David Schrock

Returning to Romans: An Epistle of Faith, Hope, and Love

We are to love one another based upon the preceding grace of God in producing faith, securing hope, and giving love. That’s how I understand the outline of Romans, with a gospel-centered introduction (Rom. 1:1–17) and a gospel-centered commission at the end (Rom. 16:1–33).

In the Fall of 2019 our church began a Bible study in the book of Romans. It ran through the first seven chapters of Paul’s magnum opus, but in March 2020, when the world shut down, we pushed pause on this book. When we returned to church, our Bible study shifted to Leviticus. But with that study completed, we are now returning to Paul’s largest letter. And for those interested in following along, they can find previous lessons here. New lessons will also be posted on the same page each week through the Spring.
For this blogpost, I want to offer a brief sketch of the book and how Paul’s triad of Faith, Hope, and Love organize his magnificent exposition of the gospel. For those studying Romans (again), this will help acquaint you with the book as a whole. And it also will provide a way of seeing the gospel, and what the gospel achieves, in this whole letter. Additionally, this approach to Romans may also remind us of how Paul brought unity to the church of Rome, when it was facing divisions. Today, we face the same. And thus, we need to learn as much from Paul as we can about what the gospel is and what the gospel does.
Paul’s Faith, Hope, and Love
Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of places where Paul joins faith with love and hope. Here’s a brief sample:

1 Corinthians 13:13. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Galatians 5:5–6. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Colossians 1:3–5. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
1 Thessalonians 1:2–3. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am sure there are others, but the point is clear: Paul regularly joins faith, hope, and love to express the gospel and its effects. Knowing his affection for this triad of Christian virtues, it is not surprising that in his most detailed exposition of the gospel, he has arranged Romans around faith, hope, and love. In what follows, I will share a few reflections on how you can see this and why an outline of the book that follows faith, hope, and love is warranted.
If you have further observations on the structure of Romans, please share them or resources about Romans in the comments.
Romans: An Epistle of Faith, Hope, and Love
Every book of the Bible demonstrates recognizable literary structures. These structures are means by which we, the readers, come to understand the Spirit-led intentions of the author. And Romans is no different. And in fact, as Paul aims to unify Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church with the gospel they share in common, he employs a noticeable structure that highlights the main points of the gospel. That is, after introducing the gospel in Romans 1:1–17, he begins with Faith (Romans 1:18–4:25), continues with Hope (Romans 5:1–8:39), and concludes with Love (Romans 9:1–15:33). This threefold outline is then followed by Romans 16, which mirrors Romans 1:1–17, with a concluding stress on the work of the gospel.
Additionally, if this structure holds, it can be further divided. Meaning, that in each of the sections (Faith, Hope, and Love), there is an indicative and an imperative. First, God gives life and produces faith in those whose sins have invited death. As Romans 9–11 indicates, God works in the life of his elect, whether Jew or Gentile.
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Brother-Theologians: Preach the Word

Brother-theologians, preach the Word! Labor to study the works of God (Ps 111:2) and tell of them before the congregation (111:1). Pursue the finer points of theology and learn how to communicate them to Christ’s bride. If you are graced with the chance to study theology, remember: It is not just for you! It is for the church. Therefore, study theology and prepare to preach. It may turn out that Christ doesn’t call you to fill many pulpits—then again he might—but when he does, why would you risk being unprepared when God’s word tells theologians to “Preach the Word”?!

When I came to seminary, I wanted to study the Bible and theology. Having never “preached” a Sunday morning message, I was uncertain as to the role preaching would have in my life. Ten years later, through a combination of providential opportunities and willingness to preach whenever I was asked, I have finished my theological education  (Yes, it took a decade!) and have preached more Sundays than not.
For nearly five years I have filled the pulpit at my current church—first as a supply preacher, then an interim pastor, and last as the senior pastor. In the lustrum before serving at our church, I like so many of my seminary peers preached in nursing homes, urban missions, country parishes. It was a wonderfully painful time, one where precious little flocks like Corn Creek Baptist Church endured my preaching and helped me learn how to preach.
During that time, preaching was a priority, but so was theology. By training, I am a systematic theologian, or at least, that’s what my degree says. Therefore, as a pastor and a theologian, I feel a measure of familiarity with both vocations. And I feel a fraternal affection and responsibility to exhort aspiring theologians with what Paul commanded Timothy: Preach the Word!
 Sound Doctrine Preaches
In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul writes with warmth and weight:
 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
In the Pastoral Epistles the offices of pastor and theologian were not divided. Pastors were to teach in accordance with sound doctrine, and theologians—well, that vocation had not really been established, yet. Paul, who was arguably the greatest theologian in the Scriptures, regularly described himself as a preacher (1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) and urged Timothy and Titus to follow his model by spreading sound doctrine through preaching and teaching (1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 2, 8). Indeed, as Paul finished his last earthly epistle, he urged Timothy to take seriously the task of preaching the Word.
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Doctrine and Life: Let Us Not Divorce What God Has Joined Together

