READ : Romans 10:17
Some years ago, a young man came up to me and said, “I’d like to believe in God and have faith in Christ but I just can’t seem to.” Well, if that’s your struggle today, then listen on.
FAITH – OUR GREAT NEED
This message is about faith – real faith, the kind of which the Bible speaks. For Jesus and his apostles, this genuine faith often seems to be “the one thing needful.”
Listen to what Jesus said would be possible for those who believe:
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 will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.”
Mark 11:23-24, RSV
All things are possible to the one who believes. Think of that – everything possible for those who have faith.
It often happened when Jesus performed a healing miracle that he made mention of the restored person’s faith. Remember words like these, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well”? (Mt. 9:22). Or “Go, be it done for you as you have believed”? (Mt. 8:13). Once, when Jesus saw the faith of four men who had brought a paralytic into his presence, he said to the one they helped, “Man, your sins are forgiven” (Mk. 2:5).
On the contrary, where faith was not present, these things didn’t happen, at least not in the same way. Matthew notes that in Jesus’ hometown, “He did not do many mighty works because of their unbelief” (Mt. 13:58). Mark makes it even stronger, “He could do no mighty works there” (Mk. 6:5). What a difference it makes in our country and in our lives whether or not we have faith!
The one phenomenon that seemed to take Jesus by surprise was this: the presence or absence of faith. When he found it in unlikely people like a Roman soldier or a Syrophenician woman, he would say to those who followed him, “Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Mt. 8:10). He was so amazed at the Gentile woman’s response to him that he cried out, “Oh, woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mt. 15:28). But when faith was lacking, as it often was among his own countrymen, the gospel writers tell us that he “marveled because of their unbelief” (Mk. 6:6). He sometimes chided the disciples that their faith seemed so weak. “Oh, man of little faith,” he said to Peter, “Why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:3). And to all the disciples, “Why are you afraid, oh men of little faith?” (Mk. 4:40; Mt. 8:26) Or “Where is your faith?”(Lk. 8:25).
If you were to sum up a great deal of what Jesus taught, of what he labored to impress on his followers, you could put it in this brief charge of his, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22) or “Hold the faithfulness of God.” His central question to people again and again was, “Do you believe?” (Jn. 11:26). By the way, if he were to ask that of you today, what would you say? How might the Lord be surprised about you or me? Would he say with wonder, “Great is your faith”? Or would he rather wonder, “Where is it?”
The apostles carry on this same emphasis in their New Testament writings. They can’t say enough about the importance of faith and what it does. It’s by faith that we are justified before God, through faith that we are saved, in faith that we have peace with God. By faith we have access into God’s presence. By faith we become his children and rejoice in the hope of sharing his glory. By faith we endure difficulties and we do exploits. In fact, “this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4).
Faith, the apostles insist, is the chief thing God looks for in us. Without it we are double-minded people who can receive nothing from him. It’s faith that honors him, believing him to be true to his promises. So crucial to God is the role of faith that the writer to the Hebrews can say, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 12:6). But if we do have faith, God sees us as complete in his Son Jesus Christ. Nothing will ever be able to separate us from his love. What a marvelous thing it must be to have faith, to be a believer in God through Jesus Christ!
FAITH: GOD’S GIFT
Yet here is the mystery. Though faith is all-important, though it’s what we seem to need most, we cannot produce it. We cannot generate faith from within ourselves. We lack the power to make ourselves believe. Martin Luther, one of the greatest men of faith the world has known, confessed that strange truth about his own life, “I believe,” he said, “that I cannot believe without the work of God’s Spirit.” In that confession, Luther simply paraphrased the Apostle Paul who had written in his letter to the Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves [that is, not from within you], it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8). In other words, if you have faith today you have nothing to brag about. It’s not a feather in your cap, not a tribute to your will power or worthiness. It is in every sense a gift.
Everyone who truly believes is conscious, at least vaguely, of this strangeness. We come to God and yet somehow he has first come to us. We seek after him because he has been looking for us. We sing in the words of the great hymn, “I sought the Lord but afterward I knew, he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me. It was not I that found, O Savior true, No, I was found of Thee.”
“But where does that leave us?” someone objects. “You say that believing is so important, that we must believe, and then you tell us that we can’t. What kind of message is that?”
Well, the fact that faith is God’s gift ought to keep us looking in his direction for it. Do you remember that father who once brought his demon-possessed boy to Jesus? As he struggled to exercise faith, he prayed an honest, agonizing prayer, “Lord, I believe: help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24). He was saying, “I do believe, at least in part. I want to believe more fully. Yet I sense in myself resistance to genuine faith. Lord, help me!”
