The Question of Faith

This post is part of a series on faith in the New Testament.

[F]or years now I’ve been a big fan of Tim Keller. I admire him as a theologian, as a preacher, and as an author. I agree with many that he is the closest thing to a modern day C.S. Lewis that we have today. As is true with just about anybody that I listen to, this does not mean I agree with everything he says. I’m currently reading through his book entitled King’s Cross and he addressed faith in a way that seems to be very common these days.

“…faith ultimately is not a virtue; it’s a gift. If you want to believe but can’t, stop looking inside; go to Jesus and say, ‘Help me believe.’ Go to him and say, ‘So you’re the one who gives faith! I’ve been trying to work it out by reasoning and thinking and meditating and going to church in hopes that a sermon will move me–I’ve been trying to get faith by myself. Now I see that you’re the source of faith. Please give it to me.’ If you do that, you’ll find that Jesus has been seeking you–he’s the author of faith, the provider of faith, and the object of faith.”

This sounds great. But it puts the responsibility of faith primarily on God. The problem with this for me is that there are some passages that seem to lean in this direction while others seem to imply just the opposite, as we shall soon see.

Here’s the question as I see it: If I have great faith, is it because God has given it to me, and thus is a result of His effort; or is it because I have chosen it, and thus is a result of my effort?

I’m not trying to minimize God’s part in faith or make it seem that somehow we can do this without Him. What I am trying to do is get at the heart of how we should approach developing faith to a deeper level. Does it have to be something that God grants to us or can we choose it for ourselves? Or to use Keller’s terminology, is it a virtue or a gift? While Keller clearly falls on the side of it being a gift, I am currently on the side of it being a virtue. Regardless of where you land on the question, our answer to this will radically shape how we seek out a maturation of faith in our discipleship journey with God.

As we look at all of the uses of the word faith in the New Testament in this blog series, this will be the driving question in allowing God’s Spirit to speak to us through His Word.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

27 Comments

Landon

about 3 years ago

Interesting question. You and I have had plenty of conversations regarding the element of God's control/effort versus that of our own. I don't know if I have an answer to this particular question/topic. I think the answer is probably more fuzzy than landing on either side. I keep coming back to the Luke 7:1-10 passage as Jesus seemed to be highly interested in that dude's faith. Was it because the expectations for the centurion were so low? Was it because he simply recognized the un-questioned authority of Jesus? The man certainly seems to be a logical example of faith being a virtue - and yet at the same time it says he had "heard of Jesus" so it also seems like he was basing that faith or cry out for help on something logical. In other words, he knew Jesus could do some pretty cool stuff - so why couldn't he heal his servant? In that regard, it would seem the faith was a gift from God because Jesus had proven himself worthy to be believed in. I guess what I am trying to say is IF God reveals himself in a real way and essentially shows that He is the logical choice - is our faith an actual leap of our own choice/ability or are we simply responding to the choice that makes the most sense? Such as my child opens a package from me with the confident expectation of a good present. Is that really because he has faith or he simply has enough experience of my giving him good gifts? Or another way of putting it - are the blessings, love, and care provided by God enough to make our faith worthwhile - thus eliminating our need to take personal steps towards the choice of good faith. One final thing - are you going to define "great faith". To be quite honest, I don't know what that means.

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

Thanks Landon. There are many examples like what you referenced from Luke 7 that have led me to my current stance. You make a good point about experience, but in many examples, both in scripture and since, there seems to be plenty of things to cause us doubt and thus necessitate the need for real faith. We may very well conclude this series by stating that some sort of balance between gift/virtue is needed. As for a definition of great faith, I don't have anything profound in mind. All I'm referring to is a proper, or healthy faith that God would desire for all of us. The question is how do we arrive at that?

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Dennis Stevens

about 3 years ago

This is a quote: "Arrested, arraigned, and indicted, in repentance we turn away from ourselves--our untruths, our sins, and our fraudulent claim to righteousness--and in faith we look to Christ for salvation and for every spiritual gift. To put it differently, in repentance we confess (with David) that God is justified in his verdict against us, and in faith we receive God's justification. Dead to sin and alive to Christ once and for all in regeneration (Rom 6:1-11), we are called to die daily to our old self and live daily by "the free gift of God," which "is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vv. 12-23)." from "The Christian Faith" by Michael Horton. Based on these passages, I'm clearly falling on the side of faith as a gift. Faith to believe that this good news of Christ's redemptive work on the cross has purchased my redemption for the glory of God alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it like this, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." As to the question of "great" faith? Still pondering that one...

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

Thanks for sharing that Dennis. Reading both of your examples I still feel like they are saying that faith is a virtue. In your quote above, it is salvation, spiritual gifts, and justification that God is giving us through our faith. As for the Ephesians passage, the focus is on God giving us grace, not faith.

