Is Faith a Choice?

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
That Hebrews 11:1 speaks of the function of faith, not the nature of it, is clear from the context, which is believing to the saving of the soul, 10:38-39. Owen commented, "The observation of the design of the apostle, dischargeth all the disputes of expositors on this place, about the nature and definition of faith, seeing he describes only one property of it, with respect unto a peculiar end, as was said before." Reformed commentators in general make some such qualifying remark.

"Assurance" and "confidence" are subjective terms, that is, they describe the state of the believing subject rather than the objective function of faith itself.

For the most recent linguistic data requiring an objective rendering, see William L. Lane's Word Biblical Commentary in loc.


Puritan Board Freshman
Is there any other kind of believing?

According to your proposition, then Scripture nowhere sets out the nature of faith, because everywhere faith is deeply treated of, it is made clear that it saves the soul, and that in subjective terms ("we are justified by faith," "we are saved by grace through faith," and saved and justified only describe our state, and not, as you say, the objective function, which I know not what is. Then, even your statement "Faith is simply the man believing," is dismissible as merely one of many functions, not the primary objective function, in that it only describes his state: believing.)

Owen also says, "I shall not make it my design to insist much on the nature of faith, and to debate the differences that are among men about it. Only so much must be spoken concerning it as may give us an acquaintance with that whereof we are treating." And he says, "Thus, some place faith in one distinct faculty of the soul, some in another, and some say there are no such things as distinct faculties in the soul. Some place it in both the chief, — the understanding and the will; and some say, it is impossible that one habit should have its residence in two faculties."

And this type of reasoning and dissecting of faith belongs much more to the opposing view than to that which I hold. My definition is far less convoluted: it is the gift, given by God, that IS our trust and assurance in Christ. It is autonomous, like our life. In Him we live, and move, and have our being, which are not choices in the least, but in Him we believe, and you say that is a choice.

I say only this: if you hold that faith is a choice, then you do necessarily, by consequence, make justification and eternal life and life in Christ and sanctification and glorification, and even Christ Himself, to be choices as well.


Puritan Board Junior
Okay... All I want to know at the moment is what exactly is passive in us? When a person knows something, is it an act of his will, or is it that this knowledge happens to him (like regeneration does). What about assent? Is it an act of your will or is it something that happens to you? If it is an act of the will, how can an unbeliever have assent to Christ's person and work, when he hates Him with all of his heart? In that case, the element of trust is no longer what separates the unbeliever and the believer, but it is both assent and trust. The unbeliever cannot rest in the work of Christ, neither can he acknowledge its existence.

Is this correct?


Puritan Board Junior
NOW I GET IT! I came across the following paragraph concerning the nature of saving faith by George E. Meisinger,

One must either believe the gospel or reject it in disbelief. In Acts 28:24, Luke contrasts persuaded with disbelieved, showing that persuaded and disbelieved are opposite sides of a coin. Accordingly, not to believe is not to be persuaded. To believe is to be persuaded of the truth of the gospel, thus Luke expresses the concept of ‘believe’ using its synonym. What about the term persuade (peiqw)? The New Testament uses it both in active and passive senses. That is, Scripture speaks of trying to persuade someone that the gospel is true; this is the active use. Alternatively, the word is used of someone becoming convinced that something is true, the passive use. Here are examples of someone taking initiative (active voice): Luke 11:22 speaks of armor in which a man trusted (lit. ‘had trusted,’ from peiqw), adding the nuance of trust (having been persuaded) to the notion of persuade. Acts 18:4 reveals that Paul persuaded, or convinced Jews and Gentiles. Acts 19:8 speaks of ‘reasoning and persuading’ others of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Acts 28:24 shows the apostle trying to persuade, or convince the Jews of Rome. Luke also uses the term in the passive sense of being persuaded, coming to depend on, trust, or rest confidence in something: Luke 16:31, the rich man was told that if his brothers would not believe Scripture, they would not be persuaded even by someone rising from the dead. Luke 20:6, the people are persuaded (sure, certain) that John was a prophet. Acts 17:3b-4, ‘this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ. And some of them were persuaded.’ Acts 28:24, be persuaded, be convinced, come to believe. Here persuaded opposes disbelieved (epeiqonto… hpistoun)….Did Paul persuade unbelievers by his ability to communicate? The Holy Spirit used his words -- which were God’s words -- to persuade them. God is the One who says ‘Let there be light’ (2 Cor. 4:6). Note how in John 3:36, being persuaded relates to eternal life: ‘He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe (apeiqew) the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.’ To ‘not believe’ (apeiqew) is to refuse to believe the Christian message, even to refuse to be a believer, or to reject the Christian message (cf. Acts 14:2; Eph. 2:2).

