Definition: Trusting the Lord to do wholly what I ask if it’s in his name and in his will, both for his glory and for my joy.
We must have a word of caution before we begin our discussion on faith: We need to be careful, lest we slip into the “word of faith” belief or the “name it, claim it” gospel. We never want to be demanders of God. We can only be requesters. We should pray with faith, not demanding God to grant our requests because of our great faith or because of our needs or desires, but to expect God to grant our requests based on his character, grace, mercy, compassion, and love if our requests line up with his will. And we must remember that even if our requests are pure and godly, God may still choose to not give us what we ask for. Romans 8:28 says that, “Everything works together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” In the end, we must rise and say, “God, thank you for making this happen the way you did. For such was according to your glorious will.”
With that said, the Bible makes it clear that there are degrees of faith. In Romans 12, talking about being humble, Paul says that we should do this “according to the measure of faith you have received.” God is in charge of everything — even the amount of faith we receive.
In Matthew 15:21-28, there is a woman whose daughter was demon-possessed. She makes a holy argument by saying “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” What initiated this argument, though? Verse 28 makes it clear: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” First of all, this woman agreed with Jesus, “You are right. I’m nothing. I am a pet dog, yes. I’m not worthy, Lord, but even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall to the ground.” Mark 7 gives us insight to this passage. Jesus said in verse 27, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” This indicates there is a first feasting. If there is a first, then there must be a second! This woman wanted the overflow of the blessings that Jesus gives. She knew she wasn’t worthy of the first servings because she was a Gentile, but she was more than willing to settle for the seconds-the crumbs that fell to the ground. Her faith that there were seconds-and that they were just as satisfying as the meal-impressed Jesus.
From Matthew 15 and Mark 7, we have seven conclusions:
- There are degrees of faith. As Jesus said, “Great is your faith.”
- Great faith initiates holy arguments. Holy arguments are the evidence of great faith.
- Great faith is accompanied by a humble spirit of unworthiness.
- Great faith asks for undeserved rewards. Given based on God’s character and goodness, not our worthiness.
- There is a special kind of grace (the feast) for God’s children and a general kind of grace (the crumbs) for unsaved people.
- The blessings that overflow (the crumbs) from God’s children to Gentiles should be all-satisfying. The crumbs should lead people to the table where the full feast is.
- God takes delight and marvels when people have great faith.
Matthew 17:14-21 is another example of the amount of faith having an outcome in prayer. The disciples could not cast out a demon in a young boy. A father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples and they could not heal him. Jesus said to them, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” Afterward, the disciples came to Jesus and asked why they couldn’t cast it out. Jesus replied, “Because of your little faith.” This is uncomfortable. It makes it seem as if we can say, “I believe fully! Do it Lord! Heal him!” I don’t believe in faith healers, going around and casting out demons and cancer. But I do believe that God does miracles and when his people demonstrate great faith, God will do mighty things. When God’s people–not by their own manufacturing–have great faith, God will do miracles. Some manuscripts insert verse 21 in this passage, which says, “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” This shows signs of fervency and perseverance. It shows a sign of dedication to the Lord. It is not the fact that we are fasting and praying that drives out a demon. It is the grace and mercy of God that is applied to the situation because of the faith he works in us.
Galatians 3:5 says, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” We are saved by grace through FAITH, not by works. In the same way, this passage shows this and another aspect: God supplies us with the Spirit to have faith and works miracles among us because of faith. Yet, in salvation and petitioning God, he gets the credit. “Does HE WHO SUPPLIES the Spirit to you and WORKS miracles AMONG you…” God is Sovereign in all this. If we are low on faith, we must ask for more faith. If we are doubting, we must trust the Lord to kill our unbelief and run to him to supply us with the filling of the Spirit, so we can have faith and see miracles worked among us.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, speaking in Matthew 6:25-34 says in verse 30, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” This is in the context of trusting the Lord to provide the basic necessities of life. So often, we worry about whether or not God will provide food, drink, clothes, shelter, and money for us. But, Jesus says we must have more faith-the people he was talking to had “little faith,” again showing degrees of faith. What is the point of this? It comes in verse 34, “THEREFORE, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” For us to not be anxious about tomorrow, no matter what awaits us, is to exhibit great faith! It is to trust and rest in the sovereignty of God that he will do what will work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). With that said, it is important to have faith that “whatever you ask…it will be done for you” (John 14:13, 15:7).
- R.C. Sproul commentates on John 14:13: “This does not guarantee that God will do whatever we ask if only we add to our prayer the words “in Christ’s name.” To pray in Christ’s name is to identify with the purpose of Christ to the extent that our will has become identified with the will of God (1 John 5:14). Those who do not obtain what they specifically request are often surprised by a different but better answer-and “no” is sometimes the best answer.”
- And from Luke 11:2 on the Lord’s Prayer, Sproul writes: “We may pray to God with fervent persistence when we bring our needs to him (Luke 11:5-13, 18:1-8), and know that He will answer our prayers. But God knows what is best in a way that we do not, and he may deny our specific requests. If he denies us, it is because he has something better for us, as when Christ refused to heal Paul’s thorn in the flesh. To say, “your will be done,” surrendering our own preference to the Father’s wisdom, as Jesus did in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39-44), is an explicit way of expressing faith in the goodness of what God has planned.”
James 5:13-20 is about the Prayer of Faith. Verse 15 says, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” We can extrapolate three conclusions from this passage.
- This does not mean there is a special prayer of faith to heal people. The power of trusting and faithful prayer is accented here; the Christian community should be devoutly engaged in intercessory prayer for the sick (Sproul). After speaking about being sick, James says to confess our sins to one another. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
- Sproul again is helpful as he comments: “A godly person who prays in faith is a just or righteous person.” You can be a godly person, a Christian, and not pray with pure motives. That, according to James, is not being righteous-it is sin. Matthew Henry said that righteousness in James, like Proverbs, is different than in Romans. In Romans, Paul writes to people who need to know what it means to be justified with God in a legal sense. That happens through faith alone in Christ. Faith in Christ justifies us and Christ’s imputation of his own righteousness is our righteousness. That is righteousness in one sense. In James, however, James writes to people who already have faith. The entire scope of the book is about how to be righteous Christians; we must have works that evidence our faith. Righteousness, in James, is not about our legal standing in Christ, but rather our actions in faith that follow our justification.
- Proverbs 15:29 says, “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” We can see that our prayers in faith stem out of righteous living before the Lord. This consists of seeing the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in our lives. It means loving others (Rom. 12:9-21, 1 Cor. 13:1-8). It means, above all, loving God with everything we have (Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18). True faith that pleases God is only possible when we are justified in Christ legally and are demonstrating our faith by being obedient to God.