02 March 2018

Is faith a gift?

Mixing up the types of faith, is why a lot of Christians don’t develop their faith.

Oh, I won’t bury the lead. Is faith a gift? Well, supernatural faith is a gift. The other types of faith? Nah.

I know why various Christians claim faith, all faith, is a gift. It’s usually ’cause it says so in their church’s catechism. Fr’instance the Heidelberg Catechism:

65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: Where then does that faith come from?

A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Various scriptures indicate that people have faith after hearing the gospel, Ro 10.17 and the writers of the catechisms kinda stretched these verses to imply it was the gospel, and God granting us the ability to understand the gospel, 1Co 2.10-14 which generated the faith in us. It wasn’t our ability to trust what we heard; it was God sorta flipping a switch in us so that now we had the ability to understand and believe.

Um… no. I can see how you’d get that by reading your own pre-existing deterministic philosophy into the bible. But I’m pretty sure if it all comes down to God dropping faith into us, and nothing else whatsoever, Jesus wouldn’t command people to believe or have faith. Mk 1.15, 11.22, Jn 10.38, 14.1, 20.27, 1Jn 3.23 If there’s any truth to the idea God grants us faith, he shouldn’t have to order us to use it: It should just be there, and we should just believe. But we don’t. Some of us struggle. Sometimes we cry out to God for extra help. Mk 9.24, Lk 17.5 And the reason we struggle is because it’s not just there. It’s a trait we have to develop. It’s fruit.

Why do the catechisms get it wrong? Mostly it’s ’cause their authors suck at grammar.

Ephesians 2.8-9 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.

Túto/“this” is singular: It refers to one of the singular things in the previous sentence. Namely grace. Firstly because in the original text háriti/“grace” is the first noun in the sentence, and Greek sentence structure tends to put the most important, relevant idea first. (That’s why a lot of translations start the sentence with it too—“By grace are ye saved”—because they’re sticking to the Greek word order, even though it’s awkward and Yoda-like.) And since grace is inherently a gift—if it’s earned, it stops being grace—it makes the most sense for “this” to refer to grace.

Unless you lack sense. The same lunkheads who think we’re saved by faith, tend to skip the “by grace” part, zero in on the “through faith” part, and claim it’s our faith that saved us. After all, didn’t Jesus tell various people their faith saved them? Mk 5.34, Lk 7.50, 18.42 Well, our faith saved us too, right?

Plus in English, “this” either refers to the subject of the last sentence (and that doesn’t work, because “you all” is plural) or the last noun we used (which’d be “faith”). So when these folks interpret Ephesians 2.8, they claim faith is God’s gift. Not grace.

I can understand why they prefer the idea faith is God’s gift: If it’s not, they’re teaching heresy. Y’see, we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 and if we claim we’re saved by anything we’ve done in our own efforts, we’ve got that wrong. Well, if faith isn’t something I do, but a gift from God, it means when I have faith, it’s not really me making the effort to trust in God. It’s God, putting inside me the ability to trust him. He grants me saving faith, and so he saves me. I do nothing.

Sounds good so far? Of course it does. But lemme show you why that can’t work.

There is a gift of faith. This isn’t that.

When Paul and Sosthenes listed some of the supernatural gifts the Holy Spirit empowers us Christians with, one of the items on the list is faith. I’ll quote the relevant bit:

1 Corinthians 12.7-9 KWL
7 Each individual is given an individual revelation of the Spirit—to bring together.
8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
9 To someone else, by the same Spirit, faith.
To another, by the one Spirit, healing gifts.

And so on. But you get the gist: Faith is a supernatural gift of the Spirit.

Emphasis on supernatural gift. This isn’t non-supernatural faith. This isn’t where we trust God, like Abraham did, and in so doing God declared him righteous, Ge 15.6 and when we do likewise he declares us righteous. That’s what we mean by non-supernatural faith. It’s kinda miraculous, ’cause God works with us through this faith. But supernatural faith is the stuff which produces full-on miracles.

Like John Calvin described:

The term faith is employed here to mean a special faith, as we shall afterwards see from the context. A special faith is of such a kind as does not apprehend Christ wholly, for redemption, righteousness, and sanctification, but only in so far as miracles are performed in his name. Judas [Iscariot] had a faith of this kind, and he wrought miracles too by means of it. Chrysostom distinguishes it in a somewhat different manner, calling it the faith of miracles, not of doctrines. Homily 29 on 1 Corinthians This, however, does not differ much from the interpretation previously mentioned.

