Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Much Faith Do You Have?

"How Much Faith Do You Have?"
The only way to answer the question is to find a way to quantify faith. What measure do we use? Is there anywhere in the Bible that gives us a scale to use? Is there anywhere in the Bible that talks about the amount of faith that we have?

The Bible does indeed talk about the amount of faith that we have. Jesus frequently referred to people, especially the disciples, of having little faith. If they had the faith of a mustard seed, which obviously refers to very little faith, they would be able to tell a mountain to go into the sea (Matt 17:20). They must not have had even that much faith for Peter, who exhibited more faith than the rest, had only enough faith to walk on water for a short period of time (Matthew 14:22-33). Paul told the Romans that God gives us a measure of faith (Rom 112:3) and the Corinthians that the Spirit gives some special gift of faith to some (1 Cor 12:9).

With all this talk about how much faith we have, is there a specific measure that we are given by which we can judge faith? Jesus mentioned a mustard seed, but I guess the only way we can determine if we have that much faith is if we move a mountain into the sea. I guess someone in the United Arab Emirates has that much faith because they have moved mountains of soil into the sea to create large islands in various shapes. Is this really what Jesus meant? Really? Since I don’t see anyone else doing this, how are we to measure faith that is less than a mustard seed?

Since the measure of faith that we have comes from God, as I have already pointed out, should we be concerned with how much faith we have? We couldn’t possibly get any more than what God has given, could we? That question, however, misses the same point that many people have regarding Reformed theology when they ask things like, “What’s the use of evangelizing if God is going to save people anyway?” The answer to both questions is that not only does God ordain the ends, but he also ordains the means.

In other words, there is a divine purpose behind the struggle. There is a divine purpose behind the need to evangelize. Just as Christ came not only to save, but to reveal the Father even in salvation, the purpose of the Body of Christ is to bear the sins of the world by proclaiming Christ as the answer to sin even as we suffer for doing so. In all of this process, we reveal God as Christ did when he was here. That’s why God spoke of Paul that he would show him how much he must suffer for his name’s sake (Acts 9:16).

We may claim the promises of God and be certain that he will fulfill those promises. That includes suffering. But I have heard people say that we may experience miraculous healing if only we had enough faith. They say that we must pray believing that God will heal. The problem is that God never promised that. It is true that God can heal. But there is a difference between God being able to heal and God desiring to heal. We may pray, but we will only receive anything according to God’s will.

And so Paul instructs us as he instructed the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31). But he also said that we will not all receive them (1 Cor 12:27-30). It is in the desiring that we can learn the next lesson, a more excellent way (1 Cor 13). For desiring the higher gifts in faith must be done with a desire to serve for the greatest gifts are the gifts of the lowest servants in the Body of Christ. Many desire those gifts because they desire to be served as leaders. But no gift of God is effective in revealing God without exhibiting love sacrificially.

Therein is the measure of faith, not that we believe so strongly that God gives us the desires of God so that we may be glorified. But the measure of faith is not quantifiable as such. The measure of faith is in the demonstration of love, not that we have any great emotional outpouring, but that we are willing to sacrifice our wants and needs for the needs of someone else.

Therefore, faith is demonstrable. It is no mere assent to something true, although that is necessary. But James instructs us drawing a delineation between mere assent and the demonstration of faith (James 2:19ff). A mere quantum faith is necessary only for salvation, but a faith demonstrated is necessary to be sanctified, made holy, set apart for God.

Therefore, have great faith, but count the mighty power of God as far greater than any strength you can must of yourself. That is the foundation for faith and the growth of faith is the practice of sacrifice in love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Faith is Epistemic

“Faith is epistemic.”

So I said at a recent introductory meeting for a men’s theological reading group at my church. As simple a statement as it is, to fully expound on it would take more time than our brief hour warranted with much more ground to cover than just the idea that we require faith to understand theology (and that theology likewise informs our faith).

Even secularists can understand the role of faith in epistemology 1. (Although the author is a Christian, his article is published by Princeton.) That is, a faith in the continuity of the universe and our perceptions that is experiential at best is necessary for apprehending empirical data. Read the article for details.

Paul Manata explored a similar model 2 with regard to the Christian Faith a few years earlier.

My previous article likewise discussed the nature of faith as being informed, rather than by the notion proliferating in the popular philosophy of these days: “blind faith”.

The model of epistemological faith that these articles discuss is the need for an apologetic of one’s epistemology that necessarily requires a modicum of faith. But the need for faith is also required to understand information that has already been apprehended.

I discussed many of the principles I have discovered in a couple of series of articles within the past few months that can be found in the following articles:

Understanding the Bible

Glorifying God: Leveling the Theological Battlefield
Examples of this principle:
I won’t rehash the discussions here, but if you are interested in how faith is necessary to know God and understand him better, the articles referenced here may serve a good primer.

