Faith

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots, Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourselves into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be your” (Mark 11.20-24).

One of the most important emphases in the church today is the teaching concerning faith. There is a movement which has been designated as the faith movement which has popularized a teaching concerning faith. The teachers in this movement are doing an important and essential task of stirring the Church concerning faith. However, I question their method of interpretation.

The verses which we quoted above are used to support the idea in this movement of positive confession. They say that if you will claim what you have asked God for, God will surely give it to you. The assumption is that faith is supported and illustrated by the activity of claiming now what is not yet fulfilled during the same dimension of time. This often puts one in a position of being foolish by stating in present language something which is not yet fulfilled. Kenneth Hagin, the founder of this movement, is fond of saying, “God works through us by his word as we speak it forth.” One of the verses in the quoted passage from Mark is used to support this belief. The question which should be asked is, “Does this text teach that we are to speak and by speaking or claiming that we will receive what we have claimed?”

Here is how I understand this text. Verse 22 should be translated: You have the faithfulness of God. We might note that I have translated the passage with the words of God instead of in God. This verse should be understood as an exhortation based on Habakkuk 2.4 where we are told that the righteous ones will live because of the faithfulness of God. Paul built the books of Galatians (3.11) and Romans (1.17) on this concept from Habakkuk. The footnote of the New International Version (NIV) offers an alternative translation: but the righteous will live by his faithfulness. This means that the righteous man lives because of God’s faithfulness to the covenant.

The assurance which appears in verses 23-24 is grounded explicitly on God’s faithfulness and not on the ability of man to banish from his heart the sin of doubt. That is to say, the exercise of faith is not necessarily a contest in which we prove our faith by resisting doubt and therefore gain faith’s goal. The issue here is God’s faithfulness to respond to us, not our ability to control doubt.

Verse 23 is an allusion to the coming of the Messiah who will set up his kingdom. Mark used Apocalyptic or symbolic language from Zechariah 14.4, 10. This verse in Zechariah is a prayer for God to set up his kingdom rule. It is like the prayer Jesus taught his disciples which is recorded in Matthew Chapter Six.

What is being affirmed is God’s readiness to respond because of his faithfulness to bring about his Kingdom rule in this present evil age.

In Romans 4.13-25 there is a clear example of the teaching of Jesus which is found in Mark 11.20-24. Abraham believed in the faithfulness of God. God had demonstrated his faithfulness to Abraham on more than one occasion. It is Abraham’s belief in God’s faithfulness and not some misguided belief that one must muster a quality of faith before God will move (v. 21).

The text nowhere states that Abraham claimed what God had promised to him. He did not run right out and start telling everyone that he was a father and that Sarah was pregnant, because neither was true. Rather, he considered his own body and the body of Sarah as being dead (somewhat older), but believed in the faithfulness of God to do what he had promised.

When the whole story of Abraham unfolds in the Old Testament, we discover that he tried on more than one occasion to help God fulfill the promise. He tried to fulfill God’s promise through buying a servant. He tried by following Sarah’s advice to have a child with Hagar. Scripture is plain that when they were both beyond childbearing age God brought to pass his promise: Isaac was born.

Our responsibility is not to muster up some kind of faith by banishing doubt, but resolve to become acquainted with the faithfulness of God as demonstrated in Scripture. When we see how he is faithful to his children, we will understand how he will be faithful to us.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word concerning Christ (Romans 10.17).

This is another favorite verse quoted by the teachers in the faith movement. In teaching on faith, the movement puts a heavy emphasis on the belief that one can muster faith by quoting the word of God. This passage is used to support this teaching. The difficulty is that Romans 10.17 is translated poorly in the King James Version from which the quote is made.

The Good News Bible has one of the best translations of this passage.

So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ.

The Contemporary English Version says:

No one can have faith without hearing the message about Christ.

This verse clearly does not teach that one can get faith from quoting or memorizing Scripture. It does teach that one may become a believer through the preaching of Jesus.

James 5.13-14
The subject of the prayer of faith often brings more heat than light. The context of this passage centers around the ministering of believers one to another. In regard to sickness, James does not conceive of sickness and suffering being of the same substance. He offers different remedies in verses 13 and 14 (see RSV (Revised Standard Version) for more clarity). The Good News Bible gives the most accurate translation of these verses when it says,

…This prayer made in faith will heal the sick person; the Lord will restore him to health, and the sins he has committed will be forgiven. So then confess your sins to one another, so that you will be healed.

One must note that the confession of sins is important in the process of healing. There is nothing in this passage which implies that if one only has a sufficient degree of faith, then one can receive healing. Rather, the passage draws attention to what is emphasized—there is no circumstance of life where faith is impossible, therefore, there is no situation in which one cannot resort to prayer.

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