Edit: OR I DONT... Man, my mind just keeps getting confused. Is assent passive or not? Is assent the same as being persuaded, OR is assent an act of the will that necessarily follows persuasion? Please help me here!
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Puritan Board Professor
I always like to ask if one believes the sky is blue. If one has eyes to see the sky one do not choose it is blue, as a blind man cannot believe the sky is that color because he cannot see. The same is for those who believe in Jesus. They believe in Him because they have the spiritual eyes to see. The faith we receive to justification is the same faith that is exercised all our life which is not perfect and thus must grow. In other words, when we are faithless after justification, in the sense that we sin during our santification, our weakness shows Who is faithful. We sin while still knowing Who our Savior is. So our faith is grounded in The One Who is faithful, and The faithful One shall blow away the dross that is not clinging to Him or being faithful to Him.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I appreciated that comment Earl.

Let us say: that the faculty of faith, given and brought to life by God (who sends the Light, Ps.119:130, "The entrance of thy words giveth light"), engages the will of a man.

Our physical eyes "see" in a very natural, passive, and unforced way simply because of what they are (assuming they work properly), the life within us, and the light that shines. But such vision barely conceived can be distinguished (for our purposes) from "sight," which we might define here as the faculty of seeing or vision being used to lay hold of a particular object that captures attention. There is a "registration" in the mind by the objects seen, a consciousness about them.

It's helpful to think of the fact that our eyes (and brain) take-in literally everything the light bounces off of in our room. But how much of that do we see? Consider how often we "miss" or "forget" the object right in front of us. Did we not-see it? Was it always in our "blind-spot"? Our eyes drank the draught of information, but our "filters" shunted it aside as insignificant. Then, when we wanted the object, we could not remember ever seeing it (when surely we had).

This is why we would say that true sight takes the functional faculty of vision, and engages the will at some level to notice it, to register and index it; and when we wish (the will once again) to attend it again, we turn our head to where we expect it to be (thanks to the registry). So it is with faith. The point of the gift of saving faith is that we are enabled to apprehend Christ offered to us for our salvation. Like the infant who knows nothing of this world of light into which he is birthed--but who quickly learns to identify his mother's face, and his source of nourishment--so the new-born believer recognizes his Savior, and all about him that is lovely and life-giving. The inherently "passive" nature of the gift and its functionality is (by virtue of what it is, and the soul to which it is attached) put to USE by the one who has it. It is engaged.

It is as natural to "choose" engagement to the sight of Christ, as it is for the baby to "choose" his engagement to the sight of his mother's face, studying it as he nurses at the breast. It is the way it was meant to be. The baby didn't "choose" his mother, or where to be placed so he could study her--he was chosen! His life was imparted to him, and his eyes, and the light. As he grows, he starts to "choose" other objects to engage with. But naturally he returns most often to his mother's face. He "chooses" that. He chooses what was chosen for him.

See, sight, vision, attention, consciousness, registry, engagement, study, the faculty alongside the use of that faculty--so many nuances of a basic concept. How about adding "focus" to the mix? Think about how the will or choice must in the nature of the case be utilized for this function. The newborn cannot focus on anything. He's never used those muscles in his eyes. His eyes are naturally "focused" at about 12 inches, the distance to a mother's face from her nursing breast (where there's a big fuzzy bullseye). From that starting point, he begins to practice the art of focus, shifting his eyes about, and returning them to his resting focal length on his mother's face.