In the future I plan to discuss more in depth the formation of faith by knowledge obtained by faith. however, that discussion will be part of a much larger series investigating an apologetic for Biblical hermeneutics.

For now, I will only offer an example as to how faith is both informed by and informs our knowledge of God.

My wife is leaving next week for a trip to Uganda and Kenya to help with a Christian mission as well as visit some friends from our church who are currently serving in Kenya. She approached me last month with the sense that she should go against all other considerations. I'm wary about such subjective "leading of the Holy Spirit", but I'm also quickly supportive of any desire to go and serve given spiritual fitness and giftedness to do so. Without any support up front, we took savings money and purchased tickets. My wife sent out a support letter expressing her need for expense monies. Enough came in that the money we took out of our savings account was reimbursed and all trip expenses are virtually covered. Such it is that we glorify God in faith exalting him for his provision to do his work.

When we were first married, I planned to continue in school such as to finish a degree. Degrees have a way of opening doors and my intention to go into some sort of ministry was the driving factor. However, no jobs were available where the school was and I was subsequently resigned to find a job in our hometown where I work to this day. God didn't provide what we needed for us to live in such a way that I could continue my direction. Should I say that God is not faithful? No. Rather, my faith informs me that God provided for me not to continue my formal education. Although I continue to study on my own, I realize that God has no apparent use for me in this way. My faith, therefore, is not in God fulfilling my desire, but in my seeking to fulfill God's desire. I can understand that Paul's admonishment to "earnestly seek the higher gifts" is not a promise that we will recieve those gifts.

And so in either case, God is glorified. We are not. God is revealed. We are not. God's purposes come to fruition. Our purposes must be changed to agree with his. This is the foundation of Christian epistemology. This is how we know God.


1. Park, Joung. "The Role of Faith in Epistemology." Revisions. Princeton, 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2014.
2. Manata, Paul. "The Epistemology of Faith." The Epistemology of Faith. Triablogue, 30 Aug. 2007. Web. 22 Jan. 2014.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do You Know Enough to Trust?

Listening to this week’s Stand to Reason’s radio program, Greg Koukl discussed how to build faith with a caller. His answer was that Christian faith is based on the knowledge of God in such a way that results in our action of trust. It’s a definition similar to that which I have long held.

I’ve had passionate discussions with Christians who believe that faith is blind. It’s a common understanding of faith that has been given not by the Bible, but by popular secular philosophy. However, that doesn’t stop people from invoking a poorly understood verse in defense of blind faith:

…for we walk in faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Most people correctly understand “sight” to refer to knowledge. So they believe that this verse teaches that faith is held over and against any kind of knowledge. But if you read the surrounding passages, you understand that this is not what this passage is teaching.

The definition of faith that such a false understanding begs is a belief in something that one cannot know for certain to be true. A phrase commonly used to invoke this kind of definition is "You just have to take it on faith.” The implication is that someone assumes something is true without any evidence. This is not Christian faith.

Look at the verses surrounding 2 Cor. 5:7:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
(2 Corinthians 5:1-10, ESV)

I have highlighted the word “know” as used in the passage above. “Faith” in this passage clearly involves knowing for certain something about our relationship with God. But that faith is held over and against “sight” is that there are clearly some things we don’t know. Greg Koukl used the example of giving someone a ride who didn’t know where they were going. If you don’t know the person, you don’t know if they are safe or not. But if you know the person, you have a basis on trusting them for the things you don’t know.

So it is that God gives us enough knowledge about himself and keeps enough knowledge from us so that we will need to put our trust in him. So faith is based on certain knowledge.

What unbelievers often point out is that we can’t know these things to be true although the Bible says we can. The fact of the matter is that we actually do have evidence and unbelievers typically dismiss it because that evidence demands that we trust in God. So the knowledge that God has given to inform our faith also demands our trust in him.

So if the knowledge of God is given freely to all people, what makes some people trust God and others not trust God?

I occasionally like to watch Property Brothers. These twin brothers work together to help people find and fix up the home they are looking for. One brother is a real estate agent; the other is a licensed contractor. The other night I watched an episode where the lady they were trying to help kept interfering in their efforts to help her by trying to micromanage them. She is, as we often call such people, a “control freak”. Her problem, as with all control freaks, is that she lacks the ability to trust. Only when they begged her to trust them and she actually stayed out of their hair could they actually get things done and provide the house that she was hoping for.

[This, by the way, is why I despise control freaks. They often vie for leadership positions but fail to engender trust among the teams they end up leading. Control freaks live in fear and pass that fear on to those who work for them.]

People who don’t trust God are essentially control freaks over their own lives. The lady on Property Brothers knew enough to trust that the brothers knew what they were doing. But she didn’t trust because she didn’t know what they knew. Knowing enough is not enough for control freaks.

