There has been a long standing controversy over whether saving faith is a gift or not. If faith is a gift, that implies that a person is not able to believe the gospel until God grants him the ability, and when He grants it the individual believes and is saved. The real controversy, of course, is not whether this is possible or pleasant or acceptable, but whether it is Biblical.
There are at least two passages that indicate that saving faith is indeed a gift from God. Philippians 1:27-29 reads,
Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.
Though the statement almost escapes notice, what Paul is saying is that it has been granted to individuals to believe in Christ. Faith has been given to those who will be saved.
Repentance is an aspect of faith. With this in mind, 2 Timothy 2:25-26 offers more support,
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
This passage is particularly enlightening since it explains why it must be that faith is a gift. Unbelievers are “taken captive to do” the devil’s will. They cannot do anything else. In theological terms this is called total depravity. The unbeliever is “dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5) and follows “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (v.2), Satan. He or she cannot respond to God in any way but unbelief. But God’s love and grace opens our hearts to believe (Acts 16:14).
This does not mean that the faith exercised is not our own. It is I who am believing, an act of my will, but it is God who enabled my will to act. Those who don’t believe don’t have an excuse that God didn’t give them faith. God still holds them accountable for their unbelief (Romans 9:15-21).
Saving faith, then, is as much a gift of God as the salvation it procures, so that we may gratefully say with the Scriptures, “My salvation comes from Him” (Psalm 62:1).