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Russell Bray

about 3 years ago

Hebrews 11:1 defines Faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." and then concludes in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith" Seems clear to me that Faith is a gift - it begins and ends with Jesus. However, realizing that there may be instances in scripture that might lend itself to a belief that we choose our faith "and thus is a result of my effort" (as you put it), I need to wrestle with that struggle between what is God's work and my own. What I then use to determine between this struggle is relatively simple: do I get bigger or does God get bigger? I get bigger when I determine my faith. God gets bigger when He (Jesus - the author and finisher of our faith) determines my faith. I am very nervous (and turn to forgiveness) when I make myself bigger - I'm the one who needs saving and can't do it on my own. I want to boast, but know it is not right to do so as that would make me bigger. So, if a belief puts power into my hands and takes it away from God, then that belief has some room to damage my relationship with the one and only Almighty God.

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

Thanks Russell. The problem I have with your comment is that you are starting with a conclusion (We must avoid anything that makes us look bigger) and then trying to fit the Biblical text into it. In this study I am trying to do the opposite: start with the Biblical text and then draw a conclusion. It isn't boasting to say that I chose my faith any more than it is to say that I chose Jesus. Rather, it is a declaration of my need and dependence on Him.

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Robert Tewart

about 3 years ago

Jeremy, it really is boasting to say that you have chosen your faith and Jesus. It implies that you get some of the credit instead of God. The Bible says John 6:44 Says it like this: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." How do we "come" but by faith? How are we able to do so but through the Father's drawing? Romans 3:11-12 says this: 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” What do you think the Bible means by NONE UNDERSTANDS,.....NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;. Who has turned aside(through sin)?..ALL. Who does good (which would certainly include choosing faith and Jesus? NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE. You, and "NONE" of us are even able to as you say "declare of my need and dependence on Him."

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

Robert, I hope you'll read all of the posts in this series. There are plenty of passages that show that this topic is clearly not as black and white as you like to make it sound.

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Dennis Stevens

about 3 years ago

I'm going to provide another quote from Michael Horton in "The Christian Faith", "Nor is faith's justifying power located in any inherent quality or virtue of faith itself. Faith is only the instrument rather than the basis for justification: it simply lays hold of Christ and his merits. Hence, the common Reformation formulation of justification: per fidem propter Christum (through faith because of or on the basis of Christ). Strictly speaking, one is not justified by faith but by Christ's righteousness which is received through faith. Therefore, faith is always extrospective: looking outside of itself. Faith does not arise within the self, but comes to us from the outside, through the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:17). This means that in the act of justification faith is itself completely passive, receiving a gift, not offering one. The faith that justifies is immediately active in love, honoring God and serving neighbor, but this active love is faith's fruit, not the act of justifying faith itself. Given our native instincts, we can always turn gospel back into law--in this case, by making faith into faithfulness, the act of receiving into an act of working." I can't seem to improve on this for my understanding of faith that justifies.

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Bill

about 3 years ago

Jeremy, I respectfully disagree. When I read verses such as Mark 9:24 ~ "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!", I believe we see the extent of "our" faith. I feel that we have within us the ability, capacity, or virtue to be able to respond to the initiation of "the faith God has distributed to each of you" (Romans 12:3). The father in the story from Mark believed in the flesh, yet he had to overcome his spiritual unbelief with Jesus' "help". That "help" comes through the gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:9) that is given as a gift of the Spirit and not cultivated by us, lest any man should boast. Like Abraham, we CAN choose to not waver in unbelief and to be strengthened in our faith and to be convinced that God is able. God initiates, we respond. When you asked, "Does it have to be something that God grants to us or can we choose it for ourselves?", I believe it is both, but probably not in the way that you view it. Faith IS something that God gives - the choosing to flex our spiritual faith muscles after the fact is how we can cause our faith to grow. Jesus told Peter to walk on water. He obeyed the command and the impossible happened. If I do the same thing in my pool, I will sink, but only because Jesus didn't specifically tell me to do it. I believe obedience leads us to the deeper faith that we commonly seek - not acting on our own and expecting God to clap for us in amazement of "our" faith. Overall, this is a thought provoking post, as all writings about faith tend to be!

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

Bill, my goal is not to get everyone to agree with me but simply to have a more well rounded view of what Scripture actually says about this. I hope you will join us in the journey through looking at all of them in the NT!

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Robert Tewart

about 3 years ago

Jeremy, Please re-read your response to me and think a little further about how it sounds. You wrote "....... clearly not as black and white as you like to make it sound." Whenever I post here, I always do my best to support my comments with scripture in making my point. You're making a bit of a judgement in my motives about how I "like to make it sound." Sounds like to me that you are doing exactly what you have claimed Russell is doing by bringing your conclusion or presuppositions to the discussion. Interesting thing is that Russell also used scripture to make his point. Will you use scripture to make your point?

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

You do realize that this series will focus on more than 20 posts of scripture examples right?

