Is faith or grace a gift, or both?
Hello J_____ ,
Great question! The answer has far reaching theological ramifications. Let’s first look at grace, and then we’ll consider faith.
Grace is clearly a gift. James 4:6 says, “But he giveth more grace…God…giveth grace unto the humble.” Ephesians 3:7 states “the gift of the grace of God” and Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Whether referring to justification, sanctification or service, grace is a gift. This means you do not earn or buy it. Jesus already has. To the recipient, grace is absolutely free. In salvation, God does the regenerating. In sanctification and service, God does the enabling.
What about faith? No one believes in Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s conviction. God’s divine order is divine initiation (convincement), human responsibility (faith), and divine enabling (regeneration). (This truth is more thoroughly discussed in Q#13 Repentance and Evidence.) The same order is true for spiritual growth. But the point is that no one will believe on Jesus without the Spirit’s convicting work (John 16:8). In this sense alone, you could call faith a gift. It would be like a friend convincing you that a particular physician could really help you, so that in turn you entrust yourself to that physician’s care. But you could accept or reject the urging. If you accept, then in that sense alone, your friend gave you the gift of faith in that particular doctor. But it’s not automatic. You have the responsibility to make the choice. So faith is not a gift in the same sense as grace.
Faith is not an outside, alien element entered into you. That would make it automatic or inevitable. While faith is always a response to the Spirit’s convincing work, it is not automatic or inevitable. Faith is not a work (Rom. 4:5); it is dependence on the Worker. Since faith is not a work, it does not violate “all of grace.” But at the same time it is a human “response-ability” that God says is not a human work. While we are wicked enough to be unwilling to believe on Jesus without the Spirit’s conviction, with His conviction, we can believe because faith is not a work, but a response of God-dependence to the Spirit’s convicting work for His regenerating work. And Jesus said “if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Therefore, all men are without excuse.
So grace is a gift in the fullest sense. Faith is a faith-response to the Spirit’s conviction. So it is not a gift in the same sense as grace, but it is a gift in the sense that it is a response to the Spirit’s convincing work. But man is left responsible, and without excuse, because all men have some light (Rom. 1, 2; John 12:32).