God’s Gift of Faith
“By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”- Ephesians 2:8
Today we return to our look at the biblical doctrines outlined in the Heidelberg Catechism. We are in question and answer 65, which begins the section of the catechism devoted to the sacraments and their role in the Christian life. The matter at hand is this: If faith is the sole instrumental cause of justification — the only way we may have the righteousness of Christ imputed to our accounts (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:15–16) — from where does our faith come?
First, we must look at the ultimate origin of our faith. Without a doubt, most modern evangelicals believe that human beings have an innate capacity for Godglorifying faith — that even unregenerate sinners are able to work up trust in the gospel and that faith comes before a changed heart. Despite the popularity of this view, it is inconsistent with biblical revelation. Romans 8:7–8 explains that it is impossible for minds set on the flesh to please God and obey Him. People who are not in Christ are in the flesh, so they lack the ability to do the Lord’s will. Since His will for us is that we trust in His promises, unbelievers are incapable in themselves of believing in Christ Jesus for salvation. Furthermore, John 3:3 says that we cannot even see the kingdom of God unless we are first born again by the Spirit. If we cannot see God’s kingdom, we can by no means enter it. In sum, faith can arise only from a new heart. To put it in theological categories: regeneration precedes faith.
Faith is a gift of the Lord to undeserving people, the outworking of God’s electing grace and the atonement of Jesus for His own. Ephesians 2:8 confirms the truth that faith is ultimately a gift of God. “The gift of God” in the original Greek appears in the neuter grammatical form, which means that it refers back to both grace and faith earlier in the verse. Grace and faith are divine gifts, and our Father does not give them to all people. Only this view of faith is consistent with the biblical teaching on the pervasiveness of our depravity and our desperate state apart from Christ.
Sinners are intellectually able to understand the basic content of the gospel, but they lack the moral ability to believe the gospel. That is, they are wholly unwilling to turn from their sin and rest in Christ alone until the Spirit changes their hearts and enables them to heed the preaching of the gospel of God (Acts 13:13–52).
If we believe that we are capable of working up faith in our souls, we cannot boast in Christ alone. But if we understand that we have faith only because of the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can truly give God all the glory for our salvation. We are not to look at ourselves as better than others because we believe the gospel; rather, we are to be profoundly grateful that God has chosen to grant us faith even though we are undeserving sinners.
Passages for Further Study