What IS Faith? What ISN'T Faith?

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"In their hands... faith becomes something which allows us to manipulate God in order to get what we want! And those things which the 'faith teachers' always imply that we should want most appear to be almost entirely bound up with this present life! Health, prosperity, a good career and fine living seem to be of paramount importance in their reasoning!"

In the light of a false and unbiblical conception of faith propounded by the Word-faith movement, it is time for a truly biblical exposition of faith and a corresponding rebuttal of Positive Confession and the Prosperity Teaching!

Faith teachers tell us,
"...You can take to yourselves the very power of Moses!"
But Can We? Where is the Biblical Authority for Stating This?

A prominent Word-faith (or, 'positive confession') teacher said this,

'Too many Christians have been denying themselves blessings which they rightfully own, by simply not claiming them. It's time for Christians everywhere to unlock the door to a successful and prosperous life; just the life that God's people were always intended to enjoy'

Another Word-faith teacher said this,

'YOU can take to yourself the power which Moses had! If Moses could command a rock to give forth water, so can you! If Moses could even part the waters of the Red Sea, so can you! What are you waiting for?? If you command in full, believing faith...IT WILL BE DONE!'

Statements such as these somehow sound so appealing to us. Have we been missing something? Have we really been denying ourselves greater blessings because we have never truly understood the potentialities of faith? Some have come to think so!

But we need to define exactly what biblical faith is, and - just as important - what it is not!!

Biblical faith is best described as a complete trust in the will of God, even in opposition to all appearances which might suggest that our faith might be misplaced. Again, that trust should be in the will of God - NOT OUR OWN WILL. The whole biblical concept is to come to understand God's will and to immerse our hopes and wishes within that.
Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) says this,

'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'

The writer of the Book of Hebrews then gives quite a lengthy list of examples of such faith, such as:

1. Our believing that the world was established and founded by the word of God (verse 3).

2. Enoch's 'translation' straight into heaven at the end of his life (rather than going through the experience of dying). We are not told that Enoch necessarily believed that this would happen, but that God caused it to happen because of an unusual life of faith (verse 5).

3. Noah acting to build an ark even though all physical appearances might have suggested that this was a ridiculous thing to do (verse 7).

4. Abraham leaving his native land and people, to walk out into the unknown, believing that God was leading him to do this (verse 8).

These are not the only examples of faith in this 'faith chapter' of Hebrews, and the reader is encouraged to read the whole chapter.

Verse 6 tells us something very important about faith:

'But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who dilligently seek Him'

So faith is the 'substance' (or, sense of current realisation, or, current full confidence) concerning things 'hoped for.' However, those 'hoped for' things can never - I repeat 'never' - be independent of God's will in the true biblical understanding of faith. After all, why did Noah, for example, 'hope for' a worldwide flood? Simply because God had divinely revealed to him that this would happen!

Faith, then, is an utterly close walk with a God who has revealed Himself to us; it will constantly tend to manifest itself in a wholehearted trust that God means what He says, even when all appearances might suggest otherwise.
Noah was expected to believe what God had revealed to him about a coming flood. Likewise Abraham was expected to act in belief that God would fulfil that which He had promised.

A Flawed Conception of Faith - "You create the presence of Jesus with your mouth ... He is bound by your lips and by your words ... Remember that Christ is depending upon you and your spoken word to release His presence." (Paul Yonggi Cho, The Fourth Dimension, Volume One. Bridge Publishing, Plainfield, NJ: 1979, 83)

In our day, God has revealed to Christians that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Saviour of the world, and He now expects us to go through our lives on this earth in full trust, confidence and acceptance of this fact! Faith, then, necessarily recognises the sovereignty and jurisdiction of God in all areas of one's life.
But the Bible reveals something else to us about such faith:
It is, in itself, wholly a gift of God.

'For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.'
(Ephesians 2:8-9).

So the faith which God takes such joy to see within His people comes from Him. It is not humanly 'worked up'. This tells us that whenever and wherever we hear a converted child of God extolling the virtues of God, he or she is manifesting the gift of faith which has been passed on through the Holy Spirit!

But one may raise an objection to this: One could ask, What of those biblical occasions where Jesus appeared to be surprised by the presence of faith (for instance, in Matthew 8:10; 'I have not found such faith in Israel')? Was that a different sort of faith? No. There is no indication of that. When the centurion revealed such profound faith in Jesus' ability to heal, that in itself was a gift which was granted to him, even if it was only a temporary gift in that particular case! The gift of faith granted to a Christian, though, is more permanent. There are two other things we should note about this remarkable gift:

1. Though it is entirely a gift of God, we have a responsibility to 'feed it' - we ourselves can apparently encourage it to build or diminish, by whether or not we keep close to our Lord Jesus.

