Thursday, June 20, 2019 -
A friend sent me a note this week that said, “Perhaps though, you may have wise insight for me on a topic. I’ve heard lots of Christians bemoan (and use as an excuse) that God didn’t give them enough faith.
“But, sir, the Word says we have like faith and the (same) measure of faith as Jesus. God is not a ‘respecter of persons’ so I never even thought He would play favorites in giving some people more faith and abilities at conversion, than others.
“He loves us all, so I’d always figured God gives each of us the same amount of His Spirit at salvation. Now, granted, it’s up to each of us to exercise our faith so that it will give us strength (like we treat a lazy muscle). But, even ‘babes in Christ’ are ‘born again’ with the same amount/number of His gift of spiritual muscles.
“God’s calling is different but His abilities are in us to borrow and use to His glory.
“Can you explain this a bit more clearly? What I’m saying does not seem to make sense in the minds of newer believers. We all have ‘one faith,’ yet are to do our part to increase its power. God is the transmitter, we are the receivers!”
ANSWER: I am honored that you would look to me for an answer. I feel very unworthy to do so as I am no expert in this regard, but here is the way I see it. First, you provided 15 different Scriptures, which I examined, but I did not see one that says, “we have like faith and the (same) measure of faith as Jesus.” I could have missed it, but I believe the main Scripture you are referring to is, in fact, Romans 12:3, which says, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man a measure of faith.” The word used here for “measure” is the Greek word métron, which means a portion measured off or allotted. He would not have used this word if our faith were all equal. As always, we must look at the context of the text, and therefore the overall purpose of the statement. Here Paul was writing to the young believers in Rome about the lifelong transformation a believer goes through once they repent and accept Christ’s atonement for their sin. It indeed does require some degree of faith for a person to recognize the fact that Jesus atoned for their sins. In this context, the word pístis (faith) seems to imply knowledge or understating of the Christian faith. One must have this “measure of faith” to come to a point of salvation. Throughout my life, with the exception of my high school and some of my college years, many decades ago, I’ve always been surrounded by Christians, I regret to say. But this truth has now been revealed to me very clearly here in prison. Many unsaved know the truth – they have this “faith.” Even Satan and his demons possess knowledge of it. Yet that does not mean that they are saved. So many believe the truth, yet refuse to repent and fully surrender their lives to Christ. This describes a good percentage of the men here. Many, in fact, think they are saved, but have no true relationship with Christ. This is what Romans 12 is all about, being transformed by the renewing of our mind. In verses 9-21, Paul provides evidence of this transformation a believer goes through (listen to my message on Romans 12 called “The Marks of a True Christian” on YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBZd5VX_ee0).
The other context implied here is that of the various and diverse functions of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8). The analogy is that of the human body, where each part (yes, some more important than others) provides an essential role. The word métron, or measure, is not used many times in the New Testament, but in Ephesians 4:16 Paul uses it in exactly this same context, which many translations miss. Here, the King James’ translation is best, “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure (métron) of every part, making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Here again, the implication of the very nature of the word is that the amount does indeed vary.
However, when reading the words of Christ in Matthew, He leaves no doubt there are varying degrees of faith when one comes to believe in Christ. Take, for example, Christ’s reaction to the faith of the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:10-13, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such GREAT FAITH with anyone in Israel. And I say to you, that many shall come from East and West, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven; but the sons of the Kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness; in that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed.”
Here, Jesus is comparing the enormous level (amount) of faith that this gentile had compared to ANY Jew. From my reading of this Scripture, this would include Jesus’ own disciples, who He called of “little faith” in Matthew 17:20. The Greek word faith, or pístis, literally means to win over or persuade. It subjectively means firm persuasion, conviction, belief in the truth, or veracity. It objectively means that which is believed, doctrine, the received articles of faith. So there are subtle differences in the meaning of the word depending on its contextual usage.
In other words, one must already have a degree of faith, or persuasion, or conviction, of the truth of the Gospel in order to believe that Christ’s blood can indeed cleanse them of their sin (see Philippians 3:9). It is the ability of a sinner to believe. Clearly, over and over again, Jesus Himself, and other Scriptures, speak of various levels or degrees of faith, and in fact, Paul, in Hebrews 11:1 defines it as “the substance (assurance) of things hoped for, the evidence (conviction) of things not seen,” and says in II Corinthians 5:7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 is filled with examples of Old Testament characters of those saved because of their great faith in God, who looked forward to the redemption of Christ for their sin. Indeed, it is in regard to Abraham that Paul says, “grow strong in faith” (Romans 4:20). In Luke 17:5, the Lord’s disciples asked for an “increase” in their faith. Paul speaks of having “all faith, so as to move mountains” in I Corinthians 13:2. So absolutely, I agree that our faith can grow deeper and to degrees of greater trust in the sovereignty of God over every aspect of our lives, as we mature in Christ and surrender our lives more fully and completely over to Him, regardless (or in spite of) our circumstances. For this reason, Paul brought his message to the Corinthians, “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:4-5). This power to grow in faith comes through the power Jesus has given us through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), and we should never be complacent with our own spirituality or maturity. For our transformation, or sanctification, never ends until we see Christ, “from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13). In Philippians 1:6 Paul tells the Philippians, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). This perfection Paul is speaking of is the final, complete transformation, or sanctification, of our lives as a true believer that is a life-long process (Romans 12:2), culminating with our glorious uniting with Christ in glory.
And so, if one’s faith is not growing, something’s wrong. Increased faith is part of this transformation, or sanctification, process. As in my own life, trials, temptations, sufferings will come. Yet in faith, we mustn’t question or doubt God’s sovereignty. Look at the examples in Hebrews 11 and compare them with your own trials and tribulations! Noah was told to build an ark at a time when mankind had yet to see a drop of rain. Abraham was told to sacrifice his son through whom God had promised would number as many as the stars in heaven. Joseph was abandoned, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for years, but God had a sovereign purpose in all of it, and Joseph told his brothers so! Moses spent 40 years hiding in the wilderness and believed in God to rescues His people against all human odds! Look at Daniel, who rather than denying God, chose instead the lion’s den! The last two verses of Hebrews 11 says, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” These verses are referring to those who gave up their lives for Christ. And so, when things don’t go as we expect them to go, even though we believe our faith to be strong, there is a reason and a purpose. I think of my own imprisonment. Who am I to second guess God’s sovereignty? Yet I know He has a purpose. This experience could have caused my faith to decrease or increase. The choice was mine. I had the choice to surrender my life and circumstances to Christ in faith or to turn the other direction and walk away from Him, feeling dejected and abandoned by Him. It was my choice. God used my circumstances to either grow my faith through my own submission and obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit or rebel because I did not get my own way (selfishness). God did not give me a greater faith, I chose it myself by choosing to trust Him through the power in me, even in these dire and fearful circumstances. The degree of faith one has is up to us, not God. Otherwise, Christ would not have commanded people for greater faith than others, nor would have Paul.
I am no theologian or expert and have a long way to grow in my own faith, but these are my observations.