Christians believe that one of the things the Holy Ghost does is gives the believer in Christ "gifts." By definition, a gift is not something that is earned or worked for but is something "bestowed or given voluntarily without anything expected in return." In other words, a gift is something given without any conditions attached. It is completely free.
According to what Paul taught, the gifts of God are not given because of anything we have done, lest we should boast in ourselves, but simply because of God's grace (see Ephesians 2:9). The word grace is often defined by many of today's Christians as meaning "God unmerited favor." By this they mean that man has done nothing to merit or deserve the gift they've received from God. As such, it is freely bestowed upon us by God without any conditions attached or anything expected from us in return.
One of the gifts God bestows upon us is being saved from our sins and because of that gift we then have the opportunity to also receive the gift of inheriting eternal life. Paul explained it this way: "For by grace are ye saved through faith and not of yourselves" (Ephesians 2:8). There are two things this verse seems to say. The first is that salvation comes to us as an act of grace from God instead of something we have done to merit it and the second is that salvation is dependant upon our faith.
The scriptures tell us that it is because of our faith that God considers us righteous (Romans 4:5), that we are justified (Romans 5:1), that we receive the promises of God (Galatians 3:14), and without which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). As such, faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which all other doctrines of salvation are built. In other word, without faith in Christ salvation is not possible.
If this is true then how do we gain the faith needed to become saved? According to what Paul told the Corinthians, faith is given to us as a gift from God.
Another word the scriptures often use in place of faith is "believe." Paul told the Romans "that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Romans 10:9) In this verse as well as in many others, we could easily substitute the word "faith" in place of "believe" without changing the meaning of the sentence. Thus, we see again that the scriptures indicate that salvation comes only through a belief or faith in Christ.
Yet, if faith is so essential to our salvation then it would seem that we cannot become saved unless God first gives us the gift of faith. And indeed, there are those who teach such a doctrine. It is their contention that our salvation, from its very beginning to its final end, is wholly and completely the work of God alone and this includes believing in Christ. It is their claim that if this were not true then man could boast that his own works has saved him.
Here is how several Bible commentators define the gift of faith:
- confidence in God produced by the impulse of His Spirit causing a reliance on God by a power that is altogether supernatural (Eph 1:19, 20). (Jamieson, Fausett & Brown)
- a divine power and promise, whereby we are enabled to trust God in any emergency, and go on in the way of our duty, and own and profess the truths of Christ, whatever the difficulty or danger. (Matthew Henry)
- the unique ability to trust God against all circumstances. (David Guzik)
What this doctrine clearly implies is that faith in Christ is something that is produced within us by an act of God rather than by anything we do to create it for ourselves, and if it is our faith in Christ that saves us then the obvious conclusion is that it is God alone who decides who should be saved and who should be consigned to a state of eternal damnation. And this decision is based, not on anything we as individuals have done or not done to merit or deserve it but is made solely according to the whim of God.
This doctrine seems to be supported by the scripture that says, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). In other words, it is God, working in the heart of an individual, that causes them to have the will to want to do whatever God expects of them. And that includes even the desire to have faith in God. That is why they say faith is a gift from God.
But that means the opposite of this statement is just as true, which is that if God decides not to extend this gift to us then there is nothing we can do to develop the will or desire to believe in God. If faith is necessary to become saved and faith comes to us as an undeserved gift from God then the inescapable conclusion is that it becomes impossible for us to be saved unless God gives us the gift of faith in the first place.
But this doctrine seems to be at odds with other scriptures.
There was an incident in the life of Jesus when "two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you" (Matthew 9:27-29).
If faith is truly a gift that comes from God then why would Jesus ask these two blind men if they had the faith to be healed? There would have been no reason for Him to have asked this question if it was God who had given them their faith in Christ. It is clear from the way Jesus asked the question that the faith spoken of here is not that of a gift which is freely given but something that was the result of a choice these two blind men consciously made to believe or not believe in Christ. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus said, "According to your faith be it unto you" strongly indicates that the faith these men possessed was something they themselves had developed.
At another time when Jesus and His disciples "were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:14-21).
The Lord had earlier sent his disciples out "and gave them power over unclean spirits… And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." (Mark 6:7,13). To do all these things requires faith. Since it was Jesus who "gave them power" to do all these things, which power included the gift of faith, then why didn't they have the faith to cure this kind of sickness?
When the disciples asked Jesus this very question "Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief," indicating that it was the disciples themselves who lacked what was needed to cast this particular devil out. Jesus then further chided them saying, "If ye have faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed you could move mountains." However, such a statement makes no sense if we say that faith is given to us as an undeserved gift from God. If that were the case then Jesus would have answered their question by saying, "Because God didn't give you enough faith to do it," and then would have added, "But if you had been given faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed you would be able to move mountains." But that's not what Jesus said.
Some may point to the last sentence which says "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" as showing that the disciples of Christ needed to ask for more faith from God in order to cure this level of sickness. However, if they had to ask for it first before it could be given then that means they had to do something in order to merit or be deserving of receiving it. Again, we are left to wonder, which way is it? Is faith something that is freely given to us or is there something we must do in order to achieve it?