Paul repeatedly refers to sound doctrine in his Pastoral Epistles. He knows that sound, or healthy, doctrine does not give life; the Spirit of God. But anyone born the Spirit needs the know and grow in life-giving doctrines of God. 

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching [doctrine].Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.—1 Timothy 4:16
Doctrine and life. Life and doctrine.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he calls his pastoral protegé to embrace both and not let go of the other. And for anyone who cares about life or doctrine, we must also care about the other also. For doctrine without life is dead and life without sound doctrine is leading to death.
In truth, when doing theology if it does not lead someone to the giver of life, it is dead theology. But simultaneously, life that downplays doctrine is equally deadly. This is why Paul repeatedly refers to sound doctrine in his Pastoral Epistles. He knows that sound, or healthy, doctrine does not give life; the Spirit of God. But anyone born [of] the Spirit needs [to] know and grow in life-giving doctrines of God. This is why he says that by paying attention to doctrine, ‘you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Simultaneously, because he knows that knowledge by itself can puff up (1 Cor. 8:1), and that not all studies in the Law are lawful (1 Tim. 1:3–11), he calls for Timothy to guard his life and his doctrine. Too many are the knowledgable theologians who did not guard their lives. And too many are the false professors who have general sense of theology but no life. Thus, we must always pursue doctrine for the sake of knowing the life-giving God. To expound this idea further, let me turn to two theologians who knew both doctrine and life.
William Ames (1576–1633) on Theology as Living to God
The first is William Ames (1576–1633). And in his Marrow of Theology, he defines theology as the privilege and necessity of finding life in God. As the Puritans always remind us, theology is never an end in itself; it is always a means of communing with the triune God. Ames definition of theology reflects this approach. And in thirteen points, he helps us to see how and why living before God (Coram Deo) is the essence, or marrow, of theology.

Theology is the doctrine or teaching [doctrina] of living to God. John 6:68, The words of eternal life; Acts 5:20, The words of this life; Rom. 6:11, Consider yourselves alive to God.
It is called doctrine, not to separate it from understanding, wisdom, art, or prudence—for these go with every exact knowledge, discipline, and most of all with theology—but to mark it as a discipline which derives not from nature and human inquiry like others, but from divine revelation and appointment. Isa. 51:4, Doctrine shall go forth from me; Matt. 21:25, From heaven . . . Why then did you not believe him?; John 9:29, We know that God has spoken to Moses; Gal. 1:11-12, The gospel . . . is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation; John 6:45.
The principles of other arts, since they are inborn in us, can be developed through sense perception, observation, experience, and induction, and so brought to perfection. But the basic principles of theology, though they may be advanced by study and industry, are not in us by nature. Matt. 16:17, Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.
Every art has its rules to which the work of the person practicing it corresponds. Since living is the noblest work of all, there cannot be any more proper study than the art of living.
Since the highest kind of life for a human being is that which approaches most closely the living and life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to God.
Men live to God when they live in accord with the will of God, to the glory of God, and with God working in them. 1 Peter 4:2, 6, That he may live . . . by the will of God . . . according to God; Gal. 2:19-20, That I may live to God Christ who lives in me; 2 Cor. 4:10, That the life of Jesus may be manifest in our bodies; Phil. 1:20, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
This life in essence remains one and the same from its beginning to eternity. John 3:36 and 5:24, He who believes in the Son has eter. nal life; 1 John 3:15, Eternal life abiding in him.
Although it is within the compass of this life to live both happily and well living well (eusōia, is more excellent than living happily (eudaimonia). What chiefly and finally ought to be striven for is not happiness which has to do with our own pleasure, but goodness which looks to God’s glory. For this reason, theology is better defined as that good life whereby we live to God than as that happy life whereby we live to ourselves. The apostle therefore called it by synecdoche, the teaching which accords with godliness, 1 Tim. 6:3.

