By Mike Willis
In our previous articles, we have shown (1) man’s need of salvation because of the sins which he has committed which left him dead in trespasses and sins, (2) God’s grace in sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins, and (3) grace to be conditional and that conditions do not nullify grace. We are now prepared to consider faith as a condition for receiving grace.
How Faith Comes
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast (2:8-9).
Calvinists who expound this passage teach that faith is the gift of God. They deny that faith is able to be produced by the preaching of God’s word, stating instead that it is given to the elect as a free gift of God. They argue that the manifestation of faith is evidence of regeneration rather than the condition for receiving regeneration. In order to support this doctrine, they generally appeal to this passage: “for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” In their exegesis, they make faith the antecedent of the pronoun that.
That might sound good to a person who is simply studying the English text but it will not stand up to the person who is studying the Greek text. A simple rule of sentence structure in Greek ‘is that the pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, gender and case. This poses a problem for those who would hold that “faith” is the antecedent of the pronoun “that.” Faith (pistis) is a feminine noun; that (touto) is a neuter pronoun. Hence, the text makes it absolutely impossible for this verse to be saying that “faith is the gift of God.” Rather, the pronoun refers to salvation; it is not earned by man but is given to man (conditionally) as a gift of God.
Having noticed how faith does not come, let us now see how faith does come.
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 (Jn. 20:30-31).
How 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? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For, Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:14-17).
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).
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word (Jn. 17:20).
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, 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 world of the gospel, and believe (Acts 15:7).
And it came to pass in Iconium that 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 (Acts 14:1).
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women (Acts 8:12).
These verses show the connection between the gospel and faith. The gospel is used to produce faith. When men read, they can believe. The order of faith is simple: fact, testimony, and belief. The human mind hears the facts through someone’s testimony; he then examines them to ascertain whether the testimony is sufficient to establish the fact that has been related. If it is, he believes; if it is not, he disbelieves. Consequently, we read, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness . . .” (Rom. 10:9). The act of believing is an activity of man.
Hence, faith comes by the hearing of the word of God. It is not something given irresistibly by God but is something which man wills or does not will to do.
By Faith: Man’s Part
The usage of the word “faith” in Eph. 2:8-9 is not that which “faith only” preachers imagine. Paul stated, “By grace are ye saved through faith.” Just as “grace” is used to include all of God’s activities in the salvation of man, “faith” is used to include all of man’s activities in obtaining God’s free gift. “Grace,” therefore, includes the eternal plan of God to send His Son, the incarnation of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the atonement on Calvary, the resurrection, the ascension, and the coronation of the sinless Son of God; it also includes the sending of the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles in all truth in revealing to man the gospel.
Faith includes the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, this aspect of faith was described as follows:
b. As to obey. The fact that “to believe” is “to obey,” as in the OP . . ., is particularly emphasized in Heb. 11. Here the pisteuein (to believe -mw) of OT characters has in some instances the more or less explicit sense of obedience. How naturally pisteuein includes obeying may be seen from the use of peithesthai (to obey mw) rather then pisteuein for receiving the Christian message . . . . Unbelief can be denoted not merely be apistein but also by apeithein . . . . Paul is particular stresses the element of obedience in faith. For him pistis (faith – mw) is indeed hupaloe (obedience – mw), as comparison of R. 1:8; 1 Th. 1:8 with R. 15:18; 16:19, or 2 Cor. 10:5f. with 10:15, shows. Faith is for Paul hupakouein to euaggelio (to obey the gospel), R. 10:16. To refuse to believe is not to obey the righteousness which the Gospel offers for faith (Vol. VI, pp. 205-206).
Notice that this work has perceived exactly what we have been stating in debates for years. Faith is used in such a way as to include obedience. Here are some passages which show that faith is used in this comprehensive sense:
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (Jn. 3:36 — NASB).
And it came about that in lconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the Jews who disbelieved (the marginal reading is disobeyed; it more accurately translated apeithesantes than does disbelieved) stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren (Acts 14:1-2).
Hence, salvation through faith is not a thirty-second cousin to salvation by “faith only.” Rather, the faith here intended is the firm persuasion to devote one’s life in obedience to the Lord.
Faith And Baptism
That the Ephesians were buried with Christ in baptism in order to receive their salvation is evident from two sources (1) an examination of the text in Eph. 2:10 and (2) a study of Acts 19:1-5 in which their conversion is recorded. First of all, let us notice what this text states:
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved;), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (2:5-6).
Notice that this passage speaks of one who was dead in sin but raised up with Christ. Surely anyone familiar with the book of Romans can see the similarities in this passage and Romans 6:3-4. There Paul wrote, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in-the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:3-6).
Notice that in both places, the man that is dead in sin is buried and raised up to walk in newness of life (in Ephesians, it is “quicken,” to make alive). This occurs in baptism, according to Rom. 6:3-4. It is in baptism that we are united with Christ in death; it is in baptism that we are united with him in the resurrection.
This understanding of Eph. 2:5-6 harmonizes perfectly with Acts 19:1-5. There, Luke records the conversion of the disciples of John the Baptist to Christ. He taught them about the Christ and baptized them into Christ (v. 5). Hence, we see that salvation by grace through faith includes baptism. This should not surprise us. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved . . . .” (Mk. 16:16). Saved by what means? Saved by works? Obviously not! Jesus did not teach that anyone could be saved by works. Rather, He is teaching that the man who believes the gospel and is baptized shall be saved by grace!
Salvation by grace through faith is conditional salvation. Faith is not something irresistibly given to man by God. Rather, it is the response of man to the testimony about facts. It is used in this verse in a comprehensive sense, in the same way as grace is used, to designate all that man must do to obtain God’s grace. By summary fashion, we simply state that man is saved by grace through faith when he believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, resolves in his heart to turn from a life of sin and submit to the Lord’s commandments (repentance), confesses his faith before men, and is buried with Christ in baptism for the remission of his sins. Next week, we shall conclude this series of articles by demonstrating that salvation by grace through faith demands that one walk in the commandments of God.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 28, pp. 451-453
July 19, 1979