|CHRISTIAN LIFE AND DOCTRINE||December 2010|
Increase Our Faith
“The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.”
AS THE END OF ANOTHER year approaches, it is appropriate that we examine the important subject of faith. The word faith appears 247 times in the King James version of the Bible. Perhaps surprisingly, all but two of these occurrences are in the New Testament, and of all the New Testament usages, 216 are after the Day of Pentecost. Only 29 times does the word appear in the gospel accounts, and in the Gospel of John the word faith does not appear at all. It is also interesting to note that nearly half of the New Testament uses of the word faith are in one of three books—Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. Thus, to gain a greater appreciation of this subject, one may turn to these three epistles of Paul as primary sources of information and understanding concerning faith.
Before turning to the New Testament, however, we wish to look at the Old Testament record. Though faith does not appear at first to be stressed in the Old Testament writings, yet the two references recorded show the importance God placed on it. The first usage were God’s words directed to the nation of Israel, chiding them for their lack of faith. “I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.” (Deut. 32:20) The other Old Testament reference to faith is in the writings of the prophets. “The just shall live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) The Apostle Paul comments on both of these scriptures in the New Testament. Although not a direct reference to the Deuteronomy scripture, Paul says that Israel did not attain righteousness “because they sought it not by faith.” (Rom. 9:32) The Habakkuk scripture Paul quotes directly three separate times in his writings—Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. We realize, then, that although the vast majority of the scriptural references to faith are in the New Testament, the basis of this important subject was founded much earlier.
KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING FAITH
At the outset of our lesson, we wish to list four key points concerning faith. First, since man’s creation, faith has been an absolute requirement for anyone to have a standing with God and to inherit his promises, whether earthly or heavenly. Second, the Mosaic Law did not stress faith, but works—the keeping of commandments and ceremonies. Third, those who were pleasing to God in Old Testament times—the Ancient Worthies—were acceptable to him not because they were able to keep the Law, but because of their faith. Fourth, to God’s people living after Pentecost, there is an inseparable link between faith and spirit begettal at the beginning of the Christian walk, as well as in the daily operation of the Holy Spirit and the progression of faith until the end of that walk. This last point helps us to realize how amazing was the faith of the Ancient Worthies. They did not have the begettal of the Holy Spirit, but yet had great faith.
The key to the faith in the Ancient Worthies was that it was a process, a development, not just a momentary belief. Faith to them became a way of life. It governed their whole outlook on the world they lived in and their place in it. Abraham, for example, looked for a city having real foundations, built by God, having faith that God had a plan for something in the future that would be a better arrangement for him and the rest of the world than the fallen conditions which existed in his day. (Heb. 11:10) Similarly, for the child of God now, the development of faith is also a process. Faith at the time of the begettal of the Holy Spirit is required in a measure, but it is then undeveloped and untested, only at a starting point. The development of faith begins at consecration and spirit begettal, but does not end until death and spirit birth. True faith is not saying we are ‘saved’ or ‘born again,’ then forgetting about it, and believing somehow that makes us a Christian. On the contrary, it is faith and its development and progression after spirit begettal which is the key to being a true Christian. As Paul states, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. … For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16,17) The New International Version translates the last part of this verse, “righteousness that is by faith from first to last.” In other words, living by faith and going ‘from faith to faith’ is an ongoing process throughout our life, not merely a momentary belief.
FAITH STILL NECESSARY
The question might be asked, ‘do we still need faith?’ After all, we have more knowledge of God’s plan of salvation now than at any previous time. Many Bible prophecies have been fulfilled or are in process of fulfillment. We have today a seemingly endless supply of Bible helps and related material. Perhaps faith is not as vital today as it once was. Jesus, pointing forward to our day, asked a related question, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Although he did not answer the question directly, Jesus implied by his words that faith would indeed still be needed in our day, and additionally that he would not find it in abundance. This fact, itself, should help us realize the great importance of faith in our time—there is so little of it left in the earth. Although we do see more clearly God’s great plan of salvation than at any other previous time, this should not in any way discount the need for faith. In fact, the more things we see and know, the more we should realize how much we still do not know, or understand fully, and that is where faith comes into the picture.
