in Jesus Christ a Gift of God?

Dr. Charlie Bing
A person is eternally saved through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but does God give this faith or is it purely a human response? Those who teach that faith must be given by God are usually constrained to do so by their theological perspective, as is true of Reformed theology. Their view of man’s total depravity does not allow for any positive response from man toward God. They claim that if faith originated in man it would be a meritorious work that robs God of His glory. In their view, since God gives the faith that saves, that faith will sustain the believer in a life of obedience. But there are problems with viewing faith as a gift of God.

Theological problems with faith as a gift

Those who view faith as a gift interpret man’s condition, described in Ephesians 2:1 as “dead in trespasses and sins,” as a total inability to respond to God in a positive way. But that phrase describes man’s total separation from God, not his inability to respond to God. Sinful man is totally separated from God and therefore without eternal life. Man retains the image of God to some degree; it was severely marred in the fall, but not totally destroyed. Acts 10:2 describes Cornelius before he came to know Jesus Christ as Savior as a devout man who feared God, gave alms, and prayed to God (and God heard his prayers! Acts 10:31). In Acts 17 the Athenians did not have the proper object of faith but worshiped idols. Paul encourages them to seek to know their “unknown God” which of course is Jesus Christ. Men can seek God in their unsaved state as God draws them (John 6:28-29, 44-45).

Another theological problem with the view of faith as a gift of God is that it misunderstands the nature of faith. Faith is not (as they claim) a divine energy, a special power, or an infused dynamic. That confuses faith with the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith is simply faith. It means that one is convinced or persuaded that something is true so that there is a personal appropriation of that truth. There is not a special kind of faith for eternal salvation. There is only a special object of faith—Jesus Christ. The kind of faith one might have in Buddha is no different from the kind of faith that one can have in Jesus. The only difference is the object: Buddha does not save; Jesus saves. To make faith the power of salvation is to confuse faith with the Holy Spirit. According to Ephesians 2:8 grace is the grounds of salvation and faith is the means by which we appropriate that grace. Properly speaking we are not saved by faith, but through faith.

To show that faith is not a meritorious work, the Bible contrasts faith in Christ with meritorious works in both Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4:4-5. Faith means exactly that we can do nothing for our salvation. We can only receive salvation as a gift. Faith is like an empty hand that simply accepts a gift.

Exegetical problems

The main passage used to support faith as a gift of God for salvation is Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.”

It is claimed that the demonstrative pronoun “that” refers to “faith” as a gift of God (the words “it is” are not in the original language, but are supplied by the translation as shown by the brackets). But “that” cannot refer to “faith” (nor to “grace”) because in the original Greek it would have to be in the feminine gender. But “that” is neuter which shows that the best antecedent is the concept of salvation by grace. This fits the context which is governed by salvation by grace in chapter 1 and especially in 2:4-9. There are other passages used to argue that faith is a gift of God, but they offer no support. For example, it is clear that some passages speak of faith as a special spiritual gift (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:9) or simply as the opportunity to believe (Phil. 1:29), but not as a gift for salvation.

Logical problems

On the surface the view that says God must give us faith to believe is a tautology. It assumes what it seeks to prove. In other words, this view claims we believe because God gives us faith. But if God give us faith, then we do not need to believe. Or if we can believe, then God does not need to give us faith.

Another problem with that view is its theology, which says unsaved man is “dead” and cannot believe unless he is first made alive. Therefore God gives us faith as a divine life-giving energy that regenerates us so that we can believe. But if we have the divine life and are regenerated, we would not need to believe to have eternal life—we already have it!

Also, if faith as a gift is a divine power that sustains the believer in a life of obedience, then that obedience would be perfect and never interrupted by sin or disobedience. New Testament admonitions and commands to live righteously would be superfluous. But since believers do sin, it shows that their human response is a crucial aspect of their sanctification.

Finally, if we cannot be saved unless and until God gives us faith in the gospel, then God could not hold us responsible for not believing the gospel. But he clearly does (John 3:18, 36, 5:40).


