Saving Faith a Gift?

An Alternative to Calvinism

Salvation is a free gift from God, but where does faith come in? Is it part of the salvation package given as a gift to us from God, or is it a prerequisite qualification and responsibility of the individual prior to receiving eternal life? As the Bible speaks of faith being something that is expected of the individual, ("Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."Acts 16:30,31) therefore the burden of proof that faith is a gift rather than a responsibility of the individual is upon the Calvinist.

The most common verse used by Calvinists to support the idea of faith being a gift is:

Ephesians 2:8,9 "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast."

While being the primary and often the sole source those of a Reformed theology cling to in order to support their idea of saving faith being a gift, they assume "that" in "that not of yourselves" refers not to salvation, which is the subject, but rather to "faith". Yet many of their own theologian, including John Calvin himself interpret "that" to refer not to faith, but to salvation. In other words Calvinists have to assume that faith is a gift in order to prove that faith is a gift in this verse. Thus the ambiguity presented in this verse disqualifies it as a proof text on the subject of faith being a gift.

"By grace you have been saved" had already been mentioned in Ephesians 2:5 "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved." (niv) But I think that both of these have been imprecisely translated using the dative of means, whereas it is more likely the author meant for the dative of manner to be use "with grace" or "graciously" rather than "by grace". For graciously describes the manner in which he saves us, as he has an attitude of graciousness. "by faith" is using the preposition "dia" in the genitive exlusively indicating instrument or mechanism of salvation. God grabs hold of our faith and pulls us to safety. But those without faith are not saved. Or as Robertson puts it in Robertson's NT Word Pictures, "Grace" is Godís part, "faith" ours.

Now there are those who interpret the phrase "And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God," to be referring to faith being a gift. But such an idea cannot be support by this passage. According to Greek grammar the gender of "this" must match what it's referring to. "this" is neuter, while "faith" is feminine, and therefore "it is" is not referring to faith. Furthermore "this" is in the nominative case and therefore the subject of the sentence and "gift" is a predicate nominative. Much like in English if I said "This is a gift", "This" is the subject and "gift" is the predicate nominative. The meaning is clearer if we write it this way, "This is a gift of God, being saved by grace through faith".

Concerning the word "gift", there are two words most commonly used for "gift" in the New Testament. "dorea" emphasizes the freeness of a gift, while "doron" is used for sacrificial offerings. Of the 16 other places the word "Doron" is mentioned in the New Testament, 15 of them are explicitly sacrificial offerings made to God. And the one case in Revelation speaks of doron as a gift given in honoring others. "doron" is by definition a gratuity. A gratuity (also called a tip) is a sum of money customarily tendered, in addition to the basic price, to certain service sector workers for a service performed or anticipated. It's either speaking of salvation being a gift given in honor of our faith. Or it is alluding to Christ's sacrificial offering of himself. But in no way is it speaking of faith being a "doron" (a tip) given to us by God in light of our service to God. Is faith given to us by God as a tip? As salvation is not of works, one cannot interpret this verse as some Calvinists do to suppose the idea that faith is a gift.

Elsewhere in Romans and Galatians, contrasts the righteousness obtained through faith in Christ as opposed to the righteousness of the law which is obtained through one's works, being a performance-based salvation concept.

Romans 3:20-24 "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
Thus we have "for graciously you have been saved through faith, and that sacrificial offering is not from yourselves, but from God, not of works, that no one would boast."

Thus if "faith" is the gift, then it is faith and not the atoning work of Christ on the cross which is the sacrificial offering made up to God. Christ made the sacrificial offering, not us.  Furthermore is the issue of boasting. Is it true that if God does not give us faith as a gift that there would be reason to boast? Not according to the Bible. "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not toward God.  For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'" Rom 4:2,3 Here the contrast is between works and faith. It is not between faith being a gift versus faith not being a gift. And the same contrast is drawn in the Ephesian's passage as well. Yet Paul mentions nothing here in Romans about the necessity of "faith" being a gift. He simply states that since it is by faith and not by works therefore there's nothing to boast about.

Faith is neither a Gift nor a Work

Faith is like a drowning man reaching his hand up to be pulled up by someone else. But doesn't that make faith a work? Not according to the Bible. For it is written, "Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as debt. But to him who doesnít work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." Rom 4:4,5 Thus the Bible does not categorize faith as a work, but neither does it categorize it as a gift in the sense of being given in a monergistic fashion. The Bible would not view the drowning man holding up his hand as trying to work for his salvation. And God is under no obligation to save the man. It is purely out of grace that he does so. But God does help to develop our faith in a synergistic fashion. And it is quite easy to understand. Supposed the raised hand represents faith. The man would have no reason to raise his hand if there were no hope. But through the Word God gives hope, for faith comes from hearing the messsage. The message is like a boat which pulls up along side the drowning man. It encourages him to reach out in faith. If he believes and reaches out, he is saved. Yes there are other religions that others try to reach out to and put their faith in. But such religions are themselves like sinking ships. But as for the issue of faith being a gift, the Bible does not portray faith in a manner in which people are just drowning puppets and God as a puppet master arbitrarily forces some to raise their arms, completely apart from any choice on their own part.

And another illustration is that if I hand a free gift to someone with only the requirement that they reach out and take it, their reaching out and taking it is not viewed as work that they do to earn the gift, as if by reaching out they are paying for it. They cannot say, "You are not really gracious and the gift is not really free, for I had to do all that work in reaching out and taking it!" That would be foolish. Our faith is our reaching out to God. True that God helps us to develop saving faith and that He takes the initiative in this, but such is accomplished in cooperation with Him.

