What In The World Is Biblical Faith?November 15, 2007
This is a topic that has been heavy on my heart. However, I’d like to keep my points short and simple and leave you with much Scripture at the end. There is a lot of confusion in the Church today as to what faith is. The particular faith I am referring to isn’t our justifying faith, but the faith that we grow in after the fact. Namely, trusting God to strengthen us, provide for us, guide us, and heal us (physically and spiritually).
What isn’t the believer’s faith?
In short, the believer’s faith is not immaculate positivity, flawless optimism, complete suspension of doubt, or even believing the impossible is possible. Jedi Knights have this kind of faith. Even those who hold to ‘The Secret’ have this kind of faith, and even eastern mystics have this kind of faith.
What is the believer’s faith?
Biblical faith greatly distinguishes itself from the above mentioned views of faith because the believer’s faith is believing 1. that Christ is who He says He is and that 2. He is able to do only what He is able to do. Real faith is awesomely Christ-centered and points to who He is and what He can do (if He so wills). This is in contrast to the awesomely man-centered view of faith which is prevalent today. This self-centered faith looks inward instead of outward whereby its results are contingent upon how “deeply” we believe something.
A good question to ask ourselves is, “if I profess to have faith about certain things, what exactly is my faith in?” As James R. White says, “Faith in the Bible always has an object – it never exists in a vacuum. Faith is not a separate entity with an existence of its own. The main object of faith is the person of Jesus Christ himself.”
Why is faith not simply flawless optimism or believing the impossible is possible?
If faith was simply having flawless optimism or believing the impossible is possible, then there would remain no basis upon which such faith would have any real effect. For example, the reason the Jedi Knight, the ‘Secret’ advocate, and the eastern mystic believes that their faith will be of effect is because they all believe in a Pantheistic view of the universe where everything is tied together by a special impersonal force which can be controlled by shear will power. Thus, in such an instance, faith has power because it is directly tied to a source which is running the universe.
The believer’s faith is vastly different from all of this because we know that it is Christ who is running the universe and is holding it together. Colossians 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Faith placed in the person of Christ is true faith and is pleasing to God.
God does not acknowledge those who simply have a positive outlook on life. That would be nothing other than ‘The Little Engine that Could’ type of faith which vainly says “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” As we will see in Scripture below, God is pleased with the kind of faith that recognizes Jesus to be the sovereign God over all. It is this kind of mustard seed faith, that if rooted in the rich soil of Christ, and submits to the wild revelation of Him, He is for us the real power of our faith. Real faith sincerely looks Christ in the eyes and submits to Him and accepts who He is. Faith is in the God who promises, not in our ability to really want those promises enough.
What about God’s faithfulness to us?
God’s faithfulness towards His children is perfect while our faithfulness to God is not. However, in spite of us, Jesus is ultimately the one who brings to pass our perfect faith. Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Our faith towards God will remain imperfect until we die. It will increasingly grow until we die but our trust in Him will not be fully mature until we leave these bags of bones. That’s why we hold fast til death, for our Resurrection in Christ mocks it forever. But God loved us while we were faithless sinners. How much more will He help us now that we are forever reconciled to Him because of Him?! Rom 5:8, 1 John 4:10
Now I will seek to back up my points with Scripture:
All through the Bible we see that biblical faith is that which is placed in the person of Christ, trusting that He is who He claims to be, and that He is able to do only what He is able to do. It is not simply believing the impossible is possible or having flawless optimism. Our faith is NEVER something separate from Christ. It’s not enough to say that Christ honors our absence of doubt, but that He would have us not doubt Him!
Let’s start with Matthew 17:19-20: Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (The analogy of the mustard seed is signifying that even in our beginning baby stages of faith we are able to move mountains. That is, so long as our faith takes root in the person and claims of Jesus Christ. In this instance, the disciple’s faith was not this kind of faith when trying to cast out the demon. In fact, it was probably the kind of faith that says “the impossible is possible”, or “have flawless optimism” as opposed to believing that Christ is the one who makes the impossible possible.)
Matthew 9:20-22, Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” (She wavered in her faith, thus Jesus told her “take heart”, yet her faith healed her because she still knew Jesus was The Healer) And the woman was healed from that moment. (As John Calvin’s commentary states on this particular verse, “faith, in order to please God, needs forgiveness”. No faith is honoring and pleasing to God unless one is first born again by the Spirit of God. Then one’s faith has actual grounds to be placed in Christ.)
Now let’s look at Hebrews 11:1-28, otherwise commonly referred to as the “faith chapter”. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (This verse by itself would make faith in fact seem like mere suspension of doubt. But it says “this is what the ancients were commended for.” Let’s specifically look at what the ancients were commended for in their faith. It was specifically believing in the God of His promises, not in wanting those promises bad enough. See the difference?)
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age-and Sarah herself was barren-was enabled to become a father because he considered him (God) faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises (from God – promises of justification and Isaac) was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him (God) who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.”
Romans 4:17-22, in regarding the promises of God to Abraham: “As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Again, at face value, this verse by itself would seem to imply that faith is sufficient if it believes the impossible is possible. However, the context of this passage clearly shows that is not the case. Faith placed directly in the person and claims of Jesus Christ wins the day.) Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
To keep this post concise, I will look at the gospel of Matthew. However, I believe you will see the same idea presented in all of the gospels. In every context where Jesus is speaking of faith, He either commends those who believe that He is who He claims to be and can do what He says He can do, or admonishes those who doubt He is who He claims to be and that He can do what He says He can.
Matthew 6:30 “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
Matthew 8:8-10 “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”
Matthew 9:28-30 “When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.” (Jesus says “according to your faith it will be done for you.” And what exactly did this faith look like? It wasn’t believing the impossible is possible. They believed Jesus was able to heal them, hence after Jesus asked “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” they replied “Yes Lord.” They accepted Jesus to be whom He had been proving Himself to be all along, the Messiah. They even called Jesus Kurios, or Boss (aka Lord). The men were NOT healed because they believed in miracles. It was because they knew Jesus was good and miraculous.)
Matthew 13:54-58 “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Here we notice that the lack of faith in Jesus’ hometown consisted in them likening him to a normal man in spite of His miraculous abilities.)
Matthew 15:25-28 “The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take he children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (The woman in this story calls Jesus her Lord (Greek for ‘boss’) and indirectly states in her response that Jesus is her master, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” The analogy is used to refer to herself as a Gentile dog and Jesus as her Jewish master.)
No Christian should ever say they merely “believe in miracles.” Many non-Christians even believe in miracles. Even Satan believes in miracles. The Christian believes in miracles by virtue that Christ is able to do miracles. The Christian should say “Christ is miraculous.”
Yet, miracles are not always God’s will for us. Contrary to common thought, we will not all be healed. If we are healed then that is great, yet no one is healed from the greatest disease which is death. Only the Resurrection heals us from this disease. Christ, who is the Resurrection, is our ultimate hope, NOT temporal healing. We may ask the Father for anything, including healing, but God still determines if we live another day.
James 4:13-15 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
As Christians, may we walk the fine line between blessings and sufferings. Then we will be able to say along with Paul in Philippians 4:12-13 “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”