We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Friday, March 24, 2017

What is the “Gift of God”?


The text at which we will look is Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you are saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves, it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.  (HCSB)

From the very first time I read the Bible I always understood that the “gift of God” was salvation through faith by God’s grace.  However, over the years I have encountered the Calvinist (and Lutheran) teaching that faith itself is the “gift of God,” and without that gift we would never seek God.  In this interpretation, God predestines who he will save and He gives only them the gift of faith (regeneration) so that they will seek God.  Well, as I have pointed out in my post, “I Am Not a Calvinist,” everyone has the ability to seek God—but not all will.

The problem with the teaching that faith is the gift is that it is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.   John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to children of God, to those who believe in His name.”  It doesn’t say, “as many as have been regenerated.”
Nor does John 20:31 say, “having life you might believe,” rather it says, “by believing you may have life.

Now, some Calvinists think the whole process, faith and salvation, is the gift of God.  But I don’t see that as any different than saying faith is the gift.

But let’s look at the passage by doing some “amplification.”  Let’s start with the Calvinist view:
For by grace your are saved through faith; and this faith is not from yourselves, this faith is God’s gift—this faith is not from works, so that no one can boast.

Now let’s look at the way I’ve always understood it, and which I believe is the correct way:
For by grace you are saved through faith; and this salvation is not from yourselves, this salvation is God’s gift—this salvation is not from works, so than no one can boast.

Think about it—which makes more sense? Especially when throughout the New Testament we are told that salvation isn’t as a result of our works. 

Here are some thoughts from a pamphlet I picked up an apologetics conference in 2008, by the Middletown (Connecticut) Bible Church:
If faith in Christ itself is God’s gift, then how do I receive this faith?  Instead of asking, “What must I do to be saved?”, I must now focus on the question “What must I do to believe?”  If faith is God’s gift, then how do I get this gift?  Do I pray to God and ask for the gift of faith?  Do I sit back and do nothing and hope that I am one of the chosen ones who will be given this gift?  How do I get the gift of saving faith?  It is all confusing and it takes away from where the focus of the sinner ought to be, which is upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

I thought those were some pretty good questions!  I thought this pamphlet had some other good information, especially as relates to the Greek constructions, shown here:

Some might argue that “faith is the nearest antecedent:  For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves.”  It is certainly true that “faith is the nearest antecedent, but since there are a great number of cases in the New Testament where the nearest antecedent is not the correct one, we should be very careful before applying this “rule.”  There are other far more important considerations.

Here is the correct rule that Greek grammar demands to be followed:  PRONOUNS AGREE WITH THEIR ANTECEDENT IN GENDER AND NUMBER. THEIR CASE IS DETERMINED BY THEIR USE IN THEIR OWN CLAUSE.

This rule argues forcefully against the identification of “faith” as the antecedent does not agree with the pronoun in gender.  The pronoun “that” (verse 8) is NEUTER, and the word “faith” (verse 8) is FEMININE.  IF Paul wanted his readers to understand the pronoun as referring to “faith,” then there is no reason why he could not have used the feminine form of the pronoun [here the author gives the Greek, but I don’t have that font].  This would have settled it.  If Paul had used the feminine pronoun then it would be very clear and obvious that FAITH is the gift of God.  Paul did not use the feminine pronoun.

Why then did Paul used the neuter pronoun?  What is the antecedent?  If Paul had wanted to refer to the idea contained in the main verb (the idea of being SAVED), then it would have been perfectly normal and appropriate for him to use the neuter gender.  It would have been very natural for Paul to say, “For by grace ARE YE SAVED through faith and this thing that I’m talking about, namely salvation, is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…”  If Paul had wanted the pronoun to refer to the idea contained in the verb, the neuter form would be the one to use.

We need to carefully think through Ephesians 2:8-9 in order to correctly identify the antecedent.  We must ask, “What is Paul talking about in Ephesians 2:8-9?  What is his main point?”  It is obvious that Paul is talking about HOW A PERSON IS SAVED.  The main idea of the sentence is found in the verb “ARE YE SAVED” [or “YE ARE SAVED”].  How is a person saved?  Ephesians 2:8-9 answers this key question.  Salvation is by grace.  Salvation through faith.  Salvation is not of yourselves.  Salvation is the GIFT OF GOD.  Salvation is not of works.  Paul is not giving a dissertation on faith, but he is giving a brief dissertation on salvation.  SALVATION is his main subject.  Faith is mentioned because you cannot answer the question “HOW IS A PERSON SAVED?” without mentioning faith.  A person is saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).  God’s gracious gift of salvation must be personally received, and it is received by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Well, that, to me, pretty much makes the case for my original understanding!  What’s even more interesting is that the author of this pamphlet, George Zeller, gives examples of other places in Scripture which tell us what God’s gift is (different related Greek words for “gift), as follows:

John 4:10 cf 14 God’s gift is eternal life.
Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17 God’s gift is the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:15, 17 cf. 18, 21 God’s gift is justification.
2 Corinthians 9:15 God’s gift is Jesus Christ.