Answers to Calvinistic Objections

The main objection to all this which Calvinists have is that if faith is not a gift, but rather some sort of merit or virtue, then being saved involves some kind of merit or virtue on our part.
They then argue that the presaved are incapable of merit or virtue and therefore incapable of faith. Thus faith must be a gift given to them.

Secondly requiring a merit or virtual to qualify for salvation is salvation by works.

And Thirdly salvation could not be reckoned as gracious if there are any prerequisite qualifications one must meet in order to be saved.

Concerning this third I would say that I've answered in the illustrations above concerning the receiving of a gift and rescue from drowning. And concerning the second objection I also answered in that the Bible does not categorize faith as a work. But more generally concerning all of these, the Bible does not speak in Calvinistic terms of faith being a gift of God. Rather is speaks of faith as something which the individual is responsible to exercise in order to be saved. Acts 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." And Peter went so far that With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation!"  Ac 2:40 Of course he's speaking about saving themselve in the sense of reaching up with the faith and allowing themselves to be saved. But if people are "Totally Depraved" as Calvinists say, then it would be only in vain to preach in such a manner. And furthermore why reason with people as we see Paul often doing in presenting the gospel? Since it's not a matter of the person's cooperation, and there's no choice on the part of the individual, what's the point? And there are many such resolvable paradoxes in Calvinism as for example where it says, "(God) desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth." 1Ti 2:4  But if people are just puppets, then why doesn't God just do that? Why doesn't he just saved everyone? Any why even make faith a part of it at all? Or why not just impart faith to all? And there are many such issues in which Calvinists throw out their reasoning and simply conclude that all these are paradoxes yet to be resolved in eternity, but for now we simply don't allow ourselves to ask these questions.

No people are not puppets. If they were puppets, as Calvinists would have us believe, then they could not be held responsible for their actions. In fact it would be God as the puppet master who would logically be the one to hold responsible. In their zeal to preserve God's "sovereignty", Calvinists destroy God's holiness. And neither is God's love really love. For there is no love if there is no free will. To love a puppet  is like loving chocolate ice cream, which is much different than loving a free-will human being. And Calvinists admittedly cannot say that God loves everyone. In fact their position is that God hates most people and has predestined them to eternal damnation completely apart from any choice on their part. They teach that God holds people responsible for things they have no control over, like being reckoned guilty for the actions of some other guy who lived thousands of years ago. Guilt cannot justly be imparted "graciously" as forgiveness can be. It is unjust to reckon the innocent to be guilty. If a person hadn't done anything wrong, they cannot justly be reckoned guilty. And many have a misconception about Original Sin which has led to deviant theologies like Calvinism. But it is not unjust to forgive, as long as justice has been satisified. Jesus paid the price so that justice would be satisified so that now God can graciously forgive those who chose to believe. Why make it a matter of faith? Why should faith be a prerequisite qualification? Because God has given us a free will and to treat us like puppets would be contrary to His design. Thus he allows us to hold up our hand of faith, and those who do He graciously saves. But this is all heresy to the Calvinist.

Yes, people are not totally depraved. They are capable of cooperating with God to the point of developing saving faith. The Bible doesn't speak of people being "Totally Depraved". It's a Calvnist fabrication. They misinterpret Romans 3:11,12 "There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is no one who does good, No, not, so much as one." Here Paul is actually quoting Psalm 14 and other places speaking in hyperbole. He does not support the Calvinistic concept of Total Depravity, but rather is describing general characteristics of people. At times people do good and seek God (as Paul says in Romans 2:7), but generally speaking they don't. Ps 14 starts, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt ... There is none who does good" And thus the Psalmist's reference is to fools. And yet there were in fact people like the Psalmist who were seeking God. But Calvinists don't take into account the sense in which these are written. Paul's point is simply that all have sinned and are therefore guilty, and as such are not qualified to receive a performance based righteousness. But his point is not that we are totally depraved, else why would he even bother trying to convince "totally depraved" people. If they are totally depraved then they cannot understand at all. Depravity is a process which develops as we turn away from God, as Paul describes in Romans 1. But since Paul teaches that depravity is a result of a person's actions, therefore logically a person cannot have been born totally depraved to start with. For if a person is born totally depraved, then how can he become even more depraved?

Choice is implied throughout the Bible in the commands, exhortations, as as I pointed out the fact that people are held responsible for their actions and no where does the Bible conclusively say otherwise. Given God is just, people must have the ability to chose. Early church fathers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius also affirm man's free will.

Hebrews 12:2

Another verse used to support faith being a gift is Hebrews 12:2 "looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith", and demand that "author" means that we have no part in developing our faith. But again the Greek reveals otherwise. For the word for "author" simply refers to Jesus being our chief leader or Prince, as the word is translated in a number of places. But a leader is not a leader unless he has followers. He leads, we follow. This is the synergistic relationship of which I speak. Yes God takes the initiative, but we must respond out of our free will.

Election & Predestination

Nor does the fact of people's election and predestination nullify choice. For God can elect in accordance to his foreknowledge of our choices, as Peter says, "who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God." 1Peter 1:2 And many verses on this subject of election are speaking on a categorical basis rather than on an individual basis in which God choses the categories, but people out of their free will chose which category they end up in.


1. There is no verse in the Bible which conclusively supports the idea of faith being a gift given in a monergistic fashion as the Calvinists propose.
2. Rather the tenor of the Bible portrays faith as partly a human responsibility which is developed in response to and in cooperation with God, as we see both in the Old and New Testaments. ("Yet, looking to the promise of God, he didnít waver through unbelief, but grew strong through faith, giving glory to God.")

See also:

Becoming a Christian
Saving Faith
Qualities of Salvific Faith

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources