The Bible presents eternal life as a free gift. Romans 6:23 states:“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, if we meet God’s condition for eternal life according to John 3:16, by believing in Jesus, and thereby receive God’s free gift, can it be said that we thus earned salvation or in any way contributed to our salvation?
If a gift could be earned, then it is no longer a gift but a payment due. For instance, when the Prodigal Son returned home after squandering his share of the inheritance, humbly asking his father to make him as one of his servants, can it reasonably be said that the Prodigal Son contributed, caused, earned or in any induced his father to shockingly put the ring back on his finger, kill the fatted calf and throw a celebration party? (See Luke 15:11-32.) That type of unexpected welcome was completely the father’s grace and choice. If anything, the Prodigal Son possibly deserved to be stoned to death. So, too, when the penitent sinner comes to Christ, our submission doesn’t merit, cause or contribute to God’s grace. God’s response in adopting us as sons, bestowing eternal life and giving us the grace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is pure shocking grace on His part. To suggest otherwise is to imply that God’s plan of salvation through Christ’s death upon the cross was compulsory. Far from it. Our personal decision to submit to Christ did not cause God to establish the plan of redemption at Calvary. Instead, Calvary was completely God’s choice and totally gracious on His part. Our choice to either accept or reject His well meant offer of the gospel is all part of the system of grace that God has chosen.
Calvinists argue that if God’s free gift of eternal life could be refused, then conversely its acceptance necessarily establishes credit for the receiver, who thus can comparatively boast of their good, wise and smart choice to accept it, in comparison to others who reject it. However, in order to correct this type of thinking, ask the Calvinist to take the following challenge, to show their logic in action: Upon receiving a wedding anniversary gift from their spouse, tell their spouse that they are taking credit for their spouse’s gift since it is being freely accepted, and also add that the gift is not truly gracious, since it is a gift that can be refused.
In Calvinism, faith is a gift that God only gives to some people, namely those whom God has chosen (i.e. Calvinism’s elect). Calvinists frequently cite Ephesians 2:8 as evidence that faith is a gift, but in context, salvation is the gift, just as Romans 6:23 confirms. Calvinists also cite instances where repentance and belief in the gospel are “granted,” such as Acts 5:30-31, Acts 11:17-18, Philippians 1:27-30 and 2nd Timothy 2:24-26.
However, being granted the privilege of believing in Christ is similar to (a) Israel being granted repentance, as per Acts 5:30-31, and (b) the Gentiles being granted repentance, as per Acts 11:17-18, which comes about by the opportunity to hear and believe in the gospel. Obviously, not all Jews and Gentiles took advantage of that opportunity—and which makes us all the more accountable. When people embrace the light that God gives them, then God will give more, but if people reject the light that they do have, then there is no reason to supply more.
Romans 10:17 tells us where faith comes from, which is by hearing the gospel, so that when a person hears the gospel, they can choose to place their faith in the gospel, instead of anywhere else they had previously placed their faith.