Last edited on 23/Jan/2021
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
In addition, St Paul taught that faith is not our doing, but God’s gift which he gives to us by his grace:
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. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Biblical faith is simple trust in the promises of God (the gospel)—that God forgives us all our sins and gives us eternal life in Heaven because of Jesus’ merits alone in his sinless life, his atoning death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead.
The reason why a Christian believes in the first place that Jesus is God in flesh, the Saviour of the world, is not because he or she was good enough to choose God by his or her own free will, but because God, who is rich in mercy, chose to create faith—which is God’s gift—in his or her heart (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is simply that which receives the favour and mercy of God with empty hands. We therefore have no grounds for boasting about our decision of choosing Jesus, which is really a precious gift from God.
Every Human Work—Including Our Free Will—Is Excluded in Justification
Romans 2:23 says that those who boast in the law (which refers to those who reject justification by faith alone) dishonour God, because in spite of claiming to keep the law, they constantly break it. Romans 3:27–28 says that our boasting is excluded, not by a law of works, but by the law of faith, because we are justified by faith apart from works of the law, meaning that every human work and effort, including our cognitive ability to make decisions, is excluded in justification. Romans 4:1–5 gives a real example to illustrate this teaching, regarding Abraham, whose descendants became the nation Israel:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Romans 4:1–5)
According to the Bible, Abraham was not justified before God by his works, because his faith in God’s promises was counted to him as righteousness. The Bible gives the reason why the promise of eternal life depends on faith apart from works, and therefore faith alone, in Jesus Christ:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (Romans 4:16)
It depends on faith alone so that the promise of eternal life rests on grace. In other words, God gives us his unmerited, unconditional love, favour, and blessings of eternal life simply because he loves us despite our sinfulness, and he paid the ultimate price for it (Acts 20:28).
Faith and Grace Are Both God’s Free Gifts and Works
The Bible directly links faith and grace together because both are the works of God. God creates faith in our hearts to accept and receive his free gift of eternal life, because of his grace alone (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8–9). Because it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works:
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
We should keep in mind that although saving faith is a work of God, it is still his desire that every person be saved (1 Timothy 2:3–4) and come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). In light of this, it is important that we don’t fall into the error of thinking that God predestines some people to Hell.
Are There Passages Which Teach That We Can Choose Christ?
Admittedly, there are some passages in the Bible which make it seem like we can choose to believe in Christ. For example, Scripture teaches that we can ask God the Father for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), that if we seek God with all our heart we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13), that if we ask, we will be answered, that if we seek we will find, and if we knock it will be opened (Matthew 7:7–8), and it implores everyone to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). However, we must remember the fundamental hermeneutical principle that Scripture interprets Scripture.
Therefore, we must not separate the aforementioned passages from the clear passages in the Bible which say that saving faith is God’s work, not ours, and also that in love God predestined those who would believe in him for adoption as his children (Ephesians 1:3–6), that he caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3–5), and that only he can draw people to his Son, Jesus (John 6:44). When we compare these passages with the ones above, it becomes evident that if we do seek God before we come to faith, it is only because the Holy Spirit, who is at work in the world (John 16:7–11), is drawing us to faith, not because we sought God by our own free will.
So once again, the answer to this question is no; faith in Jesus is not a work that we do, but rather, as Jesus said, it is “the work of God” (John 6:29), and as Paul said, it is “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8–9). God made the promise of eternal life depend on faith in Jesus Christ, so that it may rest on grace, and therefore be guaranteed to all those who believe (Romans 4:16). If it were on the basis of works, which includes the supposed human ability to make a decision for Christ, grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6).
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by persmission. All rights reserved.