For example, Abraham saw and knew certain things even in his day. He knew that God could perform miracles, such as the birth of a son when he and Sarah were beyond childbearing years. Abraham also knew that God could deliver from the dead, as evidenced by his intervention in the sacrifice of Isaac. These things Abraham saw and appreciated with his literal eyes. Beyond this, though, he saw with the eye of faith a time in the future when, through a seed, all families of the earth would be blessed. He did not know how or when it would come about, but had faith that it would come to pass. We today also see many things, but not all is fully known yet. We see the time of trouble going on about us, but many of the details of the portions yet future we do not know. We see and appreciate the fact that the numbers of the body of Christ on this side of the veil are diminishing, but we do not know the day or the hour that the last member will enter into glory. These, and other things, we see partially, but have faith that they all will be brought to completion according to God’s arrangement.
It is safe to say that we will need more faith as we prepare to enter 2011 than Abraham needed in his day, more than the Early Church needed, more than the saints who lived at the beginning of the harvest needed, and more than we ourselves needed in the year past. A full measure and development of faith, according to the circumstances and experiences of the Lord’s people living at each point in time, is needed in order to be found fully pleasing to God.
TWO PARTS OF FAITH—SUBSTANCE AND EVIDENCE
Some elements of the Christian’s development are not specifically defined in the Scriptures, but faith is. Paul gives us its definition, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) We notice here that faith is not the ‘things hoped for,’ nor is it the ‘things not seen.’ It is, rather, the ‘substance’ and ‘evidence’ of these things. That which we hope for is the fulfillment of God’s plan, not only for his church, but in due time for the entire world. Faith, Paul says, is the substance of what we hope for. The word substance here means ‘a setting under, support.’ The support, or substance, of our hope is the Word of God, the Bible. It is this foundation of truth which provides us the substance of our hope. Paul speaks of it this way, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.”—Heb. 6:19
The second aspect of faith, according to Paul, is the evidence of things not seen. Those things which we do not see, generally speaking, are those which lie in the future, whether it be tomorrow, next week, next year, or many years hence. In all of these cases, we do not know the specific experiences in our life which will come to pass. The word evidence signifies ‘a proof or proving.’ The proof of what lies in the future, as it relates to faith, is shown by God’s performance in the past. In other words, we can look back on our experiences and on those of mankind in general and see that God has performed flawlessly up to this very moment and has executed every minute detail of his plan perfectly. Herein lies the proof that assures us concerning those things ahead of us which we do not see. Because of the evidence of God’s past performance, that which we can see, we now have faith in the future execution of his plan, that which we cannot fully see.
The two aspects of faith—substance and evidence—can also be viewed in connection with God’s performance. The substance part of faith we might refer to as ‘the faith’—the truth of God’s plan and its fulfillment. The evidence aspect of faith we could refer to as ‘our faith’—the experiences of life that have been, are now, and will be in the future, overruled in conjunction with God’s arrangements for each one of his people, knowing that he will perfectly execute in all things in the future, just as he has in the past. Two types of experiences help us develop this two-part faith structure. First, we have learning experiences. These help us develop the substance aspect of faith. Such experiences might include things like personal study, attending various meetings and conventions, personal meditation and prayer, and fellowship with the brethren. The evidence aspect of faith might be said to be developed by application experiences. These would include experiences such as dealing with the world, the job, going through various trials and testings, our responses to these experiences, how we respond to the world’s experiences, and how we deal with the uncertainties of life. Through both learning and application experiences our faith must grow, develop, and increase as we walk in the narrow way.
INCREASING OUR FAITH
In our scripture text at the beginning of this lesson, the disciples made a request that Jesus increase their faith. He did not grant this request, nor did he even give a definitive response, but rather stated what increased faith could accomplish. “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” (Luke 17:6) A similar statement is recorded in Matthew’s gospel, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matt. 17:20) In both these statements we notice that increased faith has to do with the accomplishment of things not possible to a human being—illustrated by such things as moving a tree or a mountain simply by speaking to them. To further emphasize these seemingly impossible feats, he likens such faith to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. (Mark 4:31) Jesus, in fact, is stating that if we have faith represented by something even as small as a grain of mustard seed, humanly impossible things could be done.
Increasing our faith, then, has to do with knowing and having confidence that God can do things not possible by human power, whether directly related to us, or to the fulfillment of his plan in general. Jesus did not grant this request to the disciples because he knew that such increases in faith would come about through experience, and over a period of time, not by a miracle on his part or any immediate action he could take. Increased faith came to the disciples—and comes to us also—by knowing more about God, his plan, his truth, the substance of our hopes, and by appreciating more and more his leading, the evidence we have to meet the future unseen experiences of life.