In Mark's account of this incident, when the father asked Jesus to heal his son he says, "But if you [Jesus] can do anything, take pity on us and help us. Jesus answered him saying, What do you mean If I can? Everything is possible to those who believe. Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23-24, NIV). According to what Jesus said, the healing of the boy was not based on the faith Jesus had but on the father's faith. Although the father did ask for help with his unbelief, he first exclaims that he did believe that Jesus could heal his son. His concern seems to be that perhaps he didn't have enough faith, so he pleaded for help from the Lord in case his faith wasn't sufficient.
What this story indicates is that faith in Christ is something we are expected to have rather that it coming to us as an undeserved gift from God. Furthermore, if we first have to ask for the gift then it is given only upon certain conditions, which then indicates there is something we need to do to receive it. In that case it tends to undermine the idea that the gift is free.
There was also the incident where the disciples of Christ were on a boat and saw Jesus coming toward them walking on the water. And when Peter saw Him he said, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 28-31).
The question this story raises is, if Peter had been given the gift of faith to walk on water why was he afraid when he saw the boisterous waves? Fear and doubt are the opposite of faith and Peter exhibited both qualities in this story which means he didn't have much faith. In fact, the Lord confirmed this when he said to Peter, "O thou of little faith." But if we say that faith comes from God through no effort on our part then the only conclusion we can come to is that God had not given Peter much faith. In that case, we can't fault Peter for being afraid and doubting because he couldn't do anything else unless God had first given him the faith to be fearless.
On the other hand, if we say that faith is something we have to develop ourselves, with or without God's assistance, then that seems to contradict the scriptures that say faith is a gift from God. So which is it?
But the problem of faith is compounded when we realize that people can possess it in varying degrees. For example, the scriptures talk about those who have "no faith (Mark 4:40), "little faith" (Matthew 6:23), a "measure of faith" (Romans 12:3), "great faith" (Matthew 15:28), and "all faith" (1 Cor.13:2). It talks about those who are, "weak in faith" (Romans 4:19), lacking in faith (1 Thess. 3:10), "strong in faith" (Romans 4:20), abundant in faith (1 Timothy 1:14), "rich in faith" (James 2:5) and "full of faith" (Acts 6:5). More than that, our faith can either fail us (Luke 22:32) or be overthrown (2 Timothy 2:18) or it can increase (1 Cor. 10:15) and grow (2 Thess. 1:3).
If we say that faith is a gift from God then does God give us faith a little at a time or does He give us the full amount of faith all at once? And if it's given a little at a time, is there something we need to do before God decides to give us more of it? Or is faith like a seed that God gives us and then we are expected to make it grow? And is it possible for us to lose this gift either through our own neglect or the efforts of others? Yet if we say that faith is something that we chose to work for and develop on our own then why does Paul say it is a gift from God?
Surprising as it may seem, very few churches even notice this dilemma. Instead, they tend to focus on one side of the issue and ignore the other. Either they preach that faith is a gift from God and turn a blind eye to those scriptures that contradict such an idea or they preach that we are the ones who must place our faith in Christ without mentioning that faith is a gift from God.
This is the approach Billy Graham takes. His radio program, which was started back in 1950 and continues to this day, is called "The Hour of Decision." Implied in this phrase is the idea that we are the ones who have to consciously make the decision to accept Christ as our personal Savior. In other words, the choice is up to us whether or not we want to place our faith and trust in God and believe that by accepting Him as our Savior we can be saved from our sins and inherit eternal life. During his crusades, at the end of his sermon, Billy Graham usually asks those listening to him, "Will you accept Christ into your life today?" Notice that this question strongly implies that such a choice is left up to the individual to make. However, if faith in Christ comes to us as a gift from God then that choice has already been made for us by God because if we have faith that Jesus is the Christ there is no reason for us not to accept Him since it is only our lack of faith that would prevent us from doing so.
What this doctrine of faith illustrates is that those who claim the Bible is the final and only source of divine authority when it comes to knowing what God expects of us have boxed themselves into a corner. While admitting that all men are fallible they have left themselves no other choice than to turn to man for their understanding of what God's word teaches. One group of men teaches that faith is a gift of God while another group teaches that faith comes from within us. And there are other groups who teach a mixture of the two or teach something different than either one of these possibilities.
The very reason for this confusion is because the Bible does not clearly and unambiguously give us the answer to this question. Therefore, men have no other choice than to decide for themselves how to interpret what the scriptures teach about where faith comes from. As such, they are expressing their educated opinion of what they think the scripture teach. And if that is true, then whenever anyone claims they know what the scriptures teach when it has not been unmistakably and obviously stated have replaced the authority of the Bible with their own.
The early Christian church was held together not by men who expressed their own opinion about what they thought the scriptures taught but by men who were divinely called and inspired to teach others. Whenever the first Christians had a question they turned to the apostles as their final authority, not the scriptures. And when the apostles gave an answer, they didn't depend just on the scriptures for their authority. That's because the knowledge they had didn't come as a result of their own study of the scriptures aided by their own intellect but rather it was given to them by revelation and inspiration from God. This is why the words they uttered and wrote became scripture themselves because they were the words of God, not man.
But when people claim that divine inspiration has ceased because God has given us all we need to know in the Bible they have no other choice than to rely on uninspired men for their understanding of the Bible. And this is clearly seen with the dilemma of faith.