I grew up in church, and I thank God for that. Due to this fact, I heard phrases such as “But for the grace of God there goes (insert name of speaker).” “I’m saved by the grace of God.” “I’d like to thank The LORD for saving me.” Etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these phrases – they are all 100% biblical. And these statements resound in the heart of a true child of God with an undeniable “YES!”. But I have discovered that there was an unstated assumption in the mind of those who said those things. I developed the same assumption along with them. What was meant was this: “Had I not taken hold of the grace of God there goes Daniel.” Or “I’m saved by availing myself to the grace of God.” Or “I’d like to thank The LORD for saving me when I availed myself to His offer.” The difference is vast. It is the difference between salvation being ALL OF GOD, or salvation being part of man and part of God. In case you have missed it, let me state the assumption for you a bit more clearly: “I am saved because I chose, of my own free-will, to believe the gospel. Because I performed the act of faith, God gives me eternal life in return. I met God’s requirements and He graciously granted me eternal life. Faith is what I bring to the table, forgiveness is what He brings.” This is called “synergism”, meaning the individual and God work together in the salvation of the individual. Now, the question is this – is this the teaching of Scripture? If so, then we should embrace this unashamedly, if not then we should reject this stance.
Where does faith come from? What does God tell us is the reason men believe the gospel? Is it self-generated, or given to them? Does every man have it and it is up to him to exercise it in the right object to gain salvation? Many would answer these questions in the affirmative, but before for we align ourselves for or against it, let’s see what Scripture says about it.
We are told in I John 5:1 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” The same phraseology is used in I John 2:29 “everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” No Christian would say that John is teaching in the later verse that righteous works make us born again, but rather his point is to show that righteous works are a result of being born again. So it is in chapter 5. But not only is this evident by the context, the original language also points to this. The word “believes” is literally “is believing” it is in the present. The verb “is born” is a perfect imperative showing an action that has been completed in the past that has effects (believing) in the present. It is literally translated “has been born”. Here John shows us that faith is the cause of being born of God, rather than something that lies dormant within us awaiting our activiation.
John 3:3, 5-7 “Jesus answered him, Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.” Here we have Christ addressing the issue of how one enters the kingdom. He says there is a prerequisite to entering in, or even seeing it – that of being born again. The statement at the end of verse seven “You must be born again” is not a command telling Nicodemus something he must do, but rather something that must be done to him if he is to enter in. He did not just tell him “all you have to do is believe”. Christ took him to the root. Nicodemus needed to be re-born. He poses a question to him in verse 12 “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Christ struck at the heart of Nicodemus’ problem. He could not believe unless given a new nature.
John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Christ reiterates in the same chapter, verse 64, “But there are some of you who do not believe,… this is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Here we have Christ, after inviting men to come to Him, stating that no one can come/believe unless given that ability by the Father. So we have Christ stating again that faith, or belief, is not something we can contribute to our salvation. Christ states this truth again in John 10:25-26 “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” He explicitly states again that belief in Him is not what makes us one of His, but rather being one of His is the cause of our faith.
Luke tells us in Acts 18:27 “When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.” Here we get a glimpse of how we believe in Christ – through grace. Had it not been for grace they would not have believed. He also tells us in Acts 16:14 “… The LORD opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” God has sovereignly opened Lydia’s heart to cause her to heed what Paul said concerning Christ.
Paul tells us in Philippians 1:29 “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” Faith is a gift that is given to men on behalf of the work Christ accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection. Again we are told, almost as in passing, that faith is a gift from God.
Paul tells us on another instance (Romans 6:17) that he attributes the sinners obedience of the gospel to God when he says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,” This is an unmistakable attributing the saving faith of men wholly to God. Paul did not say, “I thank God that he freed you from sin AFTER you obeyed the gospel” but rather he thanks God that slaves of sin have obeyed from the heart the gospel. Paul blames God for their faith.
Peter tells us in II Peter 1:1 that faith is given to us when he writes “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Paul tells us plainly in II Thess. 3:2 “…not all have faith.” Paul doesn’t say “not all men have exercised their faith” he said they don’t have it. This aligns with the words of Christ in John 6 when He said, “no man can come unless it is granted him”.
