By its very definition, faith is mysterious and beyond full comprehension. It speaks of a form of trust that, though it is built on what is reasonable and knowledgeable, it goes beyond what can be understood.
For most Christians, faith emphasizes the active belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. That is certainly true, however, faith is often referred to in the Bible where there is little or no understanding of Jesus at that moment. As a result, in order to understand this faith that that God says is required in order to please him, it might be worth a more detailed look at a surprising revelation.
When Peter and John passed the blind beggar, the text says that all the man wanted was money. There is no reference to any knowledge about Jesus, let alone any faith in being able to be healed by him, nor any idea that Peter and John were even Christian. However, after he was healed, and all the people where amazed, the Apostles stated that, “It is in Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” In this case, the faith to be healed was not in the disabled man, but in those who gave the healing.
However, there is an important distinction that needs to be recognized here. Peter, with his faith in Jesus’ ability to heal, had likely passed lots of other beggars who wanted money, but only this one received the healing. Notice what it says: “Look at us!” There is something significant implied in this, for those with ears to hear.
When Paul and Barnabas began preaching the good news in Lystra, the response of the crowds indicate that the teaching about Jesus had not yet been conveyed when the crippled man suddenly was healed. There is no mention of Jesus and no reference to this man’s faith in being able to be healed. The people thought that their pagan gods had come in human form.
Notice, however, the hint in the text. In the middle of Paul’s speech, he stopped what he was doing, even though there were lots of people in the crowd, and likely other people in need of healing. We are simply told, “Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’” What kind of faith is this that would think a physical healing was more important than teaching truth? And, why did Paul look intently at this man? There is something significant here, for those with ears to hear.
When the crippled man was let down by his friends through the roof to be healed by Jesus, the text implies that it was the faith of this man’s friends to which Jesus attributes the healing. But their apparent faith could only have been in Jesus’ ability and willingness to heal, and not a matter of faith in him being their Savior. In contrast, when the disabled man by the wading pool was asked by Jesus if he wanted to be healed, he never even said yes. In fact, the text says that he didn’t even know who healed him; so where was the required faith? There is something significant here, for those with ears to hear.
When Jesus returned to Galilee, the Bible records that he could do few miracles because of the lack of faith in the people. Certainly Jesus had enough faith to heal others, but he didn’t this time. And, the text says that these people had been in Jerusalem and saw all the miracles he did, so they certainly had the knowledge that his man was fully capable of healing. But their lack of faith prevented healing. Why, when it worked at other times? There is a significant reason, for those willing to hear.
There are many other examples that could be highlighted, but these should be sufficient to demonstrate the complexity of faith as it might apply to receiving from God. To start the whole thing, faith is presented in Scripture as a gift that God simply gives in grace to those he wants to experience his goodness. At the end of the Book, it is those who endure in faith to their final breath, that God promises to bless. Sometimes living out our faith in Jesus as Lord of our new lives, is what Scripture requires. In other passages, it is an open profession of faith in Jesus as Savior, confirmed at the start of our walk through baptism. At other times it is about faith in God and what he promises. In some cases, it is faith in the possibility of being healed or blessed, without anything eternal in the mix. In other circumstances it is some kind of faith, without any reference to Jesus or salvation. Again, there are occurrences of faith of others that turns into blessings for us; and, there are instances where it all hinges on the faith of the person who seems intent on helping us in our plight. Of course, there are many examples where the lack of faith, in any of the above aspects, prevents experiencing the grace of God.
What is this faith?
Faith cannot be understood through extensive study or observation, like most all of what comes from God. It must be received from God as well as be revealed to us.
The first is a pure act of grace. Faith must be received; it cannot be earned, defined, or controlled by human effort. However, it is also something that ought to grow and mature in a believer. That requires our participation.
These distinctions help explain why there are so many different references to faith. The secret is not that there are different types of faith, but rather that God is doing something different at that moment.
In every recorded passage, the key to understanding what faith is required for God to intervene, is to identify what God intends to do, rather than try to assess the grasp of faith in a person. It is a matter of focus. The focus is not about the extent of faith in a person, but on the activity of God.
