Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Grace and Faith I

Grace is quality but it is given in great quantities. Faith is only quality and is neither needed nor available in quantity. It can be strong or weak. Didn’t Jesus use quantitative terms when speaking of faith? Yes, a few times, but notice how he used them:

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 NIV)

One term He used is “little.” Another term He used is “doubt.”

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6 NIV)

But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23 NIV)

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. (Romans 4:19-20 NIV)

In each case doubt is NOT faith.
Another quantitative term is the word “small” used in contrast with the word “little.”

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-20 NIV)

With little faith nothing happens. With small faith, great things happen.
Jesus uses these two terms of quantity really to describe the non-existence and existence of faith.

A third term is “great.” Jesus used this word with the Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed daughter in Matthew 15:28:

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28 NIV)

“Great” is an expression of the reality and strength of her faith, not the quantity.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6 NIV)

It is as if Jesus said, “What for? Why should I increase your faith? You do not need much, if it is, in fact, faith.”

The “suppose” story that Jesus applies to them comes immediately after this:

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:7-10 NIV)

This last sentence is Jesus’ answer to their request for increased faith. Bessie has reminded me many times that faith is like Pooh’s comment on Eeyore’s tail: “It is either there or it isn’t there and yours isn’t.”

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

No comments: