Lesson 30 – Irresistible Grace
There is much misunderstanding in the religious world about “faith” or “belief.” Many preachers will say that salvation is by grace but that a person must “put his trust in Jesus Christ” or “believe in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior” or “have faith in Jesus Christ” before he can be saved. This act of faith, thus presented, is an act of the sinner’s free will.
This conception of faith is not true. If it were true then the sinner would be playing a part in his own salvation. He would be doing something in order to be saved. He would be moving toward God before he had spiritual life in order to obtain spiritual life. No matter how much a man may talk of “free grace,” any act that a man had to perform before salvation, in order to obtain salvation, would render that salvation not free.
Salvation is, however, of grace. It is wholly of God. Even though no one is saved without faith, yet even that faith is a free gift of God. God gives a person faith when He causes him to be born of the Spirit, not before the person is born again. The born-again one cannot exercise faith before he has it. When we see a man exercise faith we can be sure that he is already in a “born-again” condition. To show that salvation is completely of grace, Paul said, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:16). Speaking of those that believe on Jesus, John said that they “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13). These verses make it plain that “saving faith” is not an act of man’s so-called “free will” but is a gift of God.
Definition Of The Terms
The Greek word most commonly translated “believe” in the New Testament is PISTEUO. The meaning is “to believe, be persuaded of, to place confidence in.” (W. E. Vine). Thayer gives the meaning as follows: “of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul.” When the object of believing is Jesus Christ, Thayer says that it is “a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah.”
The Greek word most commonly translated “faith” in the New Testament is PISTIS. The meaning is “firm persuasion.” (W. E. Vine). Thayer says of this word that “when it relates to God, PISTIS is the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ-Heb. 11:6.” He says that, “in reference to Christ, it denotes a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation.”
It should be obvious that PISTEUO and PISTIS are cognate words. This means that they were derived from a common original form or root. One is a verb; the other is a noun. Simply put it means that “to believe” is “to exercise faith.” “Faith” is “the ability to believe.” So, if one believes, he is exercising the faith which he already has.
The Scriptural Record
The Scriptures make plain that faith is a gift of God and not an achievement of man’s “free-will.”
“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.”
These verses tell us that we are saved on the principle of grace (a free unmerited favor); that faith is the instrument used; that salvation is not of works (including a work of faith); and that man cannot take any credit for his salvation. In short these verses say that God gives the individual faith when He saves him. Faith, as used here is almost a synonym for spiritual life.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
This verse makes it plain that the ability to believe on Christ is a gift of God, and not a power exercised by the “free-will” of the sinner.
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”
Many people say that “if you will just take the first step and move towards Jesus, the He will save you.” But this verse teaches that Jesus makes the first step. And, He finishes what He started. Faith is not a work of the creature — it is a work of the Creator, from beginning to end.
To further show that Jesus finishes what He has begun He said to Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” (Luke 22:32). Christ prays for all His people as their Intercessor. Though they lapse into sin from time to time their faith (practically a synonym for spiritual life) will never fail. The fact that Jesus is both the author and finisher of faith is what is being emphasized in the following verse: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (I John 5:4).
Another verse that shows that the ability to believe is entirely of God and is not of man is I Peter 1:21: “Who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”
The gift of faith was purchased for the elect on the cross: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (I Peter 3:18).
We are brought to God in vital, living union by faith. That faith is entirely by Christ is further pointed out in Acts 3:16: “And His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.”
Faith is not the work of man. Man only exercises that which God has already worked in him.
“This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”
John Gill says of this verse, “This, as a principle, is purely God’s work; as it is an act, or as it is exercised under the influence of divine grace it is man’s act.”
He is saying what I have said above — man only exercises what God has already worked in him. The Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson says, “So here Jesus terms belief in Him as the work of God.”
It takes the same power to truly believe as it took to raise Christ from the dead.
“And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raise Him from the dead … “
Peter gave his witness in the following words, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:1).
The word translated “obtained” is LAGCHANO, “to obtain by lot.” Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words has this to say about the word: “The attainment is not by one’s own effort or as a result of one’s own exertions, but is like ripe fruit falling into one’s lap … In this sentence, the point of LAGCHANO is that faith has come to them from God with no co-operation on their part.”
The Lord Jesus sums it up when He says, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him. And He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”
1. Can a person exercise faith in order to gain spiritual life? Why or why not?
2. Is anyone saved without faith?
3. When does a person obtain faith?
4. Faith is the ability to ____________________________.
5. Faith is almost a synonym for _______________________.
6. Belief in Jesus is the work of ______________________.
We have memorized Psalm 110:3; II Corinthians 4:6; John 5:25; John 3:8; John 6:37,44.
Let us memorize Philippians 1:29.