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Robert Tewart

about 3 years ago

Yes, My point is that you seem to rarely use scripture references in general to make or defend your points...at least on your blog. My hope is that you are engaging in careful exegesis and not bringing only your pressupositions on the topic.

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Kye Ewing

about 3 years ago

It is laughable to think that any of us could approach any topic or passage of Scripture without our presuppositions. Presuppositions do not nullify careful exegesis, but the more we engage God through Scripture, the more our presuppostions are formed by Him rather than our personal, cultural, historical, ecclesiological, or theological backgrounds. A blank slate is not preferable. Robert, your own use of Scripture betrays many of your own presuppositions, such as the idea that verses can be ripped out of context and used as trump cards in arguments beginning with statements like "The Bible says...". The Bible says a lot of things, but they must always be filtered through the Story of God as it finds its fulfillment in the Story of Christ. Jeremy's approach is honest in that he is attempting to develop some theology based on exegesis rather than using exegesis to support theological systems that were formed several centuries ago. Ultimately, the question is not one of content but of approach. Some people will clearly have their minds made up going into the reading of Scripture, others will allow Scripture to form their beliefs and continue to shape them as they continue to grow and come to know God in Christ better. I find the latter to be more honest and appropriate.

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Robert Tewart

about 3 years ago

Kyle. If you read my comment more closely, my concern was that Jeremy would bring ONLY his pressupositions.

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Kye Ewing

about 3 years ago

Robert, I did read your comments rather closely and am much more concerned by your approach to Scripture than by Jeremy's. There is no evidence of careful exegesis in your use of John 6:44 or Romans 3:11-12. Your ripping them out of context and playing them as trump cards is completely unproductive in a setting like this. Some of us have a desire for honest, open discussion where questions such as the one posted above are wrestled through and pondered rather than muted with a black and white answer (and one that in my opinion is wrong). This isn't my blog, so I'm not going to perform careful exegesis here, but comments like yours hinder good theological exchanges rather than forwarding them.

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gomer

about 3 years ago

I think it's easier to understand faith when it's remembered that it's a response. all faith responds to something, it can't originate from nothing. for example, we can't boast that we originated our faith in God because that faith in God was a response to the invitation God presented. i think that fits well with the passage brought up earlier, John 6:44, the "no can can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." is it impossible to read this that the "drawing" talked about was the invitation? does it have to be understood as an inward pull by God? if we are drawn by invitation, then our response can be seen as originating with God and followed up by us. all people are without excuse in not putting their faith in God because he's has made his presence obvious through creation (Romans 1:19-20). if the actual faithful response in God depended on God for it to be given then, in fact, they would have an excuse in not believing. God didn't let them. but because He has revealed Himself to us through Christ, we can't boast that we believed in God in and of ourselves. we believed in Him because He showed us Himself. at that point, it is up to us to place our faith in Him. that is how we can say Jesus is the "author and finisher of our faith." faith, as a response, is dependent on a "starter," whether that be an invitation, revelation, or whatever. he is the "author", because he started it through invitation. he is the "finisher," because without him the results of faith do not mean anything (eternal life, forgiveness, etc.). i'm ok with thinking that my faithful response is from me, because i know that i couldn't have had that response without God's revelation through Christ Jesus.

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

Wow... That is tremendously well worded! I completely agree and I think you've captured some of the nuances that make this discussion so rich.

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Jason Grindle

about 3 years ago

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu3VTngm1F0

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Jason Grindle

about 3 years ago

This video clearly says you have to have it and not that God gives it as a gift!

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Robert Tewart

about 3 years ago

Really?

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Gomer

about 3 years ago

LOL!!! Jason...awesome...a truly theological point.

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Gomer

about 3 years ago

Robert-hey dude, no worries man, I understood your point. My comment was referring to the discussion in general, nothing targeting you specifically. You just happened to use a verse that I felt fit in well with what I was trying to say. Didn't mean to imply I was referring to you.

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gomer

about 3 years ago

oh...that's funny...ummm, sorry Robert, I thought the comment you left saying "Kyle. If you read my comment more closely, my concern was that Jeremy would bring ONLY his pressupositions." was meant for me (my phone doesn't distinguish between replies to comments and replies to the blog) because my name is kyle. Turns out, looks like you were talking to Kye (Kyle misspelled?). Good, I was so confused!

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steve

about 1 year ago

My faith stems from my having spent close to 45 years as an agnostic - someone who always wanted to believe in God but just could not fully purchase the concept of God, a fence walker - actually, i was more of a deitist; i guess cause it was completely illogical to think that some sort of extreme power wasn't responsible for our existance. Then when i looked back at different points of my life and saw that God had been with me every step of the way ( i guess he could have taken a break once in a while, but i tend to think that he just wanted me to learn from my dopeyness [ someday i'll tell you about my NEAR d.u.i. Jeremy, it's a good story i'm sure youll enjoy ] i realized that it was my destiny to have faith in him.

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