THE CHRIST CONCEPT OF FAITH
(A Textual Interpretation)
All biblical quotations are from the HOLY BIBLE (NIV)
At the tail end of the article “The Kingdom of God” in the Daily Graphic of October 9, 2008 we raised the question as to how to have faith in Jesus. Let us here characterise or define it as specifically conceived and applied in the thought and practice of Jesus Christ so that we know exactly what we are talking about; for, that term has various meanings – spiritual and mundane – which must not be mixed.
We do this by way of dispelling the notion that defines ‘faith’ beyond ‘belief’ and as such considers ‘belief’ as a component of ‘faith’. We do not find any base in the Scriptures to support that notion. Based on Jesus’ own usage in the four books of the Gospel, we rather find that Jesus uses ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ interchangeably; that is, in place of each other, or, if you like, as equivalents. And he is consistent with that.
The events involving the centurion and the two blind men, respectively, illustrate the way Jesus uses the categories of ‘faith’ and ‘belief’: The centurion comes for Jesus’ help to heal his paralysed servant and Jesus agrees to go and heal him; but the centurion feels that he does not deserve the honour of Jesus going to his house. He requests him to just speak there and then and is sure that consequently his servant at home will be healed.
Expressing his astonishment at the centurion’s demonstration of faith Jesus comments that, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus then tells the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.”; and that very hour the servant is healed. (Matthew 8:13). We observe here that whereas Jesus comments on the centurion’s faith he heals his servant on the strength of that centurion’s belief.
Let us also observe that in the event of the two blind men asking Jesus to heal them at Matthew 9:28-30, Jesus specifically asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Upon their affirmative response he touches their eyes and tells them that, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Their sight is then restored. Again, we observe that whereas Jesus asks the blind men about their belief he heals them on the strength of their faith.
In fact, in the entire four books of the Gospel the noun ‘belief’ does not appear even once. (We stand to correction.) This suggests to us that any time Jesus could logically use ‘belief’ he rather prefers to use ‘faith’ in its stead; and where he could logically repeat ‘faith’ he prefers to express himself in terms of the verb of ‘belief’ – believe.
In Paul, we find the same use of ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ as interchangeables. At Romans 4:3 he approvingly quotes Genesis 15:6 thus: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”. He then refers to this at Romans 4:9 in this way: “We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.” So that, like Jesus, Paul uses ‘faith’ in place of ‘belief’. This means that the conceptualisation of faith to connote something more than belief in Jesus’ thought and practice is veritably revisionist.
A variant of this misconception of ‘faith’ as Jesus uses it is this other notion that conceives it as the exercise of human will on the Word of God. This notion is both sophisticated and elusive; hence, it requires cool-headed attention to its details if we are to objectively expose its danger to a correct interpretation of Jesus’ own use of the term ‘faith’. This is why we crave the indulgence of the reader in undertaking an excursion into Dr. Frederick K.C. Price’s book, Faith, Foolishness, or Presumption?
Dr. Price says, “Faith, in its simplest definition, is ‘acting on what you believe.’” He illustrates this with beliefs about his car which can take him home only upon his acting on those beliefs: “All of that may be true, friend, but you will never get home until you get off that hood, into that car, and drive home … you won’t get home until you act on what you believe.” Here, we do not yet find the hand of God in the process of actualization.
That comes only with another illustration. In this latter, he says that by the Scripture verse that “With His stripes ye were healed” he understands that he had been healed but not that he is going to be healed. Hence, when he gets sick he only has to say, “I believe I am well.” And this, he says, is acting on that Word of God. Please, listen to him: “I didn’t say that I felt like I was well … I said, ‘I believe that I am well.’ And the reason that I said it, is because the Word said so.” We now see the hand of God.
In faith healing, as distinguished from gifts of healing whereby “the Spirit wills”, Dr. Price says, it is “as we will” that is functional. He explains that “God always wills through His Word.” We understand from these that with “faith” we exercise our will on the basis of the Word of God. To be able to do this successfully, Dr. Frederick K. C. Price says that we need to develop our “faith muscle” which comes with acquisition of “more faith force” through continual and progressive exercise of faith.
Sure, that is a mouthful. Let us, therefore, simplify it all. By saying that faith is acting on what we believe, Dr. Price, through his illustrations, equates ‘acting on what we believe’ with ‘as we will’. In the statement, “Faith is acting on what we believe’ we also find that ‘acting on what we believe’ equates ‘faith’. From these, we see that faith is “as we will”, according to Dr. Price. This equation of faith with human will predicates faith on human functionality; not as a predicate of the grace of God.
To be fair with Dr. Price, he asserts everyone in the Church as endowed with the minimum of faith by the grace of God upon acceptance of Christ as one’s personal Saviour. We need to point out, however, that any further strengthening of one’s faith is seen by Dr. Price not as an act of God’s grace but the result of one’s exercising the minimum of faith that had come by grace.
