And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
A baby was born to a young couple. In many ways, he was like any other baby, and the parents like any other new parents. He had been eagerly anticipated, he was already well-loved, and he had a name. His parents were excited about the new addition to their family, and now that he was here, they could hardly contain their joy. They had plans and dreams for their son. However, he was born prematurely, and had serious congenital anomalies that were life-threatening. His parents loved their newborn son. He was very sick, but he was beautiful to his mother and father. He was beautiful to his doctors and nurses. His parents prayed for him, and they asked everyone they knew to pray for him. He died when he was almost 48 hours old. The parents were cruelly and incorrectly told that he had died because they did not have enough faith. They concluded from this twisted, perverse misinformation that it was their fault that their son was dead.
Fairy tales and popular stories teach us that if we believe something hard enough, it will come true. Really?
We hear often, in our postmodern culture, that he or she is a “person of faith.” What do we mean when we say that?
It used to be common in the 1960’s and 70’s for very cool and very hip baby boomers to say, “keep the faith!” What did they mean, and did it have anything to do with Biblical faith?
So, what is faith? Why is it important, or does it really matter? How much faith do we really need? Do we get all we want if we have enough faith? Does it matter if we have faith in anything or anyone in particular, or is the faith itself, however nebulous, enough? Do we control our destinies by having enough faith, and do we make God our personal servant, obligated to give us our desires, no matter what?
God is very clear in his Word, the Bible, about faith and why it is important.
In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds 5000 men (and additional wives and children) from five loaves of bread and two fish. This was a supernatural work of Jesus, the Son of God. There is no intellectually honest and satisfying explanation for this feat other than that it actually happened. . Matthew’s account is clear and measured; in fact, it is almost “ho-hum” in stating the facts as they occurred. It happened.
Next, Jesus sends his friends, the disciples, ahead of him while he prays. He meets them next in the middle of the sea, they in their boat, and he walking on water.
(Matthew 14:25) And in the fourth watch of the night He(Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea.
(26) And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
(27) But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
(28) And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
(29) And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
(30) But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
(31) And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
(32) And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
(33) And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
The disciples are scared out of their minds as they see this “ghost” walking toward them in the middle of rough seas. Jesus tells them to have courage, and not to be afraid. Why? Because the real presence of Jesus should dispel any fear. Peter, as impetuous as we expect him to be, says that if this person is really Jesus, to command that he also walk on the water. Jesus invites him, no, commands him, and Peter obeys. He walks on the water toward Jesus, and does fine until he notices again how rough the seas and wind are. He stops looking to Jesus, takes his eyes off of him, and instead looks at the danger surrounding him. He realizes how precarious his situation is. He becomes afraid, and begins to sink, and with a last desperate cry says to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”
Does Peter’s fear cancel out his faith, making it impossible for Jesus to help him? He trusts in Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk, however far, on the stormy sea. (Peter does better than I would have done in his water walk.) His words and action prove that he has faith in Jesus because he obeys him. But, he becomes fearful, and as he goes down, he cries out for help. He now has only a faint glimmer of faith; it is only enough to cry out to the only one who can help and save him.
Notice Jesus’ response. If he were like us, he might have said, “too bad, Peter. Your faith wasn’t strong enough. You didn’t trust me, you became afraid, you doubted, and you looked at your surroundings instead of keeping your eyes (and hope) on me. I’m going to have to let you drown. Sorry about that.” Or, Jesus could have said to Peter, “have a little more faith, and I’ll save you. I know you’re bobbing up and down, and taking in some water, but if you only believe a little more, I’ll save you.” Or, he could have berated, belittled and scolded Peter for blowing it with his lack of trust, letting him suffer a little more while he reprimanded him, and then continuing to do so after he saved him. Our tendency is to think very dark thoughts about God; we are naturally suspicious of him, and we think he is like us. He is not. He is infinitely good.