2. The second point follows logically from all that we have seen about faith thus far in our study, but still needs to be clearly pointed out:
Faith is not a work of ours, neither is it a reward for any 'good works' by us! It is a gift of God. God has determined that the faith of the righteous shall save them rather than works, so this alone shows that faith is not some work of ours which we can 'work up,' but Ephesians 2: 8-9 makes this abundantly clear when it says this of faith,
' is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast'

So, the grace (unmerited free favour) of God equips us with the faith which saves! Romans 3 tells us a little more about the faith which justifies:

'Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood ('propitiation': to satisfy just and fair anger by means of a sacrifice), through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness...that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus'
(Romans 3:24-26, my insert, and emphases)

So - effectively - God has said, 'Where I see real faith in Me among people, I will grant eternal life.'
This reveals the great Protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone! And it is the faith which God Himself imparts!

So, having reminded ourselves of the clear New Testament doctrine of Faith, let us start to make some comparisons between this faith and the 'faith' which is taught by the 'positive confession,' or, 'prosperity teachers'!

It is no exaggeration to say that the prosperity teachers take the faith which is taught in the Bible and substantially cut it loose from its biblical anchoring within the sovereignty of God. They take certain Scriptures which mention faith in a somewhat hyperbolic or colourful way (such as Matthew 17:20-21, which I will tackle later) and concentrate and focus upon those. But more mundane 'faith Scriptures' (such as those which we have been considering), are usually ignored, even though it is those Scriptures which outline the biblical doctrine of faith in some detail.

In their hands, then, faith becomes something which allows us to manipulate God in order to get what we want! We apparently accomplish this by our bold choice of words. The teaching is: If we speak boldly, God must fall in line with our wishes and desires. And those things which the 'faith teachers' always imply that we should want most appear to be almost entirely bound up with this present life! Health, prosperity, a good career and fine living seem to be of paramount importance in their reasoning!
They seem to teach that words themselves can have some sort of magical properties to them, so that if we say, 'I say that it will rain on Tuesday,' or, 'I say that I will make $5,000 on Tuesday and give half of it to God,' then we can make those things happen.....BUT ONLY IF WE REALLY BELIEVE!
The "believing" bit is taken off God, His sovereignty and and His promises and placed entirely upon our own words! But where is the biblical authority for taking such an odd - and frankly mystical - approach to faith??

So, let us be clear about this: The prosperity teachers cut faith loose from its biblical moorings within the choice, decision and sovereignty of God.

The Flood was not something which Noah just dreamed up, then used "positive confession" to force the Lord to bring it about, same with the parting of the Red Sea and with all of these biblical examples.

We see, then, a process:
a. God reveals Himself to us.
b. Thereafter God expects us to believe that 'He is, and is a rewarder of those who dillgently seek Him.'

That process should not surprise us for Hebrews 11:6 (as we have already seen), spells this out as the correct recipe:
'But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who dilligently seek Him'
Please note that these components for real, living faith from man to God do not include:
'You must believe that God will give you exactly what you ask for, exactly when you want it just as long as you employ bold, "positive confession."'

ALL the great biblical examples of faith looked to the promises of God based on clear divine revelations! One can't help comparing this approach with what is found in the 'Word-faith' movement where sincere, though often naive, people are encouraged to look to various dynamic leaders and to the wholly unbiblical principle of 'positive confession' as the basis of their confidence!

In fact, there is no biblical precedent for God expecting us to 'have faith' in unrevealed/extra-biblical schemes. (Though on some occasions God might still reveal a specific plan for individuals, such as for George Muller to build the Muller Orphanages, or for some of the great missionaries to go to specific parts of the world).

If we take the example of Gideon, the Lord revealed Himself to Gideon in Judges 6:12; thereafter Gideon was expected to walk with the Lord in faith and obedience, but - AND PLEASE NOTE THIS - the Lord always told Gideon what He planned to do! If one considers the entire Gideon narrative starting from Judges 6, it is quite obvious that Gideon occasionally had real trouble believing that the Lord would fulfil all of His promises to him, yet Gideon is clearly listed as an example of faith in the 'faith chapter' of Hebrews 11. It is obvious, therefore, that these occasional doubts were not considered as any lack of faith.

