BY DANIEL SEGRAVES
“Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22).
Some have confused faith with a way of thinking, a mental attitude one can adopt at will. There is a tendency to equate faith with positive thinking or a positive mental attitude. Some have gone so far as to
suggest that faith is the exercise of one’s powers of imagination in visualizing what one desires until it comes into reality. Faith thus becomes mental imagery, and the more vivid the mental image the more
powerful the faith. In a negative sense, some think that it is faith to deny sickness, illness, or pain. All of these ideas are far from biblical faith.
The Bible knows nothing of “faith” that exists in the realm of the mind alone. Faith is not mere mental assent to a set of facts. Nor is it denying reality and creating one’s own world by mental gymnastics.
Though, in some cases-especially when it appears with the definite article-faith has to do with the facts of doctrinal truth (Jude 3; Romans 1:5; Galatians 1:23; I Timothy 4:1, 6), biblical faith ordinarily describes trust in God. It is not incorrect to translate pisteuo or pistis as “believe” or “faith” or “confidence,” as long as we realize that to believe or to have faith or to have confidence in biblical terms means to trust in God. The adjective pistos means to be faithful in the sense of being trustworthy and dependable. Faith views God as being worthy of one’s trust.
Thus biblical faith has nothing to do with attempting to manipulate circumstances to suit one’s fancy. It has to do with trusting God regardless of the circumstances. This is nowhere better illustrated than in Job’s stirring declaration, in the midst of the most devastating trial, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
It is true that faith in God will often result in pleasant blessings–healing, the supply of needs, prayer answered as one hoped it would be (Hebrews 11:32-35). It is equally true that faith in God sometimes
results in painful circumstances–torture, trials, and even death (Hebrews 11:35-39). In the final analysis, the prayer of faith is the prayer that submits to the will of God. (See I John 5:14-15.) Faith is
not twisting God’s arm; it is trusting God’s arms.
The factor most commonly leading to a perversion of the idea of faith is a misunderstanding of the connection between faith and the working of miracles or answered prayer as described by Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 9:28-29; 15:28; 17:20-21) and by others elsewhere (Acts 14:9; I Corinthians 12:9; 13:2). By looking only at a narrow range of biblical evidence, some have concluded that faith is some kind of “force” which causes things to happen. Tying closely together the supposed power of spoken words with mental imagery, some have suggested that words are “containers” that, when filled with the “force” of faith, obligate God to perform at our behest. In other words, by speaking the “word of faith” we can enact some kind of “spiritual laws” that assure results as certainly as “natural laws.”
One of the main passages these teachers rely upon for this view of faith is Mark 11:20-24. After Jesus’ disciples observed the withered fig tree, He said to them: “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to
you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say
to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (NKJV).
The misunderstanding of this text to mean that anything we can imagine will be done if we can visualize it vividly enough begins by ignoring or perverting the clear command:
“Have faith in God.” Some have suggested that we should translate this command as, “Have the faith of God,” but there is absolutely no textual warrant for such a translation.
The actual Greek text reads echete pistin theou. Echete is an imperative, a command, in the second person plural. It means “you (plural) have.” It is a command by Jesus for His disciples to have faith. Pistin is the accusative form of pistis, which means “faith.” The word is not preceded by the definite article; thus to translate it “the faith” is wrong. Theou, from theos (“God”), is in the genitive case, which is essentially the case of description.
Some teachers apparently think of every genitive in terms of possession and suppose a genitive must always be translated “of.” Therefore, they suggest that theou should be translated “of God.” From there, it is a short distance to adding the definite article to “faith,” and the result is “Have the faith of God.” But, as with any other case in the Greek language, the genitive has a wide variety of uses depending upon
construction and context. Here, we have either an objective genitive or a genitive of reference. With an objective genitive, “the genitive receives the action, being thus related as object to the verbal idea
contained in the noun modified.” In this cause, God is the object of the faith. A genitive of reference qualifies nouns or adjective. We could understand the sense by the translation “with reference to.” In
other words, the phrase could be translated, “Have faith with reference to God.” Grammatically, we can understand the genitive in this verse either way. That is why reputable translations render the phrase,
“Have faith in God.”
