As we have explored the subject of faith, its meaning, and its source, we have revealed that the term "faith" (from a biblical perspective) is one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in religious circles. The world defines faith as any belief system, so the term faith is used for all religions from Shinto's ancestor worship to witchcraft. While many Christians generally have a similar understanding of faith, they use (and often misuse) the term differently within their own circles.
The "Word of Faith" movement is one such abuse of the term of faith. Influential preachers have drawn the conclusion from certain Scripture passages that God wants us to be happy, and is at our beck and call to give us whatsoever we ask for – if only we believe. Jesus truly said, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). That certainly sounds like a modern "name it – claim it" sermon. On this verse, and others like it, one could surely lay out a message exhorting the saints to simply desire something, truly believe that they will get it, and "the Scripture says" that they will have it. However, I would like to take a better look at the context of this verse.
In verses 12 through14, Jesus and His disciples had come upon a fig tree. The Word of God says, "And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it." The next morning, as they passed that same fig tree, they found it dried up from the roots, and were amazed. Jesus said to them, "Have faith in God," and told them that faith can move mountains, and that whatever they desire, they can obtain if they believe.
You might say that it still seems to confirm the promotion of the "name it – claim it" folks, but we have not yet looked at the complete context of the passage. This event occurs as Jesus is going in and out of Jerusalem just a few days before His crucifixion. He is making His final appeal to the people and rulers of Israel. After leaving the withered tree, they went back into Jerusalem and were asked of the priests, scribes and elders, "By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority to do these things?" Before Christ would answer their inquiry, He tested them with regards to John the Baptist. They failed His test, and neither did He answer their question.
The question, however, is valid, and speaks to the point of the entire passage: authority. How could He speak to the fig tree and cause it to wither? He told His disciples, "Have faith in God." Where does faith come from? It comes from the Word of God. Jesus was not whimsical. The great Creator of the land and the sea and all that is in them would not capriciously curse a tree. In fact, it was not even the season for figs!
Still, the Old Testament – the Law and the Prophets – gave Him the authority to effectually curse the fig tree. Where? In Jeremiah 8:8-13, "How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them? … From the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. …Therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord. I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them." (See also Ezek. 17:8-10.)
Jesus did not cursed the tree on a whim, it was an illustration in which, once again, the Scriptures were fulfilled. The Son of God had come to Israel, and Israel had left His hunger for a righteous nation unfulfilled. Therefore, He proclaimed its demise, on the authority of Scripture, and knew that the Word of God could not fail. He said that Jerusalem would be compassed about with armies, and that it would be utterly destroyed. All of that came to pass, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.
We must come to understand faith's meaning and its source because of the importance of faith. Hebrews 11:6 puts it in very clear terms, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
Israel professed a belief in God, but denied His messengers. They defined their faith, and their self-defined faith was not enough to gain God's favor. If we are to please God, we must lay hold on faith as He has defined it in the writing of the Holy Scripture.
In verse 5 of Hebrews 11, we read, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." Look at the faith of Enoch, the Lord had shown him something concerning the demise of the wicked generation that had risen. He believed the word of the Lord, and named his son Methuselah, which means "at his death, judgment" or "at his death the flood." If you count the years in the generations of Adam (Genesis chapter 5), you will find that that is just what happened: the flood came just around the time of Methuselah's death. This is just another thing that serves to prove the faith of faithful Enoch. Enoch was not declaring his wishes and expecting God to act on them, he was proclaiming the word of the Lord, knowing that God would do all things according to what He had said.
When Jesus presented Himself to John to be baptized, John protested and said that he needed to be baptized of Jesus. Jesus replied, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15).
According to the Gospel of John, John the Baptist was a man sent from God with a message to God's people. Jesus, though He was the Son of God, came and dwelt among men, living the human experience. The word of God repeatedly reveals God's way, His protocol, when it comes to the leadership of God's people. When God set the tribe of Levi apart to do the service of the House of God, He ordained that they should be funded by the tithe of the increase of the people of Israel. This He justified because Levi "paid tithes in Abraham" (Heb. 7:9-10).
Likewise, Jesus must needs have first submitted to the ministry of the man whom God had sent, before He could justifiably be followed Himself. Being the Son of God did not mean He was exempt from following God's protocol. On the contrary, being the Son of God, He did all things according to the will of the Father. Jesus' faith in God's word and in God's way motivated Him to "fulfill all righteousness." He was not presumptuous or proud. In obedience to the Father, He submitted Himself to the baptism of John – not because He needed repentance, but out of obedience.
God acknowledged the great faith of Jesus of Nazareth, as He came up out of the water, by a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
God is no respecter of persons. Whether you are the Son of God come down from heaven, or the vilest sinner saved by grace, without faith it is impossible to please God. Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith, even endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the throne of God. He had faith in God, and was faithful unto death. Through Jesus' own great faith, His life became a sacrifice, well pleasing to God.
Such is the importance of faith. If we are going to be pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, we must have faith – not just any belief system, but the faith that was once delivered unto the saints. God's own Son, through faith in God, fulfilled all the righteousness of the Word of God concerning Him. Let us also live by faith, who were sometime alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works, yet now being reconciled in the body of our Lord's flesh through death, that He might present us holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight: if we continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which we have heard. Amen.
In our next installment, we will conclude this subject as we discuss the Power of Faith.