The Sovereignly Free Gift of Faith

Salvation belongeth unto the Lord (Ps. 3:8). 

It is important for the church to maintain this fundamental truth at all times, and especially in the face of all opposition. The precious truth of God’s Word requires it, for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things” (Rom. 11:36). The honor of God’s Name demands it. To maintain anything else is dishonoring to Him. For the God of all grace reveals Himself to His people as “the God of our salvation.” And also our personal confidence and abiding assurance compel us to confess that we have experienced “the salvation of the Lord.” “He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defence; I shall not be greatly moved” (Ps. 62:2). 

The whole work of salvation and every part of it in each individual believer is a wonder of God. It is a work that only the Almighty God of all grace can accomplish. Only His work is genuine, all works of men are counterfeit. Only His work endures, all our “works” must crumble and fail. That also applies to our faith. It is true, that salvation is only by faith. As the recurring testimony of Scripture has it, “The just shall live by faith.” But also that faith is a wonder of grace. 

Faith is a gift of God. 

For it is given unto us in behalf of Christ to believe on Him (Phil. 1:29). 

Faith. What is it? We can best describe faith as the living bond that unites us to Christ. Just as the branches of the vines have an inner life-line that unites them to the root, so that they may draw their life and. bear fruit from the root, so also the believer is united to Christ and lives out of Him by that living bond of faith. Or just as our homes are furnished with electrical power that comes to us from the power house through the power lines, so also our hearts are enlightened from that central Power-House, Christ Jesus, by the steady flow of life through the power line of faith. 

Anyone can see that this is the plain teaching of the Scriptures. 

1. Scripture always teaches us that God has prepared salvation for His people in Jesus Christ. The name Jesus means Savior, for He is come to save His people from their sins. He makes bold to say: 

“I am the Bread of life.” 

“I am the Water of life.” 

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” 

“I am the Resurrection and the Life.” 

Either He is the greatest impostor that ever lived, and those believing on Him are victims of the worst deception that has ever been perpetrated, or all that He says is true. And we have the Word of God to vouch for it that all that He says is true. 

2. Scripture also teaches that Christ and His people are one. In John 15, Jesus uses the example of the vine and its branches. He is the true vine, and His people are the branches which bear fruit only in Him. And Paul uses the example of a body, so that Christ is the Head and His people are the individual members of the body, which live and are active through the Head. And sometimes the figure of a Temple is used, in which Christ is the chief corner stone and His people are the individual stones that make up the structure. But whatever figure may be employed, the idea is always that Christ and His people are one. Therefore when Christ died, they died; when Christ arose, they arose; when He receives the blessings of salvation from the Father, they receive those blessings in Him and from Him. 

3. Therefore Scripture also tells us, that we become partakers of Christ and all His benefits through that living bond of faith that God has established between Christ and us. We are engrafted into Christ by the Holy Spirit. This takes place at regeneration. And as a result, we live out of Christ. We are new creatures. Our stubborn will is broken and made submissive to the will of God. Our mind is enlightened, so that we know God as our God, the God of our salvation. We experience sorrow for sin that works repentance, and upon confession of sin we are also assured of forgiveness. We realize that Christ is our righteousness. And although sin still wars in our members, we are able to crucify the flesh and live a new and holy life before God. All this is performed in us by the Spirit of Christ through faith. As Scripture itself expresses it, we believe into Christ, for we become partakers of Christ and all His benefits through a living faith. 

We can reach but one conclusion, namely, that faith is the gift of God. We do not believe first, in order to become partakers of Christ’s benefits. But we are partakers, and therefore we can and do believe. 

God furnishes the power of faith. Even in a newly born infant all the faculties are present at birth. Although he may not be aware of them, and certainly does not know how to use them, the faculties to see and hear and speak, the talents of artist or technician are already given to him. He does not first see, and then receive the eyes to see. But the eyes, which are indispensable to his seeing, are first given. In the spiritual child, the believer, the same holds true. God gives us the faculty of faith first, and thereby we come to conscious faith. 

And God also furnishes the activity of faith. Even in our natural existence it is true that, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” And the same thing holds true in our spiritual life. God brings us to conscious faith and strengthens that faith through His Word and by His Spirit. God creates knowledge of sin and sorrow for it, and we confess our sins. Christ calls us to Him, and, calling, draws us, so that we come. God assures us of forgiveness and we enjoy the blessedness of peace with God. God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, and therefore it is possible for us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Faith is the gift of God. “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). 