It is hard to escape the conclusion that those who claim that God must give us the faith to believe for salvation do so out of a theological construct that is not validated by Scripture. Sinful man retains the image of God to the degree that he can have faith in either an unworthy or a worthy object for salvation. The only faith that saves is faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Faith is not the gift; Jesus Christ is the gift. God can draw us to Himself (John 6:28-29, 44-45), convict us of the gospel’s truth (John 16:8), and invite us to receive eternal life (John 3:16; 4:10; 7:37), but it is our responsibility to believe the gospel for eternal life.

Is Faith in Jesus Christ a Gift of God? no. 42 - Dr. Charlie Bing

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For Related Reading:

The Danger of Teaching That Faith is the Gift of God by Brother George Zeller


  1. A good friend of mine is Missouri Synod Lutheron (LCMS), and believes saving faith is a gift given by God. According to him, saving faith is given to INFANTS at the time of sprinkling, whereas for adults it is given at the time of water baptism (not sure the mode of baptism for adults in the LCMS).

    Very clever how this is "harmonized" with Scripture by the LCMS:

    1. They say faith does indeed cometh by hearing the Word, but it's the words of the priest/pastor during water baptism...even if those words by the priest do not contain the Gospel.

    2. Salvation via water baptism (i.e. baptismal regeneration) is GOD'S WORK, not man's work according to the LCMS. What a clever way of trying to avoid teaching a works-based salvation.

    Lastly, the LCMS would disagree with other Reformed teaching that saving faith will perservere. LCMS teaches one can lose salvation.

    What a mess.

  2. In Eph 2:8-9 it is grace, faith and salvation that is " the gift of God " . Reformed Theology does not claim or teach that faith is the only gift. But rather the entire thing there is as a unit. There is no problem at all with human responsibility at all since it is a divinely enabled choice. The late Lewis Sperry Chafer himself taught that grace, faith and salvation is a gift of God. Man comes to faith in Jesus because he has been empowered to do so by God. Human responsibility is not denied at all . I feel that special pleading arguments were presented by Dr. Bing without him even noticing that he used that logical fallacy. He himself concedes a person must be convicted by the Holy Spirit prior to faith in Jesus yet complains of Reformed Theology of holding to so called inability when his position has men inability to believe apart from conviction of sin. I am firmly a dispensationalist so I am coming from within that framework theologically and exegetically. It appears that Dr. Bing over reacted againist Calvinism.

  3. It appears to me that ChaferDTS has expoused opinion, dyed in the wool opinion since he lists absolutely no supportive Scripture. These are the things that divide. Again, the "dispensationalist" card is played where it makes no sense, unless he believes that only "dispensationalists" have faith. This isn't about dispensations or time frames, it's about responsibilities, man's and God's.
    I wish ya'll would stop playing TWISTER just to promote your own brand of theological hooey.
    DTS GRAD myself.

    1. Roger: I appreciate your input, but let's try to un- "hooey" our remarks.



  4. I'm still not quite sure what is being taught here. If faith is of man, natural man, and not of God, what is 1 Corinthians 2:14 teaching?
    "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned"
    Also 1 Corinthians 2:12-13,"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,
    which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

  5. Roger:

    On the article itself I trust there is no misunderstanding. It is clear and coming with the Scriptures as the final word on the matter. Faith is NOT the gift of God! For additional study I suggest you read the following by Brother George Zeller.

    The Danger of Teaching that Faith is the Gift of God

    That is a brief intro to a much more detailed polemic on the subject that you will link to from there.

    Kind regards,


  6. Lou,
    Interesting response. I have read the George Zeller article and I suggest right back to you to travel a short distance to C. Michael Patton's article "Why doesn't everyone agree with me" located at Credo House blog. Neither you nor I nor any man or woman who as walked this earth is or has ever been infallible, regardless of what the RC church states.
    BHFLU (1 John 4:19)

  7. Pastor:

    Infallibility of a human writer or his work was not suggested, the article was suggested for further study.



  8. Part 1 "It appears to me that ChaferDTS has expoused opinion, dyed in the wool opinion since he lists absolutely no supportive Scripture. "

    Hello Roger E Olson. I find what you stated there as dishonest because of the fact if you read my post I had made mention of Ephesians 2:8-9 for grace, faith and salvation as being the gift of God in context.If you want another verse for faith or belief as a gift of God there is Phil 1:29 where the NT Greek word charizo which means to give, render, or to grant graciously " which in context of the verse is belief in Jesus for salvation and to suffer for Him. If you really studied Scripture at all my specific comments were soundly based on the teaching of Scripture and you andothers should have known what verses I had in mind when I had made my comments. I also pointed out incorrect argumentation which should be pointed out if it is made. It does not matter to me if it is done by Calvinist or Arminian. If a misstatement is made it is right to point it out.