We are, therefore, anxious to point out that this limited concession to the source of faith and its further development is flawed as we will find that faith and its development remain in the province of God’s grace in eternal perpetuity; that is, in the realm of the Spirit. Hence, even that little faith that he says comes by grace is not the type of faith Jesus talks about but simple human will.
Paul is particularly angry with those who project faith as human will or human effort which are the same thing. At Galatians 3:2-3 he angrily asks, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard (that is, or by faith)? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” He is annoyed that some of the members of the Church at Galatia are drifting from faith as a spiritual power to dependence on their own effort. He calls this foolish! For, faith, as a spiritual power, remains and grows within the realm of the Spirit only; but not through and/or with the help of human effort. That is why Paul urges Timothy to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard itwith the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14).
According to Paul, it is God’s power that fulfils the demands of faith made through prayer. At 2 Thessalonians 1:11, he says that “We constantly pray … that by (God’s) power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” The operative phrase here is “constantly pray” which has nothing to do with the exercise of human will – even in that phrase’s definition and essence. Once armed with faith we just pray and leave everything else to the extra-sensory activity of God’s power. Faith is the spiritual engine placed within one’s spiritual being to connect with the Spirit of God through prayer which is its (that is, faith’s) communication cable.
What makes Dr. Price’s notion of faith a variant of that which sees faith to involve something beyond belief is that it lends itself to a bizarre phrase like “faith to believe”. This does not equate ‘faith’ with ‘belief’ as Jesus does above. What does “faith to believe” mean if not ‘will to believe’? For, with Dr. Price, faith is will. He says that, “Too much of what is called ‘faith,’ is foolish thinking.” We hesitate to include his particular thinking in that category although Paul does that. We prefer to just say that his is not Jesus’ notion of ‘faith’ – a notion confirmed in Paul’s letter to the Romans as cited above.
With Jesus’ conception of faith, we see an enabling power which the individual can be endowed with or denied. It is ‘faith in’ not ‘faith that’. It is ‘belief in’ not ‘belief that’. Whereas ‘faith or belief that’ involves an exercise of the intellect, ‘faith or belief in’ is extra-sensory; that is, it does not lie in the intellect. If we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow that can be verified tomorrow. But if we believe in a spirit it amounts to a misapplication to ask for its verification. What empirical manifestation do we instantly expect?
When we exercise faith in Jesus, we believe (trust) in him for the manifestation of what we ask for or command in his name. Our intellect is not exercised. We use that faculty in the analysis and comprehension of speech and text which includes the Scriptures. The exertions of the intellect on expectations or desires for their materialisation fall in the province of Positive Thinking which is different from the Christian practice of faith. And Positive Thinking relies on will power in the first instance. Its manifestations include its innocuous presentation as faith as in the case of Dr. Price, for instance.
But it is not sufficient to declare our faith in Jesus for that faith to be effective. We need to be specially enabled to exercise that faith. John 6:65 reports Jesus as saying that, “… no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” It is this enabling (empowerment) that distinguishes Jesus’ notion of faith from the various mundane usages of the term. We are saying that to believe or have faith in Jesus is not a simple act of self-declaration. Above all, it is an empowerment. And as with all acts of empowerment this empowerment can be sustained or withdrawn or denied.
The best way to understand this is to consider the biblical verse that says of the Jews that, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (John 12:37). They would not. Read further. John 12:39 actually says, “they could not believe”. They could not. And a reason is given for their inability. It is this: the arm of the Lord had not been revealed to them, for, they had been blinded and their hearts deadened. (John 12:39-40). This is denial to them of the ability to believe or have faith; that is, ‘to believe in’ not ‘to believe that’.
This interpretation is confirmed in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he designates faith as a spiritual gift that, by grace, one may be given or not be given. We are tempted to quote these whole verses at 1 Corinthians 12:7-9 thus: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit …”
Note the conscious repetition of “by the same Spirit” and the concrete suggestion that some people may not be given either of these spiritual gifts which include faith. Furthermore, to emphasise the spirituality of faith, Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians that, “… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this (that is, faith) not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In matters of faith, human will or effort or exertion plays no role in itshistory. One is given if and when one deserves it. Its further development remains in the realm of the Spirit: if one needs a stronger faith one only prays in constancy for it, that is, pursues it in Spirit but not engage in exercises to develop one’s so-called “faith muscle” for a more effective exercise of human will camouflaging as faith.
The faith that we characterise or define here is what Pastor Chris Oyakhilome appears to call “God’s type of faith”. Jude calls it “most holy faith” at verse 20 of his letter. It is different from what theologians have manufactured and call the “existential (concept) of faith” that is so all-inclusive that we find in its belly not only ‘belief’ but ‘will’, ‘intellect’, ‘knowledge’ et cetera, et cetera. Effeminate is their concept in spite of its being loaded.