This question deals with how believers come to faith and so receive the salvation purchased by Christ. It’s a question best asked in retrospect, as we look back over our lives and ask, “How did I, a fallen sinner, come to love Jesus and believe his gospel where so many others have not?”
In order to understand the magnitude of this, you have to under- stand that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). Although we can intellectually comprehend the facts of the gospel, apart from the gracious intervention of God, we would reject it as folly. But the catechism reminds us that God does intervene. The Holy Spirit gives new life to sinners who were otherwise “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). As the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts so that we embrace the risen and reigning Christ as he presents himself through the gospel. Even faith (our obedient response to the gospel) is a gracious gift of God. This amazing truth has huge implications for how we view our salvation, the Christian life, and worship.
First, it confirms that our salvation is truly all of grace. None of us can boast that we’re saved because we made the most of the salvation offered to us. We certainly aren’t saved because we had enough moral and spiritual sense in and of ourselves to believe the gospel or because we were catechized so well (although that is important). No, we are saved only because, in his divine compassion, the risen Christ gave us the spiritual sight to believe the gospel. By his Holy Spirit, Jesus tilled the rocky soil of our hearts so that as the seed of the gospel was sown, it would bring forth the fruit of faith and repentance. If we believe the gospel, we should praise God for giving us the grace to believe it, for he is the only One who made the difference for us. Therefore, the Christian life must be marked by gratitude and humility. In and of ourselves, we are no better than our non-Christian neighbors. The only difference is that something (or, rather, someone) absolutely wonderful has come into our lives and changed everything.
Finally, knowing that our faith is a gift of God changes how we view public worship, particularly the preaching of the gospel. Through gospel proclamation, the risen Christ presents himself in saving power and transforms people for eternity. Eternal life does not begin when Christ returns; eternal life begins today as the Holy Spirit brings that life to us through the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. As we sit in our pews hearing the gospel, we are not just listening to a religious lecture. The greatest power in all the world is at work bringing new life to sinners. Heaven is coming to earth, a glorious “not yet” is breaking into the “here and now.” Public worship is the center of God’s redemptive action until Christ’s return when the world will behold him. Until that time, we behold him by faith, week by week, as we gather together in his name to worship him and hear his Word. And by the Holy Spirit, we are progressively being transformed in a way that will last for eternity.