Unraveling the Mystery of Faith through the Gospels
It has been a long minute since we last posted. Therefore, it is only befitting that the author of our last post is the author of our first post this year—Pastor John Musyimi. Dig in as he tackles a key subject in the Christian journey: Faith!
A Glance at the Gospels: Is Faith a Necessity for the Christian?
Faith is a multilayered subject. A glance at it in the gospels is enough to reveal this. For example, Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people there. At first glance, one would be forgiven for believing that the absence of faith limited Jesus in what he could do.
However, upon further consideration, one finds instances where Jesus works miracles in the absence of faith. The man at the pool of Bethesda did not even know who the man was that healed him, let alone have faith in him. The masses He fed were not expecting the miracle of bread and fish. Jesus’ command to feed the crowd stumped the empty-handed disciples in the story.
Jesus Acts Based on One’s Faith
Then there are the scenes where Jesus was pleased by specific individuals and acted according to their faith. Two of the most famous involved the Roman centurion (Mt 8.5-13) and a Syrophoenician woman (Mt 15.21-28). Both come to Jesus with a need; a sick servant and a demon-oppressed daughter, respectively. In both interactions, Jesus marveled at their faith. The needy supplicants received the help they asked for and went their way.
Then there is the curious occurrence right after Jesus, James, Peter, and John come down from the mount of transfiguration (Mt 17.14-20). A despondent father meets them with a severely demon-oppressed son. The situation is quite desperate as the demon occasionally will throw the child into a fire in violent fits. Jesus’ disciples had been unable to cast it out. Jesus is quite grieved and rebukes the Jewish crowd for their faithlessness. Still, He delivers the boy, and after the disciples ask why they couldn’t cast it out, he responds that it was because of their lack of faith. Mustard seed-sized faith would have gotten the job done.
The Complexity of Faith
When one considers this rough patchwork of stories, one sees the complexity in the subject of faith. What are we to make of all this? Is faith needed or not? What explains its presence in some and not others? Why does Jesus do miracles for people without the involvement of their faith? Why do some other miracles hinge solely on the recipient’s faith? What lessons might we glean from these occurrences?
We need to heed the wisdom that calls us not to base an entire doctrine on one passage. We must take the whole picture into account. What conclusions might we draw? The following attempts to lay out some clarifying findings and lessons on the subject of faith from these accounts.
1. A Lack of Faith Grieves the Lord
Let us begin by stating the negative elements. We note first that a lack of faith grieves the Lord. This is a good explanation for Jesus’ frustration with the Jews who didn’t have faith. ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? (Mt 17.17). Of all the peoples in the world, they should have been the most faith-full. They were the ones who had all the richness of a long history of God’s revelation and dealings with them. They were the covenant people. Yet even with all that, they still did not recognize Jesus and thus had trouble putting their faith in Him. Might we draw a lesson here? – God is grieved when those of us who know Him best trust Him least.
2. Unbelief Invites God’s Judgment
Beyond this, it also becomes apparent that unbelief invites God’s judgment. The occurrence in Nazareth furnishes us with a glimpse of this. There, met with skepticism and offense, Jesus did not do many miracles. Mark’s gospel more pointedly says that ‘he could do no mighty work there’ except heal a few sick people (Mk.6.5). It would be wrong, tempting as that may be, to conclude from this that the son of God was limited by their unbelief.
The finite creature cannot restrict the omnipotent creator. A better conclusion is to see it as a consequent judgment of their unbelief. A blessing enjoyed elsewhere was here not given because the would-be recipients were rightly deemed unworthy. Thus, He could do no mighty work there in much the same way God could not bring an unrepentant sinner to heaven. One must not be surprised who rejects God if He finds that God rejects Him in return.
3. Absence of Faith Doesn’t Necessarily Imply the Presence of Unbelief
We notice that faith’s absence or weakness does not necessarily imply the presence of unbelief. Just because the Lord’s aid recipients were not expecting it or pleading for it does not mean they were simultaneously guilty of the same unbelief seen in Nazareth. We must admit a category for instances where individuals were sincerely clueless or weak. It is not that they were hostile to Jesus; it is just that they didn’t yet fully grasp who He was even though they thought well of Him.
To this class of people, the Lord acts not based on their faith, for there was none, but based on his compassion. Faith, therefore, is not a precondition for the Lord’s intervention. His pleasure and will determine what He does or doesn’t do in any situation. It is comforting to know that weakness in our faith does not disqualify us from receiving the Lord’s aid.
4. A Little Faith Can Have Great Outcomes
The comfort does not end there, though, for we are led to discover that a little faith can have great outcomes. According to Jesus, all one needs is faith the size of a mustard seed. The mustard seed was a tiny seed that, when planted, would grow into a large tree. Jesus employed this imagery to teach about the small beginnings leading to a great and expansive kingdom. He also used it to teach another lesson. Once again, the contrast is between the small size of the seed and the great outcome. Faith as small as a mustard seed could dislodge an entire mountain (Mt 17.20-21). Let us pause here and rejoice that God is so good that He has ordained disproportionate outcomes for His saints’ sincere yet small faith. He causes a little faith to go a long way.
5. Sincere Faith Pleases the Lord
Therefore, this leads us to note that the Lord is pleased by sincere faith. The two great examples of faith that most pleased Jesus came from Gentiles. The Syrophoenician woman and the Roman centurion seemed quite aware that they were outsiders to the commonwealth and covenant of Israel. (They displayed none of the pride of Naaman). Instead, they show that they know how unworthy they are to receive anything from Jesus.
At the same time, they note that a simple and effortless gesture from Jesus would set everything alright. ‘Just say the word,’ ‘just drop a crumb- That’s all we need.’ Notably, Jesus made a point to comment that he had not seen such faith in all of Israel. Why the comparison? Could it be because those from whom faith was expected had little of it to show, and those from whom it was unexpected showed plenty? God is pleased when even though we do not know Him as deeply as we could, we still trust Him as much as we can.
6. Faith – A Gift from God
Finally, on its presence in some and not others, we learn that faith is, at bottom, a gift from God. We cannot say any less than this about it. Whenever and wherever we see it, we are bound to conclude that it is there because God has given it. Faith, in the end, is not a matter of ginning up a feeling of confidence; instead, it is a matter of God’s sovereign grace. Jesus rejoiced that God had hidden the things about His kingdom from ‘the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’ (Lk 10.21, Mt 11.25). This reality lies underneath the various reactions we see people have to Jesus. Faith was sovereignly given to some and not to others. In the end, He gets the glory because He is the one who works faith in us.
So then, dear saints, what bearings might these conclusions have in our daily lives? I offer five:
Since faith is, at bottom, God’s gift to us, then we should continually ask God to give it to us in ever-growing measures. He is a good Father and delights in giving good gifts to those who ask Him. Also, is there any more significant evidence of faith than that we are a people of prayer? Could we not conclude that prayerlessness is a sign of faithlessness? I think we could. Prayer is the voice of faith.
Because our Lord’s help is not contingent on the strength of our faith, we can draw great encouragement. Let us not despair, weak as our faith may be, for our Lord is compassionate and kind. He has mercy on us and will frequently help us in our feeble condition.
Unbelief is always an enemy we must battle. Whenever the motions of unbelief manifest themselves in our hearts, let us be prepared to mount an offensive against them. Let us not allow that ‘Nazareth spirit’ to make a home in us. Let us be watchful always and seek to pluck out the buddings of unbelief from the soil of our souls.
Seeing that sincere faith pleases our Lord, let us seek to grow in it. Let the good examples of faith induce in us a desire to be counted among their number. (Faith grows as our knowledge of God deepens. We may thus pursue such growth by giving attention to the private and public means of grace. Privately, we read our Bibles, meditate on God’s truth, and pray to know God more. Publicly we gather as local Churches to instruct one another, sing, confess truths together, see and participate in the ordinances, and hear God’s word proclaimed to our souls).
The faith that pleases God is active and lively confidence in Him. It expresses itself in concrete actions taken. Do you trust God? Then evidence it by your actions. For example, in your fight against sin, do it from faith. Because you believe God is a greater joy to the soul than sin, act like it. Are you in a situation where giving a bribe or lying or being unfaithful etc., seems to be an easy way out? What if you trusted God, chose not to pursue sin, and committed yourself to Him? What might happen? Might He ordain some unforeseen good to come of it? Might His power be made manifest through your faith-motivated choice?
Do we have faith? That is not of ourselves; it is the gift of God. Therefore let a consequent humility mark us. We must not look down upon any weaker in faith than we are but rather adopt that posture that says, ‘yet not I, but through Christ in me.’
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