Without faith it is utterly impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Yet Jesus asked: “When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8.) The terrifying implications of that question should give pause to any true Christian!
Just what is this faith that God seeks in His people? How is it attained? Is it even possible to have living faith in an age of skepticism, criticism and doubt?
Faith is a cop-out, a device used by those who are unwilling to face the facts and to acknowledge the bitter truth, claim the critics of conventional Christianity. In many instances, this criticism is entirely justified!
Professing Christians have often resorted to “faith” (falsely so-called) when they are unable to resolve some theological difficulty. “I just believe it because my church teaches it, that’s all, I don’t have to understand it,” is the thinking.
This type of faith is rightly subject to ridicule and criticism. This indeed is “blind faith.” This is not the kind of faith which God seeks in His children!
Peter told the churches: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15).
The faith of a true Christian is not blind. It is based on reason. It is founded on firm evidence. It is established on the bedrock of conviction! True faith is not suddenly acquired at baptism. Rather, it is something that is built over a period of time. It is a product, result of experience, study and testing. It is produced by the continual working of God’s Holy Spirit in the life of an individual Christian. Paul lists faith as one of the “fruits of the Spirit” in Gal. 5:22.
There is no such thing as “instant faith.” True, enduring, believing faith is not suddenly acquired. It is primarily the result of experience. The apostle Peter provides us with an excellent illustration of this point.
Before Peter was converted and granted the gift of the Holy Spirit, he had nothing more than a certain human confidence. He was impetuous and very sure. But he did not have abiding, living faith.
The well-known account of Christ walking on the water provides an interesting insight into this fact. Immediately after Christ had performed one of the most notable miracles of His public ministry, the feeding of more than five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, He instructed His disciples to take a small boat back to Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee (Matt.14:15-22). Christ Himself sought a little privacy, during which time He prayed (v. 23).
While He was praying, evening came and a strong wind arose on the lake (v. 24). All night long the tiny ship was buffeted about by the wind and the waves. They were unable to make it to shore. Perhaps the mast had snapped. Possibly the vessel’s rudder had been lost. The disciples cowered in fear as the storm continued to buffet the small craft. Finally, somewhere between 3 and 6 a.m. (the 4th watch, v. 25), Jesus came to His beleaguered disciples walking on the water!
At first, the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit of some type. After all, Jesus was a physical human being at that time. Walking on water was simply not done every day by your average Galilean. Their reaction was entirely natural.
As soon as Christ identified Himself, Peter reacted with typical impetuosity. He said: “Lord, if it be thou (apparently he still was not convinced), bid me come unto thee on the water” (v. 28).
Peter was acting presumptuously. His confidence was momentary and artificial. He had not thought the situation through. He wasn’t even entirely sure, at that moment, if he was talking to Christ. Yet he reacted, he literally “stepped out on faith.” “And he (Christ) said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus” (v.29).
But Peter’s “faith” was insufficient to sustain him. When he began to realize the logical absurdity of the situation, his confidence and his body began to sink simultaneously! “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying Lord, save me” (v. 30). The momentary force of Peter’s quickly acquired faith immediately dissipated in the face of stark reality!
At this time Christ turned the situation into an object lesson in living faith. “And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (v. 31).
Now, let’s analyze the situation. The skeptic will argue that Peter had no reason to have faith that he would be able to walk on water. After all, doing so defies the laws of physics. Science tells us that the only kind of water a person can walk on is frozen water, ice.
Must we then conclude that Jesus was unreasonable in expecting Peter to have faith under these circumstances? Not at all. Peter had powerful evidence upon which to base his faith! He had the evidence right before his eyes, Jesus Christ was doing it! That’s what gave him the initial impetus to step out of the boat.
In addition, Peter had seen strong evidence of the power of God the previous day in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. If God could provide up to ten thousand people with food from five loaves and two fishes, could He not also provide a little buoyancy on a stormy lake?
Yet there are reasons why Peter’s faith failed.
For one thing, he began to look at the physical circumstances. He focused on the howling wind, the turbulent waves and the flying spindrift. He took his mind off Christ and His faith! In his mind, Peter replaces superior evidence with inferior. The simple fact that Christ Himself was defying the laws of nature in walking on the water should have told him that it could indeed be done! He was actively witnessing it.
Yet Peter chose to ignore this conclusive evidence and instead focused his attention on the circumstances with which he was more familiar. Secondly, Peter lacked experience. Experience produces confidence. It sets up a pattern of precedents upon which a person can build. The more one has experienced the miracle-working power of God, the more he begins to take it for granted, the more faith and confidence is built.