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The Seed of the Woman Wins (Revelation 12): How Reading Revelation Rightly Gives Us Lasting Hope

Every type and shadow in the OT has it connection to Christ, we need to let the Law and the Prophets be our guide in the book of Revelation. For without them, we are slaves to our own imaginations and the imaginations of other uninspired commentators. That said, if we commit ourselves to reading of Revelation in light of the whole Bible, then we can read it with anticipation that we will find overlapping images from the Old Testament that bring us face-to-face with the exalted Christ. 

Any time you read Revelation, it is like stepping out of reality and into a carnival of mirrors. Only those mirrors do not, or should not, reflect our own faces, so much as they reflect the prophets of the Old Testament, whose faces were reflected the glory of God’s Son.
While Revelation is a book that is filled with signs, those signs have a registered trademark—a trademark found in the Old Testament. And anytime we read Revelation we should labor to understand the book in its canonical context. To that end, let me offer three words of how to interpret and apply this chapter.
These three exhortations come from my last sermon on Revelation 12. But they would apply to any passage in this glorious and mystifying book.
First, Revelation is a book signs and symbols.
In Revelation 1:1, John uses the word for signs to describe what God has “indicated” (better: signified) to him. And in Revelation 12, we find two signs mentioned. In verse 1, John sees a great sign in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Then, in verse 3, another sign in heaven appears, a Red Dragon ready to devour the woman’s son
In these two signs, we see a symbol of the woman and her seed and the serpent and his seed. Accordingly, Revelation 12 can be seen as a chapter that comments on Genesis 3:15 and the history of seed warfare between God’s people and God’s enemies. Therefore, to understand this chapter (and this book), we need to see how the signs relate to the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (as well as a host of other Old Testament prophecies). 
Second, the interpretation of these symbols comes from the Old Testament.
If you are like me, you’ve seen enough end-times movies to know that not everyone who reads Revelation does so with the Old Testament in mind. But such immediate appeals to modern weapons and contemporary geo-political actors is a failure to read Revelation in its biblical context.
In the nineteenth century, George Tyrell, a Jesuit priest who was defrocked for his liberal theology, mocked other liberal theologians for making Jesus look like themselves.  He said famously, “The Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of ‘Catholic darkness,’ is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.”
To put it plainly, this is how one scholar dunks on another. In today’s post, I don’t want to dunk on anyone, but I do want us to avoid reading our face or our place into the Bible. And this is what I do see with many who read Revelation a secret decoder ring for the future.
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The Seed of the Woman Has Come: The Real Reason for the Season (Genesis 3:15)

The goal of Christmas is not to merely coo over baby Jesus, but to bow down before him as the King of kings and Lord of lords. For it is the victorious Christ whose birth we celebrate. And we celebrate his birth because in his life and death, we finally see the head of the serpent crushed, just as God promised at the very beginning.

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”— Genesis 3:15 —
When we lived in Indiana, our parsonage was located next to the church. The church sat at 1200 North Ewing, our home was next door at 1202 North Ewing. At the same time, our house sat next to a snake pit. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the church. Rather, I am referring to the swamp-ish depression that ran alongside the parking lot, what we might call 1198 North Ewing.
Indeed, right next to the church building, the place where the bride of Christ would gather every Sunday, there was a nesting-ground for snakes. It was very much like Genesis 3. And how did we know that we had a snake infestation?
Well, every year, we had snakes in our garden, on our driveway, and in our house. And during the five years we lived there, I became quite skilled at picking up the shovel and beheading the snakes that drew near.
Now, why do I bring up snakes, especially as at Christmas time? The answer is that Christmas is often filled with trees and lights, but not enough trees and snakes. It’s like we get our messaging about Christmas from the Victorian Era of Charles Dickens, instead of letting the victory of Christ over the serpent be the reason for the season.
And so, to make Christmas more meaningful, I suggest we add a few pictures of dead snakes to our holiday decorations. Let me know if you have a crafty friend on Etsy who can work that up for us.
For as strange as it sounds to think about snakes at Christmas time, the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 is why we celebrate the birth of Christ. His birth in Bethlehem is but the first step for the Son of God towards the cross on which he would hang like the bronze serpent (see John 3:14–15).
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Getting Off the Gospel Blimp: A Plea to Believe God’s Gospel Method

The gospel is the power of God for salvation and the gathering of God’s people where the Word is rightly preached, the ordinances are rightly observed, and the saints are rightly taught, equipped, and sent out to make disciples is sufficient to accomplish all that God intends. The question is, will we believe God’s message and God’s methodology? Or will we be double-minded men?

Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God. 
More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.
What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?
According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.
Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.
Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people.
The Regulative Principle
In his Dictionary of Theological Terms (377–78), Alan Cairns defines the regulative principle in this way, “The theory of church government and worship that stipulates that not only church doctrine but also church practice, must be based on clear scriptural warrant.” That is his one-sentence definition, and it helps us to see that the regulative principle is one that stands on the whole counsel of God and calls the church to avoid creativity in worship or ministry.
Historically, this is the approach of the Reformed tradition as set out in the Westminster Confession, which Cairns cites as he gives a brief history of the regulative principle
[The regulative principle] is the position laid down in the Westminster Confession of Faith and is the opposite of the normative principle espoused by Lutherans and Anglicans.
In its statement on the Holy Scriptures the Confession says, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or, by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge … that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (chap. 1, sec. 6).
In its chapter on “Religious Worship and the Sabbath” the Confession applies these general principles to the particulars of worship and practice: “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (chap. 21, sec. 1).
These balanced statements avoid the extreme of allowing into the church’s worship and government whatever is not expressly forbidden in the Word and the opposite extreme of demanding that every detail of our practice should have an explicit command of Scripture before it is allowable. Many things—e.g., the time and frequency of church services, the particular order of service in public worship, the length of services and sermons, the taking of minutes in session meetings, etc.—are not given us in Scripture.
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Monergism in Acts(ion): Seven Texts That Affirm the Priority of God’s Grace

In Acts, we see the doctrines of grace in action. And this gives us confidence for our salvation and for God to save those to whom we proclaim Christ. God is a God who opens hearts (Acts 16:14) and grants salvation, at the proper time, to all those whom he has appointed (Acts 13:48). 

…I am sending you, to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17–18).
When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.
Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).
In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts.
Seven Monergistic Texts in the Book of Acts
Acts 4:5–12
Forced to give an answer for the hope they have, Peter and the apostles testify before the Jerusalem leaders, that salvation comes in no other way, but by faith in Christ. And importantly, such faith comes because Christ raises people to life.
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 5:31
If the Christ-centeredness of Acts 4:12 is not sufficiently monergistic, Acts 5:31 begins to fill in the details: the exalted Lord gives repentance.
31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 11:18
God’s salvation comes to the Gentiles, just like it came to the Jews—God granted repentance that leads to life.
18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 13:47–48
After Luke records Paul’s sermon in Acts, he reports how the Gentiles heard the Gospel and believed. But instead of leaving it there, he also declares that those who believed were the one’s God appointed to believe (cf. Eph. 1:4–6; Rom. 9:1–23; 1 Thess. 1:5).
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The Supremacy of Christ: Living for His Glory and Not Our Own (Hebrews 9)

Hebrews 9 is a chapter rich in biblical theological intratextuality, which is a complex way of saying: Hebrews 9 is an explosion of biblical glory, which brings together all the elements of God’s story—the the covenants, the priests, sacrifices, etc. And when all of them find their fulfillment in Christ, we see that the story of the universe has a place for us, if we will draw near to God in Christ.

