Mark 11:22-24 and Matthew 21:21-22 have presented a problem to just about every theologian and Christian writer who has ever considered them!
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T his question was put to me recently:
'I heard a pastor (not my own pastor) define faith in a certain way and it sounded real exciting, only trouble is I think it is a wrong view of faith. He is not a prosperity teacher or anything like that and he is real sincere but I have a problem with what he said. He said,
"Some folks believe that if you say, 'I believe that God can heal me if He plans to,' that is faith, but that is not faith at all. To have faith is to say, 'I believe that God IS GOING to heal me TODAY!"
Well, to some of us that sounds real great and when I was less mature in the faith I myself might have said something like that, but searching through the Scriptures, when folks get sick, or need a prayer answered real fast they seem to pray and plead for God to intervene, they don't seem to tell God how and when He must do it. It seems that this view originally developed from a bad understanding of 'the faith that moves mountains' Scripture. I have been to your site before and your teaching on this seems to be where I stand too. Can you comment further please?'
Okay, here is my response to this question:
I agree that what that preacher said initially sounds really great and inviting and - in my case too - when I first came to Christ I might have explained it that way, but maturity has shown me that it is a somewhat flawed view. Now - for sure - we are encouraged to pray believingly, not doubtingly. There are about four Scriptures which we need to look at very closely here. They are Mark 11:22-24 and the parallel Scripture to that in Matthew 21:21-22. Then we also need to consider Matthew 17:19-21 which also refers to the moving of a mountain. Finally, we also need to look at James 1:6-8. Now, if these were the only Scriptures which discussed faith in the Word of God, it might lead to a somewhat different view of faith from that which, I believe, we should hold. But to honestly evaluate and to come to understand any doctrine of the Church we must always consider all of the Scriptures on that doctrine. If we only had James 1:6-8 and Matthew 21:21-22, there is no doubt that those verses might tend to lead to a somewhat different colouring of this doctrine, indeed, I might almost say that just those verses would tend to support that certain charismatic view of faith which seems to place faith, gifts and 'spiritual experience' on a pedestal, elevating them above other facets of Bible teaching. In actual practise this tendency seems to pan out in a slant on faith which is just not biblically-grounded. That is: we just pray for what we want and, if we earnestly believe, there would be no doubt we would get it - if we didn't get it, we could not have believed enough. Presumably, no matter what you want (these verses don't tell us too much all on their own), we should get it if our "faith" is functioning correctly. But the record of thousands of Christian lives of faith would, I think, soon alert us to the fact that such a view of faith is somewhat simplistic even if those were the only 'faith Scriptures' in the New Testament and - for sure - it is ultimately ungrounded.
What Could Cause the Lord to Move This Mountain?
Occasionally, certain biblically-ungrounded but admittedly enthusiastic believers have attempted to "exercise faith" for a mountain to be moved, but it is not within the jurisdiction of a Christian to move a mountain for any artistic or casual reason. But if one had total and utter faith - the sort of faith which Christ had when He walked upon this earth - then such an individual could - if it were needful for some definite God-sanctioned reason - request the moving of a mountain - and God would do it!! However, realistically, few men of such faith and continual closeness to God have ever lived; we may think of Joshua, Elijah, Elishah, the apostles Paul, Peter and John plus our Lord Himself but then struggle to think of more...
Okay. Lets start with James. In the case of James 1:6-8, that text is saying that we should always pray positively, not doubtingly. Our faith should be in the fact that the God of Heaven and Earth will hear our prayer and He will be prepared to respond. Yes, we should expect a dynamic response! Why not? He is the Ruler of the Universe!! If we pray in a doubting or uncertain way, we become '...like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.' (James 1:6).
I have written a lot about faith and much of it, unfortunately, is in reaction to those who abuse the biblical teaching on faith; the danger here, of course, is that a few may feel that I am saying that we cannot count on God to answer our prayers - very far from it. We definitely can!!! If we are truly in the faith (I am not saying that if we are perfect, because in that case no prayer would ever be answered!), but if we are truly Christs we can and SHOULD expect dynamic answers to prayer! But that dynamic answer may not be to give us exactly what we want when we want it because - excepting emergencies - that is quite often not the case. We must understand that God's wisdom and knowledge is far above ours, and, when listening to the prayers of His servants, He must take many factors into account. Yet we should confidently bring our petitions to God. In doing so, we are putting our case before the very Ruler of the Universe. Okay, so James 1:6-8 really presents no problem to our understanding.
