Most believers (at least it seems to me) have never even considered this. Yet it is very Scriptural. I praise God He has shown it to me and am joyful to impart it to you if possible. We all want to give God the credit for our salvation and yet will inconsistently hold that we produced our faith out of our unregenerated human nature that is in bondage to sin. The air we breathe in this country is “my will to do whatever I want,” and it pervades our understanding of God’s work in salvation. It is said, God did the work through Christ on the cross for everyone, but we get ourselves in “because we are free to choose.” Are we though? How are we free? So our will is free from sin? Has sin not affected even this? And if this is so, how in the world can we make a right choice if even our wills (choosing what we desire most) are in bondage to sin? Our hearts are enslaved, our desires corrupted to the core, to the point that all things coming from our hearts naturally are vile and poisonous. Romans 3:9-18 makes this abundantly clear, as Paul’s argument of summing up the human condition. In ourselves, apart from any work exerted by God to cleanse us, we desire and seek nothing of Jesus unless a change happens first in us to cleanse our will and change our very desires, cure our blindness and heal our deafness, so that we see and hear beauty we’ve never experienced: that is, Jesus and His infinite suffering for sinners on the cross. Shining a light in a blind man’s eyes will not make him see. He must first be cured of his blindness and then he can see the light.
So, faith. What is it? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And where does it come from?
“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
You have been saved by grace through faith. We have that down. Then Paul says, “And this is not your own doing.” And I have understood this to mean the totality of the statement, “by grace through faith,” is not your own doing. But including our faith even? Was this the doing of God? According to this Scripture, yes. And it was purchased in the cross for us, being that unbelief was one of the sins for which Christ had to die. If you have believed in Christ, it means before the foundation of the world, it was granted to you by God to believe (Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11).
In salvation, God brings all the glory to Himself and this is indicated in this passage when Paul says, “It (meaning salvation “by grace through faith,” the whole thing) is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We alone believe. But God is the One who grants that faith. Just as God spoke the world into existence from nothing, so also, He goes into dead hearts and speaks into existence that which is not there, namely faith in Christ alone which saves us. Apart from this work, as Jesus said, you cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3). May we consider that even our faith has been given to us by God and that even in this, we cannot boast, but rather thank God for the work of Christ, that He would grant us eyes to see and ears to hear the Gospel and respond positively to it.
Here are some other examples of how God is the only One who gives causal priority to our faith (or in simpler terms, that God is the One who imparts faith to the spiritually dead, hardened sinner):
“One of those listening (to the Gospel being preached) was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:14)
Notice, Lydia is the one who believed, she responded. Listen to me here: I’m affirming that she was solely responsible for her belief or unbelief in the message. She is not a robot, but a living, responsible moral agent. God did not believe or respond for her. But what is the reason she believed and responded positively? “The Lord opened her heart,” which caused her to respond positively to Paul’s message. God performed a work in her that produced an effect. That is the only explanation for her and every believers faith: God alone and His work to make dead sinners alive. He gets all the glory. This is called regeneration, or the new birth, or (as it has been so abused as a political label for evangelicals) being born again. It is not something we do at all, it is something done to us by God alone. Just as we have nothing to do with our physical birth and have no choice in the matter, so also, we have nothing to do with our second birth, but it is something done to us. And yet are fully responsible to believe the message of the Gospel. But the new birth, this is God’s operation to perform. And the new birth creates in the sinner a faith (assured hope, deep conviction of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1) that was not there. Faith is the result of this new birth, not the cause. God, and more specifically, the cross, is the cause of our faith in Him. This is our hope in evangelism! We speak the message of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit does His work. It doesn’t rest on our convincing people into the kingdom but the work of God to save sinners.
Continuing, Jesus says Himself,
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
No one comes to, or believes in, or trusts in, or rests in, or loves Jesus unless that person is first drawn by the Father. And the Greek word for drawn is literally dragged, as the same Greek word appears in Acts in speaking of Paul being dragged out of the city. This is our condition spiritually before God: we must be dragged and have life supernaturally breathed into us. The implication here is undeniable: no one believes unless God does a work in them. How does this square with Jesus’ statement in John 3:16 that, “whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”? Well that’s absolutely true! Whosoever believes will be saved.
But read the rest of Jesus’s comments in the Bible, particularly the book of John. It is Jesus Himself who says no one believes unless they are drawn by the Father. Their very coming to Christ is granted by the Father, or it is not. He is God, we’re not. Faith in Jesus is a part of the grace of God, not of works, so that we, in no way at all, boast before Him. He gets all glory and honor for our believing. This is the wondrous hope and beauty of election. It is cause for great joy in the believer and should in no way make us recoil in horror! If you believe, you have been “mercied” by God through the cross, brought from death to life by His power. This should bring you to tears and awe at the infinite work of God to save sinners by Christ.
Jesus also says:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
The Father has a chosen, elect people He gives to the Son. The Son purchases for those people all the benefits of salvation, from beginning to end, uniting them to Himself at every point of His life. Jesus makes an emphatic statement there by saying “they will come to me”. It is as good as done. His work to bring them from death to life is infallible, unstoppable. His work results in their coming to Him, and nothing will stop Him from bringing them to Himself. How awesome. What joy fills my heart just thinking about that. The work of the cross is definitive, effective, not passive, waiting for us to get ourselves into its benefits. Rather, He sovereignly bestows those benefits as He desires, in mercy, making sure His people come to Christ by His power alone. Oh the glory of the cross!
Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Again, the flesh is no help at all. Does this not destroy the misconception of free will? John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Most people will simply stop at that verse and say “Whosoever, whosoever, see? It proves free will.” Yet they will not continue on in the same sentence of the next verse. It says, “…who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Preempting verse 12, they were born by God, their very believing came by a prior work of God. It specifically says they were not born “of the will of man.” You did not will yourself into being born again. Is this not conclusive?
And finally, these verses make it abundantly clear that Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ because the Father revealed it to Him, not because he finally made himself see Jesus as the Christ (note specifically that Jesus says flesh and blood has not revealed this to him, including his own):
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.'” (Matthew 16:13-17)
So yes, faith is indeed the gift of God and comes only by the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit through the indiscriminate preaching of the Gospel from God’s word. We evangelize the lost because that’s how God sovereignly works, according to Romans 10:14-15. And God does His work as He pleases. How freeing! God has people He will infallibly save through preaching the Gospel! We must pay close attention to these passages in order that we may feel the deeper sense of just how helpless we really were to even believe apart from God’s work in us. That is exactly how dead in sin we really are. Praise God all the work is His and that we can only boast in the work of Christ on the cross having purchased this undeserved, unearned benefit of faith for His people! To God alone be the glory!