Consider the above passages. In Lystra, Paul healed the man in the crowd right in the middle of his sermon, because he saw something special going on. As he was preaching, he saw the Holy Spirit revealing something through the expressions of that disabled man, and it suddenly stopped his speaking so that he could respond. As he stared more intensely, he concluded that the Spirit was revealing to him that God was about to do something miraculous—what the Bible calls faith. In other words, it was faith in this man, most likely through his spirit having been suddenly opened and receptive to the work of God, that is defined as faith.
When Peter was accosted for money, he sensed something different than from all the other beggars he had passed. He not only stopped, even though he didn’t have what the man wanted, he specifically told the man to look at him. As Jesus taught, the eyes are a lamp into the soul. Peter looked more carefully to verify whether his initial sense that had stopped him was really of God, and saw God about to do something. That is the faith Peter spoke about later. The healing happened because Peter had responded in faith to what he sensed, through the request and eyes of this man, that God wanted to act.
When Jesus healed the man let down through the roof, it was not recorded as something due to that man’s faith in Jesus as Savior, but rather that Jesus recognized that this effort to put this man before him, was something from God. Faith is a gift, remember. God had given his grace to this man, and through this man’s friends, so that God could bring glory to himself through Jesus. Jesus recognized this. That is the faith being referenced.
The event when Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool, who didn’t know him or even acknowledge belief in God, when hundreds of other people there wanted to be healed, could only be explained as something Jesus sensed was of God. Like when he turned around in a crowd and asked who touched him, Jesus was demonstrating his human sensitivity to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was constantly looking for evidence of the Spirit to direct his words, choices, and activities.
That is what faith should look like in a believer. It is also what it means to see faith in another person—it is when we sense that God is showing us that he is about to act and is inviting us to participate.
In this way, faith is more about the evidence of God in a person, than about the person’s view towards God.
The sad part of the revelation is that even when Jesus longs to bless us, the testing for faith sometimes prevents it. When the Lord traveled on this earth, he was limited in doing miracles, because the people were not showing the necessary faith. Although faith comes to a person as a gift, it must thereafter be something that person engages with and develops in submission to the activity of God. In truth, some receive faith, but don’t ever produce the demanded fruit, which limits Christ from blessing them. Even though Jesus healed and did amazing miracles some times in those with no personal faith, when people didn’t show any faith that God was intending to act in them, Jesus withheld his power to bless.
The key, once again, is to look for the revealed activity of the Spirit in that moment, circumstance, person, or need. Is God about to do something? The prophets record that God does nothing without first revealing what he is about to do to his servants. That is significant to understanding what it means to respond to faith.
Think about this in terms of Jesus’ teaching on the level of faith necessary to move mountains. Many have tried to strain their goodness glands into some amount of powerful faith, but what if we were to shift our focus away from trying to measure whether or not we have enough personal faith that something could happen, and toward trying to exercise the faith to recognize the activity of God that is about to happen. Looking toward self will always be limited; but, developing the eyes of the Spirit to see what God is about to do, and to alter our activity to participate, will have unlimited power—enough to toss a mountain into the sea, if that is what God is about to do.
Life goes on. People do whatever they want. All looks usual and expected, but then something catches our attention. It could be just our own desire or personal agenda, but no, this is something more. This looks very different. Could this be God breaking through our human shield of ignorance and inviting me to draw near to the burning bush?
Faithful and mature Christians live by the promptings of the Spirit rather than by the observations and preferences of the flesh. That is not just a suggestion. It is a description of the consuming orientation of those who have died to self and live entirely for the work of the Lord. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always reveal himself, however, so we go about our God-honoring business, while we are constantly on the watch for divine intervention. When we sense that, we drop everything in order to participate in what God intends to do, so that he will receive glory at our hand.
Then it happens. Subtle at first. Perhaps a gentle whisper or nudge. We turn to check it out; changing our course; pausing our activity mid-stream. We look intently with our spirit, to see if this unusual indication is truly an invitation from God. If we make it up, it isn’t faith, and we will come under judgment, even though the Spirit may still cause a miracle to occur (like when Moses struck the rock, when he was told to speak to it). If we sense it rightly, faith invites us to expose ourselves and declare what only God has the right to say:
“Stand up and walk!”
“Your sins are forgiven!”
“Receive Eternal Life in Jesus name!”
It is all a matter of faith.