In his mercy, God raises sinners to life and gives them the faith they will need to respond to his gospel. Such is the grace of God. God’s grace is not waiting for sinners to change their minds and believe on him.
Continuing the theme of monergism in salvation, we come to the debate regarding faith and regeneration. Does regeneration empower faith? Or does faith produce regeneration? Both are necessary for salvation, but what is their relationship? And how do we know?
Historically, Reformed theologians have understood faith as a divine gift to God’s elect, a gift that was planned in eternity, purchased at the cross, and personally granted in regeneration. By contrast, Arminians, Wesleyans, and other advocates of free will aver that faith is possible for all men and hence is not a special gift of grace to God’s elect, but a gift of grace to all who would freely receive it.
As one who gladly affirms a Reformed view of salvation, I believe this latter position minimizes the work of God in salvation. Instead of putting man’s final destiny squarely in the hands of God, an Arminian view conjoins the work of God and man. Theologically, this undermines grace. Pastorally, this contribution of faith produces (or leaves unchanged) man’s inveterate thirst for self-determination and creates communities that lack a spirit of humility. In God’s grace, other doctrines may ameliorate these realities or produce humility. But, by and large, a church that teaches—explicitly or implicitly—that you are capable of making such a decision for Christ impedes the humility which the gospel is meant to foster (see Rom. 3:27–30).
So, how we understand God’s work of salvation matters immensely for our sanctification, discipleship, and Christian fellowship. Still, it must be a doctrine derived from Scripture and not from tradition alone. To that point, we might ask: Where do we find teaching that says regeneration precedes faith and/or that faith is a gift of God? Good question. And in Paul’s Epistles, we find at least five passages that teach us that faith is a gift. Let’s consider each below.
Faith as a Gift
The locus classicus of the doctrine of faith as a gift of grace is Ephesians 2:8–9.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This passage not only says that salvation is a gift, received by faith. It also says that faith is a gift. How do we know? Well, this takes a little digging, but in the original language, grace (charis) and faith (pistos) are both feminine nouns. Accordingly, any latter reference to them should also be feminine. But importantly, “gift” in the phrase “it is the gift of God,” which refers back to the earlier part of the verse, is neuter. This means that the gift of God is not pointing back to salvation, or grace, or faith alone, but to all the above. Everything in salvation, including faith is a gift from God.
Ephesians 2:8–9 is arguably the most clear statement that Paul makes about faith as a gift, but it is not the only one. For instance, in Philippians 1:29, we find this statement. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Though focusing on the gift of suffering, Paul assumes that suffering for Christ is a gift like faith is a gift.
Similarly, Paul assigns the gift of faith to the Holy Spirit. This is seen in both 1 Corinthians 12:8–11 and Galatians 5:22–23.
For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:8–11)