Is “faith” a gift which God gives so that a sinner can believe? (Eph 2:8,9)?
Bible expositors over the years have been divided with regard to your question. There are some that are adamant that the word “faith” of Ephesians 2:8 is the gift of God that enables a sinner to believe, while others believe that the phrase “that not of yourselves” describes the sum total of God’s work of grace in salvation. No one would deny that salvation from beginning to end is the work of God for the sinner and not the work of the sinner for God. The beginning of the chapter underlines the spiritual deadness and depravity of the sinner, and apart from God’s intervention and power, the individual is both helpless and hopeless. And so in the grand scheme of God’s deliverance, He does give “saving faith” as Peter reminds his readers, “to them that have obtained (lit. by lot) like precious faith” (2Peter 1:1). It is true that we would never have believed had God not spoken to us and we would never have appreciated the death of Christ for us had not the Spirit of God revealed the truth to us. As Jonah said, “Salvation is of the Lord.”
However, “faith” in the New Testament is usually regarded as the responsibility of the individual to believe the gospel message. Thus, I believe that “the gift of God” of Ephesians 2:8-9 is not “faith” but a reference to salvation, based on grace and received through faith. There are a number of reasons for this conviction. In the Greek, the grammar itself presents “faith” as feminine and “that” as neuter, “this thing.” Thus, Paul is seemingly not describing “faith” but “salvation by grace.”
Second, some teachers will recommend that sinners pray to God for this gift of faith; however, the sinner is never commanded to pray for the gift of faith. On the contrary, he is commanded to believe the gospel. If faith were a special, enabling gift from God so that a person would be able to believe, the charge of being an “unbeliever” could be challenged, as a person could argue that he had never been given this faith to believe. Sadly, some people put themselves into a “spiritual straitjacket” and wait for years for the gift of faith to come. Exactly how they will know when the gift of faith comes is shrouded in mystery as they anticipate a feeling or a strong conviction or some kind of a “Damascus Road” experience. Ultimately, the scripture is clear that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” God has given us His Word, the gospel has revealed God’s remedy, and man’s responsibility is to hear and believe. There are dozens of verses that make the reality of “faith” or “believing” God crystal-clear. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him.” “Ye also have seen Me and believe not.” No one will ever be able to say to God, “I couldn’t believe.” There is no lack of sufficient evidence for faith to rest upon, but ultimately it becomes a matter of the will. Man’s greatest responsibility is to believe God and His Word and the result will be this wonderful salvation by grace. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.