"Focus" is perfectly transferable to the realm of faith, just as much as the other ideas. The world of our faith-in-Christ has all the marvels of complexity and more than this world of our senses. Paul writing to the Corinthians, and the writer to Hebrews, both encourage the hearers to get beyond the "baby-stage" of their engagement with the truth of our religion. Think of all there is to "see" that pertains to God! And always, there is returning to rest in Christ at the center of everything.

But in speaking of childishness, those two writers show they already understand that their catechumens are on a growth curve. We do not come into the knowledge of the truth like an Adam-fully-formed (and surely he had some learning to do too). We cannot expect the enlightenment we have received to have imparted suddenly, instantly, a fully formed theological mind, all nice and grown-up and ready to teach others. That's arrogant. We must become like little children, Mk.9:33-37.

Let us, as children, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2Pet.3:18. 2Ths.1:3, "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." Our faith grows by exercising our knowledge, assent, and trust.

Like the marvelous eye of the body, faith too can be studied and analyzed so that we gain an appreciation for how it functions. There is a basic "passiveness" about it, as well as the act of engaging it, and using it. God saw fit to use this most "passive" of behaviors, viz. believing, to deny the place or power of "working" (actively) as to the means of making us acceptable to himself. And we are more than simply vacuums for data, storerooms for articles of faith that accumulate in our souls, absent the activity of the will. We are renewed humans, brought back into fellowship with God, restored in the image of God--in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.
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Puritan Board Freshman
God fundamentally changes our choices. We love because he first loved us. We freely choose God because he has given us hearts to love him more than all others, including our own life, comfort and happiness. This is a supernatural change and love. Praise God!

Yes, amen. Could we say that the faith is choice of God , because He have loved us?


Puritan Board Junior
Faith is by no means passive, just as unbelief is not passive. We freely choose life just as the unbeliever freely pursues a life in opposition to God. We are freely obedient to Christ because we have been given a new nature that delights to do his will, while the unbeliever is at enmity to God because he is, at heart, God's enemy. I disagree with the OP that states that faith is not a choice.

May I attempt to refine your statement a little? It is only once one is regenerated that we do choose to walk in faith, grow in grace (or however one wants to describe the human side of the complex of activities that make up sanctification). Yet even those choices, God overrules in the regenerate as he conforms us to Christlikeness.


Puritan Board Junior
faith must include "choice," if by that is meant an act of the will. Faith is simply the man believing. Man thinks, wills, and affects. Therefore faith is defined in terms of knowledge, assent, and trust. It is certain that man cannot will anything spiritually good in a fallen and unregenerate condition, but it is equally certain that when a man is regenerated he is enabled to believe in Christ for salvation. God does not believe for him. God works in him to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Hebrews 11:1 provides a definition of what faith does rather than what faith is. It is describing the function rather than the nature of faith. It is regrettable that it has been translated in subjective terms when it is indicating something that is objective.

amen and amen!!!!


Puritan Board Junior
Thank you very much, Rev. Buchanan. I appreciated your idea of focusing or engaging one's faculties of the body and mind that are by default passive. Your allegory of a physically born baby was also helpful in illustrating spiritual birth.

By using or abusing my faculties of the mind, I can choose to know Christ more, to know what I still don't know about Him, OR I can choose to ignore Him. I can choose to acknowledge the truth of and in Christ OR I can choose to suppress that truth in unrighteousness by lying to myself. I can choose to trust in Christ, to accept, receive and rest upon Him for not only my justification, but also my sanctification, OR I can choose to trust in Christ for only my justification (like many unregenerate Christians do), OR I can choose to not trust Him at all.

Only by using, focusing, engaging, practising our faith can it grow! It won't grow by itself! Sure, it will work and operate passively by itself; it will even save our souls without us actively supporting it. Nevertheless, only by activating our faith can it grow!


Puritan Board Junior
Let me just answer to my original question as a conclusion (then a moderator can close this thread),

Faith can be a choice, but it is not so necessarily.
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