  9. Part 2

    For the NT doctrine of efficacious drawing & calling is found in John 6:44, 65, Rom. 8:30 being sufficient for the point I was making on that.

    For the NT doctrine of human responsibility for a person to believe or have faith in Jesus for eternal life or salvation is found in Jn 5:24; 20:31, Acts 16:30-31 and Rev. 22:17.

    These two NT doctrines go hand in hand in our experience in the act of regeneration. A person is enabled by God to believe which inclines a person to make such divinely enabled choice for eternal life. Thus the sovereignity of God in efficacious calling and human responsbility are taught in Scripture in order for a person to be regenerated. Efficacious drawing & calling are distinct from regeneration. This efficacious calling & drawing procedes faith and regeneration. It is held that a person is regenerated which is the act of the impartation of eternal life takes place at the moment of saving faith. It is this efficacious calling & drawing which makes regeneration possible and certain in the passages of which I cited for that specific NT doctrine. The sad reality is that Arminianism had no place for the NT doctrine of efficacious calling & drawing and replace this with it's false doctrine of " prevenient grace " and their exegetical dishonesty on important passages of Scripture on this . The error of classical calvinism would be of them equating the efficacious calling & drawing with regeneration itself.

  10. Part 3

    "These are the things that divide."

    I assume you are referring to the sin of sectarianism that is all to often taking place in the body of Christ of which the apostle Paul warned of in 1 Cor. 1:10-17. I personally have not ever breaking fellowship with fellow believers over this issue. It has always been those who disagreed with me who chose to break fellowship and their overly dogmatic rants that is all too common in Armianian writings and sermons. I would never break fellowship with those such as the late Dr. Dave Breese my mentor in the faith , Adrian Rogers or Henry Thiessen over the issue of election even though I disagree with them on this.

    "Again, the "dispensationalist" card is played where it makes no sense, unless he believes that only "dispensationalists" have faith. This isn't about dispensations or time frames, it's about responsibilities, man's and God's.I wish ya'll would stop playing TWISTER just to promote your own brand of theological hooey."

    I made mention of me being a dispensationalist as a way of letting those here know that I am a friend rather than an enemy and seeking good open discussion without being overly dogmatic or harsh feelings even though I disagree with Bing and Lou on this issue. I respect them as brothers in Christ . I happen to enjoy many of the articles on Lou's blog and find them intresting. Come to think of it the total depravity of man and human responsibility are more easy to be proven in Scripture through the various rules of life in Scripture in which mankind has failed in each dispensation. Thus showing the only way of salvation is through the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ in human history with justification before God by His grace through faith only in Jesus Christ . Jesus is the only way of salvation. :) Dispensationalism is not merely about prophecy & the distinction of Israel and the church. It is a systematic theology with all the divisions with in it that is based on the exegetical conclusions of Scripture by the use of the literal grammatical historical method of interpretation. Dispensationalism as a system of interpretation can build up it's own doctrinal formulations in all the divisions within systematic theology. I guess I have a deeper understanding of dispensationalism than you do.

  11. Part 4

    "DTS GRAD myself. "

    My basic disagreement with you is your belief in what is known as Arminianism and some of your misrepresentations of Calvinism though I do agree that Arminians have been misrepresented at times by others. I hope that you are in agreement with the Dallas Seminary doctrinal statement. :)

    My main point was since Bing affirms the need for the conviction of sin that is taught in John 16:7-11 then he like Calvinist affirms an inability of the lost to come to Jesus on their own. Therefore his argument would be what is called special pleading. I was just pointing that out.

  12. Hi Lou. I like the writings of George Zeller's web site though I disagree with some of it. He is very good in what he teaches. I always enjoy reading his articles alot.

  13. Thanks for mentioning Zeller. His writing is widely read, easy to grasp and equipping saints to stand fast.