You of Little Faith

I think many believers are familiar with the account of Jesus calling Peter to walk on water with him. It is found in Matthew 14. Jesus had walked on the sea to cross the lake and catch up with his disciples whom he had sent on ahead. The disciples were at first terrified when they saw Jesus, but then Jesus assured them all was fine.

Peter, when he heard Jesus’ words, calls out to Jesus, and Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water to join him. Peter gets out of the boat, walks on the water, but then is frightened and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:30-31 — 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter walked. Peter doubted, Peter began to sink. Peter cried out to Jesus. Jesus saved Peter. Jesus rebuked Peter for his doubt. That is the story.

The funny thing is, if you listen to people teach this passage, so much weight is placed on Peter’s faith or lack thereof that an important key is missed. Some of our more charismatic friends will make this passage out to say that the solidity of one’s faith is directly connected to whether or not God can perform a particular kind of miracle in your life. So, they will use this text to say to you that Peter’s doubt led to his sinking, and your doubt will lead to your inability to experience the miraculous.

But, look more closely at the story. Yes, Peter’s doubt led to his sinking. That is true. But, Peter’s desperate cry to Jesus led to his being saved. Jesus was plenty powerful to reach out, catch Peter, and pull him back to the surface of the lake. Peter’s doubt did not limit Jesus.

Friends, in our Christian lives, we may have seasons of stronger faith and seasons of greater doubt. Without question, doubting God and his goodness and power is sinful. But such doubt is also a normal part of the human condition. It is a thing for us to confess to God and ask him to help us overcome. It is a thing for us to battle with time in the word, with worship, with fellowship, and with prayer.

What I want us to recognize from this story is that Peter’s doubt did not prevent Jesus from accomplishing his will. Jesus showed himself to be glorious. Jesus was easily able to rescue Peter and put him back on the surface of the lake. And Jesus was able to walk Peter back to the boat. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I wish I could help you, but your doubt prevents me.” Jesus just told Peter that his doubt showed how much more is faith needed to grow.

Is doubt natural? You bet. Is doubt a problem. Yes. Is doubt a thing that will keep God from accomplishing his will. No. Your imperfect faith is not tying the hands of God. Doubt is a thing for us to battle, to confess and repent of. And, God may choose to let us experience some sinking as Peter did because of our doubt. But God is God, and I do not add to his abilities with my faith or take from his abilities in my doubt.

Thinking about Being Saved Through Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9 – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

When we say that a person is saved by grace through faith, we are attesting to what makes Christianity vastly different than any other religion in the world. We are saying that a person receives salvation, not because they do a thing, performing a ceremony, making an offering, but simply because God has changed them and allowed them to fully entrust themselves and their soul to him.

Just consider the difference. Other religions out there, man-made religions, tell people that they get into the favor of their deity by doing things. A person may believe that they will be in their god’s favor because they climb a particular mountain and drink from a sacred stream. Another might think that chanting a particular phrase is what makes them OK with the divine. Yet another says that if they do good deeds and do not do really bad things, they will be fine.

Only biblical Christianity tells us that we do nothing, we take no physical action at all, to gain the favor of our God. Instead, God does all the work. God takes all the action. God gives life to our dead and sinful hearts. And we respond to God by believing in Jesus. And God counts that faith as righteousness for us. God counts our belief as if we had lived perfectly before him. God grants us Jesus’ perfect record of righteousness when we entrust ourselves fully to him, believing him, having true faith.

Let me take this moment to say to you that, if you have never come to Jesus in faith, you need to do so in order to have the forgiveness of God. You are a sinner, just like me. Your only hope for salvation is to believe in Jesus. When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sin and rose from the grave, when you believe that Jesus is willing to forgive you if you come to him, when you believe in Jesus in such a way that you fully rely on him and him alone for salvation, you are forgiven by God. If you are forgiven by God, he will change you and help you live to his glory. I urge you to turn from sin and believe in Jesus today.

