This is the first point of a sermon I recently preached in two parts entitled “We Believe: The Doctrine of True Faith.”
The first thing that we confess about faith is that faith is a gift from God.
Saving faith is not something that we can, in and of ourselves, conjure up from within. Remember that the Bible describes our condition before conversion as being dead in our sins and trespasses. And so if we are to ever believe, God must first regenerate our hearts by his Holy Spirit. The way the Bible describes this is as a new birth or a spiritual resurrection, both of which are images of something that we can’t initiate or do.
What were you doing before you were born? Did you decide to be born? Did you say, you know what I would really like to be born and I want these parents over here and I want to be born in this country in this location (perhaps you would or wouldn’t have chosen Saskatchewan if you had a choice!)
The same could be said of dead people. Dead people don’t do anything. They can decide to be raised. Lazarus didn’t say, “you know what I would really like to be resurrected by Jesus today, and so, I have decided to make myself alive again.” Nor did he say, “I hear you telling me to rise up and come forth Jesus, now that you’ve done your part, I will now do mine.” I mean these things are just funny and absurd to think about.
You see the new birth is a miracle! And faith is a gift from God. If you believe in the person and work of Christ, it’s because God made you alive and gave you the gift of faith. This is the clear teaching of the Bible:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul tells us that faith comes, not of one’s strength or virtue, but only to those who are chosen of God for its reception. Paul puts it this way: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 6:23).
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29)
“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
More verses could be given. But these are enough to prove that our confession is based on what the Bible clearly teaches. And so we confess that: “We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith” (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 22).
That doesn’t mean that God believes for you. Rather, once God makes you alive you are the one who believes. It’s like when a blind person is given the gift of sight again. Once that miracle takes place they are the one’s seeing. But without the miracle in the first place they would never see.
1. Give thanks to God for the faith that you have! If you believe in the person and work of Christ it is because God loved you unconditionally before time began in Christ (Eph. 1:3-6). It has nothing to do with anything good in you but everything to do with God’s unconditional electing love in Christ. To God alone belongs the glory in your salvation (Rev. 7:10)!
2. Pray for God to open the hearts of others like he did Lydia in Acts (Acts 16:14). It should give you hope for your loved ones who do not know Christ, no matter how stubborn they are, that faith is a gift from God. If he could open the heart of Saul of Tarsus, who was once one of the greatest enemies of Christ and His church, and transform him into Paul the Apostle, who wrote most of the New Testament and suffered and died for the faith, then surely he can open the heart of your friend or family member who does not know Christ and refuses to repent and believe. And so don’t give up praying for the salvation of your loved ones, (even your enemies!), who don’t know Christ. Faith is a gift from God. May He be pleased to “kindle in [their] hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him.” Amen!