After my dialog on Calvin, the gift of faith, and Ephesians 2:8-9, I thought it would be interesting to look at another proof text Calvinists use establishing faith as the gift of God.
Here are two translations of Philippians 1:29-
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (NIV)
“For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (NASB)
These two examples represent two different methods of translation. Both say basically the same thing. Two things are “granted” the believer: suffering and belief.
Paul earlier tells the Philippians that he is “in chains for Christ” (1:13). Paul wants Christ to be exalted, whether by his life or death (1:20). Paul utters the famous words, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). By the example of his own life, Paul encourages the Philippians to stand strong when facing persecution and difficult circumstances: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”(1:27). “Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (1:27-28). Paul says, “This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved- and that by God”(1:28). What is the sign? The opposition by persecutors to the gospel is a sign of their destruction, and that persecution is a sign to the persecuted that they are in Christ and will be saved. Paul then concludes: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”
The word “granted” used in this verse, is from the Greek term charizomai. It means “to grant as a favor, that is, gratuitously, in kindness”. In other words, it means: “gift”, or "to give as a gift". It does not mean "opportunity" or "privilige". It implies God is giving or "gifting" something to the Philippians: faith and suffering.
There really isn’t any dispute that this text is saying God “grants” or "gifts" suffering to His people. A Christian has God’s promise that all things work for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Of course, psychologically we have a hard time swallowing the idea that suffering is a gift from God. How can this be? God is love- He would never want me to suffer! But, the gift of suffering doesn’t show itself until we start going through some difficult circumstance and we realize that that it is causing us to be conformed to the image of Christ. I have been through some very difficult situations. I asked for none of them. They simply happened to me. I did not "choose" them when faced with an opportunity. They were thrust into my life, beyond my control. Suffering has much to do with being confomed to the image of Christ. In other words, it has much to do with sanctification.
But here Paul tells us that believing in Christ is also a gift given by God. This is also psychologically untenable. Didn’t I by my own free will choose to believe in Christ? Sure He helps me believe now, but initially I “believed” and became “born again”. Paul tells the Philippians in no uncertain terms that they are Christians because of God. The word used for “believe” is the word “pisteuo” which means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing).” The faith that the Philippians have is a gift. Later Paul tells the Phillipians: "...it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (2:13).
God is not giving the Philippians a choice to suffer. He’s giving them suffering. In the same way, God is not giving the Philippians a choice to believe, He’s giving them belief. He’s not giving them "opportunities" or "privleges" to suffer or believe- this simply isn’t in the text.
Some may respond, “Isn’t this verse simply speaking about the daily faith God gives us to get by? Paul isn’t speaking about initial saving faith.” The text makes no such distinction. It simply says what it says. If this is your response to Philippians 1:29, you need to stop and ask yourself whom is reading their theology into the text. One has to ask- why is daily faith a faith a gift, but not initial faith? It simply doesn't follow. Paul is telling the Philippians: God gave you faith in Him, god is now going to give you suffering. As you trust Him in His gift of faith, trust Him also in his gift of suffering. All things work together for His glory.
Look back on Philippians 1:28, "This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved- and that by God”(1:28). What is the sign? The opposition by persecutors to the gospel is a sign of their destruction, and that persecution is a sign to the persecuted that they are in Christ and will be saved. Paul then concludes: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Contrast this with 1 Timothy 1:13-14. Paul says,
“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Here again the parallel of persecutor and believer is shown. What was poured out on Paul to change him from persecutor to persecuted? Grace, faith, and love.
Next blog(s) (hopefully): A look at those who insist Philippians 1:29 does not teach faith is a gift from God. I plan on going through the interpretations of Laurence Vance, Dave Hunt, Norman Geisler, and C. Gordon Olson.