Sunday, February 25, 2007

Is Faith a Gift?

Excerpted from page 167 of The Gospel Under Siege, by Zane C. Hodges.

[Begin Excerpt] It is often claimed by theologians that man has no capacity to believe and that faith, like salvation, must be given to him as a gift. But this view is contradicted by 2 Corinthians 4:3,4 where Paul writes, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose mind the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine upon them.”

From Paul’s words it appears that Satan himself does not regard men as constitutionally incapable of faith. Instead, from his point of view, men are in danger of believing unless he actively blinds them! He must therefore prevent the truth from dawning on their hearts. This may be compared to an effort to keep light out of a dark room by (for example) drawing together a thick pair of curtains. The room can receive light but is prevented from doing so by the curtains. If someone pulls the curtains apart, light will automatically shine into the room.

God’s role in bringing men to faith is therefore revelatory. (See our Lord’s statement to Peter in Matthew 16:17). As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:6, God shines His light into our hearts. Perceiving God’s word as light (i.e., as truth) is precisely what faith does. When the truth of the sufficiency of Christ for the eternal salvation of every believer dawns on our hearts, at that moment we are believing the light and thus know that, in so believing, we ourselves are eternally saved. Thus faith is a capacity built into man by His Creator, just like the capacity to think or speak. None of these capabilities are obliterated by the Fall, but man’s use of them is seriously impaired by his own sinfulness. As a sinner, he prefers to believe a lie rather than the truth (See Romans 1:20-25).

Yet despite man’s darkened heart and Satan’s special efforts to prevent man’s illumination, God can break through all this darkness with the light of His truth and in so doing can meet a response of faith in man. So it is clear from all this that man’s created capacity to believe things is awakened by the illumination God gives in the Gospel. Belief in the truth is impossible for any man so long as he remains persuaded that the truth is false. Once he is persuaded of the truth of the saving message, he has believed it.

Finally, one must say that the Reformed view that man is in every sense a “corpse” without even the capacity to believe the light when it shines forth to him is a gross distortion of reality. It is a transparent effort to press a metaphor like “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) well beyond the legitimate parameters of that metaphor. Man is “dead in sins” precisely because he is separated from God’s own kind of life, as Paul states in Ephesians 4:18: “being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them.” But the metaphor is seriously misused when it is made the basis for denying to man any and all capacity to receive the truth of God as light. If man had no such capacity, he could not be charged with sin for his unbelief, as Jesus told the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no sin” (John 9:41). [End Excerpt]