Tag Archives: faith

How Can I Know If My Faith Is Strong Enough?

When you doubt that your faith is strong enough for you to be a child of God, it’s a clear indication that you misunderstand the nature of faith. Faith in God doesn’t involve certainty, nor does it imply the absence of doubts. The Gospel of Mark makes this clear in the account of Jesus’ healing of a little boy possessed by evil spirits ( Mark 9:14-27 ). The father came asking for help in front of a multitude, including religious leaders. He told Jesus that he had asked His disciples to cast the demons from the child, but they were unable. Then he said:

If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us (v.22).

Jesus’ tested the father’s sincerity, saying:

“If you can” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes” (v.23).

The boy’s father didn’t claim that he had perfect faith, nor did he walk away in despair. He acknowledged his doubts (unbelief) at the same time that he passionately expressed his desire to believe:

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v.24).

This father’s faith passed Jesus’ test. Jesus didn’t condemn him for his doubts. Instead, He healed his son.

What a torment, what a terrible burden, to believe that faith must be perfect before God will respond to our need! If we believe that our faith must be perfect, we have established an unattainable goal and enslaved ourselves to a new form of works-salvation. Rather than basing our faith on God’s goodness and Christ’s completed work of love on our behalf, we base it on our own achievement-our own perfection.

People who think that their faith must be perfect before it will be acceptable to God ignore dozens of scriptural examples of people whose trust in God was imperfect, yet their faith was still accepted by Him. Here are just a few:

  • Moses ( Exodus 3:11; 4:1 )
  • Abraham ( Genesis 12:10-13; 15:1-5 )
  • Jacob ( Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-46 )
  • Elijah ( 1 Kings 19:4 )
  • Peter ( Matthew 14:28-31; 26:69-75 )
  • Thomas ( John 20:24-25 )
  • The disciples ( Matthew 26:56 ).

These examples show that it isn’t the perfection of our trust that matters, but the perfection of God’s love and forgiveness. Perfect faith will be ours only when the Holy Spirit has completed His work of sanctification within us.

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Isn’t a Lack of Deliverance from Sickness or Harm a Sign of Deficient Faith?

It would be a serious mistake to imply that deficient faith accounts for all instances in which a person does not receive healing or deliverance.

It’s true that Scripture tells of people who were healed or delivered from danger because of their faith. Some examples are Gideon ( Judges 7:15-23 ); Naaman the Syrian ( 2 Kings 5:14-15 ); Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego ( Daniel 3:19-29 ); the centurion’s servant ( Matthew 8:13 ); the woman with an issue of blood ( Matthew 9:20-22 ); the man with a withered hand ( Matthew 12:9-13 ); and Peter’s deliverance from prison ( Acts 12:5-12 ). Even this partial list is impressive.

Clearly, faith in God may result in healing and deliverance. However, the Scriptures also show us just as clearly that there are times when a believer’s suffering or sickness has nothing to do with a lack of faith.

When Job lost his family, wealth, and physical health, his friends “comforted” him with the message that his loss and suffering were due to his own moral failure (his lack of faith). But Job was confident in his integrity before God. God Himself had declared him perfect and upright ( Job 1:8 ). Later, God Himself denied the explanation that Job’s “counselors” gave for his suffering ( Job 13:1-15 ). Even more importantly, God Himself denounced their words ( Job 42:7-8 ).

Job’s faith wasn’t the problem. In fact, Job’s faith in God was so strong that he, without cursing or disrespect, defended his integrity to God and questioned Him about the injustice of his suffering. Yet, in the midst of his agony, he continued to trust:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation, for a hypocrite could not come before Him (Job 13:15-16).

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).

Job’s faith was eventually rewarded and vindicated. But he wasn’t spared the terrible suffering that allowed his faith to be tested and proven.

Even at a time when miracles often occurred, God allowed Stephen to be stoned ( Acts 7:59-60 ) and James to be beheaded. Although Acts 12 tells of Peter’s supernatural deliverance from captivity in prison, Jesus had already prophesied that he would eventually die a martyr’s death ( John 21:17-19 ), as (according to tradition) did all of the other disciples except John.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 Paul eloquently described the suffering and trials from which he hadn’t been delivered. He also suffered from a particular “thorn in the flesh” ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10 ) for which God had not provided a remedy. When Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment, Paul didn’t exhort him to have greater faith. Instead he told him to take some wine as medicine ( 1 Timothy 5:23 ). There isn’t the slightest hint in these passages that Paul’s trials and Timothy’s sickness were the product of unconfessed sin or deficient faith. In fact, rather than proclaiming that our faith in Christ should deliver us from the suffering and trials of this world, Paul extols the spiritual benefits of suffering.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance [produces] character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

James also made it clear that strong faith is no insurance against suffering:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

On the basis of Scripture, we can say that faith is always relevant to suffering. Our reaction to suffering — whether in faith or in despair — determines whether it will produce spiritual growth or despair. But because spiritual healing is more important to us than our physical circumstances, faith is not a barrier against suffering.

