Is Faith a Gift from God or Something We Produce?

Derek Ouellette —  January 21, 2014

leap_of_faith_penguin-normalI just watched a short clip by William Lane Craig on YouTube where he argues, in my opinion, quite definitively, that in Paul faith is understood as something we produce.

Now, the claim that faith is a gift from God and not something that we produce is usually based on Ephesians 2:8-9. Here is what that says:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (πίστεως)—and this (τοῦτο) is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

When you read that verse you have to ask yourself (because you’ve probably come to a subconscious interpretation that you need to vocalize), what does the word “this” refer to?

Reformers will tell you that “this” refers to “faith.” To me that seems to be an unnatural reading of the sentence. The main clause of the sentence is “by grace you have been saved” with and explanation “and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God.” The phrase “through faith” is a qualifier to the preceding statement. So a natural and grammatical reading of the sentence in English suggests that the word “this” is not referring back to “faith.”

Not only is the Reformed interpretation unlikely in the English structure, but it is “demonstrably” incorrect when read in Greek (Craig’s word).

Here’s why.

Words in many other languages – Greek, Spanish, German – have genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). And words that refer to one another will grammatically gender-match (pronoun with noun). The gender of the word “faith” in Ephesians 2:8 is feminine. If the word “this” referred to “faith” Paul would have used the feminine gender form for the word “this” (αὕτη). But he doesn’t. Instead Paul uses the neuter (τοῦτο). Unless we think that Paul (and God) made a grammatical mistake in this sentence, it is impossible to say that “this” refers to “faith.”

So what does “this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God” refer to then? It’s referring to the whole preceding clause: “salvation by grace through faith.” This is how God set it up. To quote Craig: “That God has elected to save by grace everybody who has faith in Christ.” That is God’s gift.

Ephesians 2:8-9 does not teach that saving faith is a gift from God. That is grammatically incorrect. The gift of God, according to Paul, is that God saves by grace everyone who has faith in Christ. And that is not a work. Faith is never taught by Paul to be a meritorious work toward salvation. That is a gross misunderstanding of Paul. The apostle always treats Faith and Works as oppose and against each other. Faith is not a work toward salvation but it is something we produce in response to Gods prevenient, or amazing, grace. The gift of God, to word it another way, is that he saves (by his grace) those who believe.

Here is the four-minute clip where Craig explains more or less what I just said:


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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.