Trust demands action, or rather the type of action that enables those we must trust to accomplish what they have been equipped to accomplish. God is well equipped to give us eternal lives, especially such as entails new bodies in the resurrection. Was raising Jesus Christ from the dead not enough evidence?

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the grave to warn his brothers about the torment that awaited them after their death so that they would be moved to trust. Abraham replied that they should listen to Moses and the Prophets. If they didn’t trust Moses and the Prophets, they wouldn’t listen to someone who even rose from the dead.

The answer is hinted at in the passage in Corinthians above:

...we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

We love the Lord, and desire to be with him. Therefore, we are open to the evidence and testimony that has been delivered to us over the millennia. We are therefore willing to lay down our lives trusting in his work and promises.

But our faith in him also grows as we practice by trusting our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. We have each been equipped to serve the body in the proclamation of the gospel and presentation of the knowledge that has been handed down that informs our faith. But we need to trust those who are equipped in ways that we are not. So we get to practice trusting each other and thereby grow in faith in Christ.

Are you a control freak, or are you capable of trusting others? How will you trust Christ if you don’t trust those who he has provided to work with you? Do you have enough knowledge to relinquish the need to know what is outside your ability? No blind faith is required, but we indeed have enough knowledge to trust and our eternal lives depend on it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Don’t Waste Your Death

People from my church have known Pierre and Yolande Korkie from spending time with them in London. I had only the privilege of meeting Yolande who roomed next to me in the hostel where we stayed. I fondly remember waking to the sounds of Yolande and her South African companions singing praises to God early in the morning as their songs gently filtering through the thin wall between our rooms.

It was in those days that she shared with us her and Pierre’s intentions to move to Yemen to teach.

After they settled into their life in Yemen, their family was taken hostage by al-Qaeda militants. The children were released soon after their capture but Pierre and Yolande have been in captivity for several months now.

We rejoiced when we heard of Yolande’s release a few days ago. However, her release was so that she could raise money to pay the ransom for Pierre. The condition is that she had 8 days to raise $3 million dollars or he would be beheaded.

According to Yolande, their captors believe that the Korkies are rich Americans. She also says aside from holding them hostage, the al-Qaeda militants have been kind to her family. I suppose that remains to be determined whether they kill Pierre or not.

But aside from sharing this news to you, I want to make a broader point. From having met Yolande and hearing her words since her captivity, I believe her faith is as strong as ever in this dire situation. She remains, it would seem, the same woman I heard leading worship in that hostel in London. Though the threat of death looms large in her family, the promise of eternal life is far greater.

For those whose faith is in the temporary provisions of God in this fallen world, their faith would be threatened by such a situation as this. But for those whose faith is truly in Christ, their faith would be strengthened. Faith in Christ is the exchange of death for life, although it takes recognizing what death and life are.

Christ died to bear the punishment due for our sin and demonstrated the power of God over life and death by his subsequent resurrection. Faith in this necessarily entails trusting our lives to him in our death and receiving unending life in him. We may be moved to despair over events that surround the death of our broken bodies that each one of us faces.

We only have but a fleeting moment on this earth in comparison to eternity and we have a task to do while here. In carrying out that task, we must be willing to demonstrate our faith in our death if necessary. Pierre and Yolande laid down their lives for Christ long ago. Jim Elliot and his companions laid down their lives for Christ long before they landed on that beach in Huarani territory only to be killed immediately. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, and a few others ventured into Huarani territory thereafter and were able to win many to Christ, even those who killed her husband.

Now, I’m not saying that Yolanda should return to the al-Qaeda should they kill Pierre, although it is within the realm of possibilities. God will direct her on the best course of action. But it may be that if Pierre were killed in the next few days, that God could use his death to bring many in the al-Qaeda to faith in Christ.

The death of this temporary life is rightly fearful. It is a merciful instruction in the wrath of God allowing us to understand the seriousness of the eternal death that we face without Christ. So we mourn over the loss of loved ones. Nevertheless, we who have Christ can rejoice in that while these bodies may die, we will yet live.

And so, when we give our lives to Christ in faith, we also give our lives to the task of proclaiming the good news of Christ’s work and discipling people who come to faith. Too many who are short on faith pray and work in the name of Christ as though escaping death and threatening circumstances are the signs of our faith. In reality, we are already dead in these broken bodies. Though our bodies may cease to function, can we not plan on living boldly in such a way as to make the reality of the resurrection to come the sign of our faith? Therefore, even if we die proclaiming Christ, so shall we live.

I can still hear her voice echo from those early mornings in London praising God in her room filled with faithful South Africans. May many al-Qaeda come to faith because they heard the voice of Christ from the mouths of their captives.

Don’t waste your death. Praise God even to your last breath.