Read: Matthew 17:1-20
Focus: Matthew 17: 20
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.“
“You don’t have enough faith”… When we read that now, we often see that as a chastisement of the disciples, but did Jesus really mean it to be? In order to answer that, let’s march this backwards and take a look at the term “faith”.
Faith is an extremely important Biblical concept that we need to grasp; I know it’s important because Jesus talked about faith over 50 times in the four gospels. However, I sometimes hear the word “faith” used in a manner that makes me wonder how well we actually grasp its meaning – I think many people confuse faith with belief. In order to be a Christian, we must believe that Jesus is our Savior and our Lord; that He died on the cross as the full payment for our sins, was raised by the Father, and will return for His church. It is our responsibility to believe. Often times, faith is also seen as something that we as believers are solely responsible for (as in I’m responsible for my own faithfulness), but Hebrews 11:1 defines “faith” in a way that should give us pause: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Where does that “confidence” and “assurance” come from? The Greek word used for faith in Hebrews 11:1 is the same Greek word used for faith in Matthew 17:20 and many other places in the New Testament – pistin or pistis. If you go back to the ancient Greek, this word for faith is a nuanced one. In its simplest secular form, it means the type of trust that is brought about by a guarantee or a warranty. The complexity comes when we look at its root. Its root means to be persuaded by a divine force. So when you break it down, the meaning of what we see as a simple word would be something like a trustworthiness that is solid, dependable, and inspires confidence because it is being guaranteed by God.
The nuance in this is that our faith is gifted to us by God; it doesn’t come internally from us. Galatians 5:22 teaches us that faithfulness (pistis) is one of the fruits (or rewards) of being filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, without the Holy Spirit living in us, we can’t have faithfulness (or be full of faith). Strong’s concordance puts it like this: The Lord continuously births faith in the surrendered believer so the believer can know what God prefers (or is God’s revealed will). We see this in 1 John 5:4 where the Apostle John tells us “because everyone who has been born from God has won the victory over the world. Our faith is what wins the victory over the world.” This victory isn’t something we can make happen on our own; victory over sin, death, and other worldly consequences is only possible through God’s grace and is brought about in our life through faith. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.”
So what does all of this mean? If I look back at the focus verse, I see it a bit differently now. Yes, Jesus is telling His disciples they were lacking in faith as He does in other verses as well. But were they lacking in faith because of a lack of belief on their part? Did they lack zeal? I don’t think this is what Jesus means in this verse. Instead I think He means the disciples didn’t yet possess that faith because they hadn’t been gifted with the Holy Spirit in their lives. This especially makes sense if we also think about Jesus’ promises to His disciples about how it is best that He leave and send the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit will bestow upon them the power necessary to spread His gospel throughout the world (see John 14 – 16 and Acts 1). Without the Holy Spirit, the disciples didn’t have the faith or power to calm the wind and waves (Mark 4 and Matthew 8) or to cast out the demon from the boy. Without the Holy Spirit living in them, the disciples wouldn’t have had the power, boldness, or courage to witness Jesus to anyone after His death let alone start a movement known as Christianity that has changed the course of history.
Faith is a gift from God; think of faith as being beyond having belief. It isn’t earned through our works, and we can’t try harder to be more faithful. So if faith is a gift from God, what’s our role in receiving that gift? First, we must be believers in and followers of Jesus as our Lord and Savior in order to have faith. Once that happens, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. God will begin filling us with faith in Him when we surrender to Jesus. As we continue growing spiritually and surrendering more of ourselves to His will, He will grow that faith in us.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your Holy Spirit and the fruit and gifts He brings. I believe You when You tell us that faith is a gift from You and without faith it is impossible to please You. I pray for more faith; please give me the faith necessary to move the mountains in my life so I can bring You glory and reflect Your light to everyone I encounter. In Jesus’ name I pray… Amen