Faith is a Gift

john-piperFrom John Piper’s 1985 sermon on Romans 8:28–30 (Part 1):

The doctrines of unconditional election and predestination and effectual calling tend to root out all boasting and pride and self-reliance. If you ever get gripped by these things, you will be a broken person. You will not take one ounce of credit for your salvation: neither the provision of it in the cross, nor the application of it in faith. You will give it all to God and you will humble yourself before him.

“Could it be that many of the struggles in our lives are owing to the fact that we never knew how we got saved?”

Now here again, in talking with my friends who don’t agree with me, this is one of the things they say. They say: Piper, you don’t need to say that faith is a gift in order to eliminate boasting. You don’t need to say that God gives faith. All you need to do is say that salvation is by faith, not by works, because faith itself rules out boasting. And then they quote Romans 3:27, which says: “[Boasting] is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.” And they say: See, faith all by itself excludes boasting. You don’t need to be driven by logic to say that faith is a gift in order to rule out boasting.

To which I respond, two-fold: One, I am not driven by logic to say faith is a gift. I am driven by exegesis. It is taught in the Bible. It is icing on the cake that it happens to smash pride. But that is not the reason I invent it. It is taught in the Bible that faith is a gift. We are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Nobody would ever believe and perform the most beautiful act of morality that can be performed, namely faith, if God didn’t enable us to get rid of our hard hearts and have a heart of flesh. But that is not the main response.

My main response to this criticism is: Yes, yes. Faith eliminates boasting by itself. Why? Because faith in the New Testament is faith in all of salvation, not only a piece of salvation. New Testament faith is not just faith in God to provide us with the cross. It is faith in God to work in us that which is pleasing in his sight. Faith in the New Testament doesn’t just say: I choose you, Christ. Faith in the New Testament says: I rest in you, Father, to draw me to Christ. Of course faith rules out all boasting. It is faith in everything the Bible says, not just a little piece of what the Bible says.

Suppose that you were drowning in a lake and the Son of God were standing on the beach and he saw you drowning and he tossed you an inner tube and it landed in your vicinity and you flailed your way over to it and got hold of it and paddled your way to the shore, gasping. You’d thank him for the inner tube at least.

But suppose that you were dead at the bottom of a lake and your family was dragging the lake for you, missing you since the morning. And you had been an enemy of the Son of God all your life, rejecting him and spurning him. And he walks up and says: You can put that stuff away. I will find him. And he swims out and dives down and pulls you up and pulls you to shore, lays you down, kneels down, and works on you all day, all afternoon, works and works. And all of the sudden, there is a twitch of life and you breathe and you are alive again. And he falls at your side exhausted.

And you get up on your knees and you look down at his face with tears of love streaming down your face, and you hear a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son. With him I am well pleased. Rise, my Son.” He comes up and he stands up and he looks down at you and you see in his face more personal affection for you than you have ever seen in any face in all the world. He puts his hand down very gently and yet very firmly takes your hand and pulls you up and looks you in the face and says: “Follow me and I will work everything together for your good all the days of your life.”

Which way did you get saved? Did you flail your way over to the inner tube and kick your way to heaven? Or did you get raised from the dead? How are you going to give God glory today? How are you going to sing “Amazing Grace”? He threw the tube and I swam to it, 50 percent to God and 50 to me — 90 to God and 10 to me — you name it.

Brothers and sisters, could it be that many of the problems and struggles in your life today are owing to the fact that you never knew how you got saved. And therefore you have never known Christ. You lived a half life with God. You thought it was half yours and half his. And this morning maybe all of the sudden you can wake up to what he did for you so that you could start loving him with an appropriate affection, so that you could be humbled to the dust. Could it be that this would be the day you would be awakened to life because you heard the gospel for the first time in its power that it was God who slammed to the bottom at the cost of his Son’s life and pulled you up — and not just heaved you an inner tube or waited for your self-determined flailings to get you onto the boat?