That’s what the disciples were asking when confronted with Jesus’ demand to keep on forgiving. They knew that such graciousness was far beyond them so they pleaded, “Lord, increase our faith” Luke 17:5).
FAITH: CREATED BY THE WORD
But is that all we can do, simply pray and wait? No, there’s something else that’s vital to remember: When we approach the question, “How can I have faith? How can I grow in faith?” we need to remember just how God works in us to produce it. Here’s a great text from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 10, verse 17, which gives us the clue. Listen, “Faith come from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the message of Christ.” What Paul is affirming here is a truth made clear throughout the Bible – faith is created in us by the Word of God.
The prophet Isaiah describes God’s Word in this way: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10-11). The Word of God, he says, is dynamically fruitful. It never fails to bring a harvest, and the chief fruit it produces is this living faith.
The Apostle Peter can describe the Word as a seed which brings new life. “You have been born anew,” he writes, “not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). The Word creates faith within our hearts so that we come into union with the risen Lord. James makes the same point when he says of God, “He brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfuits of his creatures.” God gives us a new birth through his Word when he awakens faith within our hearts.
If we ask, “What in the Word of God especially generates faith?” the answer is surely this: his promises. God’s commands instruct us. His warnings awaken us. The reminder of his past mercies stirs us to praise. But confidence builds supremely on what God has pledged himself to do for his people.
Think of this experience from the life of King David. The king decided one day that he would build a house for the Lord. He made known his intentions to the prophet Nathan. The next day, however, Nathan came back to the king with the announcement that David was not to build a house for the Lord. It was to be the other way around. God would build a house, that is, a progeny, a dynasty, for David. His descendants would long occupy his throne. When David heard that, he was humbled, moved to awe and gratitude. He prayed this prayer, “And now, Lord God, confirm forever the Word which Thou hast spoken concerning Thy servant and concerning his house and do as Thou hast spoken.” He’s asking the Lord, in other words, to fulfill his own Word. Then he adds this significant thought, “For Thou, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, has made this revelation to Thy servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house; therefore, Thy servant has found courage to pray this prayer to Thee’” (2 Sam. 7:25,27).
It was the Word that created faith. It was the promise that gave him courage. David could believe that God would certainly do this marvelous thing simply because he had said so. Faith was created; faith was nurtured; faith was encouraged by the Word of God’s promise.
I wish that all of us could see this clearly because it might transform our thinking about faith. Sometimes we look on faith as though it were a human achievement or a psychological technique. The line of thought runs like this. Let’s say I want something very much. I try desperately hard to believe that God will give it. Then, if I can pump up enough force of conviction within myself, maybe I can prevail on God to do what I ask. But that is really a man-centered view of things. Faith from that perspective is only a human ploy to manipulate God, to get him to do what we want.
But in the Bible, you see, faith begins with God. It’s because he reveals himself that we can know him, because he speaks that we can learn his will. It’s because God makes promises that we can know what to expect of him. Faith in the Bible means relying upon him to do what he has said. Oh, remember that!
Now look again at what Paul is saying in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the message of Christ.” How does a person become a believer? When he or she hears the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we send it out. The message of the gospel brings with it, remember, a marvelous promise. We learn that God has come to us in the person of his Son, that Jesus has died for our sins and been raised from death, and that God now offers in him forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal life to all who will believe. He promises to save to the uttermost all who come to him through Jesus. Now it’s when we hear that good news, when we become aware of that overwhelmingly wonderful promise of God, that we can exercise faith. We can say, “Yes, Lord, I believe your promise. I now receive Christ as my Savior. I now submit to him as my Lord, and I trust that for his sake you will pardon and receive me.” That is the faith of the New Testament, simple and grand.
Not only does faith begin that way; that’s how it increases also. The same word that awakens faith, builds it up. The more we focus on what God has promised to do for his people, the more our trust in him grows. If you want faith to be real in your experience, then, if you want it to develop and mature, expose yourself regularly to the Word of God. Find a congregation of believers in which the Word is faithfully preached and taught. But don’t stop at that. Read the Scriptures for yourself. Start with the book of Psalms and one of the Gospels. Listen daily to what God is saying to you in the Scriptures, asking the Spirit to guide you. Meditate on what you read. Memorize a key portion of it. Take God’s promises to heart, and you will find your heart filling up with faith.
Dwight L. Moody once told of what happened in his life when he read these words from Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Up to that time he had always been seeking more faith, praying that God would give him more. Then he learned from this text how it comes – from the Word. Moody said, “Then I started to study the Bible every day, and my faith has been growing ever since.” May that be our experience too!