For I say, through the grace give to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. – Romans 12:3
Is faith a gift? The short answer is yes, of course it is. But to leave it at that, I think, is a misnomer.
This passage (Romans 12:3) has troubled me in past times. A simple reading of the passage would leave me to the conclusion that God hands out different measures of faith to different people, and that being case, those who have greater faith should not think of themselves as better than those who have less faith. If your great faith is a gift, then you didn’t do anything to obtain it, so you shouldn’t boast about it.
That seems to make sense, but I had a problem with that. First of all, it doesn’t seem right that God would choose some to have great faith, and other poor souls to suffer with little faith. After all, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Those with the greater faith would have lots of victory, while those poor souls with faltering faith would barely get by. Besides that, Jesus would often praise great faith, and rebuke little faith. How could He honestly do that if the faith demonstrated in His midst was simply the expression of the amount of faith that was given to them by God?
“Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” – Matthew 14:31 (spoken to Peter in the walking on water passage)
Jesus said, “Why did you doubt?” The inference here is that Peter did not have to doubt – that there was no good reason to doubt. Jesus had told Peter to come onto the water. He didn’t tell him to walk halfway and sink. Peter’s faith should have been on the words of Jesus. Instead, he let the circumstances around him cloud his mind with fear. He chose to believe the circumstances rather than to believe the words of the Master, and Jesus rebuked him for it.
So this passage (Romans 12:3) didn’t seem to fit with what I read in the rest of the bible. This brings us to an important rule of bible interpretation: All scripture should be interpreted in the light of other clear teachings in scripture. The reason for this is not because any scripture is wrong, but it’s simply because we are finite beings that are slow of understanding. Some things in the bible are hard to understand, and so we need to be very careful regarding isolated passages. This is especially true with the writings of the apostle Paul (who wrote the book of Romans). Even the great and seasoned apostle Peter said that some of Paul’s writings were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Now, I’ve heard that some people explain the apparent discrepancy in Romans 12:3 by saying that the correct translation of the verse is how it is rendered in the KJV: “God has dealt to every man THE measure of faith.” By using “THE” instead of “A”, the inference is that the same measure of faith is dealt to every person. I really wanted to accept that explanation, but it just didn’t make sense in the context of the passage. If this was the case, then the passage would read like this:
“Don’t think highly about yourself, but think reasonably, because God has given to each of you the same amount of faith.”
The problem with this is that if God had truly given them all the same amount of faith, then no one would have any reason to think highly of themselves, and so Paul would have no reason to write this passage at all! But the fact was that some people were operating in a higher level of faith, and with that being the case, there was the temptation to think of themselves as better than others.
So what’s the solution?
The solution is in the context of the passage. Look at the next verse:
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. – Romans 12:4-5
The context of verse three is in the concept of our place as members of the body of Christ. In other words, we all have different, individual callings as Christians. These individual callings all work together collectively to form the glorious church, the body of Christ. There are certain things that are for all Christians – salvation, healing, the Holy Spirit, communion with God, the ministry of reconciliation, the peace of God, the comfort of the scriptures, joy, righteousness, etc. All of these things require faith. Yet there are also things that aren’t for all Christians, but are passed out individually. These include the gifts of the Spirit, ministry gifts, and spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:3-11, 27-30, Eph 4:11-12, Rom 12:6-8).
With all the general promises of the bible, we are able to hear God’s word on the matter (by reading the bible), and then believe it, because faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). But regarding the specific ministry gifts that we are to operate in individually – how can we believe if there is no word about it? What are we to believe? What passage of the bible directly addresses the specific ministry calling that we are supposed to walk in? This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 12:3. In regards to our specific ministry gift, God gives us a supernatural faith to walk in it. This is why teaching, for example, may come easy to some, but difficult to others. Some have faith to be a teacher, others don’t. Some have faith to prophesy, others don’t. Having faith for a particular gift is a sure sign of what gift God desires you to operate in. These gifts are passed out as the Spirit wills (1 Cor 12:11), and not just the gift, but the faith to operate in that gift. So the man who has great faith to teach ought not look down on the man that has no faith to teach. The only reason the first man can teach is because the faith he has was dealt out to him by God.
Does that make sense?
So that brings us to our original question: Is faith a gift? The answer is still yes, but there is still more to talk about.
If your a bible scholar, the verse you are probably thinking about right now is Ephesians 2:8:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. – Eph 2:8-9
To be honest, I am convinced that this passage has nothing to do with teaching us whether faith is a gift or not, though many people may feel differently. The subject of this sentence is salvation, not faith. The gift of God here is salvation. Paul reaffirms this in Romans 6:23:
…the gift of God is eternal life – Romans 6:23
In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul is simply using multiple ways to get his point across that salvation is not something you work for, but is a gift.
Some people think that faith for salvation is granted to certain people, and not to others. They often say that if that it wasn’t, then it would be our own faith, and thus a work. And since we are not saved by works, faith must be a gift given to a certain chosen, and not to anyone else; otherwise salvation would be of ourselves.
I find this amazing. How is faith ever a work? So often we over-spiritualize things to our own detriment. If I were a banker, and you owed me a thousand dollars, the normal method of payback would be to work. I would say, “go to work until you have paid me what you owe.” But perhaps I found that you were a hardworking man, working two jobs to support your family, with a sick child, and I felt inclined to have mercy on you. And what if I were to call and say, “Come immediately to the bank. Your loan has been completely forgiven. You must come sign a paper and you will be completely released.” Could you then say, “I have worked off my loan! I walked to the bank and signed a paper!”?
The apostle Paul speaks this same way in Romans 4:
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness – Romans 4:4-5
Faith and works are opposites. And faith belongs to each individual. Every man possesses the ability to believe as soon as he hears:
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17
And with that being the case, God is justified in condemning all who believe not. Their faithlessness is own their own head.
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. – Mark 16:15-16
So is faith a gift? Yes, it is. But it is a gift just like our life is a gift. God has given us this life, but what we do with it is up to us. The same is true with faith. Faith is ours as soon as we hear the word, but what we choose to believe is our responsibility.
Unfortunately, many choose to not to believe. Why? Jesus gives the answer in John 3:
Light (the Word of God) has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. – John 3:19
In other words, the truth is plain to all who hear, but many choose not to believe because they love their life of sin. This is why condemnation comes upon those who do not believe.
Faith is a gift. It’s available to all who hear. Those who believe will be saved, and also given the measure of faith needed to operate in the calling that God has ordained for them. Amen