One of the signature confessions of the Reformed tradition, the Westminster Confession of Faith stands out for its comprehensive summary of biblical doctrine. Chapter 14 of this confession deals with saving faith, explaining that “the grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts” (14.1). This statement asserts that faith, although it is something we exercise, does not find its origin ultimately in our will or in our cooperation with divine grace. Instead, saving faith is a gift to us from the Holy Spirit. He is its ultimate origin, and we exercise faith because of His work in our hearts. It follows that since the Holy Spirit is omnipotent, we will not fail to possess faith if He works it in our hearts. Salvation from beginning to end is guaranteed by the Spirit, who gives us faith and sustains it forever.
The confession draws on Ephesians 2:1–10 at this point. Verse 8 is key, telling us that we have been saved by grace through faith, and that “this” is not our own doing. But to what does the term “this” refer? Is it grace? Is it faith? Is it both?
Conceptually speaking, grace is by nature a gift, so it seems odd that “this” would refer exclusively to grace. If so, then Paul would be saying that the gift of grace is a gift; this is redundant. But if the term “this” refers to grace and to faith, we find no redundancy. The entire package of grace and faith is a gift of God, and it makes far more sense for Paul to have to tell us explicitly that grace and faith are gifts than it would be to tell us that only grace is a gift. We already knew that grace was a gift before we read Paul’s letter.
Grammatically speaking, the Greek of the passage can have the whole package of grace and faith as the antecedent to which “this” refers, and the rest of Scripture confirms that the gift Paul speaks of must include our faith. Only those who are “born again” can see the kingdom, Jesus says (John 3:3). We cannot even see the kingdom, let alone enter it by faith, unless and until the Spirit changes our hearts. We are first born again; then, and only then, will we believe in Jesus.
Ephesians 2:1 says that we are dead in sin apart from Christ. God must draw us, and when He draws a person to Him, He does so effectually. Everyone whom He draws He raises up at the last day (John 6:44). Faith is God’s gift to us, and if He gives it to us, we will possess it forever.