Victory — Another Important Question of Faith

The Christian life is a life of faith. WE must believe the word of God. We must trust that what he has told us about himself, about what he has done, and about what he will do is true. The presence or lack of such belief is definitive for the follower of Jesus.

Often, when we talk about questions of faith, we talk about Jesus. WE talk about his life, death, and resurrection. Are you willing to believe in Jesus in such a way as to entrust your soul to him and his finished work? Are you willing to believe that he can and will save you? These are important questions of faith.

But there is another question of faith we ask less often. It has to do with the promises of God for the future we are still awaiting.

Revelation 15:2-5 – 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

In this section of the book of Revelation, John looks and sees victorious saints of God. They have conquered the beast and his number. They have refused to be marked out as followers of the world’s system. They have refused to bow to the evils of the age for temporal success. And they stand as victors.

The victorious saints will sing the praise of the Lord. And look at that song. God is great and amazing. God’s ways are perfect and just. And, catch the promise, all peoples will fear the Lord. All nations will come and worship the Lord. God will have this world for his very own.

This question of faith is significant. Do you believe the song? Do you believe that the Lord will be victorious? Do you believe that the Lord will have people worshipping him from every corner of the globe? Do you believe that all people will fear the Lord? Do you take any time to rejoice in the certain victory of Jesus Christ?

Friends, we serve the conquering King. Jesus has been through death. He has come out the other side. He will not go through defeat again. Jesus will be victorious. HE will build his church. His gospel will spread over the globe. He will return in power and glory. He will be acknowledged globally as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Stop and think how important this is. How important is it to remember that our savior is not defeated and will not be defeated? How important is it to remember that all who love the Lord Jesus will reign with him eternally? How important is it to remember that, no matter how polarized the world appears, there is only one winning side? How important is it to remember that the God who made this world will have it as his own?

This is a question of faith. Christian, do you believe in the victory of Jesus?

Saving Faith or Non-Saving Faith

We know we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone. We also know that there is a kind of faith, or a thing often called faith, which is clearly not a saving faith. If one looks at John 2:23-25, the concept is quite clear.

John 2:23–25 – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

In this passage, we see people believing in Jesus, but not in a saving type of faith. Many people, the text tells us, believed in his name. The word there for believed is the same word for faith as in saving faith, so there is no language study that makes this passage say something we do not see clearly. They believed in Jesus. Jesus would not entrust himself to them. They had a type of belief, but not one that saved.

Take a peek at a few things that I’ve grabbed from John Murray on this topic, and perhaps it will help you to see the things that must be present in saving faith. Murray offers us 3 characteristics of saving faith, and I think they are quite helpful.

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There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust.

1. Knowledge… We must know who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is able to do. There must be apprehension of the truth respecting Christ…

2. Conviction. Faith is assent. We must not only know the truth respecting Christ but we must also believe it to be true…

3. Trust. Faith is knowledge passing into conviction, and it is conviction passing into confidence. Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation. It is a receiving and resting upon him. [John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, 2015), Part II, Chapter IV.]

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In the passage in John 2, people had knowledge of Jesus, to a certain degree. They even believed what they saw, to a certain degree. But there was no wholesale entrusting of themselves to Christ. The people believed in facts and power, but they failed to trust the person of Jesus. Saving faith is a resting of one’s entire self, one’s entire soul, one’s entire eternity on the person and work of Jesus. You must know the facts presented about Jesus, you must believe those facts, and you must entrust yourself to Jesus. Miss those things, and you miss saving faith.

Yet I Will

Scripture speaks in a beautiful way to those who are hurting. A student of the Bible does not have to read far to recognize that there are men, faithful people of God who have gone through hardships that are difficult to fathom. And if the people of God were believers in the prosperity gospel, their faith would have crumbled.

Repeatedly in the psalms, we see David cry out to the Lord. He asks questions like, “How long O Lord,” and then lists calamity after calamity. AT the end of those psalms, however, we quite often hear David say something like, “Yet I will trust in the Lord.” David tells us how hard things are, how hopeless his situation looks, and yet he cries out to God in faith knowing that, in the end, God will do all things rightly.

