How Faith Comes
The Scriptures are filled with statements demonstrating that one cannot be acceptable to God without faith. Here is but a brief sampling of them:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6).
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mk. 16:15-16).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life . . . . He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn. 3:16, 18).
These Scriptures are sufficient to demonstrate that one cannot be acceptable to God without saving faith. The unbeliever is condemned as a sinner before God; in order to be saved, his heart must be cleansed by faith (Acts 15:7).
Inasmuch as faith is so indispensable to one's salvation, we raise the question, "How does one obtain faith?" A more important question cannot be imagined. It is tantamount to asking, "What must I do to be saved?" Though there are other things which a man must do to be saved in addition to having faith, no one can be saved from his sins without faith. Hence, we raise the question, "How does one obtain faith?"
The Calvinist Answer
The Calvinist answers the question somewhat differently than the Scriptures answer it. According to Calvinist theology, God has predetermined who will and who will not be saved. The former are known as the elect and the latter are known as the reprobate. This number, according to the Calvinist, is so fixed that it can neither be added to nor diminished. Furthermore, the choice as to whether one became a part of the elect or the reprobate was not made on the basis of anything which God saw in the man such as whether the elect were trying to live righteously and the reprobate wickedly. Rather, the choice was made arbitrarily on the basis of God's sovereign will.
To the elect, God illumined the heart to give them faith. Hence, Calvin wrote as follows:
Here Paul calls faith "the work of God," and instead of distinguishing it by an adjective, appropriately calls it "good pleasure." Thus he denies that man himself initiates faith, and not satisfied with this, he adds that it is a manifestation of God's power . . . . And God, to show forth his liberality more fully in such a glorious gift, does not bestow it upon all indiscriminately, but by a singular privilege gives it to those to whom he will (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter II, Section 36).
Notice that Calvin makes faith the work of God. Man does not have the ability to believe the word which is preached unto him until the Holy Spirit illumines his heart. According to the Calvinist, man is born totally depraved, unable to do anything good, being corrupted in all of his nature. Hence, he cannot even believe the gospel of Jesus Christ until the Holy Spirit illumines him. The preaching of the word of God by itself cannot produce faith, according to Calvin.
And this bare and external proof of the Word of God should have been amply sufficient to engender faith, did not our blindness and perversity prevent it. But our mind has such an inclination to vanity that it can never cleave fast to the truth of God; and it has such a dullness that it is always blind to the light of God's truth. Accordingly, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the word can do nothing (Ibid., Book III, Chapter II, Section 33).
Indeed, the Word of God is like the sun, shining upon all those to whom it is proclaimed, but with no effect among the blind. Now, all of us are blind by nature in this respect. Accordingly, it cannot penetrate into our minds unless the Spirit, as the inner teacher, through his illumination makes entry for it (Ibid., Book III, Chapter II, Section 34).
The consequences of this pernicious doctrine should be evident. If a man cannot exercise faith until the Holy Spirit illumines him to make him receptive to the word of God, man can do nothing in response to the gospel. Consequently, if a man has no faith, he has no faith because the Holy Spirit did not come to illumine his heart to give him faith. If the Holy Spirit did not come to illumine his heart to give him faith, He did not come because the Father had not selected that man as one of the elect. Hence, the man who is lost is lost because the Father willed that he be lost.
The Scriptures never taught such a damnable doctrine. The doctrine destroys any initiative in man to do the works of righteousness, to take the gospel into all the world, to pray, etc. This doctrine states that man can do nothing unless God has predetermined that he be among the elect. He cannot have faith unless God personally gives it to him. Hence, he cannot be saved because God does not want him to be saved. (Contrast this doctrine with the following verses: 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Jn. 3:16; Ezek. 18:21-23; 33:11.)
The mourner's bench method of salvation stems from the Calvinist doctrine of salvation. The man is expected to go to the mourner's bench and pray for God to send the Holy Spirit to illumine the mind that it might have faith. Hence, you find a man who already believes in God and the deity of Jesus Christ, has already repented of his sins, and is willingly submitting his life to God, praying for faith! The man cannot be saved, according to this doctrine, until he experiences some better felt than told sensation. If he does not experience it, he is not one of God's elect.
What Saith The Scriptures?
Having explained the Calvinist answer regarding how one obtains faith, let us now contrast that with what the Scriptures teach us regarding how one obtains faith. Let us begin with Romans 10. In verse 13, Paul wrote, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Then, he explained how one is able to call upon the name of the Lord.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (v. 14).
The implications of this verse are as follows: (1) a man must hear the gospel preached in order to believe; (2) a man must believe in the Lord in order to call upon Him; (3) a man must call upon the Lord in order to be saved. Notice the implications of this verse for our question, "How does one obtain faith?" Faith comes through hearing the message preached. Hence, Paul concluded, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (v. 17).
That the presentation of the word of God is what produces faith is presented explicitly elsewhere in the Scriptures. It is also evident from a study of John 20:30-31. John wrote,
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing ye might have life through his name.
The presentation of the evidence in the gospels was understood by John to be sufficient to produce faith in the one that read them or heard them read. The faith which would be produced was saving faith.
The implications of the Great Commission also lead us to the same conclusion. Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk. 16:15-16). The preaching of the gospel was able to produce faith in the man who wanted to follow the Lord.
The book of Acts confirms the conclusion which I have reached. When Peter preached the first gospel message, his preaching pricked the hearts of the three thousand who obeyed the gospel (2:37). The Samaritans "believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ" (8:12); hence, his preaching produced faith in them. When Paul was in Iconium with Barnabas, "they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed" (14:1). Their speaking the word of God produced faith. As Peter discussed his preaching to the house of Cornelius, he said, "Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe" (15:7). Indeed, men were led to faith in Christ through the preaching of the word (cf. John 17:20).
Faith, my dear friend, comes through the presentation of the word of God. The man is not a man of faith who merely has a warm feeling toward God; faith is not warm sentiment toward God. Faith is the result of the presentation of the facts of the gospel. A man's faith is proportionately as strong as his knowledge of the word of God. A man of faith is a man who believes the word of God and spends his time trying to do what it says.
You can be a man of faith. You will not have to live your life in doubt as to whether or not God wants you to be saved. He does want you to be saved; He proved that He loves you and wants you to be saved by sending His Son Jesus to die for your sins. The question is not whether or not God wants you to be saved but whether or not you want to be saved. Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Do you want to live forever with God and escape the fires of Hell? If so, turn to God, believing His word. Make up your mind to repent of your sins and live obedient to the word of God. Be baptized to have your sins washed away through the precious blood of Christ. God wants you to be saved; do you want to be saved?
Truth Magazine XXII: 29, pp. 467-469