But ALL the great biblical examples of faith looked to the promises of God based on clear divine revelations. One can't help comparing this approach with what is found in the 'Word-faith' movement where sincere, though often naive, people are encouraged to look to various dynamic leaders and to the wholly unbiblical principle of 'positive confession' as the basis of their confidence.


We cannot manipulate God to hand a little of His power and sovereignty over to us in such a manner. We are, after all, to have faith in God and in His revelation....NOT FAITH IN OURSELVES AND OUR "WORD"!

Do we begin to see how the 'name it and claim it' teaching cuts faith loose from the sovereignty of God, turning it into something which - if God allowed it - would surely turn us all into spiritual spoilt brats?

Let us now start to consider some 'Faith Scriptures' a little more closely:

The young men DID NOT say, 'If we have enough faith, God will deliver us - they were not seeking to 'test' or, 'try' God! They already had the necessary faith, but their faith DID NOT MEAN that God HAD to act dramatically to save them from death there and then!

I think that most of us would agree that one of the most inspiring stories of faith in the Old Testament is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Book of Daniel.
In the interests of space I am not going to rehearse the story in great detail here, but would direct the reader to Daniel 3:8-30 for the full story.
These three Jews had outstanding faith in God. Of course, as we already seen, their faith was a gift from God, nothing which could have been humanly 'worked up.' Because Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down and worship the image of gold, they were cast into the 'fiery furnace' where God spared them from all the effects of the flames. Not only that, but one like 'The Son of God' was seen to be walking with them through the flames. What a truly inspiring story this is! But let's notice something. 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).

Notice here that these young men were wholeheartedly walking with God, but God had NOT apparently revealed to them how this incident would turn out! The young men DID NOT say,
'If we have enough faith, God will deliver us - they were not seeking to 'test' or, 'try' God! They already had the necessary faith, but their faith DID NOT MEAN that God HAD to act dramatically to save them from death there and then! This is why, after stating that it was within God's power to dramatically intervene should it be His will, they state - at the beginning of verse 18 - 'But if not' - So they did not know whether or not God planned to dramatically intervene, but made it plain that they were going to obey God no matter what!! Here is outstanding faith which recognises God's sovereignty as all the biblical examples do.
Again, in order to ensure that we are clear about this point, these brave young men DID NOT say, 'If we have enough faith, the Lord will deliver us, but otherwise we will die' They did not set up that particular dichotomy. They already had the faith they needed, but fully understood that they remained subject to God's sovereignty and decision.
What if God had allowed them to die? Would that have been because they lacked faith?? ABSOLUTELY NOT!! And the three young men themselves clearly understood this.

Compare such wisdom with the modern-day "healing evangelist" who says, 'Everybody in this hall tonight can be healed, but only if you have enough faith!!' Such a (so-called) healing evangelist has no authority before God to make such a statement! God may have no intention of healing certain people in that hall, no matter how much faith they may have!! Just as God chose not to heal Paul of his 'thorn in the flesh' despite Paul's great faith!

Do we then begin to see that the faith which is taught in the Bible is not some kind of mystical 'charm' by which we can manipulate God to give us what we want! Faith is only meaningful within the decision, choice, plan and sovereignty of God!

Now lets look at a few Scriptures which the 'positive confession' people use:

Some misunderstand Jesus' comment about the disciples being unable to cast out a demon in Matthew 17. To the disciple's question,

'...Why could we not cast him out?'(Verse 19), Jesus replied, '...Because of your unbelief'(Verse 20).

Why 'unbelief'?? Because it had already been revealed to the disciples that they had been granted the power to heal the sick and drive out demons in Matthew 10:1; these were two primary 'signs of the apostles' - the disciples were now expected to believe this, but they wavered. Jesus goes on to a give an example of the kind of faith needed for miracles, but many have misunderstood this:

'...if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move;and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting'
(Matthew 17:20-21).

I am not going to cover the faith moving mountains question here because I have felt the need to write a separate article on the faith that moves mountains. It is HERE.
But what is somewhat similar to 'moving a mountain'? How about parting the waters of the Red Sea?? It is on a similar sort of scale isn't it? But did Moses HIMSELF part those waters because of his outstanding faith? Or did the LORD tell Moses that He intended to part those waters? The answer is to be found in Exodus 14! But, before you turn there to look, I can tell you that while Moses 'stretched forth his hand,' God told him the miracle He was about to do!
In short: Only God can part a Red Sea or move a mountain. Jesus took it as a 'given' that His listeners understood that! So, in other words, the sense is that if one had enough faith, one could 'move a mountain' - but only in a figurative sense, no literal mountain will be moved unless the sovereign God elects to do so for a specific and meaningful purpose.

