For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8.
I have heard many people contend over the above verse. To what is Paul referring when he says "and that"? Is Paul saying that grace is the gift of God, or is he saying that faith is the gift of God? In the first scenario, God gives grace to those who have faith. If you do not bring faith to the table, you do not get grace. In the second scenario, faith is given through the grace of God.
Struggle as you may with the English, either scenario can be supported by the language. I once was privy to an exchange between Paul Scott and Avi Gold when Paul asked him to break the verse down in Ancient Greek. Avi found it to be the same in both English and Greek. The wording could support either scenario. This is a verse in which the a wider context and understanding must be considered in order to grasp what the Apostle Paul is saying.
Let us consider the first and most commonly believed scenario. In that Scenario, God sits in heaven with boundless grace for mankind. In order to access that grace which by its very definition is unmerited favor, a person must come to the God's table with his own faith. By that definition how did the person merit that favor? He merited it by bringing faith to the table.
Is faith nothing? Does faith have no substance? Is it something without evidence? If we could see with the eyes of God (which is why we have a bible), and we were to have put faith on a table and covered it with a cloth, there would be a visible lump underneath the cloth. Faith is a substance. It is an evidence of things not seen. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1.
In the first scenario in which a person can have God's unmerited favor, but first must have faith, the question arises, how much faith? If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you could order a sycamine tree to plant itself in the sea. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you, Luke 17:6.
Is there anyone in your church with faith enough to make trees pluck themselves up by the roots and plant themselves in the sea? You can be sure that there is not. Why is there no one? There is no one who has faith enough to order sycamine trees to uproot themsleves and to root themselves in the sea because God doesn't need any sycamine trees rooted up.
If he did need it, you can be sure that he would give someone the faith to order it. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith, Romans 12:3. When God calls any man to a work of God, he empowers that same man with the faith to fulfill that work. To another faith by the same Spirit, 1st Corinthians 12:9.
I don't want anyone to think that I am confusing saving faith with the faith necessary to fulfill a ministry. I just want people to understand that faith is a measurable substance. I used to feel guilty because I didn't have George Mueller's faith to pray in the goods that I need. Then one day I understood that God had given George Mueller that faith and required him to exercise it. I have been given a measure of faith to be the pastor of the Black Creek Baptist Church. I will be judged on how I exercise that faith.
This brings us back to this question; if I need to bring faith to the table in order for God to give me grace, how much do I need to bring? Faith is a substance and by the scenario in which I need to bring faith to God in order to receive grace, I need to know how much. When can a person say that he has brought enough faith to God so that God will unlock his grace to that person?
Or, we could try scenario number two. In that scenario God gives a sinner faith to receive his grace. Both the grace and the faith are free. If the faith is not free, how then was it obtained? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, Romans 10:17. Faith comes to a person. It comes by them hearing the word of God. A person can hear the word of God and not receive faith. The woman at the well is a good example of that upon her first hearing.
Jesus made a promise to her. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life, John 4:14. The woman sincerely asked him for that water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw, John 4:15. She didn't get it. She sincerely asked for that water and he did not give it to her (yet). He had another issue to deal with first. He told her to bring her husband.
This is strange soul winning to our modern Fundamentalists. It's about as bad as telling the rich young ruler to sell all that he had when he had asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Our modern Fundamentalist brethren have an anemic gospel in which they have zero expectation that the last 1000 people to have prayed the prayer with them will ever have a changed life. In Jesus Christ's soul winning, people either went away sad, angry or changed.
Jesus used the law to bring men to him. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God, Romans 3:19. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith, Galatians 3:24. Even Jesus Christ himself had no expectation of winning a person to himself without using the law to show a person his or her own guilt.
No person has ever brought enough faith to God to warrant grace. What a person can do is acknowledge his or her own guilt before the law of God. It is to just such a person that God unlocks the vaults of heaven and pours out the grace of God. When upon realizing that Jesus Christ knew her sin, the woman at the well recognized that Jesus Christ was a prophet from God. She then began to inquire more earnestly. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship, John 4:20.
Jesus then preached the word of God to her. She listened to what he said and recalled a truth from her upbringing. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things, John 4:25. At this point, a couple of things have happened. She was laid bare before God in the revelation of her sin. In that regard she sought clarification. Jesus graciously explained things to her personally. She then recalled the promise of a Messiah who will reveal all things.
Jesus then told her what the high priest had demanded to hear but was refused. He told her what Pilate demanded but was refused. He told her what the crowds following him had argued among themselves. By the eternal grace of the eternal God, he told her; I that speak unto thee am he, John 4:26. He gave her the truth that unlocked the vaults of grace. He didn't give it to her until she saw herself through his eyes.
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel, Mark 1:15. A person can never believe who has not first repented. It is for this reason that Paul admonished; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain, 1st Corinthians 15:2. A vain belief is indeed a belief. It is a belief that is drummed up in the human heart. A true belief is the product of repentance. Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said; and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him, Matthew 21:32.
Unto whom does God give saving faith and grace? God gives saving faith and grace to repentant sinners.