But even that does not express the full truth of Scripture. For faith is a free gift of God, and that in a very real sense of the word. To maintain the truth of Scripture and the honor of God’s Name, and to experience the blessed assurance of faith in our own lives, we must consistently confess with God’s Word, that faith is the sovereignly free gift of God. 

The question always arises: To whom does God grant His gift of faith? Does He grant it to those whom He deems most worthy of receiving it? Or does He grant it to those who show a willingness to receive it? In one word, does it, after all, depend on puny and sinful man whether or not he shall be saved? If that is the case, then God is not a sovereign God, but must depend upon our whims and our help. In that case, faith cannot be considered a free gift of God which excludes all boasting of men and gives God all the glory. No, even more, if that were the case, no one would be saved, for we are unwilling and unable to do anything toward our salvation. But what is conclusive is the fact that Scripture teaches throughout that God is sovereign, also in the salvation of His people. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). Only as many as are ordained to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48).

God is the living God. He thinks as God. He wills and plans as God. He has His divine purpose unto His own glory. He carries out His counsel as God. Always “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). We can express it in a few words by saying, God is the decreeing God. 

Concerning that decree we must remember: 

1. That it is a living decree. An architect makes a blue print of a house which he plans to build, but this is a mere lifeless plan on paper, which can be destroyed when the house is finished. God’s decree is His living will, His sovereign good pleasure, which is always real and present before the face of God, and in which He always delights. 

2. That decree is sovereign, even as God is sovereign. The Lord God declares throughout all history, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my good pleasure” (Is. 46:10). 

3. It is an eternal decree. God’s, plan did not gradually take form and shape in the divine mind. Nor was it subject to revisions and improvements. The very thought is unworthy of God. God is eternal. And therefore His knowledge is eternal. And His will is likewise eternal. God knows, determines, and sees all things in an eternal present. 

4. That counsel includes all things in history, even to the minutest detail. No architect who plans a house can work out the details in advance with more complete accuracy than God does in His sovereign good pleasure: He can say: “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9). 

5. It is also unchangeable. Since God’s decree is eternal, and since it is all-comprehensive, it also follows that it is unchangeable. For who hath ever resisted His will (Rom. 9:19)? 

6. And it is also good. God is good in all His ways and in all His works. We cannot even question that, for He is the God of all grace in Christ Jesus. But that goodness is especially evident in the fact that God’s counsel must serve to reveal the glory of His Name. That is sufficient reason for all that God does. Therefore God can say: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall show fo,rth my praise” (Isaiah 46:21). And on the other hand, it is equally true, “For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout the earth.” So that we must reach the same conclusion that Scripture reaches, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” 

All the Scriptures teach that the gift of faith is sovereignly free. 

1. In the counsel of God, His Son, Jesus Christ, takes the central place. Christ is the Firstborn of God. He is the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstborn among many brethren, even the Firstborn of all creatures (Col. 1:14-20). God has appointed Him to be the Head of His Church, which is His Body. God has made Him the Bridegroom, and has given to Him the Church as His Bride. And as Head of His Church, He is Lord over all, for we shall live and reign with Him forever. 

2. Moreover, God’s people are saved solely in Christ. They are chosen in Christ, as so many members of His Body, or, if you will, as so many stones of His Temple. Just as in a body there are a certain number of members so also the elect form a complete unity. And just as in a body every member has its own place and purpose, so each elect is chosen unto his own function in the body of Christ. There is no arbitrariness in God. 

But, you ask, how about the wicked who perish? The answer of Scripture is, that God is sovereign also in His reprobation. Election implies reprobation, so that God has determined to save His people through faith in Christ, and He also determines to destroy the wicked reprobate in their sins. Yet even so, these wicked serve for the salvation of the church, just as chaff serves for the ripening of the wheat, or as the scaffolding serves for the erection of a building. In spite of themselves, also the wicked must serve toward the glory of God. 

3. And thus faith is the sovereignly free gift of God. To the unbelieving Jews Jesus says that they do not believe, because they are not of His sheep. But, on the other hand, He lays down His life for His sheep (John 10:15). Moreover, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). 

A cold doctrine, you say? A doctrine that causes people to become careless about their salvation? That is not what Scripture teaches us. 

The Word of God speaks of the strong consolation of God’s immutable counsel. See Hebrews. 6:17, 18

Christ assures us that this truth gives us certainty of our own salvation. For “All that the Father giveth unto me shall come to me: and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). And again: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” 

Paul tells us that this confidence spurs us on to fight the battle of faith. For with him we say even triumphantly: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” For nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

In holy adoration the saints of all ages have confessed: “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts.” 

But most important of all is the solemn worship of faith: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.”