LITTLE FAITH AND GREAT FAITH
If faith is to increase, it must mean that we sometimes do not possess it as fully as we should. This was also true of our Lord’s disciples at his first advent. On four separate occasions Jesus told them they were “of little faith.” (Matt. 6:26-30; 8:25-26; 14:28-32; 16:5-10) Space does not permit elaboration in detail of these scriptures, except to summarize the problems which inhibited the disciples’ faith. In these accounts, faith was lacking due to:
1. Anxiety over current and future temporal needs, including those which may not even come to pass.
2. Fear during the storms of life which come upon God’s children from time to time.
3. Inability to maintain trust and confidence in those experiences which are completely beyond fleshly control.
4. Fleshly reasoning, in particular the forgetting of how the Lord has guided past experiences.
The solutions to these examples of the disciples’ lack of faith are: replacing anxiety over temporal things with the seeking of spiritual things; remembering that the Lord controls the storms of life which come upon us and will make them calm not a moment later than he sees it best for our spiritual development; developing continuance and constancy in our experiences, realizing that the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us; and calling to mind the evidence we have of God’s perfect performance in all the past experiences of our life. All of these remedies will increase our faith.
The Scriptures contain many wonderful examples of faith. Most notable is the account in Hebrews 11 of the many faithful ones of old. These not only had faith, but their faith increased as their life progressed, even unto death. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13) We too, must die in faith, knowing that only then will we, if faithful, receive our promised inheritance. We are also pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and our citizenship is in heaven. We have given up earthly claims and privileges and seek a “better country.”—Heb. 11:16
GOALS FOR THE NEW YEAR
As we close out 2010 and enter into a new year, it is imperative that we remember the great importance of progressing and increasing in our faith structure. To that end, let us make the following resolves for 2011:
1. Be active for the Lord, the Truth, and the brethren. Work hard in all these areas, knowing that an active Christian life is one of the keys to increased faith.
2. Keep the focus of our meditation on the Word of God and those helps which we have during the harvest of this present Gospel Age. The study of God’s Word can never have any other impact than to increase the substance of our faith structure.
3. Do not get caught up in or be anxious about the world’s myriad problems, nor their solution. Only Christ’s kingdom will do this. If the world’s problems seem to take us away from the Word of God, or the peace of God, then perhaps it is time to turn off the television or radio, get away from the constant bombardment of news via electronic media, and stay away from those things written by man’s human reasoning which propose unworkable solutions. Remember that God has all things under his control and we need not worry.
4. Do continue to watch, remembering that there is a difference between watching and being caught up and anxious about things going on in the world. A watcher in the watchtower is ‘above the fray,’ not fighting in the battles of this world, but watching to see God’s power as it is used to defeat his enemies. Watch to see the unfolding and fulfillment of prophecy. This will also increase our faith.
5. Be happy and rejoice. Be positive about your life in the Lord, be positive about your fellow brethren, be positive and firm in the Truth, and be positive about the glorious outcome of God’s plan. View all of life’s experiences through the prism of God’s great plan of salvation, and the result will be increased faith.
Faith must guide us to our last breath. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10) For any of us, this might be today, tomorrow, next month, next year, or many years from now. Regardless, however, of our life’s remaining days, faith will always be necessary. With developed and increased faith, it does not matter how long or how short our life may be, nor what happens along the way, because we will be fully equipped, spiritually, to be victorious. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”—I John 5:4
“You must never forget those past days when you had received the light and went through such a great and painful struggle. It was partly because everyone’s eye was on you as you endured harsh words and hard experiences, partly because you threw in your lot with those who suffered much the same. You sympathised with those who were put in prison and you were cheerful when your own goods were confiscated, for you knew that you had a much more solid and lasting treasure in Heaven. Don’t throw away your trust now—it carries with it a rich reward in the world to come. Patient endurance is what you need if, after doing God’s will, you are to receive what he has promised. ‘For yet a little while, and he who is coming shall come and shall not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him’. Surely we are not going to be men who cower back, … but men who maintain [increase] their faith until the salvation of their souls is complete!”—Heb. 10:32-39, J. B. Phillips