As a young teen, I read the biographies of “men of faith”: George Mueller, “Praying” Hyde, G. C. Bevington’s Modern Miracles of Faith and Prayer, and others. God’s mighty working in response to the prayers and faith of these saints fired my imagination. I wanted that kind of faith!
Whether I understood those correctly, I came away from reading such books with the idea that faith is asking God to do something and then firmly believing that He will do it. Or, faith is stepping out to do something for God without any knowledge of how it can be done. On this definition of faith, people who experience doubts about whether God will come through have “weak faith.” People who plunge into the future, confidently expecting God to act on their behalf, have “strong faith.”
Since then my study of Scripture has convinced me that this concept of faith is unbiblical. I call this kind of faith “subjective.” Its strength is based, not on God’s character or word, but upon the person who has it.
Admittedly, “subjective” faith has the appearance of being biblical. Its advocates urge, “Believe God!” They bewail the lack of faith that hinders God’s mighty hand. Boldly they assert, “God has said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.” Though “subjective” faith seems to be biblical, it is actually based on a misunderstanding of God’s word.
Imagine that I tell my wife I’ll be arriving tomorrow in Cincinnati on Delta at 5:00 and ask her to pick me up at the airport. If I mean 5 PM and she understands 5 AM, we have a problem. No matter how great my wife’s faith in me and my word is, I won’t arrive at the airport at 5 AM.
God has told us, “Ask anything in my name, and I will do it.” If God means “Ask anything you know is according to my will, and I will do it,” but we think he means, “Ask anything you want, and I will do it,” or “Ask anything you think is according to my will, and I will do it,” we have a problem. No matter how confident we are in God and His word, God isn’t going to do anything we ask Him.
When I say biblical faith is always objective, I mean that faith is always based on a knowledge of God’s character and His word, properly understood. That last phrase is crucial. It’s no good claiming God said it, I believe, that settles it, if you haven’t properly understood what God said.
It’s no good claiming God said it, I believe, that settles it, if you haven’t properly understood what God said.
Take the example of Peter walking on the water. Peter knew Jesus could do anything. He was watching Him walk on water! Peter knew that meant Jesus could even empower him to walk on water. That is biblical faith. But Peter didn’t step out of the boat on the basis of that knowledge. That would have been folly.
Peter stepped out of the boat after he heard Jesus bid him come. With the knowledge that Jesus had said, “Come,” Peter could confidently disembark onto the heaving sea. Peter’s faith was “little,” because he entertained doubts about Jesus’ ability to keep him above the surging waves, despite the fact that Jesus had told him to come. Jesus would have commended Peter’s faith as “great,” if like the centurion he had heard Jesus’ “Come!” and then persistently walked toward Jesus in confidence that Jesus’ bidding was a promise of Jesus’ keeping.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.