Whenever we are inclined to presume that the illness or suffering of another person is the result of that person’s sin, we should recall the foolishness of Job’s “counselors” in attempting to explain the mystery of God’s will. Although faith won’t always deliver us from tribulation, it will keep us conscious of God’s promises and of the assurance that He will work everything out to good of His children ( Romans 8:28 ).

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How Could Old Testament People Be Saved?

People have always been saved by their faith in God rather than by merit earned through good works ( Hebrews 11:6 ).

The Bible is clear that Abraham, father of the Jewish people, was saved by faith. The Scriptures say, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” ( Romans 4:3 ). Although Abraham didn’t know the exact way that God would one day provide a Savior, he made a profound statement about God’s ability to provide a substitute as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah ( Genesis 22:8 ).

The principle of salvation by faith continued under the Mosaic law. Because no one could perfectly satisfy the law’s demands, the law brought awareness of human sin and helplessness ( Romans 3:9-23; 7:7-14 ; Galatians 3:19-25 ). Its provisions for animal sacrifice were a further revelation of the seriousness and ugliness of sin. But the provision for sacrifice also pointed forward to Calvary and God’s provision of grace. David, who lived under the law 1,000 years before Christ, clearly knew the power of God’s grace, experiencing forgiveness and salvation through faith ( Psalm 32:1-5 ; Romans 4:6-8 ).

Faith in God always involved confidence that God would somehow provide for the forgiveness of sins. Faith always anticipated the coming of Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf. Old Testament believers offered sacrifices as an expression of their faith. By themselves, sacrificial offerings could never take away sin. When they were offered in faith, however, God accepted them because they pointed to Jesus Christ, the one sacrifice worthy to atone for all the sins of the world ( Hebrews 10:1-17 ).

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How Can Christians Claim that Their Faith Is Rational? 

Agnostics, atheists, and adherents of other religions often disparage the “contradictory” doctrines of the Christian faith as reason to reject it. They imply that a true religion or worldview would be free of such complications.

Christians agree that real contradictions imply real falsehood. A proposition cannot be true and not true at the same time. No worldview should be based on irrationalism. But statements that seem contradictory may not really be. Sometimes an apparent contradiction is merely an illusion of language. In other cases, ideas that seem contradictory on the surface assert a truth that we can’t fully understand given the present state of our knowledge. They represent a mystery that, while not irrational, permits analysis only to a certain point. They underscore the limitations—either temporary or permanent—of human thought. The word that is usually used to refer to such seeming contradictions is paradox.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines paradox as “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.” Regardless of one’s worldview, a number of basic paradoxes exist that no one has yet resolved. Let’s take a look at three of them.

Paradox one: freedom and determinism. 1 If we look at human behavior through the empirical eyes of science, it seems to be shaped by genetic and environmental influences. On the other hand, meaningful human experience and relationships depend on our freedom to choose, 2 as does our way of dealing with one another legally and morally in everyday life.

Paradox two: the “ghost in the machine” (dualism). What is the connection between mind and matter? When I consciously decide to take a physical action (stand, lift my arm, move my pen), what is the connection between my thoughts and the physical actions they command? The greatest philosophical and scientific thinkers have struggled with this problem for hundreds of years. So far they have failed to come up with a convincing model that explains how mind influences matter.

Paradox three: the “anthropic universe.” Scientists have observed that the universe is not only fantastically complex, but that it appears to have been designed specifically to permit the development of life and consciousness, even human self-consciousness—thus “anthropic.” The universe clearly seems to be designed by a Creator, yet no Creator imposes Himself upon us or makes His presence obvious. Just as the paradox of dualism acknowledges that my ability to “will” my arm to reach out and grasp the handle of a coffee cup is mystery, the paradox of the anthropic universe acknowledges that although it seems there must be a Creator, His identity and manner of interacting with the universe are unknown.

All of the so-called “contradictions” of Christian theology are reflections of these and other basic paradoxes of reality with which every thinking person must contend. Every worldview has to deal with the underlying paradoxes (or apparent contradictions) of human experience. Some do better than others.

Atheists, for instance, must live as though their lives and relationships are meaningful, while at the same time maintaining that the universe is a gigantic accident with no ultimate purpose.

