The Description of Faith
Intangibles are best understood by their effects and influences. Think of the excesses of verbosity and imagination that modern “song”-writers have gone to, in their efforts to describe “love”, or at least their insipid counterfeit of it. When it comes to things not only intangible, but also spiritual, the difficulties of description are multiplied.
The only safe way is to keep our thinking within the bounds of the Word of God.
The Lord Jesus has given us words that can help us in our appreciation of what faith is like. He said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall be done” (Matt. 17:20). For characteristics of the mustard seed we can also go to the words of the Master (13:31, 32). There, happily alliterated for us by the translators, are three words which give us a clue to the illustration of faith. These words are, “Grain,” “Grown” and “Greatest.” By this we see the dimension of faith, the potential of faith and the power of faith.
Faith as a grain of mustard seed? How often is this phrase used, by some with frantic hope that “this much” faith on their part will accomplish their ends. It is used by others to describe just how tiny their “faith” really is. Now how does the Lord really measure faith? Certainly not as we do. He said to a woman long ago “great is thy faith” when she had expressed her heart by saying “… the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” To Peter after having stepped out of a ship on to the heaving waters of a stormy sea, and beginning to sink, he heard Jesus say, when safely back in the ship, “O ye of LITTLE faith…” Then to those frantic few in the ship that night He had slept in the storm, He asked, “How is it that ye have NO Faith?”
Our evaluation of faith have been quite different. Yet the striking thing in each case, whether it was “great” faith, “little” faith or “no” faith, is that He met their need anyway, apart from the measure of faith exercised. This further weighs the evidence that as was stated previously, faith may have more to do with peace than power, and with rejoicing rather than results, with attitudes of heart than answers to prayer.
“Grown” is the next word relating to the seed and illustrates for us, the potential of faith. Here perhaps is where we need a slight adjustment in our use of the word “as” in the description of faith. Now if the Lord had wanted to convey the idea of the size of faith, He could have said, “Faith as a grain of sand,” but a grain of sand will always be a grain of sand, even diminishing in size by the abrasive effects of time. But it is not size at all He is talking about; but potential. He is not referring to a grit of faith, but to the growth of faith. One mustard seed becomes one mustard plant, one mustard plant bears thousands of seeds, these can produce thousands of plants and so on, ad infinitum.
A word of caution might be fitting here. A grain of mustard seed left in a jar on the shelf is as good as no seed at all. It must be brought into contact with the life-giving trinity of earth, water and sunshine, to be brought to full fruition. So with faith, it must be brought into proper relationship with the life-giving Trinity of God. Faith misplaced is barren. Faith in the Bible-sense is always faith in God.
Now, how does this faith grow? There are at least three ways by which faith grows. It grows as a fruit of the Spirit-Led life. “The fruit of the Spirit is… faith” (Gal. 5:22). Of the Thessalonian saints, Paul could say, “Your faith groweth exceedingly (out of all bounds).” Faith grows as a result of the Spirit-fed life, fed by the Word of God. Romans 10:17 gives this to us, “So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Faith grows as a value of the Spirit-purged life. 1 Peter 1:7 reads, “…the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ…”
We must believe that there are values for which we have no equipment on earth to measure. This is echoed in the bewildering experience of life, especially in the lives of the Godly and of the simple believer seeking to please his God to the best of his understanding, yet finding himself in the midst of bewildering circumstances and asking questions he knows have no answer down here. Those weary sighings, those frightening questions, those impossible situations and seemingly insurmountable problems must wait for the reason to be “found”, and it will be, “unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
The word “Greatest” describing the full fruition of the mustard seed, gives us an inkling as to the power of faith.
The Scriptures are replete and history abounds with proof of this and the best commentary on the power of faith is to read of them for ourselves. Abraham and Moses; the Elijahs and the Daniels, the Peters and the Pauls. In modern times, the faith of George Muller and others in their Great God, stirs the heart of every true believer. It is faith and it’s evidences in the lives of God’s people that can challenge the slaves of materialism and puzzle the disciples of religionism. The faith that works, whether as the distiller of the peace of God in the soul in an agitated world or as the effective agent in portraying the life of God in an evil society, is the great essential for a life that pleases God.
Faith is the keystone that keeps the forces in our life in balance. It is the anchor that grips the Rock. It is the great shield of defense in time of attack. It was the one thing for which the Lord prayed for Peter when the disciple was under the shattering blows and thunderous shocks of Satanic attack, that his “faith fail not.”
So it is today, with silken words to some and shattering sorrows to others, Satan continues his diabolical warfare on God’s beloved people. It behoves us all to have a clear appreciation of the nature and the character of faith and by diligence to add to our faith, seeking to walk humbly with our God that we may be preserved in the evil day and that our faith fail not.