Notice Jesus’ response. He saves Peter by taking hold of him with his hand, “immediately”. He then gently asks him a redemptive question, “why did you doubt?” and makes an assessment, that Peter has “little faith”. Peter’s little faith did not keep Jesus from rescuing (saving) him. And, Peter’s little faith was in the right object: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So what emerges here is that God’s threshold for recognizing our faith is very low; a cry for help to him is counted as faith. Repeatedly in the Bible, God tells to call upon him, to call to him for help. He invites us to ask him for help. He recognizes as faith our merely asking him for help, mercy, rescue, salvation, or deliverance. “Jesus, have mercy on me!” represents faith. Your faith or my faith may register barely +1 on the Faith-o-meter, but it is enough for God to recognize it. What is important is not the amount, intensity, strength, or sincerity of our faith. What matters is the object of our faith, in what or in whom we trust. Faith in faith, or in some nebulous, amorphous force will not get us anywhere, except maybe to make us feel better psychologically ( in Peter’s case, nebulous faith would have taken him straight to the bottom of the lake, but he would have felt good about himself). The object of our faith must be Jesus. That is the key. We trust in Jesus Christ, his infinite goodness, his promises, and his ability and willingness to keep every one of his promises.
God, are you good, and do you care about me?
Little faith is not our goal, but it is better than no faith. God sees and recognizes our little faith, and he will rescue us, but little faith is damaging to us. Little faith robs us of peace, makes us anxious, and causes us to be timid cowards. Jesus says that little faith is evident when we are anxious instead of trusting God for all that we need (Matthew 6:25-30); we could have inner unworried peace and joy if we really trusted God to do as he says, and left our needs and problems with him. Instead of fear and cowardice, we could have courage in the midst of the storms of life. Jesus says his disciples are timid and of little faith when they fearfully come to him in the raging storm of Matthew 8:25-26 and ask him to save them. Jesus is relaxed and totally free of anxiety. He is so relaxed and unworried that he is sleeping! Jesus has complete trust and faith in God to protect him and his friends and must be awakened by his terrified disciples. In Mark’s account of the same scene (Mark 4:38), the disciples awaken Jesus with the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It seems that the root of faithlessness is a distrust of God, really thinking deep down that he does not care about us or what is happening to us. We do not really believe he is good.
Jesus also tells us that our littleness of faith in him robs us of power that we could have. A mustard seed is very tiny, but Jesus tells us that if our faith were even as much as a mustard seed, which by comparison dwarfs little faith, nothing would be impossible for us. ( In Matthew 17, his disciples ask him why they were not successful in casting out a demon; his answer, in verse 20 is, “… Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you”). Now, Jesus is not recommending that we spend our time moving mountains around. His point is that with more than little faith, even a little more, we could do anything God asks us to, anything consistent with his will and character. Little faith saps us of spiritual strength.
Why is faith important?
Why is it important for us to have faith in God? Or, why does the Bible tell us that without faith, it is impossible to please God? Let’s answer these questions with another question. What is the most important aspect of any healthy relationship, whether it be with a friend, a child, a spouse, or a parent? I think the most important thing in any interpersonal relationship is mutual trust. In my marriage, I trust my wife to be faithful, loyal, and good to me. I trust her to keep her promises to me. I trust her good intentions toward me. I trust her not to betray me. She trusts me in the same way. If we did not trust each other, we would have no marriage, or, at best, a severely dysfunctional and unsatisfying one.
We are in the ultimate relationship with God through Jesus. If we doubt him, if we can’t trust him or have faith in him, then we have a very damaged relationship. If we do not trust him, we are saying to God and to others that we really suspect his goodness, that we do not think well of his character, that we do not really think he is good, loving, kind, gracious, or trustworthy. Or, we are saying that God might be a nice God, but he really has no power to help us. This lack of trust itself damages our relationship with God, it dishonors him, and it cripples us. It also makes us miserable, for we could trust him, and have peace, freedom from worry, courage, and power to live.
Our faith in God, or lack of it, says loudly and clearly what we think of God, his character, and his power. It says whether we really think God is good.
What is faith?
What is faith in God? It is not some abstract concept which means whatever I want it to mean. It is believing God and his promises based on his character of goodness and love. It is trusting him, resting in him, wholly relying on him. Biblical faith means that we trust in nothing else and no one else to save us and deliver us in an ultimate sense. It is staking my very life and destiny on God; if God does not come through for me, then I am ruined. If he does not deliver me, save me, and rescue me, then I am lost forever in time and eternity, I am wasting my life and I am destroyed forever. If God does not help me, then I may as well blow my brains out, for there is no one and nothing else to help me.
