In his short but powerful book All of Grace, Charles Spurgeon wrote that weak faith, as long as it is true faith, saves a person no less effectively than strong faith: “A trembling hand may receive a golden gift.” Similarly, D.A. Carson set forth a parable in one of his sermons about two Hebrew men on the night God was to slay all the firstborn in Egypt. Both men, in obedience to God’s instructions, had smeared the blood of a lamb on the doorframes of their houses so that they would not be harmed by this final plague. One man continued to be a bit nervous about the impending judgment coming upon the land that night. The other was calm and confident, firm in his belief that God would do just as he said and pass by when he saw the blood. On the night the deadly plague descended upon the land, which of these men’s houses was spared? The both of them! Though one man had weak faith and the other strong faith, both of these men believed God, obeyed God, and were blessed by God.
What Spurgeon and Carson were saying is that it is not the intensity of faith that saves but the object of faith that saves. And I believe they are correct. This principle can be seen in the narratives of almost every biblical character. There were times when the faith of Abraham, Jacob, David, Jonah, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Peter, and many others was strong and steadfast. But the faith of these men dwindled at times. Did their seasons of weak belief disqualify them from God’s saving mercy? Absolutely not!
However, though feeble faith is in some sense permissible, it is certainly not ideal. The Scriptures never affirm it. As I was reading Matthew’s Gospel last week, I couldn’t help but notice how often Jesus called out his disciples about their “little faith.”
- But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:30
- When they were on the boat with Jesus and a storm began raging, he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)
- When Peter got out of the boat and began walking on the water but quickly became afraid and started to sink, Jesus said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
- When the disciples quickly forgot how Jesus had just fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread, he said to them, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?” (Matthew 16:8)
- When the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to cast a demon out of a young boy, he answered them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
At the very least, our lack of faith robs us of joy and peace. But sometimes, as we see in Matthew’s Gospel, our doubt can even hinder God’s supernatural activity in our lives. When Peter’s faith dwindled, God withdrew from him the power that enabled him to walk on water. When the disciples lacked faith, God withdrew from them the power that enabled them to cast out demons. Does human doubt somehow disable the omnipotent God? Absolutely not! He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants however he wants. Our faith is not the source of his power. He doesn’t need it. However, we see throughout the Scriptures that it is his good pleasure to manifest his power through and on behalf of his people’s confidence in him.
God doesn’t want us to just barely believe in him. He wants us to live confidently and courageously in light of who he is, what he has done, and what he swears to continue doing for us! He wants us to wholeheartedly believe that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). When we pray according to his will, he tells us to believe we have received what we have requested (Mark 11:24). He commands us to pray in faith with no doubting (James 1:6), warning that the doubtful man should expect to receive nothing from him (James 1:7).
So, how do we move from weak faith to tenacious faith?
First and foremost, we should cry out to God like the man in Mark’s Gospel, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Faith is not some innate force within us that can be mustered up by our own self-will; it is a supernatural gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8). We need God’s help to believe in him as fully as we should. Second, we should immerse ourselves in the Bible. The Spirit gives and strengthens faith by means of God’s Word (Romans 10:17). Peter tells his readers, “Pay attention to [the prophetic word] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). It has been a constant pattern in my own life that the amount of time I spend “paying attention” to God’s revelation of himself in the Bible corresponds to the strength of my faith. The more I dwell in the Word, the more robust are my belief and trust in God.
I realize that “Bible reading and prayer” sounds like a simple, Sunday school answer. But it really is that simple! God is not in the business of complicating things. If we will just take up these means of faith-strengthening grace he has given us, the Spirit will work through them to enhance our faith. The question is, will we?