Is faith a gift? That is the question we are seeking to answer as we explore the doctrine of saving faith as described for us in the Bible. And if faith is a gift, who gives it? Who is the recipient? How much of it is a gift?
First, when we speak of a gift, we need to understand that a gift is something given. It is not something that you work for in order to earn because that would be wages, not a gift; it would be something you have earned for your efforts. Whereas a gift is exactly the opposite. You contribute nothing, and it is entirely reliant on the one giving the gift.
Saving faith is anchored in God and His Son Jesus Christ's victory over death. But how does one come to place their faith in Christ and His finished work of atonement on their behalf? Is this faith something they earn or is it simply given to them as a gift? God's Word provides us with the answer.
According to Ephesians, we are dead in our trespasses and sins—the spiritually dead state into which we were born—and therefore we possess no faith towards Christ, as the Apostle Paul describes in the first seven verses of Ephesians 2. By nature, we all are separated from God, dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1b), and under the judgment and wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). Therefore, for anyone to call upon the name of Jesus Christ in faith, it must be granted to them first. We are incapable of placing our faith in Christ until we are made spiritually alive through the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes on to speak of saving faith as a gift given to us from God. It is something we do not automatically have; it is not ours by nature. "For by grace you have been saved through 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" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith, then, is our response to God's grace in saving us, but even that is not of ourselves; it is the gift of God. Faith is not something produced by our own power.
First, it is because we do not have the ability in ourselves. Jesus said in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." He goes on to say in verse 63, "It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all." Our flesh has no ability on its own to come to Christ in faith.
Secondly, if we somehow had the ability to produce faith, it would make salvation at least partly of works, and we would have reason to boast in ourselves. Paul makes it very clear in Ephesians 2:8-9 that even faith is completely a gift from God, apart from any of our own works so that no one may boast in what they have done. Rather, we boast in the Lord as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1:26,
"For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'"
If we are in Christ Jesus, it is because of God granting us faith.
Saving faith, from beginning to end, is a gracious gift we receive from God. "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" (Philippians 1:29). This gift causes our hearts to swell with gratitude and our mouths to give Him thanks and boast of His goodness to others. For without the gift of faith, we would be utterly lost, condemned for our sin and under the righteous wrath of God. As Philippians 1:6 says, "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
The perfect life lived by Christ would have no effect on our life if God did not gift us faith to believe in Him. And so, we close as Paul closed His letter to the Ephesians, where he again describes faith as coming from God the Father. "Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible" (Ephesians 6:23-24).