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The path to living faith

   By Brian Knowles Page 1 2 Reprint Article 1975

Without faith it is utterly impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Yet Jesus asked: ". . . When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
The terrifying implications of that question should give pause to any true Christian!
What is this faith that God seeks in His people? How is it attained?
Is it even possible to have living faith in an age of skepticism, criticism and doubt?


Faith is a cop-out — a device used by those who are unwilling to face the facts and to acknowledge the bitter truth." claim the critics of conventional Christianity. In many instances this criticism is entirely justified!

Professing Christians have often resorted to "faith" (falsely so-called) when they are unable to resolve some theological difficulty. "I just believe it because my church teaches it, that's all — I don't have to understand it," is the thinking.

This type of faith is rightly subject to ridicule and criticism. This indeed is "blind faith." This is not the kind of faith which God seeks in His children!

Peter told the churches: ". . . Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you. . ." (I Peter 3:15).


Faith Must Be Built

The faith of a true Christian is not blind. It is based on reason. It is founded on firm evidence. It is established on the bedrock of conviction!

True faith is not suddenly acquired at baptism. Rather, it is something that is built over a period of time. It is a product, result of experience, study and testing. It is produced by the continual working of God's Holy Spirit in the life of an individual Christian. Paul lists faith as one of the "fruits of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22.

There is no such thing as "instant faith." True, enduring, believing faith is not suddenly acquired. It is primarily the result of experience. The apostle Peter provides us with an excellent illustration of this point.

Before Peter was converted and granted the gift of the Holy Spirit, he had nothing more than a certain human confidence. He was impetuous and cocksure. But he did not have abiding, living faith.

The well known account of Jesus walking on the water provides an interesting insight into this fact. Immediately after Jesus had performed one of the most notable miracles of His public ministry — the feeding of more than five thousand with five loaves and two fishes — He instructed His disciples to take a small boat back to Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14:15-22). Jesus Himself sought a little privacy, during which time He prayed (verse 23).

While He was praying, evening came and a strong wind arose on the lake (verse 24). All night long the tiny ship was buffeted about by the wind and the waves. They were unable to make it to shore. Perhaps the mast had snapped. Possibly the vessel's rudder had been lost. The disciples cowered in fear as the storm continued to buffet the small craft. Finally, somewhere between 3 and 6 a.m. (the 4th watch - verse 25), Jesus came to His beleaguered disciples, walking on the water!

At first, the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit of some type. After all, Jesus was a physical human being at that time. Walking on water was simply not done every day by your average Galilean Their reaction was entirely natural.

As soon as Jesus identified Himself, Peter reacted with typical impetuosity. He said: "Lord, if it be thou [apparently he still was not convinced], bid me come unto thee on the water" (verse 28).

Peter was acting presumptuously. His confidence was momentary and artificial. He had not thought the situation through. He wasn't even entirely sure, at that moment, if he was talking to Jesus Christ. Yet he reacted — he literally "stepped out on faith."

"And he [Christ] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus" (verse 29).

But Peter's "faith" was insufficient to sustain him. When he began to realize the logical absurdity of the situation, his confidence and his body began to sink simultaneously! " . . . When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me" (verse 30). The momentary force of Peter's quickly acquired faith immediately dissipated in the face of stark reality!

Jesus turned the situation into an object lesson in living faith. "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Verse 31)

Let's analyze the situation. The skeptic will argue that Peter had no reason to have faith that he would be able to walk on water. After all, doing so defies the laws of physics. Science tells us that the only kind of water a person can walk on is frozen water — ice.

Must we then conclude that Jesus was unreasonable in expecting Peter to have faith under these circumstances?

Not at all.

Peter had powerful evidence upon which to base his faith! He had the evidence right before his eyes — Jesus was doing it! That's what gave him the initial impetus to step out of the boat.

In addition, Peter had seen strong evidence of the power of God the previous day in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. If God could provide up to ten thousand people with food from five loaves and two fishes — could He not also provide a little buoyancy on a stormy lake?

Yet there are reasons why Peter's faith failed.


Why Peter's Faith Failed

For one thing, he began to look at the physical circumstances. He focused on the howling wind, the turbulent waves and the flying spindrift. He took his mind off Jesus Christ and his faith! In his mind, Peter replaces superior evidence with inferior. The simple fact that Jesus Himself was defying the laws of nature in walking on the water should have told him that it could indeed, be done! He was actively witnessing it.

Yet Peter chose to ignore this conclusive evidence and instead focused his attention on the circumstances with which he was more familiar.

Secondly, Peter lacked experience.

Experience produces confidence. It sets up a pattern of precedents upon which a person can build. The more one has experienced the miracle working power of God, the more he begins to take it for granted — the more faith and confidence is built.

Faith must become intrinsic. It must be enduring and abiding — an indelible part of one's spiritual personality. The exercising of faith in a given situation must ultimately become second nature to a Christian.

But this takes time and experience. Each experience provides a stepping-stone for the next. Jesus provided His disciples (students) with many such experiences during the three and one half years of His earthly ministry. Each of these was added to the reservoir of experience upon which the disciples drew throughout their entire ministry.

By the time the Church was established and underway, Peter had grown enormously in dynamic, living faith! Notice this account in the book of Acts: "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at that gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful to ask alms of those who entered the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, 'Look at us.' And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, 'I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.' And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong" (Acts 3: 1-7, RSV).

This was not the same Peter who had faltered in faith on the stormy Sea of Galilee. Here was a man charged with confidence in Jesus Christ and in the power of God. What Peter now had (cf. verse 6) was living, dynamic, instantly available faith! He now looked to the right kind of evidence — the power of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God! His faith had been built upon years of experience. Now that faith was intrinsic!


Levels of Faith

The level of Peter's faith had risen to such a degree that even his passing by resulted in incredible healings (Acts 5:15-16). The Holy Spirit had been working

with him producing a backlog of faith and confidence building experiences. Now the exercise of faith was second nature to the apostle. He walked and lived in faith. His experiences had produced confident hope and assurance. As Paul later wrote: ". . . Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope" (Rom. 5:3-4).

Christ desires that all Christians achieve this level of faith. We are told no less than four separate times in Scripture: "The just shall live by his faith" (cf. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). As Paul told the church at Corinth: "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7). Before conversion, like Peter, we did exactly the opposite — we walked by sight, not by faith.

In the walking on water incident, Peter had allowed what he saw to overrule what he knew. The Christian does the opposite. His faith is based on the firm evidence of what he knows to be the will of God.

Peter sank by sight — but Jesus had walked on the water by faith!

Sometimes what we see erodes our confidence. It is especially difficult to exercise faith in our modern, technological society. It is difficult to even feel close to God in a world that denies Him at every turn.

The Bible itself has been so examined, criticized, evaluated, analyzed, critiqued and torn apart that it is hard to even know which parts of it are trustworthy! How can we be certain of the will of God in any given circumstance unless we have some reliable revelation?