The pronoun [Τοῦτο] is a demonstrative pronoun and it points out the thing that is referred to. In gender it is neither masculine nor feminine, but neuter, and it’s in singular. In case it is nominative – the subject of the verb. ”This thing is not of yourself, [it is] the gift of God.” Pronouns agree with their antecedent in gender and number and their case is determined by their use in their own clause. (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by H. E. Dana and Julius Mantey, p. 125 (Section 135). This rule argues forcefully against the identification of ”faith” as the antecedent because ”faith” does not agree with the pronoun in gender. The pronoun ”this” (verse 8) is NEUTER, and the noun ”faith” (verse 8) is FEMININE. If Paul wanted his readers to understand the pronoun as referring to ”faith” then there is no reason why he would not have used the feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun. If Paul had used the feminine pronoun then it would be very clear that FAITH is the gift of God. However, Paul did not use the feminine pronoun.
Salvation is by grace through faith, and it’s the GIFT OF GOD. Just like other gifts, the gift of God must be personally RECEIVED because God does not force his gifts on anyone (gifts are normally not forced on people). And if we choose to accept the gift, we can decide to keep it for ever or throw it away after some time. The latter option would of course be extremely foolish, but there are people out there who have not taken care of God’s gift as they are supposed to. Gifts are normally FREE and nothing that you pay for yourself. However, free gifts could still have conditions tied to them.
You might decide that you won’t give a gift to a little boy or girl unless they stretch out their hands to RECEIVE it and say THANK YOU – if they are old enough to do so. You might decide to give a car – totally free – to your 18-year-old son, and even offer to pay for all the gas bills, and the car insurance. It would still be a FREE GIFT (and not earned) even if you conditioned the gift with the request that HE must stretch out his hands to grab the keys, that HE drives the car (instead of you driving him), that HE obeys the traffic rules, that HE takes care of the car, etc. He didn’t do any work to GET the car, and with no income he wouldn’t be able to pay for the car himself.
The reason why salvation is ”not of works” is because we can never cleanse ourselves from our past sins by starting to do good works after the transgression is already made, and we can’t produce the gift of cleansing salvation ourselves. We are totally dependent on God’s grace. We don’t earn salvation with our work, and actually; neither with our faith.
The Bible says that faith comes through hearing by the word of God, and this would be inaccurate if we are to understand ”faith” as a gift of God in Eph. 2:8-9.
Rom. 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
”Eternal salvation” is indeed eternal, but we have not stepped into the ”eternal” God’s Kingdom yet. When we step into God’s Kingdom in the future, we will indeed be there for ever. We could even say that the ”eternal gift” will still be eternal even if we throw it away. Then it will continue to be ”eternal” somewhere else but not in our possession. Who is eternal salvation given to?
Hebr. 5:9And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that OBEY HIM
Paul doesn’t contradict James who says:
James 2: 20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?—24Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
If God is the one who provides faith to people, why would Jesus be surprised about people’s faith? Doesn’t he know that his Father gives faith to the ones he wants to be saved? This means that certain people are BOUND to have faith since God the Father causes them to have it. Yet, Jesus seems to be astonished when he saw the magnitude of people’s faith. He didn’t seem to expect that at all:
Matt. 8:10When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Matt 14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Matt. 8:26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
Luke 12:28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Matt. 15:28Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
The Philippian jailer asked: ”What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Some would answer in this way: ”Nothing! You can’t do anything! You are dead and totally unable to respond to God until you are regenerated. You have no part in salvation. God must do it all.” However, Paul and Silas told the jailer that there was something that he could do and was responsible to do: ”BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ!” (Acts 16:31 and compare how Peter answered a similar question in Acts 2:37-38). Acts 16:31 is very clear. God must do the saving; man must do the believing. The saving is something that God alone can do. The believing is something that the sinner must do. God does not do the believing for man.
Another illustration would be the account of the deadly serpents in the wilderness in Numbers 21. Should we say that the Israelites had no part in their deliverance from the deadly snakes? Of course not! Their part was to LOOK and God’s part was to HEAL. No one will ever stand before God and say ”I am condemned because God never gave me the gift of faith”. All men are commanded to believe and to repent (1 John 3:23 and Acts 17:30). God says ”Look unto Me [that's faith] and be ye saved all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22). According to 1 Timothy 2:4, God desires ALL MEN to COME unto Himself. Men are condemned eternally for their failure to do this (John 8:24; 3:18; etc.).
John Calvin did not believe that the pronoun touto referred to ”faith”. One calvinist, MacArthur, said: ”Faith is a gift from God…it is permanent…the faith that God gives begets obedience…God gave it to you and He sustains it…May God grant you a true saving faith, a permanent gift that begins in humility and brokenness over sin and ends up in obedience unto righteousness. That’s true faith and it’s a gift that only God can give, and if you desire it pray and ask that He would grant it to you.” [Tape GC 90-21 on Lordship salvation, last part of tape, comments made during the closing invitation]
Notice carefully what MacArthur is doing. He is not telling the sinner to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31), but to PRAY and ASK GOD to grant the GIFT OF FAITH. This perverts the gospel of Christ by making the condition of salvation PRAYER instead of faith! Instead of asking, ”What must I do to be saved?” I must now focus on the question ”What must I do to believe?” Do I sit back and do nothing and hope that I am one of the chosen ones who will be given this gift? How do I get the gift of saving faith? I wouldn’t be that motivated to pray if I must believe that God predestines all things that come to pass, and consequently also WHO he will give faith to. I couldn’t influence God’s decisions (which he made before the world began) by anything I do or pray. It is all very confusing and it takes away from where the focus of the sinner ought to be, which is upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
/Some of the illustrations above are not my own