How God Gives Faith
FAITH in God and in his Word, the Bible, is today at a low ebb. More than ever before are Paul’s words true that “faith is not a possession of all people.”—2 Thess. 3:2, NW.
Why do some persons have faith and others not? Some hold that faith is a gift that God arbitrarily gives or withholds. To support their position they like to quote Paul’s words at Ephesians 2:8 (NW), where he tells the Christian that he is “saved through faith; and this not owing to you, it is God’s gift.”
But note in the context that Paul is not discussing faith so much as God’s undeserved kindness, and that it is by this undeserved kindness he has made the arrangement of salvation through faith. This fact is shown by the complete verse: “By this undeserved kindness, indeed, you have been saved through faith; and this [arrangement] not owing to you, it is God’s gift.”
The kind arrangement that comes through Christ Jesus and that takes account of faith is the gift. It is through this arrangement rather than by works of the law that salvation was to come to those manifesting faith in it. So the entire arrangement for Christian salvation was by God’s undeserved kindness, and through faith in it rather than faith in works under the law are Christians saved. The divine arrangement without individual faith in it would bring no salvation to individuals. The two go together; and with the gift of everything that is embraced in Jehovah’s arrangement he also provides the means of having the necessary faith in the arrangement. The arrangement places a value on faith so that salvation results. We must use the means to get faith.
CREDULITY NOT FAITH
Much that passes for faith is not faith but credulity, and there is a world of difference between faith and credulity. Credulity, we are told, is “a weak or ignorant disregard of the nature or strength of the evidence upon which a belief is founded; in general, a disposition, arising from weakness or ignorance, to believe too readily, especially impossible or absurd things.” And to be credulous is to be “uncritical with regard to beliefs; easily deceived; gullible.”—Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia.
Since credulity thrives on ignorance, it is not surprising to find much credulity in Roman Catholic Latin America, which, according to the United Nations World, October, 1951, is two thirds illiterate. Thus the news that the virgin Mary was to appear at a certain location was featured in the press and radio programs of Puerto Rico, causing some 100,000 to make a pilgrimage to the place, only to be disappointed. And what was the basis of all this excitement? The statements of a few children, from seven to ten years of age, that the virgin had appeared to them and told them that she would appear again at a certain place on May 25, 1953. Truly that was credulity.
The credulous are unable to bear the burden of thinking, of weighing evidence and of following logically from causes to effects. They go by emotion, by feeling, sentimentality or fear. They believe because of inclination, prejudice, circumstances or hope of reward, and so are subjective instead of objective in religious matters.
In striking contrast with such, the Christian bases his faith on sound authorities and clear reasoning. His faith consists of knowledge and confident reliance upon it, being “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” (Heb. 11:1, NW) Faith views the evidence objectively, in love of the truth, and so swallows neither the unsupported assertions of “scientists” nor the traditions peculiar to organized religion.
God expects us to reason, to think. That is why he counsels, “Come now, and let us reason together.” And why Paul wrote Timothy, “Give constant thought to what I am saying.” “Ponder over these things.”—Isa. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:7; 1 Tim. 4:15, NW.
It is because of his lack of knowledge based on sound authority and clear reasoning that the credulous person says: “I never argue religion.” But the person with a sound basis for his religion can discuss it with others, and in fact is urged to do so, ‘to be always ready to make a defense to everyone that demands of him a reason for the hope that is in him.’ He follows the example of Paul who searched out the Jews at their synagogues where he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.”—1 Pet. 3:15; Acts 17:2, 3, NW.
GOD PROVIDES BASIS FOR FAITH
Faith is a gift first of all in that God provides the sound and compelling reason for exercising faith. “His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s foundation onward, because they are understood by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable” for not exercising faith. (Rom. 1:20, NW) Yes, all nature, its beauty, magnitude, design and symmetry, its many balances without which life would not be possible on this earth, and our very bodies, ‘so wonderfully and fearfully made,’ unite to give eloquent testimony to the existence of the Creator as well as to tell us of his attributes.—Job 38 to 41; Ps. 139:14.
For like sound and compelling reasons the Christian exercises faith in the Bible, all of it. To say, as once did a prominent Brooklyn clergyman: “I read the Bible the way I eat fish” (meaning that he discarded that which he thought was not true, not edible), is to admit having no faith at all in the Bible, but only in one’s judgment.
The sixty-six books of the Bible present a harmonious theme throughout, though written by some thirty-five different writers from all walks of life, over a period of many centuries, and in various lands and languages. They manifest a frankness, honesty and candor that stamps them as truth, and their historical accuracy has time and time again been verified by the findings of geologists and archaeologists. And above all, the fulfillment of many of the Bible’s prophecies stamps it as being of divine, not human, origin.
The Bible gives us a reasonable explanation of man’s origin and shows how sin entered into the world, why God has permitted evil to continue, and what man’s destiny is. Its theme is the kingdom of God by means of which Jehovah will vindicate his name and supremacy and bless men of good will. Those who apply its principles to their lives find them both practicable and practical. The greatest man that ever lived said concerning it, “Your word is truth,” which fact alone is sufficient reason for our faith in it.—John 17:17, NW.
ACQUIRING THE GIFT OF FAITH
To acquire the gift of faith we must do something about it. God does not in some supernatural and arbitrary way bestow faith upon us. God having provided a basis for our faith it is up to us to acquire the knowledge that makes faith possible, even as Paul states: “Faith follows the report”; that is, the report or knowledge contained in God’s Word. (Rom. 10:14-17, NW) That means that we must study God’s Word.
But study alone is not enough; we must have, first of all, the right heart attitude. The clergy of Jesus’ day studied God’s Word and yet it did not benefit them; they were unable to believe in Christ Jesus. Why? Because, as Jesus told them: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” Desire for selfish gain will blind us so that we shall not be able to exercise faith.—John 5:39, 44, NW; Jer. 17:9; Mark 4:19.
However, even the right heart attitude and study are not enough for us to acquire faith. We must understand what we study if we would have faith, and to understand the Bible we need help; even as the Ethiopian eunuch indicated to Philip when he asked, ‘How can I understand unless someone should guide me?’ That is why God gave the Christian congregation “some as apostles, some as prophets, some as missionaries, some as shepherds and teachers,” so that we may “all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.” For this purpose God has provided at the present time a “faithful and discreet slave” organization having a publishing agency, the Watch Tower Society. (Acts 8:30-35; Eph. 4:11, 13; Matt. 24:45, 46, NW) Since God provides all this help for us to gain faith in this sense also, faith is a gift.
Nor may we overlook the holy spirit or God’s active force, without which we could not understand God’s Word and so would not have faith. “‘Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.’ For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10, NW) The holy spirit being a gift, the faith that results from it is a gift from this standpoint also.
This matter of faith as being a gift from God and yet not arbitrarily or miraculously so but requiring effort on our part may be illustrated in various ways. For example, we pray, ‘Give us our daily bread,’ and we thank God for what he provides, and yet he does not provide apart from our own efforts; for as Paul plainly stated: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”—Matt. 6:11; 1 Thess. 5:18; 2 Thess. 3:10, NW.
Thus we see that faith is a gift in that God provides the basis for faith, the book of nature and his written book, the Bible. He also provides an organization and his holy spirit to help us to gain this faith. But we must also do our part, we must approach the study of the Bible with the right heart attitude, we must study to gain the knowledge contained in the Bible, and then we must confidently rely upon it, that is, act in harmony with it; for unless we do that, we still would not have the gift of faith, because “faith without works is dead.”—Jas. 2:26, NW.