Jonathan Edwards, an 18th-century Presbyterian preacher and theologian, is quoted as having said,
“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
Faith Given by God
Ephesians 2:8 is often quoted to support the idea that the faith needed to believe and be saved is God-given. It’s claimed that both the grace and the faith mentioned in this verse are gifts from God.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
The Gift of God
Ephesians 2:8 says, “You are…saved by grace. The verse does not say, you are saved by faith. It says you are saved, “by grace” and “through faith.” Therefore, we understand that salvation is “the gift” referred to in this verse. And because it is given by the grace of God, it is an unmerited, free gift.
Those who hold to a belief that God gives people the faith to believe unto salvation are in the Reformed tradition. This comes from the Calvinism doctrine of election. (Read: What is Election?). Calvinism teaches that God “elects” (chooses) those whom He will save. Therefore, He gives only to those whom He has chosen the faith to believe. And He does not give faith to those He has not chosen.
In Christian theology, the Calvinism view of election is called monergism. In opposition to that teaching is synergism.
Definitions of Monergism vs Synergism
Monergism is the belief that only God is involved in the salvation of man. Monergism claims that man brings nothing to his salvation and the faith to believe must be given to man by God. Because God has chosen those whom He will save, He will give them the faith they need to believe. And at some point in their lives, they will believe in Jesus. Calvinism (monergism) also teaches a doctrine called “irresistible grace” — those whom God has chosen, cannot choose to resist His gift of salvation.
Synergism is the belief that man must exercise a choice to repent and turn to Jesus. This is a free-will choice of believing and trusting. Then, as a result of that choice, God saves a repentant sinner by His grace alone. Synergism also teaches that God offers salvation to all people, but will not force it on anyone. Therefore, only through one’s personal faith in God, can one choose to believe. Faith is defined as a free-will, personal decision, resulting from 1) received knowledge, 2) intellectual belief, and 3) heartfelt trust. (Read: What is Faith? How do I get it? How do I grow it?).
Which Doctrine is Biblical?
Reasons for Hope* Jesus believes the synergistic view of election is biblically supported. While it is true that no one is saved by their works, choosing to believe and trust in Jesus is not a work. It is a reasoned response of the mind and heart to the revealed knowledge of God.
Because man was created in the image of God, and God is volitional (acts according to His will), man also is volitional with a free will to choose. Therefore, believing faith is a free will choice. And it a choice man has had since the beginning of time.
God Created Man with a Free Will
Adam and Eve were given a free-will choice when God placed a tree in the Garden from which they were commanded not to eat. The tree represented choosing God or choosing self. The choice they made was a demonstration of the desire of their hearts. They chose what they desired, not what God desired, and we know what happened.
Man has the same free-will choice in salvation: choose to continue to live, dead in one’s sins, serving self and loving the world, or choose to believe and trust God and receive eternal life in Christ.
At Reasons for Hope* Jesus, we believe everyone has an opportunity to make a free-will choice to trust in Jesus and to be saved. The Bible supports this:
2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
When one exercises their free will, chooses God, and comes to Jesus in faith, the love of God is magnified. His mercy and grace are received. And thereby, God is glorified.
What is Faith to Believe?
Saving faith starts with knowledge of the Holy. Then, one chooses to believe that knowledge or reject it. When one believes, one can then choose to trust. Trusting belief of what one knows is the faith that is needed to come to Jesus. And when one comes to Jesus in faith, He is faithful to save them by His grace.
As stated, it starts with knowledge. And God has freely given to all people, in all times, and in all places, the sufficient knowledge needed to make a free-will choice to believe and trust. He gives knowledge through what is called general revelation, i.e. creation, and through special revelation, i.e. His written word, the Bible.
Share your knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done. It is a seed to be planted and it can grow into belief and trust that can bring someone to the Lord’s saving grace.
How Does God Increase Our Faith in Sanctification?
After justification comes sanctification, which is the process of growing in faith and living the Christian life. (Read What you need to know about Sanctification & Glorification). In a believer’s sanctification journey, God increases one’s faith in the same way that He fueled one’s ability to make an informed choice to believe. God increases faith by revealing more of Himself through His creation and His Word. But even in sanctification believers have a free-will choice. They choose to receive the knowledge God reveals, believe the knowledge they have received, and then trust in what they know and believe. . . or they choose to suppress or reject it.
Faith is Made Up of Three Things, by Charles Spurgeon
Is Faith to Believe a Gift from God? Given to Some But Not All?
Faith, Hope, and Love — Why is Love the Greatest?
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