I Corinthians 2:14 says “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Here we see the echo of Christ’s words to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Paul says the natural man doesn’t believe the things of the Spirit of God, he sees them as foolish and is incapable of understanding them. He will not believe them, as it goes against his very nature. He must be born of the Spirit if he is to ever understand the things of the Spirit.
In I Corinthians 12:3. Paul says there is something he wants the Corinthians believers to understand and that is “… no one can say ‘ Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” We know that men can say things they don’t mean, as that happens daily, but Paul is not speaking about someones inability to just meaninglessly utter the phrase “Jesus is Lord”. Paul is speaking of one confessing that with their mouth from a heart-belief. The same utterance he speaks of in Romans 10:14 “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?…” Heart belief must precede verbal utterance if it is to be meant, and no one can have this deep rooted conviction of truth apart from the Holy Spirit.
One more I would like to share with you which will lead me into another question that must be asked – I Corinthians 1:30-31 “And because of Him you are in Christ… so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the LORD.” Again we have Paul placing 100% of the reason a person is in Christ on God. None is shared by the savee, but all by the Savior!
There are more passages, but I do believe this will suffice to show that Scripture plainly teaches. we have heard from the apostle John, Peter, and Paul that faith is a gift from God. Even more, we have seen this very truth taught from the lips of our LORD Jesus Christ.
Lets pick back up with the verse we left off at: I Corinthians 1:30-31 “And because of Him you are in Christ… so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the LORD.” How does the philosophy that faith is something I bring to the table, or atleast a force that lies dormant within me until I decide to arouse it Godward, how does this line up with what Scripture says about God saving men in such a way that all boasting is excluded? That is one of the results of grace – it shuts the mouth of the one receiving it to even the smallest amount of boasting. Paul, in our current verse, explicitly states that the one who is in Christ is in Christ wholly because of God’s doing, nothing of himself. He goes on to emphasis that it is this way so that no one can boast save in The LORD alone.
Paul teaches elsewhere in Romans 9 that the mercy of God is shown to men, not based off of any quality found in themselves. verses 15-16 ” ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Paul seems to be redundant here in saying God will do what God will do according to what God will do; and it’s not according to what man may do but wholly upon what God will do. this is to emphasis a point that God is sovereign in his dispensing of mercy, not promiscuous to any who will of their own choose to meet a condition. Now I do not intend to get into election at this point, although I know this passage deals with that as well. I simply reference it here to show that God so works salvation so as to exclude any way for man to boast in it. God is jealous and He says He will not give His glory to another – Isaiah 42:8. (We also see in Isaiah 48:12 that God acts for His Own Name’s sake, not for the sake of men. God’s glory is something precious to Him and He does all He does in light of that.)
A verse that could have also been listed in the previous heading is I Corinthians 4:7 “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Here we see how faith being a gift (as already established previously) excludes boasting. We can’t boast in something that was granted to us. Just as i can’t boast in my physical sight, or ability to breath as I received these things from my Creator, so I can’t boast in my faith, for He gave me that as well.
Allow me to close with Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved though faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” the “it” is neuter in the original language. The nouns (grace and faith) are feminine. In greek, pronouns agree with the nouns they refer to in gender. Thus rather than referring exclusively to “faith” or exclusively to “grace” (which would be redundant as grace, by definition, is a gift) it seems to refer to the entire salvation. Paul states emphatically that it is not a result of works so that no one may boast. If salvation is the result of you and God working together, then you do have a share in some of the credit. But salvation is not this way. God has so designed salvation so that none of it is our own doing, not even the faith, so we are excluded from any boasting.
This is nowhere near exhaustive, as volumes have been written on what I have attempted to summarize, but let me conclude by answering a question you may possibly be entertaining. “So what’s the big deal? Why all the hype about whether I believe of my own or of God?” In the words of the reformers “Soli Deo Gloria!” (Glory to God alone!). This is it. Christ prayed in John 17, before going to the cross, that the Father would glorify Him for the purpose that He would glorify the Father. The glory of God is paramount. We are told in Romans 9:23 as well as in Ephesians 2:7 (just to name two places) that we are saved for His glory. When God opens our hearts to this truth, our salvation becomes all the more precious, we worship God more accurately, and we exclaim along with Jonah, and the host of Old and New Testament saints: “Salvation is of The LORD!”.
Soli Deo Gloria!!!!