St. Augustine: Believing Is a Gift

Faith, like life itself, is a pure gift.  When a dead man is raised, he lives.  When a blind man is given sight, he sees.  Life and truth are not things that we earn, they are pure gifts that we can only receive.

St. Augustine wrote in his “Sermons on Selected New Testament Lessons” (81.2-3):

In order to teach us that this very believing is matter of gift, not of desert [deserving], He says,… “No man comes unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.”  [John 6:44].  He did not lead, but draw.  This violence is done to the heart, not the body.  Why then do you marvel?  Believe, and you come; love, and you are drawn.  Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence; it is gentle, it is sweet; it is the very sweetness that draws you.  Is not a sheep drawn, when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger?  Yet I imagine that it is not bodily driven on, but fast bound by desire.  In such wise do you come too to Christ …

But wonderful it is, that when Christ Crucified is preached, two hear, one despises, the other ascends.  Let him that despises, impute it to himself; let not him that ascends, arrogate it to himself.  For he has heard from the True Master; “No man comes unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father.”  [John 6:65].  Let him joy, that it has been given; let him render thanks to Him who gives it, with a humble, not an arrogant heart; lest what he has attained through humility, he lose through pride.  For even they who are already walking in this way of righteousness, if they attribute it to themselves, and to their own strength, perish out of it.

—St. Augustine, translation by R.G. MacMullen.
(Emphasis added).

There are Lutheran pastors who teach that Christians (after conversion) can choose to believe God’s word.  This post-conversion decision theology is the foundation of their ministry and methods.  Every practice that “works” is designed to entice and motivate a choice to believe.

However, it is Christ who gives faith, and it is Christ alone to whom we should look to receive faith.  (John 6:29, Luke 17:5).  When faith wavers, should we look to our own reason or strength?  Or should we look to Christ alone?  Paul wrote to already believing Christians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this [faith & grace] is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9).

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