Is Faith A Gift God Gives (or forces on) Us?
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
For the past 30+ years of being a Christian, I have always understood this verse to mean that faith is the gift God gives us. That faith has to be given to us by God, in order for us to believe in Him. Of course, I believed this meant that it was a gift He offered to all, but that we had to decide to accept or reject it. And that is a fine interpretation, in my mind. Because it's a graceful, reasonable way to mesh God's sovereignty with mankind's free-will.
However, Calvinists use this verse to say that God has to be the One to give people faith, and He only gives it to the elect, and if He doesn't give it to you the you were not predestined to heaven and have no chance to believe in Him. In their theology, faith is a "gift" that is shoved into the elected person, causing them (and only them) to believe in God.
As I have been slowly and systematically working my way through tearing Calvinism apart, I began to rethink this verse. In fact, just a couple days ago, I was going over it in my head as I fell asleep, thinking about how Calvinism views this "gift of faith." And all of a sudden it hit me: Is "faith" really the gift in this verse, as I always assumed it was? Or could it be something else? Could it be that "grace" is the gift? All this time, could "this not from yourselves" be referring to something other than faith?
And so I did a little more research on this verse, and I ran across some posts online. And it really opened my eyes to what the verse is really trying to say, and how it does not support the Calvinist view that faith is something God gives to the elect (forces on the elect).
Apparently, in the Greek language, words are either female or male or neuter. And if another word relates back to a previous word, they have to agree in gender. Such as ... "faith" is feminine, so if the "this" (as in "this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God") is referring to "faith," it would also have to be feminine.
But ... the "this" in Ephesians 2:8-9 is actually neuter. So it can't be referring specifically back to the word "faith." Faith is not the gift.
And apparently, "grace" is also feminine, so therefore "this (gift)" cannot be referring specifically to that word either.
So what is the "gift" then?
The thing that makes the most sense is that the whole concept together - the concept of salvation, of being saved by grace though our faith - is the "gift."
Salvation is the gift of God.
And if this is true, you'd think there would be another verse to support it, right?
Well, guess what?
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life." (Romans 6:23)
This clearly says that eternal life - salvation - is the gift God gives. Not the faith to believe. And according to John 3:16-17 and 1 John 2:2, Jesus died for all sins of all people, making this gift of salvation available to everyone, through God's grace.
And so therefore, if God doesn't give faith to people so that they can believe then it means we can believe without being given faith. Which means there are no elected people whom God gives faith to. Which means everyone has the ability to and opportunity to believe, to have faith, because it's not a gift given only to a few preselected people. (And this would go along with the rest of the Bible which consistently says Jesus died for all, God loves all, God wants all people to be saved, and that we have to make our choice.)
Faith is not the gift.
Faith is not forced on certain people.
It's not up to God who gets faith and who doesn't.
But He does offer all of us His gift of eternal life. Salvation. And then He leaves it up to us to reject it in our self-reliant stubbornness or to accept it through our decision to trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
(And even if faith was the "gift," I still say that the very definition of a gift is that it is offered, but the person has to choose to accept it or reject it. If it is forced on us - if it is irresistible and we are forcibly compelled to accept it, with no real choice - then it isn't a "gift." It's would be a ... well, I don't know ... a mandate? A life sentence? A robotic programming code? I don't know what it would be. But it wouldn't be a gift!)
[And of course, you can find Calvinists who totally disagree with these arguments above, who will continue to say that faith is a gift that God gives only to the elect. But let me ask you, which view upholds the Bible overall and God's character better? The one that teaches God only gives faith to certain pre-selected people and that everyone else is predestined to hell? Or the one that teaches that God offers the gift of salvation to all, but only those who accept it in faith will acquire it? Does God really only love a few selected people enough to save them, as Calvinism says? Did Jesus only die for the elect? Did God predetermine that most people would go straight to hell, with no chance to be saved, because it somehow glorifies Him? Or does He really genuinely love all people, want all people to be in heaven with Him, and did Jesus really die for all people like it says in the Bible over and over again?]
It's amazing to me how much I have taken for granted or assumed over the years about what the Bible says. And how eye-opening it's been to deeply study the Word in my pursuit of truth, of dismantling Calvinism (a theology that I believe is built almost entirely on assumptions).
So, give these a read and see what you think: