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The Canons of Dort, Second Head of Doctrine, Article Seven

Article 7: Faith God's Gift

But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace--which he owes to no one--given to them in Christ from eternity.


Since we are fallen by nature, and can do nothing on our own to come to faith in Christ–indeed, we cannot even do anything to prepare ourselves to come to faith apart from a prior act of God on our behalf–the Canons again remind us that faith does not arise because fallen sinners have the power, desire, or the ability to believe the gospel when it is preached to them.

The Scriptures repeatedly tell us that faith is a gift from God.  In fact, faith only arises in the human heart when the Holy Spirit creates it in the human heart through the preaching of the gospel.  As Luther once pointed out, God creates faith in the heart, just like he created the world from nothing.  Unless and until God does this, we gladly remain unbelievers.

This very point is made several times in passages such as Ephesians 1:3-14 and Romans 10:9-17, where Paul states,

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  16  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ
As can be seen in these two representative passages, the Scriptures are crystal clear about the source of faith--it comes from God through the word.  Sadly, many of our contemporaries continue to stumble over these words, unable to shake their confidence in the fallen human will. 

Only those whom God has chosen from before the foundation of the world truly come to faith in Christ.  Inevitably, they do come to Christ because they are drawn to Christ and then enabled by God to trust the Savior.  When the gospel is preached to the elect, God creates faith in their hearts, and they respond to the proclamation of the gospel by trusting in Christ alone. 

The Scriptures teach, (as do the Canons, which summarize the biblical teaching), that faith itself is a gift from God.  This creation of faith is directly connected to the preaching of the gospel.  Hence, if we wish to see people come to faith in Christ, it is useless to entice them, manipulate them, or appeal to their so-called “felt needs.”  They cannot, and will not, come to Christ because they remain dead in sin. 

The biblical solution to the problem of human inability to trust Christ is a simple one.  If we wish to see people come to faith in Christ, then we preach Christ to them as clearly and as directly as we can, trusting that the blessed Holy Spirit will create faith in their hearts through the means of the gospel proclamation. 

Once again, we must keep in mind that the end (the salvation of God’s elect) is directly connected to the means (the preaching of the gospel).  Let us not divide what God has so carefully and wonderfully joined together.  Faith is a gift created in the heart by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel.

Reader Comments (2)

If the Gospel is "a stumbling block to the Jews" and "foolishness to the Gentiles," "faith" is a closed door to Armenians. No matter how many times I've tried to make the point that faith, itself, is a gift from God to those who hear and believe the Gospel, not something that comes from within us, I get nothing but head shaking and nay-saying from the Baptists (Independent) who belong to the church my wife attends; they simply cannot understand it.

In fact, I was very confused when I started attending services there about four years ago because all I heard about was grace - God's grace to believers. So, I assumed that grace is grace and it fell in line with my Lutheran background. Gradually, I began to realize that the grace they were talking about was something like fairy dust, sprinkled across mankind to spark a little bit faith within each one so that, in the end, if anyone took the Gospel message "to heart" earnestly enough, he or she could acquire a saving belief.

Well, needless to say, this rubbed cross-ways with my Lutheran confessions which loudly proclaim that everyone hasfallen short and no one has he capability to believe on his or her own and that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel that one receives faith as a gift from God. It was shortly after this that I learned about "decision-based" theology, whereby one either accepts or rejects Christ's saving work on the cross. Then I understood why certain hymns were excluded from Lutheran hymnals and why others had certain verses removed or rephrased. And I understood why Baptists have their "believers baptism" and public statements acknowledging a preceding belief.

All-in-all, it comes back to works. Since we, by nature *want* to do everything for ourselves (all the way back to the garden of Eden), under these kinds of circumstances having enough faith becomes is something *we* accomplish. This is all contrary to what scripture clearly proclaims about us, but is nevertheless something we want to hear and believe in as sinners. Sure a spirit is at work - a human spirit, not the Holy Spirit - convincing us that we have enough of the "right stuff" to do it on our own.
October 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

The Book of Concord, in the "Formula of Concord", says this in the Controversy about Synergism, Article II.

"Synergism comes from two Greek words that mean "to work with." Synergism describes any teaching that implies a person has the ability to "work with" God to achieve salvation.

The Formula of Concord formally adopted Martin Luther's position on free will as he explained it in his great treatise The Bondage of the Will. Luther directed this work against the great humanist scholar Erasmus and his book The Freedom of the Will.

"Luther based his views on Holy Scripture, which taught that because of the fall into sin, a human being is by nature dead in sin. The human will is incapable of beginning conversion or of cooperating with God's grace before conversion. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel , gives to a person the gift of trust in Christ. Therefore, faith is entirely God's doing, not a matter of human choice or deciding or cooperating with God. All matter of faith are gifts of God. This issue is critical to maintaining the absolute supremacy of God's grace, for if anything is attributed to the powers of the human will, it may be possible to speak of salvation by grace, but not grace alone."

In the Book of Concord, Formula, Solid Declaration, Article !!. Free Will, #54, says this, "God works through this means (i.e., the preaching and hearing of His Word). He breaks our hearts (Jeremiah 4:3-4) and draws us to Him (John 6:44). Through the preaching of the Law, a person comes to know his sins and God's wrath. He experiences in his heart true terrors, contrition, and sorrow. Through the preaching of, and reflection on, the Holy Gospel about the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ, a spark of faith is kindled in him. This faith accepts the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake and comforts itself with the Gospel promise. So the Holy Spirit (who does all this) is sent into the heart (Galatians 4:6).

Great Lutheran theologian, Edward W.A. Koehler, in his book "A summary of Christian Doctrine", says this, "Conversion consists in the bestowal of faith. Hence, faith is not a work of man in the sense that by his own powers he produces faith in his heart. Faith is "of the operation of God" (Col. 2:12); it is given unto us to believe in Christ (Phil. 1:29). Faith is , therefore, the work of God in this sense that it is He, and He alone, who creates and sustains it in our hearts."

As Lutherans, we are grateful for the "preservation of the saints." He preserves us in our faith through the means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments.

Praise the Lord for doing all of this for us!!!
October 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd

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