What is faith?

I was reading this AM from Matthew 17 verses 14 – 21 where a father brings his child to Christ after Christ’s disciples were unable to cure the child. After Christ cures the child, in private  the disciples ask why they were not able to perform the healing. This brings us to the well known verse where Christ says if we only had the smallest seed of faith nothing would be impossible to us.

It seems to me that anybody who has been following Christ for more than a day, having read this verse stubs their toe on it. I did when I was a new Christian. Even today after decades of Christian walk this passage still challenges me (I still stub my toe on it). I can imagine how those disciples might have felt – “Whatdya mean? We stepped out in faith. We tried to cast out the demon. What gives?”

Lets be real – the idea that we should ask, believe and receive,  is clearly repeated in multiple places in the Bible, so the meaning of this passage should not be that obscure. If I need to logically reach around my head to touch my nose I am making excuses for and not understanding what I’m being told in this passage.

So I’m thinking about this out loud as it were and I’m not sure where this is going.

Looking a bit closer, Jesus does not say those disciples don’t have faith, but that their faith was small. I can only assume it was smaller than a mustard seed which is kind of the old world standard for small. That is an assumption though because one difference between small and a mustard seed is that “small” is a relative measure, but a mustard seed is a complete thing. Now I don’t think the obvious jump to “complete” faith is necessarily the right answer here, though there is some merit in the analogy. The reason I don’t like the “complete” faith analogy is that it is just too easy to make our belief an effort of will (If I just believe strongly enough) rather than real faith (which defies a glib term to identify). But wait a minute, this mustard seed thing really does mean small as in size or quantity, so the “complete” faith analogy is an example of touching my nose from behind my head as a means of explaining this passage. That is not to say a teaching on whole faith using this passage would be a bad thing, I just don’t see how it answers my question. I did have faith, what gives?

My question is: what am I to understand from this passage in the context of my experience in Christ? I have believed and not received. At the risk of taking Job’s tack and justifying myself to God (can that ever work out the way we think it will?), just as Peter replied: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” I have said: “Lord you know everything; you know I believed”, when I have believed but not received. I am certain (that is – I believe without proof) that others have prayed the same prayer, so what am I missing here?

This leads me to ask the question: What is faith? What is the thing this word represents? Is it more than simple belief? It must be. Faith is a prerequisite to pleasing God. Faith can cause us to be counted righteous. Anything not of Faith is sin. If I believe, well so do the devils and they tremble. Just believing is not the same thing as Faith.

Webster defines faith several ways:

  • Unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.
  • Complete trust, confidence, or reliance.
  • Allegiance to some person or thing.

I think the second meaning is closest to the Faith that pleases God, the absence of which leads to sin. In I Corinthians 13 – Faith, Hope and Love are identified as eternal. That means we will still have Faith in Heaven when mere belief has become experience. We will never not have (or need) Faith.

So coming back to Matthew, I don’t know that I can say my faith was in the strength of my belief or my reliance on God. Here is a quandary because even relying on my reliance is still not relying on God. I am therefore not able to justify myself before God, he knows my heart (which is deceitful above all things by the way, who can know it).

This may seem like a cop-out but it isn’t. It is however extremely unrewarding to anyone who wants to create a rule or standard with which to control things instead of relying on God. My belief can be big even when my Faith is too small. That is what I need to remember about this passage and Faith in general. Believing and trusting are not the same thing. I can convince myself rationally that belief in God makes sense, but that is not the same thing as trusting God for my life now and in the future. This is not new, it is just easy to forget.

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2 Responses to What is faith?

  1. John says:

    Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find a completely different Understanding of what Jesus taught while he was alive. All of the rest is fabrications by people who never ever met Jesus up close and personal as a living-breathing-feeling human being, or more correctly Spiritual Master.


    Plus related references from the Truth Book on God, religion and right life altogether




    http://global.adidam.org/books/eleutherios.html Truth or Eleutherios as Liberator

    • dsholland says:

      Hi John,
      I agree you have presented a completely different understanding of what Jesus taught, but if meeting the living-breathing-feeling human being is a prerequisite to understanding what he taught while alive then 3 of these links must be discounted by that same reasoning.

      One of these does have some content of interest (to me at least) http://www.dabase.org/rgcbpobk.htm. This content tries to answer the question of belief which is on topic to this post. I completely agree that rational proofs of God are insufficient to the task for the same reason I discounted Thomas Aquinas decades ago. The finite only justifies the existence of an equivalently finite being (mathematics notwithstanding). My own arguments with myself about Faith and Truth and Reason have continued for almost 40 years, there can never be proof because it eliminates Faith (and apparently the system was not set up for that). Additionally, I am commanded to love the Lord my God with all my strength, all my heart and all my mind. I interpret this to mean I should try to understand His purpose with ALL my faculties, reason included.

      I disagree with the author of “Real God” right at the beginning when he states the “source of religious doubts is the failure of religious myths to continue to seem patently true after centuries of institutionalized belief have passed, and the source of doubt itself is the very same mind that seeks to “prove” (as a certain truth) what it cannot believe.”

      First that is not the source of my own doubts – those are self generated as part of my nature. God has given me an analytical mind (I’m an engineer by profession) and the depth and breadth of the wisdom of the ages strains the capacity of my little brain. It is more like untangling a ball of twine, we make assumptions question and try those assumptions and do it all again.

      Second, and this is a bit of semantic reasoning, the author makes the assumption of “myth” as the definition of the object of the discussion. This is poor form and eliminates the real discussion which is “what is the message of the religion and what truths does it attempt to convey?” Once that question is answered then we can argue the validity of those “truths”.

      Having eliminated the presupposition of falsehood from the discussion we are free to talk about what may or may not be “True” in the Christian religion. Certainly the ideas of subjugation of self and love of the Creator and His creatures is a “Truth” since we find this is a common theme in ALL great religions. In fact the patterns of behavior given to all men from various revelations of the divine have an amazing amount of correlation. Honor your Father and Mother Commandment #5 is echoed in both the Hindu/Buddhist and Confucian traditions. The Buddha would argue that problems and doubts arise when we choose our own way and need to justify that choice in the face of the psychic pain caused by that selfishness.

      One of my great joys as a Christian is finding validation of the lessons I am taught by my Lord. My experience over this lifetime has been that if I will wait and trust God his purpose and meaning do become clear, and I see He has always sought my good even when I don’t have the sense to. I still doubt and rationalize, but it cannot be said those doubts are the failure of Christianity.

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