Pantheists—including Hindus, New Agers, and neo-pagans—have a worldview that denies any ultimate distinction between good and evil. Still, like everyone else, they are faced with real moral decisions.

Honest, perceptive people don’t expect to find a worldview that contains no paradox or apparent contradiction. Instead, they look for a worldview that is most faithful to the laws of logic while maintaining fidelity to the depth, wonder, and mystery of reality.

At least two and a half millennia have passed since the book of Job was written, but its wisdom still rings true today:

The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:1-4).

  1. Dr. Bill Hodges, a remarkable American medical missionary in Haiti,was also a skilled amateur archeologist and philosopher. He summarized the paradox of determinism and free will this way:

    As any college student knows, the argument about freedom and determinism goes back many centuries. The Westerner has been mightily tempted to regard all freedom—as does the pagan—as an illusion. There really isn’t any. Whether the universe may be regarded as the capricious whims of the spirits, or as the meaningless inter-reaction of electrical charges, it would seem that there is only a senseless destiny in which man and his “will” are merely phenomena of the system. Strangely enough, however, all Western culture conceives of human freedom as real, and the social structures presuppose it . . . .

    Our institutions assume that the human being has a choice: He can obey the law, or he can commit a crime. Our philosophy, on the other hand, is inclined to the view that the crime itself was mediated by dozens of factors ranging from birth injuries to parental neglect,and that therefore the crime is only an inevitable consequence of those factors over which the criminal has no control. The historian, the anthropologist, or the biologist may trace the various meanderings of human history and believe that all events are mediated by a determinism . . . be it economic, cultural, or revolutionary, . . . but subconsciously they believe that they are describing “truth,” and that in some mysterious way their analysis is not subject to the same rules.  Back To Article

  2. The school of behavioral psychology insists that if we are the product of a purposeless evolutionary process, it’s logical to conclude that what seems to be choice is merely an illusion. For these people, free will doesn’t really exist. They consider it to be an “epiphenomenon of consciousness,” that is, only a superficial sensation of freedom that conceals a deeper determinism, a determinism in which we only appear to choose things that our genes and our environment have already selected for us. It seems that this would be an uncomfortable thought for most people, one that is in direct contradiction to human experience. In fact, wouldn’t it have the potential to drive a sensitive atheist mad? Back To Article
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Why Believe in God’s Existence, When It Can’t Be Proven Scientifically?

Something that can be demonstrated by the scientific method is a scientific fact. But it doesn’t follow that just because something can’t be demonstrated scientifically it is less “real” or important than “scientific fact.”

For example, the survival of human civilization depends on the distinction that most people make between good and evil. Yet moral values like good and evil can’t be scientifically proven. Does the fact that moral values can’t be proven imply that they are less real—less “factual” in an ultimate sense—than the things that science can prove?

Most people would consider it morally evil for a man/woman to abandon his/her wife/husband and young children to begin a new life with another woman/man. Most people would consider this a serious moral failure, one of the “worst” things a person could do. But is there any compelling “scientific evidence” that could be brought to bear on such behavior to “prove” that it is wrong?

What “scientific evidence” could prove that murder, rape, and robbery are wrong?  What would become of our system of justice if the prosecution had to scientifically prove that it is wrong for one person to kill, rape, or rob another person!

The existence of love, evil, and good are not “falsifiable hypotheses.” Yet most people—including atheists—admit that values like “love,” “goodness,” “friendship,” and “loyalty” are moral/spiritual realities that truly exist. Theists, whether Christian or non-Christian, have long considered the mind-boggling complexity of the material universe as evidence of a Creator. Although the scientific “spirit of the age” of the 20th century once insisted that the material world was nothing more than the product of impersonal, random evolution, today’s scientific consensus is shifting towards the conclusion that the universe was consciously designed (with incredible exactitude) for the development of life.1

Just as it is reasonable to assume that everything in physical reality has a cause, it is reasonable to assume that everything in spiritual reality has a cause. Immaterial spiritual values like love and goodness are even more amazing than the material wonders of the universe.

God’s existence cannot be proven scientifically. But although God’s existence can’t be proven, reasonable people acknowledge that the small number of alternative explanations for the wonders of material and spiritual reality can’t be proven either. Although faith is as much a matter of the heart as the mind, and belief in God is a moral as well as a rational decision, the rational case for the existence of God as the source of all reality is stronger than any other explanation.

  1. Anthony Flew, an eminent British philosopher who has been widely published as one of the world’s most intellectually capable and well-known atheists, has recently become a theist on the basis of scientific evidence for design:
    Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design. (From an interview with Anthony Flew by Gary Habermas, published by the Journal of the Evangelical Philosophic Society.Back To Article
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