WE see a similar prayer at the end of the book of Habakkuk. For some of you, these beautiful lines are familiar. To others, these need to be lines you memorize. The prophet has cried out to God. He knows that God is going to judge a wicked nation of Judah by bringing in another wicked nation, Babylon. Habakkuk is aware of calamity after calamity with still more to come. But Habakkuk expresses, at the end of his book, genuine hope in the Lord. Just take a peek at his closing proclamation.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk, in classic Hebrew poetry, comes up with six lines that express the potential misery that the nation faces. They may have no wine, no crops, no livestock, no real reason for hope that they can see. All has fallen down around Habakkuk, and God has let him know that it will continue that way for a while.

But look at the turn of faith. Habakkuk says, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD.” No matter the circumstances, Habakkuk makes a decision of faith. Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord. HE will find hope and joy in the true character of God. Habakkuk acknowledges that the Lord is his strength. And no matter how painful is his life, no matter how bare the cupboard, Habakkuk will choose, in the face of pain, to rejoice in the Lord.

Christians, we may face pain like Habakkuk. WE may face worse. The nation may turn on us. Our friends or our families may betray us. Famous church leaders will fall short. Denominations will split. Once reliable church members will depart. We will hurt. If you think you will live without pain, you have not believed the words of the Savior who promised us that this world would be a hard one to live in.

What do you do when you hurt? Learn from Habakkuk. Make rejoicing in the Lord and hoping in his goodness your choice. You can weep and still declare God to be good. You can cry out in sorrow and find a sustaining joy in the true, revealed character of the God who made you. You can face a life of seeming emptiness and ruin knowing full well that the Savior who promises you forgiveness has also promised you that he will return, he will judge, he will do justice, he will bind up the broken-hearted, he will make all things new. Our hope is not in the ease of this life. Our hope is in eternity. While Jesus can, and often will, make this life happy for his followers, he promises us something better. Jesus promises us to sustain us through the hardships of this life and to grant us everlasting life in his presence forever.

So, when your life hurts, Christian, what should you say? Perhaps try, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

A quick Note on Faith-Healing

When I was growing up, our regular television networks would play commercials for religious broadcasts. So I remember hearing these preachers, in short clips, present the basic message of the charismatic faith-healers. I remember hearing a smiling man tell people, “Learn to unleash your faith for your miracle.” I remember hearing men say that the giving of a financial gift would seed a greater gift in return. I remember hearing a man offer to pray over anything you mailed in, so long as you also sent in an appropriate donation.

I also recall that people in our small community got excited from time-to-time when a local charismatic church would have a healer in. When the larger town about half-an-hour away had services, people got excited. Sometimes folks would tell me that I should go. After all, you just never know. Perhaps this man could be used by God to heal me of my blindness. An, no, we did not go.

But, if you know the faith-healer stories, you also know that not everyone in those services was healed. If a person went, got up to the altar, and met the healer without being healed, the answer was always the same. This person must have lacked the faith to be healed. The preacher would still take the donations, claim the power, and pretend to not be at fault. The person who was not healed would go home feeling guilty for not having had enough faith. And then the person would wonder if they had missed their one chance to be healed of their ailment.

In other times in life, I recall reading through books that preached the same sort of principles. I recall books telling us that God really wants to bless us with certain gifts, but if we lack enough faith or if we fail to ask in the right way, God just cannot give them to us. I recall books picturing a great storehouse of gifts that God wishes desperately that he could give to me, but my lack of using the right words or having the right kind of faith is preventing me from having them. The picture painted is of a disappointed God who is unfortunately bound by my failings.

Is God bound by my faith? Is God’s ability to heal a sick person restricted by the sick person’s lack of belief? No, dear friends, no. God may in fact choose to heal or not to heal a person based on anything he wants. Yes, God may choose not to heal a person for a lack of faith in that person. But in no way is God’s ability limited.

