What Is Faith?

Name It and Claim It?

Before ending, I want to mention a common misconception of faith. There are those who teach that, if only you believe, if you have enough faith, then you can have whatever you want. Jesus might seem to support the teaching by what He said in Mark 9:23 to the father the demonized boy, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” And James writes in James 1:6, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” But does this mean that if I believe that tomorrow afternoon I will travel faster than the speed of light and arrive on a planet in a distant galaxy, that, because I believe it, it will happen? No. When we take it to such an absurd extreme, we see that there is a flaw in this idea of faith.

If we look at the context of the Scripture in James, we see that he was saying that if we lack wisdom, we should ask without doubting, and God will give it to us. This is a promise in the Bible. Ask for wisdom, and God will give it to us. We can be sure of this because God has promised it in the Bible. Likewise with salvation. God says that, if we believe that we are sinners in need of a Savior and believe that Jesus alone is our Savior, then we are saved. We can rest assured on that promise. The father of the boy tormented with the demon expressed some doubt about Jesus’ ability to cast the demon out. We read this in Mark 9:22, where the man said to Jesus, “But if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” He didn’t say, Lord, you can. He said, If you are able. That’s why Jesus said in verse 23, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” Essentially, Jesus was saying, Of course I am able to do it. Are you are able to believe? That’s when the man told Jesus he believed, but He needed Jesus’ help with his unbelief. And Jesus helped his unbelief. Jesus successfully cast the unclean spirit out of the boy.

So, what am I getting at? Over against what some preachers in what is called the word-faith movement will try to tell you, I am trying to emphasize this: Faith is a gift. And faith is assured belief. But it is assured belief in something we can have assured belief in; in other words, it is believing the promises of God. It is not believing that God will give you whatever you want. It is believing that God will give you what He promises in the Bible.

The most important of those promises to believe is the promise of eternal salvation if you believe in Jesus Christ alone as your Savior. And the Bible does contain other promises, such as the promise of wisdom if we ask for it and the promise of the Holy Spirit to those who ask, the promise of rest for those who come to Christ, and so on. One of the most over-arching promises in the Bible is this one, found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” God does not promise you riches in this life; God does not promise you perfect health; God does not promise that your life will be trouble-free. But God does promise that He will work all things out so that they will be for your good, if you are among those who love Him and are called of Him.

We can have faith in the promises that God gives to us Christians in Scripture. And, I will make another point using another Scripture in Matthew 21. Jesus had cursed a fig tree because it was full of green leaves, but had no fruit. After Jesus cursed it, it quickly dried up. He did not do this on a whim. He did it with a purpose. The fig tree was a figure of Israel. Israel appeared to be green and flourishing. It had a thriving religious system. There were many devout people. But, like the fig tree, there was no fruit. There was a lot of show, but there was no substance. There was ritual, but no repentance, no faith, no mercy, no love. And so, Jesus cursed the fig tree, indicating what God was about to do to Israel.

His disciples marveled that the fig tree withered so quickly. So “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (verses 21 and 22). Does Jesus mean that we should go around zapping fig trees and mountains? No, of course not. Jesus meant that His disciples, as Bible commentator John Gill explained, “should be able to perform things much more difficult and surprising, whenever the good of the souls of men, the propagation of the Gospel, and the glory of God required them.”

And how does this apply to you? Jesus said it in another promise in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” In other words, God will supply all of our worldly needs—food, clothing, shelter—if we put the furtherance of His kingdom and purposes first. Jesus is saying that we are to shift our priorities away from caring so much for the things and cares of this world to the things of God. If we put our resources into the furtherance of the kingdom of God, such as the preaching of the Gospel, then God will take care of our worldly needs. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” That’s a promise.

Faith Summarized

Here is a good summary of faith written by Ebenezer Erskine in the eighteenth century:

1. Faith is THE GIFT OF GOD. It is not the product of a free will. It is the operation of the Spirit of God by the Word of God and is the parent of all other grace.

2. Faith has CHRIST JESUS as its principal object, for it is faith in Christ Jesus—our Lord, saviour, mediator, and hope. Christ is the bread; faith is the mouth which eats. Christ is the brazen serpent; faith is the eye that looks.

3. Faith is RECEIVING CHRIST, not just hearing about Him or acknowledging Him, but a committal to Him. Is Christ meat? Then eat! Is Christ living water? Then drink! Is Christ the refuge? Then flee to Him! Is Christ Lord? Then worship Him!

4. Faith is to REST UPON CHRIST. “Rest in the Lord” (Psa. 37:7). Faith is not an isolated act based upon an intellectual knowledge of some facts, but is a trusting in and resting upon Christ to perform all that I need.

5. Faith is to REST UPON CHRIST ALONE! The word “ALONE” is important. Most men, by nature, try to add something to the sacrifice and intercession of Christ. God has established a bridge of communication between heaven and earth by the obedience and blood of Christ, and every other passage is blocked by the holiness and justice of God.

6. Faith rests upon Christ AS HE IS PRESENTED IN THE GOSPEL. We ask no other sign than the word of God. Faith is to believe the record that God hath given concerning His Son. “He that hath the Son of God hath life.”

7. Faith rests upon Christ FOR SALVATION, SANCTIFICATION, RIGHTEOUSNESS, and FULL REDEMPTION! The goal of faith is the salvation of our souls; and this our Lord undertook in the eternal covenant and which He completed on Calvary when He cried, “IT IS FINISHED!”

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Copyright © 2005-2012 Peter Ditzel