The Greek word “pistis” is the word used for faith in the Bible. It means a full persuasion, conviction, and confidence (W.E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 401). Faith in God means that we are fully persuaded and convinced at the deepest level that what he tells us in his Word about himself, about us, and about life is true; we have total confidence in him and an absolute conviction. This total trust in Jesus inevitably results in loving him, following him, and obeying him. It radically alters and reorients our lives according to God’s priorities. This confidence allows us to see what is real in life as opposed to what is not real; by that I mean that by trusting in God, we can see unseen realities, things which are much more real and solid than what we see with our physical eyes. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:7 that “we walk by faith, not by sight (appearances).” He says in II Corinthians 4:18 that
“we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal (time bound, temporary),but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Faith in God allows us to accept his version of life: what it means, what is true, what is real, what works, what will make us happy, what our final destiny is, what we should be doing with our lives and how to order them, and how to joyfully accept pain and suffering. Things often are not as they appear, and our perception of things often is at odds with what God tells us is true.
Job trusted in God, and he was able to say with full confidence and persuasion:
(Job 13:15a) “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”
(Job 23:8-10) “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Having faith in a loving, caring, all-powerful and all-knowing sovereign God allows us to suffer with patience and joy, knowing that he is in full control, and realizing that now, and in the end, we are safe. With God, nothing can harm us, not in an ultimate sense. Our faith in God does not eliminate suffering and pain from our lives, but we do know that our good God is with us. We are free to ask God for miracles of deliverance, and, we are invited to do so. But, God makes the decision about deliverance for us, as to when, how, or if it is to come. And, God does not punish us by not delivering us as a way of saying that our prayers are of too little faith. We trust our good and all-powerful God to do what is best for us.
Faith must have an object. To say “I have faith that it will all work out” is meaningless; to be a person of faith means nothing unless we are told in whom the faith rests. “Keep the faith” many years ago was a way to convey, “keep rebelling against the establishment”, and later became a cool way to say good-bye; it meant nothing of consequence. Biblical faith must rest in God alone.
Our faith in Jesus is the way we access his grace and goodness. Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us: “ For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Our salvation is all of God and his grace toward us. Faith is the instrument or means by which we take hold of this grace and salvation. As Dr. Francis Schaeffer used to say, faith is the lifting of empty hands to God in order to receive his gift or blessing. Our faith does not earn us salvation; it accesses it. Salvation is all of God, and even the faith that we have is a work of God in our hearts. Faith in God is itself a gift from God. We would never come to him at all if he did not move us to do so. So, we do not trust in our faith, but only in God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
Faith, as portrayed in the Bible, must be in Jesus Christ. He can be trusted. He has made promises to us, he demonstrated his love for us and good intentions for us by giving his life for us, and he has the power to deliver because he is God’s Son who showed his power over death by rising from the dead. We do not trust in some abstract idea, and we do not have faith in our faith, but in Jesus alone. His life, love, promises, and deeds are enough to base our entire lives upon.
Your faith and my faith in Jesus
John tells us in John 7:37:
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”
The meaning here is one of continual coming to Jesus, everyday and at all times. This verse really says, “if anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me, and let him keep drinking.” Jesus invites us to come to him.
Jesus invites us again in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
Jesus invites us to come to him, to trust him, to have faith in him. Our very coming to Jesus and asking for help, mercy, and rescue is evidence of faith, possibly only little faith. Yet, faith in Jesus is enough because he is far more than enough. Never look at how much, how strong, how intense your faith is; you will despair every time. Never look at your degree of sincerity in coming to him; we can always be more sincere. Never look at how sorry you are for your sins and failures; we can never be sorry enough. Never look at whether your coming to Jesus is done in exactly the right way; we can never come to him perfectly. Never look at the storms raging about you and threatening to drown and destroy you; we will sink every time. Never look to yourself to examine whether you have received the salvation of Jesus correctly; we would break his gift of salvation as we received it if any part of it depended upon us.
Our part is to keep coming to Jesus in faith, trusting him alone for everything in this life and into eternity. We can safely trust him, for he cares about us. He will receive and save those who come to him; he will give peace, strength, and power to those who walk with him through life; he will heal us and make us well. He will satisfy our thirst and our hunger for what is real: he will satisfy us with himself. He will give us peace and rest for our souls, and as he does so, he will treat us with love, gentleness, and humility. He does not despise, mock, berate, or belittle us for our weak faith; his threshold for recognizing faith is astonishingly low. He remembers that we are only dust, and has compassion on us.
We can rest in the sovereign goodness of God; he is good at all times, and his decisions for our lives are always right. Trusting in our good God is always rewarded with God himself.
Go to “The Ultimate Solution” to understand how to receive and know Jesus Christ.
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008.All rights reserved.