No where in the New Testament does the word “gift” ever refer to faith.  Nor does Paul ever say faith isn’t a result of works, or that faith itself is a work (as I have been told by a Lutheran pastor and several Calvinists), rather he continually contrasts faith with works.  When you contrast two things they certainly cannot equal each other!

I think the following paragraph from this pamphlet is an excellent summation of the problem of faith vs salvation being the gift of God:

The question the Philippian jailer asked was this: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).  Some would answer in this way: “Nothing!  You can’t do anything!  You are dead and totally unable to respond to God until you are regenerated.  You have no part is salvation.  God must do it all.  You cannot exercise saving faith.”  This answer might harmonize with one’s theological system, but there is only one problem.  This is not how Paul and Silas answered the question!  Paul and Silas told the jailer that there was something that he could do and was responsible to do:  “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ!” (Acts 16:31 and compare how Peter answered a similar question in Acts 3:37-38).


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Here is the correct rule that Greek grammar demands to be followed: PRONOUNS AGREE WITH THEIR ANTECEDENT IN GENDER AND NUMBER. THEIR CASE IS DETERMINED BY THEIR USE IN THEIR OWN CLAUSE."

Yes. That's why in Eph 2:8-9, the gift is salvation, just as you state here. Faith and grace are both feminine nouns. Only salvation fits the neutral gender required by the grammar of the text.

-Carolyn

Martha said...

Thank-you for this post Glen. Now I understand the tenants of Calvinism more clearly. In examining the life of Calvin, I do not understand why religion regards him so highly, to the point of idolatry, I believe.

Now I understand why Lutherans desire to 'baptize their infants' as soon as possible, for they equate salvation with 'works.'

A close family member of mine states, "You must baptize your babies as soon as possible so they go to heaven in the event something should happen." My response, "So all of those poor souls who were never baptized as an infant are going to hell? My Scriptures state that the repentant thief on that tree at Calvary is currently with Jesus, my Savior, in Paradise. And that thief wasn't baptized."

I have attended a variety of Lutheran denominations in which all promote 'baby baptism.' After studying the life of Martin Luther, I honestly couldn't promote him any more than I could promote Calvin. The only One that I can honestly point people to is Jesus Christ, via our Scriptures.

As it should be.

Blessings Glen.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Martha,

Yes, Lutherans do indeed teach that infants who die without baptism go to hell. One Lutheran pastor we had said aborted babies go to hell. That has bothered me forever. Thinking about such nonsense drove me to write THIS article a few years back:
http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/04/what-about-babies-and-salvation.html

Baptismal regeneration was an invention of the Catholic church, and those denominations coming out of the reformation never totally left Rome, rather they just dropped some of the things they didn't like. But you have the Anglican/Episcopal church, especially the "high" church, still with the whole Marian adoration, you have all of them with infant baptism, Lent, works salvation, TULIPs (which came from Augustine and Rome), etc.

I think both Luther and Calvin had SOME good teachings, Luther moreso than Calvin in my book, but I can't recommend either one of the overall.

Anonymous said...

I embraced reformed theology under the influence of a good friend and in reaction to Willow Creek, who imo put man in control of the salvation process. I was not, however, a card-carrying Calvinist, I always felt uneasy at some aspects of it. A lot of truth in it, but something not quite right. A bit too cerebral?

I've backtracked from it in the meantime. I don't see the new birth preceding faith - rather the convicting and converting ministry of the Spirit brings an unconverted man dead in trespasses and sins to the point where he can repent and believe, but without compulsion.

I very much agree with your post here. Everything to do with salvation is in a sense a gift of God, but we have to repent and we have to believe. I don't see how God placing requirements or conditions on receiving salvation in any way diminishes his sovereignty in it.

My good friend, I discovered not long ago, has travelled the same route and now considers himself more at home with evangelical Arminianism. He often said much modern Calvinism is derived from Beza rather than Calvin himself.

I've also re-read Rom 9 - 11 recently, and seen how Paul is talking more about whom God chooses to serve him and how, rather than choosing who will be saved and who not.

Ken