Look at this example from Scripture.

John 5:5-13 – 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.

Notice two things. Jesus healed the paralytic in a clear, immediate, obvious and complete way. And, Jesus healed the paralytic without the paralytic having faith. The paralytic did not even know who Jesus was (see verse 13). The man’s lack of faith had nothing to do with his healing. The healing was the choice of the Lord for the purposes of the Lord.

We want to be a people who let Scripture be our final authority. Jesus is not limited by what I bring to the table. Jesus is the Almighty God who is now enthroned over all things. He can heal when he wants. He can choose not to heal if that better fits his purposes for his glory. Do not, for a moment, allow yourself to think that you can limit his ability to give to you anything that he wants to give to you.

Does this mean that faith, prayer, and obedience are unimportant? Not at all. IN fact, these things are quite significant. But let us get rid of the huckster pitch of the faith-healers who claim powers they do not have for the sake of dishonest gain. Let us know that the Lord will do all that he pleases. God is not disappointed now. God will not be disappointed in eternity. My faith does not release God to do anything that God is just itching to do. God is sovereign. I am under his sovereignty.

A Call to Repentance

When we call people to salvation in the Lord Jesus, if we are being most biblical, we call people to repent and believe. Both of those terms are used time and time again to depict how a person comes to salvation. The two are not separate things.

We know in general what believing in Jesus looks like. But what does repentance look like? WE have pictures in the Bible. IN fact, we see the Lord give us a picture of repentance at the end of the book of Hosea.

God, speaking particularly to Israel, has called them out for their sinful unfaithfulness to him. But in the final chapter of this prophecy, he calls them to repent.

Hosea 14:1-3

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows of our lips.
3 Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

The word for return here in verse 1 is a repentance word. It literally means to turn back or return, to turn from one thing or direction to another. The word could speak of a person walking in one direction and making a turn. Or it could mean a person turning back from evil and toward righteousness. Obviously, in this context, God is calling Israel to a spiritual change of direction.

In verse 1, we see that returning involves a turning from their iniquity toward the Lord their God. They are to stop chasing after their sin and start (or start again) seeking after the Lord.

In verse 2, God tells them what they should be saying: Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. This is the people going to God, seeking forgiveness for their past wrongs and promising to obey the commands they have been previously disobeying. They are saying they have been wrong in the past, but, from now on, they will return to being under his lordship.

In verse 3, the people are to say to God that they will no longer run to foreign nations for their deliverance. Instead, they will trust in him. They will not trust in their own prowess on the battlefield, mounting themselves on horses, but will trust in the Lord’s protection. It is a turning from self-reliance to reliance on God. It is the kind of thing that God had commanded Israel to do, to trust in him instead of the pagan nations around them, but they were refusing to do.

At the end of verse 3, the people were to say, “And we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.” The nation had fought against God by looking at their own inventions, the crafting of idols, and declaring things they put together to be their deities. Repentance would mean that they stop seeing false things as divine, and they would only call God the one true God. And in this repentance the people would find grace.

In truth, what Israel needed to do is very much the same for us today. A person who repents of sin to turn to Christ in faith must turn from self-reliance. We must stop thinking that we are in charge of our lives. WE must stop thinking that we can rely on sinful things to take care of ourselves. We must determine that we desire to follow and obey the Lord. And we must stop calling divine that which is not God. Repentance involves surrendering to the Lord, turning from self and all other evils, and fully turning toward the God who made us. Repentance involves bowing before the throne of God and declaring him our Master.

Part of that repentance is belief, faith. It requires repentance for a person to believe the truth about Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh who came to earth. Jesus lived a perfect life. Jesus died a sacrificial death. Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus forgives all who come to him in faith. There is no religious action or ceremony that contributes to our salvation. No act earns us God’s favor. Only the one who comes to Jesus, repenting, empty-handed, relying on him and him alone will be saved. This requires a repenting belief in Jesus apart from works. And this is how we can say that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And this is how we can say that a person must repent and believe to be saved.