– Is it possible? –
Jesus said to them, “Because you have so little faith. For sure, I tell you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to over there,’ and it would move over. You will be able to do anything.“
Matthew 17:20 (NLV)
The apostles of Jesus once asked Him “Lord, increase our faith.” [Luke 17:5]. This seems like a reasonable request at first but the more I think about what they were asking, I can only believe that it was a misguided request growing out of their naivety. At this point in their ‘discipleship’ [a word meaning ‘learning’] they still had a long way to go in their ‘growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ The Lord explains in the verses that follow [6-10] what is really important in our relationship with Him.
A church friend at Haliburton United Church once asked me this question: “How can I increase my faith, Paul?” This undoubtedly is a question which many sincere Christians ponder, the answer to which seems elusive. The question as posed is quite impossible to answer, that is, without identifying the ‘object’ of that faith, but clearly my friend was asking a question about his relationship with God. He was asking me, ‘How can I increase my faith, my belief, my confidence in, or my trust in the God of the Bible in the 21st century AD?’ [All of these faith words come from the same Greek word.]
He was, as were the disciples of the first century, attempting to believe more, to trust more, to have more confidence in something or Someone. But I do not believe it, any more than love can be quantified. Whenever the Lord used the word ‘love’ as a verb or as a directive, He never qualified or quantified the command, “love your neighbour as yourself” by saying instead, “love your neighbour more than yourself’. It is only love’s manifestation in actions that can be quantified.
I would like to suggest that the request as written/asked is impossible. Simply stated, you cannot increase your faith in anything and especially in the Lord! The Lord’s response that day, did not consist of a list of exercises one must do to increase faith. He did not wave a magical wand with instant faith clearly being manifested. Did they expect, all of a sudden, to become omniscient or begin speaking in tongues? Did they hope to glow like Moses, when he came down from Mount Sinai after 40 days/nights in God’s very presence while receiving the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone? NO, the Lord simply referred to the faith of a mustard seed. ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed…’. Have you ever wondered how much faith a mustard seed might have? The answer seems almost as esoteric as their request, ‘Lord increase our faith’!
John Piper (desiringGod.org) writes in part,
… the crucial issue in accomplishing great things to advance the kingdom of God is not the quantity of our faith, but the power of God. He says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” By referring to the tiny mustard seed after being asked about increased faith, he deflects attention away from the quantity of faith to the object of faith.
God moves mulberry trees. And it does not depend decisively on the quantity of our faith, but on his power and wisdom and love. In knowing this we are helped not to worry about our faith and are inspired to trust God’s free initiative and power.
Piper further writes, [quoted in part here]
… he helps their faith grow by telling them in Luke 17:7–10 that when they have done all they are commanded to do, they are still radically dependent on grace. Jesus gives an illustration …
The example Jesus uses of the slave/master relationship is helpful. We are the slaves; God is the Master. Slaves will never have any claim on their Master’s grace. We perform what duty requires of us [verse 10]; we are debtors of God; but His grace is free, above and beyond whatever our indebtedness amounts to. God is not indebted to us in any way but, apart from His grace [the ‘debt-forgiveness’ paid on the cross of Calvary by Jesus], we still retain all of our great deal of debt which we cannot (nor could not ever) repay.
It is only by His grace…as the hymn Grace Alone says [youtu.be/b6lhilgWXIE]. Even whatever faith in God I may claim, that too is a gift of God. This efficacious grace on God’s part is what draws us by faith to trust His Truth, Jesus Christ, as Lord and Saviour.
For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that [meaning our faith] not of yourselves; it [also meaning our faith] is a gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]
Shared with my prayer for your encouragement,
To come –
- Part 2: Can we increase our faith in mechanical things?
- Part 3: Can we increase our faith in humanity?
- Part 4: What does an ‘increase in faith’ in God look like?
 John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently What Is Saving Faith?.
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