Is Faith a Gift?

The story is told of a man who came eagerly but very late to a revival meeting and found the workmen tearing down the tent in which the meetings had been held. Frantic at missing the evangelist, he decided to ask one of the workers what he could do to be saved. The workman, who was a Christian, replied, “You can’t do anything. It’s too late.” Horrified, the man said, “What do you mean? How can it be too late?” “The work has already been accomplished,” he was told. “There is nothing you need to do but believe it.”

Every person lives by faith. When we open a can of food or drink a glass of water, we trust that it is not contaminated. When we go across a bridge, we trust it to support us. When we put our money in the bank, we trust it will be safe. Life is a constant series of acts of faith. No human being, no matter how skeptical and self-reliant, could live a day without exercising faith.

Church membership, baptism, confirmation, giving to charity, and being a good neighbor have no power to bring salvation. Nor does taking Communion, keeping the Ten Commandments, or living by the Sermon on the Mount. The only thing a person can do that will have any part in salvation is to exercise faith in what Jesus Christ has done for him.

When we accept the finished work of Christ on our behalf, we act by the faith supplied by God’s grace. That is the supreme act of human faith, the act which, though it is ours, is primarily God’s—His gift to us out of His grace. When a person chokes or drowns and stops breathing, there is nothing he can do. If he ever breathes again, it will be because someone else starts him breathing. A person who is spiritually dead cannot even make a decision of faith unless God first breathes into him the breath of spiritual life. Faith is simply breathing the breath that God’s grace supplies. Yet, the paradox is that we must exercise it and bear the responsibility if we do not (cf. John 5:40).

Obviously, if it is true that salvation is all by God’s grace, it is therefore not as a result of works. Human effort has nothing to do with it (cf. Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). And thus, no one should boast, as if he had any part.

All boasting is eliminated in salvation (cf. Romans 3:27; 4:5; 1 Corinthians 1:31).

Excerpted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Ephesians 2:8–9.


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John MacArthur

Grace Community Church Pastor / Teacher