Faith must become intrinsic. It must be enduring and abiding, and become an indelible part of one’s spiritual personality. The exercising of faith in a given situation must ultimately become second nature to a Christian. But this takes time and experience. Each experience provides a stepping stone for the next. Jesus provided His disciples with many such experiences during the three-and-one-half years of His earthly ministry. Each of these was added to the reservoir of experience upon which the disciples drew throughout their entire ministry.
By the time the Church was established and underway, Peter had grown enormously in dynamic, living faith! Notice this account in the book of Acts: “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, (the ninth hour, 3 p.m.) And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, ‘Look at us,’ and he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ and he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (Acts 3:1-7).
This was not the same Peter who had faltered in faith on the stormy Sea of Galilee. Here was a man charged with confidence in Jesus Christ and in the power of God. What Peter now had was living faith, dynamic, instantly available faith! He now looked to the right kind of evidence, the power of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God! His faith had been built upon years of experience. Now, that faith was intrinsic!
The level of Peter’s faith had risen to such a degree that even his passing by resulted in incredible healings (Acts 5:15-16). The Holy Spirit had been working with him producing a backlog of faith and confidence building experience. Now the exercise of faith was second nature to the apostle. He walked and lived in faith. His experience had produced confident hope and assurance. As Paul later wrote: “Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
Jesus Christ desires that all Christians achieve this level of faith. We are told no less than four separate times in the Bible: “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal 3:11, Heb. 10:38). As Paul told the church at Corinth: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” ( II Corth. 5:7). Before conversion, like Peter, we did exactly the opposite, we walked by sight, not by faith.
In the walking on water incident, Peter had allowed what he saw to overrule what he knew. The Christian does the opposite. His faith is based on the firm evidence of what he knows to be the will of God. Peter sank by sight, but Christ had walked on the water by faith!
Sometimes what we see erodes our confidence. It is especially difficult to exercise faith in our modern technological society. It is difficult to even feel close to God in a world which denies Him at every turn.
The Bible itself has been so examined, criticized, evaluated, analyzed, critiqued and torn apart that it is hard to even know which parts of it are trustworthy! How can we be certain of the will of God in any given circumstance unless we have some reliable revelation?
The apostle Paul wrote: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” ( II Tim. 3:16-17).
Now, if you can believe that statement then you should have no difficulty knowing what the will of God is in terms of exercising faith!
Belief in God is intrinsically tied up with the matter of faith. Those who wish to walk by faith must have a sense of the reality of God, they must be actively conscious of His existence. Further more, they must believe that He is capable and willing to respond to the need of those who diligently seek such intervention.
King David said: “Thou are near, O Lord” (Ps. 119:151). And again in Psalm 145:18: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.” God is close as your next sincere, believing prayer!
David also wrote: “He fulfils the desire of all who fear him, he also hears their cry, and saves them” (Ps. 145:19). The Great God is not deaf. Because of His compassionate nature He can’t help but respond to the prayers of those who truly believe in faith, that He hears them.
A faithful person is not unsure of himself. He does not waver in faith, but is sure that God is there and that He hears our prayers. Read James 1:6-8.
Faith is predicated upon knowing the will of God. When we recognize His promises and claim them in confidence, we are exercising faith. The greatest evidence available is the fact that God has promised something. This is the basis for faith. This information overshadows the physical evidence in many cases. Yet, this is not blind, unknowing faith. It is based upon a clear understanding of the will of the living God.
At the beginning of his 3 1/2 year ministry Jesus Christ was put through one of the most severe trials of His entire life, next to his death itself. He was severely tempted directly and personally by the god of this world, Satan the Devil. Jesus Christ defeated the devil because He knew the will of God. Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus, accurately. But the devil misused those scriptures. He misapplied them.
Rather than take the bait that Satan was offering, Christ wisely quoted another scripture to him, a scripture which qualified the one the devil had cited: “Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7; Deut. 6:16).
Faith does not apply only to healing. Faith is, or should be a way of life. As quoted earlier, we walk by faith. It should be a daily, ever-present factor in every Christianís life.
Faith in the glorious future promised by God to His children is the driving force in this life of every truly converted child of God. It is the motivating factor, the element that gives the Christian the confidence to face the trials of being a Christian in a godless society of skepticism and doubt.
Walk, not in the blind faith of ignorant men, but in the knowledgeable, understanding faith of the children of God