By Catherine A. Deddo
You just gotta have faith -
The New Testament speaks a lot about faith. Jesus commends some who come to Him for healing, saying “your faith has made you well.” When the Roman centurion tells Jesus that He doesn’t need to come to his house in order to heal his servant, Jesus marvels over the man’s faith, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Mt 8:10).
Well, just what is faith? In our culture today, we often hear that all kinds of things are possible if we just have faith. It seems that we think of faith as a sort of force we impose on our circumstances or our lives and, if we have enough faith, we will get what we want. Faith is a commodity we need to have a lot of. And the only way to get it is to work it up in myself by sheer willpower.
This view of faith is often the one that Christians hold. We are encouraged when we are struggling to just “have more faith”. The so-called prosperity teaching tells us that if we have enough faith, God will bestow blessings upon us. The implication, of course, is that if we are not healed or well provided for, it is our fault because we did not have enough faith.
Is this what Christian faith is? When Jesus tells the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and was healed when she touched the hem of Jesus’ robe that her faith made her well, does He mean that she was healed because she had enough faith? What was the difference in the centurion’s faith compared to others? Was it simply that he had more? Does Jesus work with us according to the amount of faith that we have?
This understanding of faith is completely unbiblical. In the Bible faith is always understood in terms of the object of your faith. It is not a matter of how much faith one has but where one places their trust. So my faith is defined by the one I have faith in. My trust in my husband is shaped by who he actually is. I have faith that he is faithful, insightful, and good at repairing things around the house. However I don’t trust him to perform heart surgery on me! I don’t believe that he could operate if I just had enough faith.
So my trust, my faith, in my husband is a response to who I find out he is. The more I know about him, the more I trust him and the more my trust in him truly reflects who he is. My trust follows his revelation of himself and it grows in and through our relationship. I first may trust Gary for what I learn from his actions, but as my knowledge of him grows, I come to trust in his character, his person. In other words, I come to trust him for who is really is.
When Jesus commends people for their faith, He is commending them for putting their trust in Him rather than somewhere else. He sees that they have decided to place trust in Him based on what they have come to know about Him. Their faith, like my trust in my husband, is a response to Him. People came to Jesus because they had heard of or witnessed the healings He had performed, or they listened to His teaching. Some at first were trusting completely in His power, His ability to heal. But as they came to know Him better, they came to trust in who He is.
This is why Jesus can tell them that their faith can be a small as a mustard seed (Mt. 17:20). Their faith is only as good as the One in whom they are placing their trust, not in the amount of faith that they have. Is it my faith in Gary that makes him who he is or gets him to behave in certain ways? Does he fail to come through because I am not trusting enough? Do we prompt God to work by having enough faith? Does He have a faith meter in heaven that measures our amount of faith and He won’t work until it reaches a certain level?
We don’t have faith in our faith. And we don’t start with our faith. We can only have faith in God when we start to see who He is, His character and purposes. We don’t have faith in things about God either. We don’t have faith in the promises of God, but in the God of the promises. In Hebrews 11:11, Sarah’s faith is described in this way: “she considered him faithful who had promised.” We don’t trust in our circumstances. The end of Hebrews 11 describes those who by their trust in the God who is were able to endure great hardship and suffering. They knew the eternal God who had met them, had revealed Himself to them and had the last word on temporal things, so they counted on God to be the God that He is.
When we are struggling to trust God, we don’t just try harder. We need to look away from ourselves and to God. Like enjoying a sunset. We don’t start with our enjoyment of it and we don’t try to enjoy a sunset in a closed up room with the curtains drawn. We don’t have to tell others “Just enjoy that sunset!” or “You just have to try harder!” We just place them before the sunset and let it work on them. The enjoyment of the sunset is drawn out of us as we watch it. And faith is like that, except we behold the very glory of God's faithfulness in Jesus instead of a sunset!