Isn't Faith a Work?

Our church recently entered into a sermon series called the “Fight for Grace,” where we will tread through the book of Galatians.  Here's what we can expect: 1) Bad religion will be exposed for the murderous fraud it is 2) Tears of passion will be shed 3) Pastor Harvey’s usage of the phrase “You are saved by grace alone through faith alone,” and its derivatives, will break the American record set by Jonathan Edwards.

Here’s the skinny of that phrase:

2000 years ago a man lived a flawless life, claimed to be God, claimed to be able to forgive sins, performed miracles, pissed religious leaders off, was unjustly hung on two pieces of wood for this, and while he was hanging shouted “It is finished.”  Then he died.  But when he walked on the earth three days later he proved that he meant what he said.

The Bible is clear that Jesus' pristine life and substitutionary death satisfied God’s imminent judgment against our sin.  “It is finished” means “All your sins are forgiven.  By me alone.”  We literally contribute nothing to this process of atonement, not even by attending church, adorning orphans with gold and feeding them tasty soup, getting baptized, or swearing less.

Those poor, poor Galatians who thought getting circumcised was part of their entrance fee into heaven.

The concept of this gift of grace will be hammered into our brains during the “Fight for Grace” series like the nails were hammered into Jesus’ limbs.

Check mate, empty religion.

“So, you fancy yourself a theological chessman, do you? Quite adorable.  Perhaps I shall wager a game with you.”

Ok, stranger.  Deal.

“Sir, how does one receive this 'free gift' that they did not contribute anything for?”

Simple.  One must only believe (syn: have faith, trust).  Check out 1 Peter 1:8-9.  The Word of God, whether read or preached, is God’s way of presenting to us the salvation found in Christ; and faith is our channel or instrument of accepting the salvation (Rom. 1:16-17).

“Quite a rookie move, sir. Doesn’t the notion that one must believe mean that one has to do something to be saved? It appears I already have you in 'check.'”

Aggressive move, mysterious theological chess master, but you have a good point.  The act of believing, even if it’s as small as saying “I believe that Jesus did everything,” does contribute to whether or not we go to heaven.  If we don’t believe, then we don’t get access to Jesus' salvation. Right?

Is the act of faith nothing but a work that separates the believer from the unbeliever?

Biblically speaking this doesn’t seem to be the case, so I’m going to counter my new friend with this:

Even our faith is a gift from God.

"Bloody preposterous!"

Well throw on some bifocals, buddy, this is about to get scholarly.

Ephesians 2:8 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,...”

The key is what “this” is referring to.  Is it referring to “grace,” or to “faith?”

"Grace."

It's referring to both.  The Greek words for “grace” (χάρις) and “faith” (πίστις) are both feminine, but the word for the demonstrative pronoun “this” (τοῦτο) is neuter and singular, meaning that τοῦτο is referring to the whole preceding clause - the entire process of grace saving through faith is a gift from God. And Eph. 2:9 gives the negative parallel that affirms this: this whole process is “not a result of works so that no one may boast.”

Faith, then, cannot be a work but is instead a gift initiated by God, my friend.

“Bollox! That’s nothing but a proof text.”

Negatory, chessy.  This fits with the entirety of Scripture:

1) We are spiritually dead because of our sins (Eph. 2:1).  Dead things can’t do things.

2) No one seeks God (Rom. 3:10-11) and no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws them (John 6:44, 65).

3) All good gifts come from God, which we can assume also includes the gift of saving faith (James 1:17-18)

4) This process was prophesied in the OT (Jer. 24:7, Ezek. 36:26)

5) This jives with Paul’s teaching elsewhere (Phil. 1:29, Titus 3:4-7)

6) Lastly, the idea that we can receive the gift of salvation purely by our own volition goes against the very nature of God as well. God is dimensionally beyond us, being both inside time and space and outside of time and space (Geek out on this, Einsteinian physicists).  The very fact that God is present in the same place we are yet inaccessible in the way in which we access the things of our realm means our reconciliation to him first requires a state change, namely, that our spiritually dead souls be made alive by him, the only one with the capacity to do so.

So, the whole process of salvation - all the way to our saving trust in Jesus - is initiated by God.  It is the Word of God, applied by the Holy Spirit, which produces the effect of spiritual regeneration, which leads to saving faith.  To think otherwise is an attempt to cut the Holy Spirit out of the equation.  The Holy Spirit created the equation.

“Bloody Nora!  This does not sit well in my gullet.”

Yes, objections to this conclusion are understandable.  The fact that we contribute zero to the salvation equation, even our very ability to believe it, can be nauseatingly unsettling because it is a concept opposed to everything else we know.  But if we contributed even the small act of saying “I choose to believe” without God's initiation, we would have reason to brag about what we have done because we made a smart decision while others didn’t.  We instead can only brag about God, which is how we give him glory.

So, does a person choose to believe that Jesus died for their sins?  Yes, Theological Chess Master, because God enables them to.  I believe that is checkmate.

“Hardly, good sir.  If it is God alone who gives the ability to believe, then why are people punished with hell for not believing? Che. Kuh.”

You are a formidable foe, and you smell oddly like fish.  I’m going to need another blog for this one.  We’ll resume this game next week.