Calvin, Commentary at 1 Corinthians 12.8.

Supernatural faith is when God’s about to do something, and instead of doubting or wondering or questioning or demanding confirmation, we just plain trust him, and he just plain does incredible things. It’s a gift he grants us because at that moment he doesn’t wanna wait: He wanna gets stuff done, and he needs us to just believe him. So he makes it so we just believe him.

Determinists think all faith works like that. We believe… just ’cause we do. We don’t doubt, don’t think, don’t test the spirits (contrary to what more than one apostle has told us): We just believe.

Generally it’s because they’ve mixed up the supernatural stuff with the usual stuff.

Frequently that’s because they don’t understand the supernatural. Plenty of Christians don’t. Partly ’cause they don’t practice it, don’t think it’s for them, and don’t bother to try it. Don’t have the faith to. Some of ’em are in churches which don’t even believe in miracles. A number of these churches, in order to justify themselves and their unbelief, even claim the Spirit’s activity is devilish, and whenever their Christians encounter the supernatural, they freak out and flee. I’ve met a few such Christians. They’re so fearful, you gotta wonder whether they know the Spirit at all. I’m guessing not. But I digress.

Anyway, for such Christians it stands to reason they don’t understand 1 Corinthians 12. Nor any of the bits of bible which are clearly addressed to people who see the Spirit miraculously working among them. When an unbeliever goes through the list of supernatural gifts, they try to redefine every last one of them, and take all the supernatural out. “A word of wisdom” is no longer supernatural wisdom, but ordinary cleverness. “A word of knowledge” is no longer supernatural knowledge, but good ol’ fashioned book smarts. “Healing gifts” doesn’t mean you lay hands on someone and they’re cured; it means you have a knack for nursing, or know which essential oils do what. And “faith” is no longer supernatural faith: It’s just faith. Same faith every Christian has.

Like Calvin said, these are two different forms of faith. One for the purpose of miracles; and the usual kind, where we’re meant to trust and obey. Oddly it tends to be Calvinists who object to this idea, and tell me there’s only one kind of faith. These Calvinists really oughta read Calvin sometime.

It’s a fruit. And we gotta grow fruit.

Faith is a fruit of the Spirit. That means we don’t naturally have it. (Nor even supernaturally have it.) We grow it. It’s the byproduct of having the Holy Spirit indwell our lives. Faith’s not a gift, but the Holy Spirit is definitely a gift, Ep 1.13-14 and as we see him at work, we should put more faith in him.

So how do we grow faith? We step out in faith. When God tells us to do something, we act on it.

Those who lack faith, don’t act. They never challenge their faith. They never take those leaps. Whenever they encounter real challenges, real faith-shaking events, like a loved one dying or a cherished belief is unraveled, their so-called “faith” bursts like a soap bubble.

Faith that’s never acted upon and left untested, as James described it, is faith without works. And faith without works is dead.

Now how can faith be dead, and why on earth would James warn Christians lest we wind up with dead faith, if faith is a gift? If God bestows us with faith, you’d think it would never ever die. But the only faith God grants is the supernatural stuff, and everything else is stuff we have to generate. It’s on us to believe, then call out to God and beg him to save us. It’s on us to believe, then obey God and watch him make stuff happen. It’s on us to believe, then obey God and watch nothing happen, but trust him anyway and patiently wait for stuff to happen someday. (That last one’s extra hard, but it happens.)

We grow faith by our works. We do faith-works. Faith grows really quickly that way. Whereas those folks who do nothing, wish really hard, and think that grows their faith? Yeah, that grows nothing. Blind optimism isn’t faith. We can psyche ourselves into believing anything, but if we think God gave us that ability, we’re lying to ourselves. Probably to cover up the fact we don’t act in faith, and have no excuse for such behavior.

As for thinking this sort of faith, or any sort of faith, saves us: I dealt with that. It doesn’t. We’re saved by God’s grace alone, not works, and faith is a work. A good work, but still: Doesn’t save. Justifies, but doesn’t save. Stop mixing up your solas.