There is no doubt, however, that Mark 11:22-24 and Matthew 21:21-22 do present a problem for us! I mean that those verses have presented a problem to just about every theologian and Christian writer who has ever considered them! How come? Because they go much further in terms of saying what is possible for a man or woman of faith than any other verse in the entire Bible! Many other verses have told us to expect dramatic results in answer to prayer, but these verses appear, at least, to say that men and women of faith can even move mountains! Now, of course, I think we all understand that only God can move mountains, that is within His own sovereignty and almighty power - not ours. So what did Jesus mean? What these verses are saying is that if one had total and utter faith - the sort of faith which Christ had when He walked upon this earth - then such an individual (if it were needful for some definite and God-sanctioned reason) could request the moving of a mountain - and God would do it!! Just as God can (and once did) actually cause the sun to stand still! Exceptional faith and exceptional closeness to God are required, and the requested miracle must have a definite reason! However, as Jesus Himself well understood when He made this comment, no man or woman during this age of the Church is likely to be absolutely filled with faith and the Spirit the way He was! But - at least theoretically - if a man or woman was that filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit they could do quite amazing things - through God's power - very definitely not through any "power" of their own! Faith itself - after all - is given by God. Yet, of course, the truth is that in this world - all too often - we all struggle to stay sufficiently close to God even to 'stay on course' as Christians. Frankly, moving mountains is not going to happen, there would need to be a definite reason for a start - Jesus knew that, but He wanted to show the disciples what true, living faith could accomplish under very unusual circumstances. He is saying, 'Look, don't ever limit or underestimate what faith can do, after all, the mighty works which I do, I Myself do through faith!'
Matthew 17:19-21 also refers to the moving of a mountain and I think that this verse is a kind of key to understanding this whole point because in Matthew 17 the disciples had complained that they seemed to lack the power to drive out demons, verses 17-19, Jesus rebuked them because the power to drive out demons had already been granted to them (Matthew 10:1) and they should have held to this in faith, and not doubted. This is the key because that power belongs to God alone but when He grants a little of it to us, He expects faithful persistence! In other words, if the power to drive out demons had not been granted, Jesus would not have criticised the disciples; That particular power was granted to the original disciples and to the 70 evangelists (Matthew 10:1). In other words, just as the power to heal the sick and to drive out demons would need to be specifically granted by God, even so the power to remove a mountain would need to be specifically granted by God. But today God has granted to Christians another amazing thing! God has granted to us the power to have faith in Jesus, that is, to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world! See Matthew 16:15-17. That is given to us - it is ours! Yet this is something which we are inclined to take for granted. But for the specific action of the Holy Spirit in our lives we could never have this clear view of exactly who Jesus was. That is what Matthew 16:15-17 tells us. If we know and recognise Jesus for who He was (after all, countless millions, do not) then that has been granted to us by God alone. That has come straight to us from God - now we must hold to that in faith. This is the line we must hold without compromise!