Imagine that you were writing the script of your life. In your story, the place was yours to decide, as well as the people, the problems, and the pleasures. As the author of the story and the inventor of your universe, you got to decide how you would do it.
So, how would you do it?  How could you write up something so large, so complex, so weighty? And would it even be possible to write a grand story without imitating the story that God has written?
As I tell my kids all the time, all the best stories—the epic novels, the literary masterpieces, the Jeremy Bruckheimer movies—all of them plagiarize from the greatest story ever told. And in God’s story, we find a God who designed the whole universe to glorify his Son.
And knowing that, it is not too much to say that the heavens above us, and the trees around us, and the blood flowing in us, all of these elements were made by God to play a part in the story of God’s glory.
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The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12)

Apparently, when individuals and societies seek love without God’s love, they will form new laws to protect and promote their idea of love. Sadly, these new laws of love jeopardize God’s holy and good law, erase true love, and secure a future for love that is nothing like what the songs of our nation promise.

In Plato’s Republic, that ancient philosopher declared, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its law.” Thankfully, in the Bible, God cares about laws and songs and he provided both.
Outside of the Bible, however, there is something to the wisdom of capturing hearts and imaginations with song. And it seems that for decades, the songs of our nation have been filled with love, love, and love me do.
From Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift, love has trained a generation to embrace love as love and love as life. If you go back to the British Invasion of the Beatles, you will find that in less than 5 years time, the Fab Four had four chart-topping singles with “love” in the title, as well as four more top forty songs with “love” in the title. And the focus on love has not abated in the decades since. Indeed, it is not too much to say that Top 40 love songs have formed the appetites and affections of our age, all the while obscuring what love really is or ought to be.
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Regeneration Precedes Faith: Six Passages in Paul That Prove Faith is a Gift

In his mercy, God raises sinners to life and gives them the faith they will need to respond to his gospel. Such is the grace of God. God’s grace is not waiting for sinners to change their minds and believe on him. 

Continuing the theme of monergism in salvation, we come to the debate regarding faith and regeneration. Does regeneration empower faith? Or does faith produce regeneration? Both are necessary for salvation, but what is their relationship? And how do we know?
Historically, Reformed theologians have understood faith as a divine gift to God’s elect, a gift that was planned in eternity, purchased at the cross, and personally granted in regeneration. By contrast, Arminians, Wesleyans, and other advocates of free will aver that faith is possible for all men and hence is not a special gift of grace to God’s elect, but a gift of grace to all who would freely receive it.
As one who gladly affirms a Reformed view of salvation, I believe this latter position minimizes the work of God in salvation. Instead of putting man’s final destiny squarely in the hands of God, an Arminian view conjoins the work of God and man. Theologically, this undermines grace. Pastorally, this contribution of faith produces (or leaves unchanged) man’s inveterate thirst for self-determination and creates communities that lack a spirit of humility. In God’s grace, other doctrines may ameliorate these realities or produce humility. But, by and large, a church that teaches—explicitly or implicitly—that you are capable of making such a decision for Christ impedes the humility which the gospel is meant to foster (see Rom. 3:27–30).
So, how we understand God’s work of salvation matters immensely for our sanctification, discipleship, and Christian fellowship. Still, it must be a doctrine derived from Scripture and not from tradition alone. To that point, we might ask: Where do we find teaching that says regeneration precedes faith and/or that faith is a gift of God? Good question. And in Paul’s Epistles, we find at least five passages that teach us that faith is a gift. Let’s consider each below.
Faith as a Gift
The locus classicus of the doctrine of faith as a gift of grace is Ephesians 2:8–9.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This passage not only says that salvation is a gift, received by faith. It also says that faith is a gift. How do we know? Well, this takes a little digging, but in the original language, grace (charis) and faith (pistos) are both feminine nouns. Accordingly, any latter reference to them should also be feminine. But importantly, “gift” in the phrase “it is the gift of God,” which refers back to the earlier part of the verse, is neuter. This means that the gift of God is not pointing back to salvation, or grace, or faith alone, but to all the above. Everything in salvation, including faith is a gift from God.
Ephesians 2:8–9 is arguably the most clear statement that Paul makes about faith as a gift, but it is not the only one. For instance, in Philippians 1:29, we find this statement. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Though focusing on the gift of suffering, Paul assumes that suffering for Christ is a gift like faith is a gift.
Similarly, Paul assigns the gift of faith to the Holy Spirit. This is seen in both 1 Corinthians 12:8–11 and Galatians 5:22–23.
For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:8–11)
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