A Charismatic congregation meets.

An emotional charismatic congregation meets in South Africa. It tends to be such groups which are taught an unbiblical view of faith, although we do not necessarily apply this to this particular group.

So when Word-faith teachers tell us that we too can 'tap into' the 'faith power' of Moses which could even part a Red Sea, I would suggest that they are not only misinterpreting what faith is, but being very careless in their scriptural exposition! Of course, once God told Moses what He (God) would do, Moses was expected to have faith that God would carry out His promise! But God never asks us to 'have faith' in any unrevealed scheme, proposition or so-called "design for our healthy and prosperous lives". So God does not expect us to have an unusual 'faith' in our very own words.

Another Scripture used by the faith teachers is Mark 9:23:

'Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."'

Jesus was here referring to the faith which saves; eventually the faith which only God can grant to us will lead to eternal life! 'All things' are indeed possible to those who have this Godly faith - but does "all things" include things like that luxury car, or job promotion, or financial income you have always wanted?? Of course not! Jesus is talking about spiritual matters here and where the faith that saves will eventually lead. Above all, He is certainly not discussing the severance of faith from the will of God.

Matthew 21:22 is somewhat similar. It says:

'And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.'

Of course, God expects us to pray to Him believingly! Don't forget, just as Noah was expected to believe that God would indeed cause a worldwide flood - after God had revealed it to him - God expects Christians to believe that God will indeed equip us for eternal life in His kingdom through the Lord Jesus Christ! We must never approach God in prayer waveringly. We should believe that He is a God who abundantly rewards His people!

However, here again, some think that the 'whatever you ask in prayer' can include things which - if God granted them - would hardly keep us on course for God's kingdom! It should not take too much spiritual acumen to see that the 'whatever you ask in prayer' will not run to things like praying that God would allow a young man to marry some desirable and beautiful Hollywood actress, or praying that one will become wealthy, or even praying that one will become a famous preacher! The assumption being that whatever a Christian might 'ask in prayer' will be in accordance with a true Christian life. Of course, we should always place our prayerful petitions before God in confidence that He is a loving, fair and just God who will hear His servants. But The 'name it and claim it' teaching has no biblical foundation but only survives where it can twist, pervert and pull Scriptures totally out of context.

We should always realise and remember that ALL OF OUR PRAYERS are subject to God's choice, plan, decision and sovereignty! God, for instance, sometimes does not heal and we must respect His jurisdiction in this area. Perhaps the sick person is developing the godly character he or she will need, through that illness. Perhaps others are developing patience, love and compassion through dealing with that sick person. These are areas which God will consider. However, we should certainly pray for the sick to be healed and I myself have witnessed several dramatic healings. But does that mean that we have to somehow 'work up' the belief that that sick person will always be healed? Hardly, neither is that possible; but we should certainly joyfully and hopefully petition the Lord to heal that person should it be His will. We can also take confidence that every sick person will eventually know healing in the resurrection. I have noticed that on several occasions when I have started to pray for sick people, the Lord shows me whether He will heal that person! If such a person dies, should anyone be reproached for a lack of faith? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It may simply have been God's will - again, we cannot manipulate God's sovereignty.
On one occasion I sat down and prayed with the father of a young man who was very, very sick. Initially, I felt that the young man had a chance to be physically-restored, but as soon as I started to pray, the knowledge appeared to be placed directly into my mind that the young man would die and that I should be very careful what I said. I simply asked God for this family to be given the strength and courage for the trial which lie ahead. The young man died 3 days later.
On another occasion I prayed for three old ladies to be healed, and the Lord did not grant me any particular knowledge as to whether He would allow healing. In fact, all three were healed, the sickest of the three being healed dramatically!

I can recommend both a book and some articles on healing here. The book is Miraculous Healing by Henry Frost which a good Christian book shop should be able to order for you. The articles are my article called IS PHYSICAL HEALING INCLUDED IN THE ATONEMENT? and WHEN CHRISTIANS BECOME SICK. A further article called UNDERSTANDING THE VULNERABILITY OF GODLY PRAYER will also prove helpful.
I cover two other Scriptures which the Word-faith people use (3 John 2 and John 10:10) in my article, 3 JOHN 2; WHAT IS THE MEANING?

It is my earnest wish that many 'positive confession' and prosperity people will read this article and come to a much deeper understanding of what biblical faith really is and (just as importantly), what it is not!!

Robin A. Brace
2003, slight re-edit in 2008.

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