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” (Eph. 2:8).

- Ephesians 2:1-10

During the tumultuous Puritan revolution of the 1640s, the Westminster Confession of Faith was produced in Great Britain as a summary of biblical doctrine. In chapter 14 of the confession, the Westminster divines (pastors and theologians who composed the document) gave an explanation of saving faith. They wrote, “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts” (14.1).

This statement masterfully encapsulates the origin of faith and explains why it is that some people believe the Gospel while others do not. From first to last, our trust in Christ is a gift from God, possible only by the working of the Spirit. Today’s passage teaches we are saved by grace through faith, “this” faith being not of ourselves but of the Lord (Eph. 2:8). Much debate has ensued as to whether “this” refers to grace or to faith and the conclusion drawn is profoundly vital to theology. Reformed and Arminian theologians agree that grace is a gift of God, but if faith is the antecedent of “this,” the Arminian’s resistible grace is ruled out. If faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, those to whom this gift is given will believe.

Much evidence suggests the gift is our faith. First, Greek grammar allows for this passage to teach that the gift is our faith. Second, grace by definition is unmerited favor from the Lord. It would be unnecessarily repetitive if grace is the gift Paul speaks of here; therefore, it is highly unlikely that grace is the antecedent of “this.”

Finally, other New Testament passages say faith is a gift from God. Jesus clearly tells Nicodemus in John 3:3 that only those who are “born again” can see the kingdom. Rebirth is a necessary prerequisite for the faith that enables us to trust Christ and see the kingdom of God. Contrary to popular evangelical thought today, we are born again by the Spirit before we believe in Jesus, not afterwards.

Only those whom the Father draws can come to Christ (John 6:44) because we are all dead in sin before regeneration (1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:1). If we are going to be redeemed by faith, even that faith must be a gift to the heart our Creator has chosen to renew.

Coram Deo

Our experience also demonstrates the reality of the grace of faith. Imagine two people with the same background hear the Gospel. Yet only one of them believes, thus showing that it is not merely our surrounding environment that leads us to trust Christ. The irresistible grace of God alone regenerates us. Even your faith is a gift. Thank Him today for choosing to renew your heart and pray earnestly that He would do the same to a non-believing friend.

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 30:6
Jer. 31:33–34
John 20:11–18
James 1:18

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.