GIFT OF FAITH
Comparing the Gift of Faith With Faith in General
The gift of faith. We hear about it. But what is it? And is there a difference between 'regular' faith and the 'gift' of faith spoken about in Second Corinthians?
Joseph Thayer, in his Greek-English Lexicon, describes faith as "a firm and welcome conviction." (That is good!) Every "believer" has this kind of faith, by definition. He is one who believes. And all true faith is a gift of God.
Acts 18:27 speaks of "those who had believed through grace" (those who had, through the grace of God, become believers in Christ). Paul says of the Philippians, "To you it has been granted...to believe in Him" (Phil. 1:29). And in Ephesians 2:8, "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Though Paul likely means "that salvation is not of yourselves," the point is similar. The ability to trust God for salvation is sovereignly given, not generated by human effort (cf. Jn. 6:44, 65).
There are clearly different kinds of faith. Perhaps it is helpful to see these as mainly affecting, in turn, the individual's mind, emotions, and will. As we shall see, faith that only goes as deep as the mind or the emotions is not true biblical faith--not the kind the sinner needs to receive salvation, or the Christian needs to walk with God.
A) IN THE MIND. There is a kind of faith that involves an intellectual acceptance of facts. Theologian Charles Baker calls it Rationalistic Faith. Those with this level of faith know the truth, and may well accept the doctrinal realities about who Christ is and what He has done, but there is no transforming personal appropriation of the truth, no life application.
James tells us "even the demons believe--and tremble" (Jas. 2:19). They know the power of Almighty God, and the certainty of their eternal destiny. The thought of it fills them with terror (cf. Lk. 8:30-31). They also know without doubt who Christ is, but they do not bow the knee to Him in submission, and in sincere worship. Nor do they alter their aims and actions as a result.
B) IN THE EMOTIONS. This is what we might call a transient enthusiasm, or in Baker's words, Emotional Faith. It is the kind of belief that many in the crowds following Jesus had. There was a superficial acceptance of Him for awhile, but with an absence of firm commitment based on spiritual insight.
These people exhibited an excited response to His miracles but with little substantive conviction toward Him (cf. Jn. 2:23-24). As a result, when the Lord began to speak of the cross, and the deeper truths of the spiritual life, "Many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him" (Jn. 6:66).
They are represented in Christ's parable of the sower by the seed that fell upon rock, where there was no depth of earth. "The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy [emotion]; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (Lk. 8:13).
C) IN THE WILL. In contrast to the two above that fall short, there is true biblical faith, a transforming faith, that might be described as "a belief that behaves." The mind is involved with this faith too: It is rooted in sound doctrine, an understanding of the truth. So are the feelings: There is certainly an emotional response to the truth. But it goes beyond that.
There is an appropriation of the truth that leads to decisive action, and a surrender of the self to God. It is this kind of faith James speaks of when he says, "I will show you my faith by my works" (Jas. 2:18). He goes on, "Faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:20), meaning any "faith" that does not lead to a committed response, and a change in the life, is a dead kind of faith, not the genuine article. And "without faith [genuine faith] it is impossible to please [God]" (Heb. 11:6).
It is this latter kind of faith that is involved at conversion (what is sometimes called saving faith) and in the continuing walk of the Christian life (where it has been called sustaining faith). "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7; cf. Col. 2:6-7).
George Mueller defined such faith as follows: "Faith is the assurance that the things which God said in His Word are true; and that God will act according to what He has said in His Word. This assurance, this reliance on God's Word, this confidence, is Faith."
But in the Christian walk of one believer and another there are variations in both the degree and consistency of faith. George Mueller himself was a man of outstanding faith. Others struggle to keep trusting the Lord day by day. With the father who came to Jesus one day many of us would cry, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24).
THE GIFT OF FAITH. Finally, God does grant to some a special and unique endowment of faith which is beyond the ordinary. Not all have this. And we should not beat up on ourselves because we do not have it! "God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3), and we should seek to exercise what we have.
But in the listing of various spiritual gifts in First Corinthians 12:9, Paul adds "to another faith by the same Spirit." In other words, to another person is given the gift of faith by the Spirit of God, who "distributes to each one individually as He wills" (vs. 11). It is likely this gift Paul has in mind when he speaks of "all faith so that I could remove mountains" (I Cor. 13:2). And perhaps it was evident in the life of Stephen, who is described as "a man full of faith" (Acts 6:5).
John MacArthur writes that this gift is "distinct from saving faith or persevering [sustaining] faith, both of which all believers possess. This gift is exercised in persistent prayer and endurance in intercession, along with strong trust in God in the midst of difficult circumstances."
This is the faith of the great pioneers of church history. Of George Mueller, mentioned earlier, who trusted God to help him feed thousands of orphans. Of missionaries like William Carey and Hudson Taylor. And of the godly men like Dwight Moody and others who founded Bible colleges and began great ministries and movements.
They saw a need, as many did. They were deeply concerned, as many were. But they also had a God-given vision for what could be accomplished by His grace, and the holy boldness to launch out and attempt the seemingly impossible. In this, they demonstrated "the gift of faith." We thank the Lord for this gift to the church!