Now when that preacher said, "...To have faith is to say, 'I believe that God IS GOING to heal me TODAY!'" I do not believe that that is what Jesus was talking about at all. The first view ('I believe that God can heal me if He wills it') is a faithful view, even if the preacher did not think so. But to say that 'God is going to heal me TODAY!' would need a specific revelation to come to us from God alone. If there is no revelation, no claim should ever be made! As a Christian I can say, 'I KNOW that God will heal me' quite confidently because - for Christians - healing is sure. No healing in this life will make no difference because the resurrection from the dead in a healthy powerful body is assured! Healing for those in Christ is certain but to specifically say exactly when and where (unless one is referring to the resurrection) is a matter within God's jurisdiction alone - it belongs to Him! Unfortunately a very flawed view of faith has developed which sees faith as something which allows us to manipulate God in order to get what we want when we want it - we must avoid that. Jesus' 'faith moving mountains' comments in no way support the 'positive confession' or 'word-faith' view that if we can just summon up enough faith, we can actually tap into God's supreme sovereignty and demand certain things which He then must give us as long as we have asked boldly enough! To my mind, this is to claim God's power for ourselves, to claim jurisdiction in areas where we have not been granted it. Indeed, it is almost to claim divinity for ourselves. Is it any surprise, therefore, that several 'word-faith', or 'positive confession' teachers do appear to claim that they are already 'as God' and that to be critical of them is to be critical of God Himself? A few of them actually threaten to "curse" those of us involved in countercult. The problem is that they have already embraced a teaching on faith which places them in the position of a god! For instance, Kenneth Copeland said, "You don't have a god in you, you are one."(Kenneth Copeland, "The Force Of Love" tape # 02-0028). Benny Hinn said, "When you say, 'I am a Christian, you are saying, 'I am mashiach' in the Hebrew. I am a little messiah walking on earth, in other words... That is a shocking revelation.... May I say it like this? You are a little god on earth running around." (Benny Hinn, Praise-a-thon. TBN November 6, 1990).
The sun stood still.....
There is ample reason to believe that the Lord once granted a tremendous miracle for an outstanding man of faith called Joshua, when the Lord delayed the setting of the sun for many hours. This is a miracle on the scale of moving a mountain, but men of such outstanding faith as Joshua have been rare upon the earth and the reason for such a major miracle would have to meet the approval of God, the Creator, Sustainer and Judge of Heaven and Earth. See Joshua 10:12-14.
In contrast to that, throughout the Bible - except where a specific revelation is received from God - people petition God to supply their needs but do not generally tell Him when and where He should respond. Humility before God is intrinsic to the approach. Moses raised his arms to signal the parting of the Red Sea - but only after receiving a specific revelation that the Lord would indeed do that. Amazing miracles occurred during Joshua's campaign of entering the Promised Land, but the Lord normally revealed to Joshua what he planned to do. Joshua recognised that the power within those miracles belonged to the Lord - it was within the Lord's jurisdiction alone. Likewise in the later campaign against the Midianites, the people at times may have thought that Gideon was the 'miracle man' but, in fact, the Lord repeatedly told Gideon what He planned to do - specific revelations! However, once the Lord revealed His plans to Gideon he was expected to hold to them in faith. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were plainly outstanding men of faith apparently received no revelation regarding the outcome of their 'fiery furnance' trial. They responded to this in humility rather than arrogantly telling their torturers when and where the Lord would intervene on their behalf! Notice that when Nebuchadnezar challenged them about not worshipping the image which he had set up, this was their reaction:
'If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.(NOW NOTICE THIS:) BUT IF NOT, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up'
(Daniel 3:17-18, my insert and emphasis).
The 'but if not' reveals that the brave young men had not received a revelation about the outcome of this incident. They knew that the Lord could dramatically intervene there and then if it was His will but also plainly understood that that was within the Lord's area of jurisdiction! Of course, we now know that a miracle, indeed an outstanding miracle, certainly occurred, and the young men were delivered. The young men had prayed and then left the matter entirely in the Lord's hands. They had made no dramatic claims! If such outstanding men of faith understood that praying and exercising faith has nothing to do with making rash and bold claims about what God was going to do or what they were going to do and when these things would occur (that is, without receiving a specific revelation from God), shouldn't we also understand this and ensure that we never arrogantly make any claims which only have a foundation within our own minds?
If a Christian man or woman is sick, they should pray and ask others to pray. Such a person - as a Christian - could then rightfully say, "I know that the Lord will heal me!" But if that person then added, "Such is my faith, that I claim my healing by this time tomorrow!" Is that really faith? Or simply foolishness which has no scriptural basis? I think that the answer to that should now be obvious.
I know who the preacher was who made this comment and I have purposely kept his name out of this because he is a fine and faithful man - far from being a 'word-faith' or prosperity teacher but I would honestly question his comment on this occasion.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.
The reader of this article may also wish to read All About Faith; What Is Faith? What Isn't Faith?
Also: The Vulnerability of Godly Prayer
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