How is your faith? Is it strong? Is it weak? Do you doubt or question often? Or are you rock solid, like a tree planted by a stream? If you are a normal human being, chances are that you vacillate in between the two extremes regularly! When Jesus was walking the Earth, He preformed many miracles. And when the disciples were amazed at his to speak death over a fig tree, Jesus said to them:
“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”
– Mark 11.23
This is truly a phenomenal statement. Jesus, as God of the universe, promises that whoever has faith without doubting can literally cast a mountain into the sea. Have you ever seen that happen? Such an occurrence has never been documented… When Jesus had sent the disciples out to proclaim His coming, they encountered a demon that they were unable to cast out. To this, Jesus said,
“And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you’.”
– Matt 17.20
Jesus rebuked the disciples for having to little faith to cast out a demon. They had enough faith to try, but the demon itself was more powerful than their faith. Jesus’ answer was that even the smallest amount of faith – the size of a mustard seed – would not only cast out demons but move entire mountains. Exorcisms have been documented and noted around the world, but again – no mountains relocating.
This teaching of Jesus has been greatly distorted and abused. There is no an entire sect of Christianity that essentially worships faith and chastises people for their situations – declaring it to be a result of nothing other than their lack of faith. Are you sick? You have too little faith. Did you lose your job? You do not believe enough! Is your child straying form the Church? You have to believe it for it to be fixed!
This teaching is not only dangerous, but heretical. Why? Firstly, because it idolizes faith and not the object of the faith. Instead of pointing people to Scripture to claim the actual promises of God like Rom 8.28 – “All things work together for good for those who love God” – it points to the individual’s heart. If you are in crisis, the onus is on you to muster up faith bigger than a mustard seed so that it will be made right. Faith in what? Faith that it will be fixed, of course! Instead of glorifying God, instead of teaching people to depend on God, this worldview focuses on the individual, the problem, and neatly forces people into a corner. You have no one to blame but yourself for your situation, and the only hope you have to is press in harder and force faith. Bland, pointless, self-gratifying faith.
Secondly, this teaching is heretical because it is simply not the intention of Jesus. When we take this teaching to its logical end, it necessarily fall apart. Why? Because everyone is going to die. Scripture promises that not only will we all die, we will all subsequently stand judgment:
– Heb 9.27
Everyone is going to die, regardless of the amount of faith that we have. Even if your life is posh, comfortable and without major crisis, you are going to die and then be judged for your actions while you were alive. No amount of faith can alter this destiny because it is ordained by God as the result of sin.
What does this one single truth consequently teach us? Blind faith and object-less faith is meaningless. You might truly believe that you can fly. But if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, you will not fly. You might concoct a suit that allows you to soar or float, but you do not have the innate ability to fly within your body. You might truly believe and have faith that your bank account will suddenly be multiplied to millions of dollars overnight. But unless you work hard, win the lottery or somehow have the money added to your name, your faith alone in a bigger bank account will not generate that money.
But more importantly, it is not “faith alone” that saves us. Our souls are not saved simply because we have faith. Scripture says,
– Eph 2.8-9
It is by faith alone that we are saved. What is the difference? We are saved by faith in something, and that something is the grace of God. We cannot will our salvation by believing that we are good enough, that we have done enough, that we are simply OK. Our faith must be in the promise and provision of God alone.
And do you know what else? God never promises to heal all of our pains or satisfy all of our desires. In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith. The early Church was scattered by the Roman Emperors persecuting and murdering them. Christians throughout all generations have suffered great and terrible persecution, had their land plundered, their families killed and jobs lost.
I wrote earlier this week on Jesus’ miracle at the pool of Bethesda. You can read that here. When Jesus approached the pool of Bethesda, there was a multitude – a huge crowd – of people who were sick, paralyzed, physically handicapped and waiting for a miracle. Jesus went in and chose to heal one man. Just one, out of a huge crowd. He healed that man and then slipped out so no one saw Him.
Did Jesus not come to heal everyone? We do see in some stories that Jesus occasionally invested much time to heal everyone who was around (Matt 4.23, 9.35), however that is not why Jesus came to the Earth the first time. He declared that His purpose was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Matt 18.10). If you survey every time Jesus declared His purpose in coming, without fail He references salvation and/or dealing with sin. He did not come to end suffering or bring about the New Earth. He did not come to take everyone to Heaven, and when people believe in Him He leaves them on the Earth to continue to tell other people and does not sweep them away to Heaven. Why? Because He is giving us time to get to know Him and to tell others about Him. While we suffer. While we struggle. While we are persecuted. While things go badly.
He will come to take away suffering! He is coming back, and when He comes the second time, it will be to free us from disease, sin, sickness, and pain. But that was not His intention in His first appearance, and it is not His intention for us now. Our faith in God is unto salvation, not unto pleasure or health. This is why Paul consistently talks about his personal suffering and why he encourages the early church as they persevere through tribulations and trials.
Thus we cannot simply have blind faith in a mountain moving, or a sickness being healed, or a physical need being met. Jesus promises acts of God when we have faith in God, and faith that aligns with His will. We cannot have faith in God that we will be healed if the sickness we currently have is that sickness which will lead unto our death – because God has appointed a time for each of us to die. We cannot thwart His will or decree by believing the opposite. What we believe must be grounded in the promises of Scripture and consequently the will of God. Jesus left many people unhealed, hungry and desolate. Why? Because His purpose was to bring salvation, not comfort. Therefore if we believe that God will do mighty works to bring about salvation and Spiritual growth, then and only then are we guaranteed the mighty works of God. Faith the size of a mustard seed in the promises and provision of God will save our souls eternally and move unimaginable mountains for the furthering of the Gospel.
So let us believe great things from God. Let us attempt great things for God. Let us continually allow God to grow, mold and strengthen our faith. But let us remember that God’s primary concern in our faith is not our health, not our success, not our happines, but our holiness. That one man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda was sternly warned by Jesus,
“Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”
– John 5.14
Jesus did heal him physically – and He will heal us physically, most times, but He was primarily concerned about the man’s holiness. This man had been paralyzed for 38 years, and Jesus warned him that if he continued sinning something worse would become of him, namely, eternal damnation.
So know the promises of God. Claim the promises of God. Enjoy Him and trust Him for eternal salvation. And trust Him through the trials which He is currently allowing in your life which you do not particularly enjoy. Because He is working those things together for your good and for His glory (Rom 8.28).