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On the one hand, 1 Corinthians 12:9 seems to claim that faith is a gift:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. [1 Corinthians 12:4-11, ESV]

But, on the other hand, other passages seem to indicate that faith can be cultivated / developed through spiritual practices such as prayer, fasting and hearing the word of Christ (i.e. reading the Bible (?)):

20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 21 But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting [Matthew 17:20-21, ESV]

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [Romans 10:17, ESV]

Question: Is faith a gift or earned / developed through spiritual practices (e.g. prayer, fasting, reading the Bible)?


Related: Is Matthew 17:14-21 implying that miracle-working faith can be attained through prayer and fasting?

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  • You need to reword your question. Anything that is earned isn't a gift.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 7, 2021 at 1:15
  • @PerryWebb - good point, question edited. Sep 7, 2021 at 1:16

5 Answers 5

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Faith is a gift, but the strength of one's faith comes through exercise.

Faith Is a Gift

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3, KJV)

Faith Has Proportions

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; (Romans 12:6, KJV)

Faith Can Be Great OR Weak

When 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. (Matthew 8:10, KJV)

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. (Matthew 8:26, KJV)

Then 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. (Matthew 15:28, KJV)

And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: (Romans 4:19, KJV)

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (Romans 14:1, KJV)

Faith Can Be Tried

Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (James 1:3, KJV)

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 1:7, KJV)

Once our faith is tried and purified, as alluded to in these passages, it becomes stronger/greater.

But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, (Jude 1:20, KJV)

Summary

Everyone starts with a God-given measure of faith. God desires us to exercise that faith through the trials or tests of faith through which we pass until our faith becomes great.

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We find repeatedly that salvation and the even the impulse to seek God come from God - all salvation is the initiative of God's and not ours, Phil 2:13, John 6:44, Rom 2:4, 5:5, Eph 2:5.

John 6:44 - “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

More specifically, 1 Cor 12:9 confirms that even faith is gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now, and this is the crucial point - a gift of God is either received or shunned, according to the choice of the recipient. Many shun God's gracious gifts - history is littered with people who were raised in Christian homes but used their abilities to persecute the church and worse.

A God-given gift is not necessarily mature upon first receipt but usually must be developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Thus, while faith is a gift of God, it must be grown and strengthened. Jesus hints at this in places such as Matt 17:20, 21, Rom 10:17. However, all are given the gift of faith according to Heb 11:6 -

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

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Yes on both accounts. Faith is the gift of God ( Ephesians2:8). A person who is ordained to eternal life is saved at one point in their life ( even in the womb) by the faith [of] Christ :

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith [ of ] Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith [of] Christ, ]and not by the works of the law for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16)

To be made just or righteous before God can only come from Christ's faith, not ours:

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith [of] Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Romans 3:22).

Once we have received "the promise by faith [of] Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22), we begin to live by His faith as well:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the [faith of the Son of God,] who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

We also read in Habakkuk 2:4

...but the just shall live by His faith.

The faith that you consider a "spiritual practice " is for the believer who has the conviction or assurance in Christ and seeks to strengthen that faith:

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; (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

Remembering without ceasing [your work of faith], and labour of love... (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

You also mentioned that faith can be "cultivated" by "hearing the word of Christ". Actually, Romans 10:17 is a reference to anyone who is chosen by God who will eventually come under the spiritual "hearing" of God's word, which is the catalyst of salvation. Many people hear the word of God, but it has no eternal effect on them:

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it (Hebrews 4:2).

And I will be the first to admit what a mystery that is.

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It is both, for faith is from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17) and the word of God does not depend on either us or even less on our miserable practices, however austere and ascetic they may be. But when we have faith, that means that through faith the grace of Lord starts working in us transforming our sinful, fallen nature to a “new creation”(2 Cor. 5:17), and this working of grace in us is not automatic, but needs our attention, concentration and ongoing efforts, for otherwise the grace will wither, as said in Lord’s parable about the Sower, and our faith will be a dead faith without deeds (James 2:26). On the contrary, through our free synergism or co-action with grace of God, we can increase our faith and knowledge of God, as the Lord Himself attests that there are degrees of faith (Luke 7:9). Moreover, when the disciples say to Him that He May increase faith in them, He does not respond that He will do it, but that depends on the action on disciples’ part also, that whatever small faith they have, they can make it as effective as to work miracles (Luke 17:6). Thus, we cannot work miracles because do not utilize and put to practice our small faith due to lack of enthusiasm and diligence.

Thus, the answer is - both God’s grace and our synergy or co-action with it is necessary for the growth of faith in us.

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What is Faith? Knowing this is a necessary foundation for answering how it comes.

(you asked)” Question: ”Is faith a gift or earned / developed through spiritual practices (e.g. prayer, fasting, reading the Bible)?”

Essentially, this answer is simple. Because we are told….

ROMANS 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

And, we are not told of any other ‘means’ - other than what is outlined in Romans 10:17.

So then what is the ‘gift of faith’ 1 Corinthians 12:9? And, how does ‘tie’ into our understanding of faith. Well, as we started saying, this depends on your personal understanding of what Faith is. This view is not universal, but nevertheless I will outline it for consideration alongside the others.

Faith is a New Testament only concept. Because it is spiritual. It requires man’s ‘spirit’ to see and/or hear. Faith is not a ‘mental process’ (believe in ‘your head’). The natural man does not understand ‘Faith’. (1 Corinthians 2:14). Romans tells us that we are to ‘believe in our heart’. Jesus came to ‘open [spiritually] blind eyes. Being ‘reborn’ is being made spiritually ‘alive’. So now we walk ‘in the spirit’. (Galatians 5:16). And if you ‘walk’, you need to ‘see’ where your going. (Spiritual ‘eyes’).

And ‘hearing’ [the word, with our ‘spiritual ears’) is how faith comes.

MAT 13:13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

So now we can come back to 1 Corinthians 12:9. The gift of faith is when the Holy Spirit allows someone to ‘see’ into the spiritual realm. That is, it is a Spiritual gift. Exactly how Elijahs servants eyes were opened in 2 Kings 6:17-20.

In regards to the reference to Matthew 17. Matthew 17 has nothing to do with faith. The problem was their unbelief - and the fasting was a means to overcome that (unbelief). Jesus reflects this when He went on to say this wasn’t an issue of ‘faith’ - because even a mustard seed of faith would have been enough. So because ‘increasing faith’ was not the issue, and was not being addressed, there was nothing in that passage needs to be addressed in relation to ‘faith’ being ‘developed’ or ‘increased’.

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  • What about prayer and fasting as another means to cultivate faith? See Matthew 17:20-21 quoted in the OP. Sep 7, 2021 at 2:33
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator Matthew 17 has nothing to do with faith. The problem was their unbelief - and the fasting was a means to overcome that (unbelief). Jesus went on to say this wasn’t an issue of ‘faith’ - because even a mustard seed of faith would have been enough. So because ‘increasing faith’ was *not the issue, there was nothing in that passage that needed me to address it.
    – Dave
    Sep 7, 2021 at 3:25
  • Would you be willing to edit your answer to include what you just said in your comment? (In case the comments get deleted in the future.) Sep 7, 2021 at 3:27
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator Done, as requested.
    – Dave
    Sep 7, 2021 at 3:42
  • Thanks. You might be interested in answering this question as well: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/68434/38524 Sep 7, 2021 at 3:43

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