Building a faith that endures
Jesus longs for a level of faith in us that doesn’t fail when things go badly. A faith that endures despite your circumstances. How do we build a faith like that?
What does it mean to you to have faith?
My unbelieving friends describe it somewhat differently from the way I do. They believe that faith is blind, that it is a leap in the dark. They see faith as something that stands in opposition to reason – a belief in something that has no proof.
I enjoy giving them testimony of the undeniable things I have seen God do in my life and that of others – things that prove God exists. Faith is far from blind or unreasonable. Indeed, it is the only thing that makes sense.
Yet it is easy for us Christians to also form a slightly skewed view of faith. We may limit faith to mean that we believe in God to change our circumstance or save us in some way from the troubles of this broken world. He does do that, of course. Incredibly so at times! And, as mentioned, it forms a great testimony to the reality of God.
But when we say we have faith in Jesus, what exactly should that mean?
The words “faith” and “belief” are rooted in the same Greek word: pistis. It means to rely on something. It is an active word, not a passive one. Faith is not merely a cognitive belief; it is a belief that results in us actively leaning on – or depending on – what we believe.
To believe in Jesus does not mean we merely agree that He exists; it means that we rely on the price He paid for our sin rather than on our own ability to earn right standing with God. We don’t believe Jesus died for our sin … and then also try to ensure we are good with God by performing at some level.
The action component of faith is to rely on Jesus’ death completely and not have a Plan B. This definition of faith means that believing in that which is uncertain is not really faith. It might be better described as hope.
In Jesus’ day, people began to believe in Him mainly because He demonstrated who He was. Yet Jesus sometimes became frustrated at the limited faith of those people. In John 4:48 He rebuked them, saying, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.” He was hoping for more, looking for those who believed in spite of what they saw.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” He said after His resurrection.1What was Jesus getting at there? It’s not that He was expecting people to believe in what they didn’t know. Rather, He was expecting that what they knew would get them through anything they were to see.
He longed for a level of faith that didn’t fail when things went badly – a faith that overcame any circumstance, rather than needing the circumstance to change.
God is looking for faith throughany circumstance, more than faith forany circumstance.
Facets of Faith
What are we to have faith in? What can we know that will compel us to act a biblical way?
Before all else, we obviously need to believe that God exists. This is the simplest and smallest type of faith because there is obviously so much evidence to prove the fact. The testimony of creation, the mountain of undeniably changed hearts, the historical proof of the resurrection and countless miracles, and even the consistent cry of the human heart for a sense of eternity and meaning – these all make faith in God’s existence easy for those who genuinely seek truth.
Beyond belief in God’s existence, we can have faith in His goodness of character as well. First John 4:16 states that we can know and rely on the love God has for us because God is love. God cannot be evil; there is no mischief or darkness in Him. Love is His very nature, and all He does comes from the goodness of that love.
We can also have faith in God’s Word. God is without fault, therefore His Word is always true. God’s Word is found in scripture, and also in His Word spoken to you. God always has more to say – He has promises, ideas, and direction for you every moment of the day. Jesus only said what He heard His Father saying, and He only did what His Father was doing.
This may sound provocative, but our relationship with God should not be confined to the words of the book He authored. We don’t have a relationship with a load of paper, but with the living words that dwell within them. These living words come from the living Word, who is alive today. You can be sure that what He speaks to your heart will never be in contradiction to what is found in scripture. Indeed, if you want to know what God is saying, dwell on what you know He has already said – the Bible. Then listen to the direct whispers of God as He guides you in that context.
Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In that context, Paul is talking about the preaching of the gospel – the spoken word about Christ. So you can see that the Word of God can be heard by us in a number of ways. But they should all build our faith and be in line with what He has previously said.
Next, we also exercise unyielding faith in the atoning work of Christ for our salvation. His sacrifice was complete, not needing to be redone every time we routinely fall short. God’s wrath has already been totally removed for those who trust in Jesus’ death for their sin.2
The final component of this foundational faith is a reliance on the total sufficiency of God. He alone is always enough. We do not need God to alter circumstance in our favour in order for our spirit to thrive. He meets every valid need. As God said clearly to Paul, who had prayed for healing in his body, “My grace is sufficient for you.”3This is the faith that gets the applause of heaven, and this is the faith Jesus sought the most in His followers.
When it comes to the three eternal elements of our heart (faith, hope, and love), faith is the proverbial currency of heaven. Those in scripture who had great faith are not only applauded, but they are also frequently rewarded.
Jesus Himself often declared that a person’s faith had made them well.4And Paul’s clear theology is that we are saved by grace throughfaith.5Even though it is God’s grace that does the work, it is accessed by us through faith.
And whilst he clearly stated that the greatest of the three core elements is love, Paul also said that our righteousness before God comes through faith from first to last.6Even though love – both forGod and fromGod – is primary above all things, it is faith in God that counters the humanistic bias to rely on self, which is so destructive to our engagement with God.
Faith for More
Having laid the foundational elements of faith, we have permission to build a valid “mustard seed” faith that can move mountains.
God is still very much in the business of invading our world in overt and powerful ways. We are expected to have faith in Him to do that, so long as it is built on the solid foundation mentioned above.
The faith we need in operating in the spiritual gifts, for seeing the miraculous, or for any other spiritual intervention in our world is best derived from hearing and releasing God’s Word. Jesus confined His works to precisely that – following the Father’s guidance. The New Testament particularly is packed with examples of God breaking through in amazing ways. There is no sensible argument to make us infer that He has stopped working in our lives.
The truth is, all those amazing events from scripture – and more – are happening right now in every culture globally, including the west. They can be expected by the empowered Christian when our radical core truly gets radical.
Before we look at how to start a journey towards this, let’s look at how Jesus Himself mentored the disciples in their fledgling faith. The twelve didn’t simply switch on unlimited belief when Jesus granted them authority to work in His name. Matthew 28:17 reminds us that even though they had witnessed incredible things, including Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to doubt. They underwent a prolonged growth journey that was ultimately and significantly impacted by the events described in the second chapter of Acts and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Step back a year or two, however, when they were still in their early training with Jesus, and the journey of growing faith is more obviously seen. Mark Chapter 9 gives us a clear snapshot of the challenges faced by these very normal people as they attempted to apply faith in a way that made a difference to life. You may remember the story, but I will summarise it here.
It takes place the day after Jesus, Peter, James, and John had encountered Moses and Elijah on the Mount of transfiguration. As they returned, the other nine disciples were up to their neck in disappointment, doubt, and debate with the angry locals because they had not been able to deliver a young boy of a demon. The distraught father came directly to Jesus to explain the situation.
The interesting thing to note here is that these same disciples had been authorised to cast out demons a few chapters earlier in Mark’s gospel, and had seen success. Experience and authority were not the issue.
Jesus’ response is telling, to both the crowd and the disciples. He highlights a lack of faith as the issue, declaring in Mark 9:19 that they are an unbelieving generation. The father of the boy then gives voice to the same desire we all harbour … “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus proceeds to cast the demon out of the boy, but later the disciples asked Him privately about the reasons behind their own failure to cast it out. Jesus responds by saying that prayer and fasting held the key (v. 29).
Reading this with formulaic eyes, some have concluded that prayer and fasting must activate a form of “cause-and-effect” response from God. The implication is, “If we do this, then God is somehow obliged to do that.” So they submit themselves to rigorous disciplines and practices in an effort to increase results.
But take a closer look at the story. Lack of faith was the real problem, not the power of a demon. Prayer was the solution to that lack of faith. Prayer and fasting were suggested by Jesus as mechanisms for the disciples to engage more closely and intuitively with God Himself, not as a way to incite Him to act. The principle at play here is that time spent in the presence of the Faithful One will always result in an increase of faith!
Jesus, of course, had already built intimacy with God through a deep well of constant fellowship, so He merely had to administer the authority that came from that.
As with every kingdom principle you will find in this material, the answer to our fruitlessness, restlessness, and dryness of soul is found in engaging intimately with God Himself.
In next week’s blog, we will look a little deeper at the specific rhythm of grace that can be so helpful in growing faith. For now we can focus on the fact that God calls us into a relationship that is personal, not merely functional. He wants to engage with us much more than He wants to see us perform things for Him. He longs for us to desire Himmore than we desire progress or achievement.
All that we do should flow from this place of abundant love and grace.
In what area of your life do you most strongly rely on God? How does that faith make you differ from those around you that have no faith? Are your choices and priorities different? How does your faith direct your life?
- John 20:29
- 1 John 2:2; Hebrews 9:12
- 2 Corinthians 12:9
- Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34, 10:52; Luke 7:50; Luke 18:42
- Ephesians 2:8
- Romans 1:17