This phrase is key to understanding the passage. It means our faith, or our trust, must be in God. That is, He must be the object of our faith. Faith is not a force in itself. The only thing that validates faith is its object. If it is not trust in God, “faith” is merely an exercise in mental manipulation.
The marvelous promise of Jesus that believers can move mountains depends completely on one’s prior faith in God. The contextual emphasis of the passage is not on speaking to the mountain, or having
whatever one says, or even on believing for answered prayer. The emphasis is on having faith in God. All of these other things are simply the natural by-products of faith, or trust, in God. In other words, as our trust is in God we can speak to mountains and believe for answered prayer. And if our trust is in God, we will know to which mountains He wants us to speak, and the things for which He wants us to believe, and the petitions for which we should pray.
The second mistake of those who misinterpret this passage is ignoring the wider testimony of Scripture about answered prayer. John wrote, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask
anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (I John 5:14-15, NKJV). The assurance that we have our petitions comes from the knowledge that God has heard our prayer. And the knowledge that He has heard our prayer comes from asking according to His will. The only prayers we can be certain God will answer according to our desire are those in accordance with His will.
Thus Mark 11:22-24 cannot mean that we set the agenda, and God is forced to do whatever we say, so long as we do not doubt. It means that if our trust is in God, and His will is our will, we will speak to
the mountains He intends to move, we will have absolute confidence that what we have said will be done-because we know it is God’s will-and we will pray with the confidence that we will receive, for our prayer has been in accordance with the will of God.
The only thing Jesus said would invalidate the promise of Mark 11:23-24 is doubt in one’s heart. And the only way to remove doubt completely is to place one’s trust exclusively in God. Otherwise, no matter how desperately we wish for a certain thing to come to pass, and no matter how vividly we may imagine it actually transpiring, there is always at least a little question as to whether what we want is what God wants.
Nowhere did Jesus more perfectly demonstrate the prayer of faith than in the Garden of Gethsemane: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, NKJV). According to the view of some, if Jesus had been positive enough in His confession, and if He had prayed with enough faith, He could have forced God to arrange another plan for redemption. Jesus did sincerely pray, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Some have the idea that where there is faith, anything is possible. But some things are simply not possible, because they are
not the will of God. It was not possible that Jesus avoid the bitter cup. But His prayer was a demonstration of genuine faith, or trust, in God, for He prayed, “Not as I will, but as You will.”
Throughout His life on earth, Jesus never failed in ministry, for He attempted nothing but what was the will of God. (See John 5:19-20.) The success of His ministry was not merely due to His using certain
formulas or speaking with great assurance or His putting all doubt out of His heart. Rather His ministry was successful because He was perfectly led by the Spirit and He was completely surrendered to the
will of God. (See Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1; 14,18; Hebrews 10:7.)
Mark 11:22-24 does not give us a “faith formula” by which we can make anything happen that we can imagine. Instead, it flows with the broad teaching of Scripture on this subject: Where there is genuine trust in God, prayer will be made in accordance with the will of God, and those prayers will be answered.
The suggestion that we must have “the faith of God” or, as some propose, “the God kind of faith,” implies that God has faith and that He does what He does by faith. From this idea, the teaching follows
that, since we have faith, we can-like God–create “worlds” of some kind. But God does not need faith; He is God. If He had faith, there would have to be an object of His faith, and that object would be
greater than Him. It is we, not God, who need faith, and for our faith to be valid, it must have God as its object.
Brother Segraves is executive vice president of Christian Life College in Stockton, California. This article is excerpted from his new book, Themes from a Letter to Rome, published by Word Aflame Press.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PENTECOSTAL HERALD, DECEMBER,
1995, PAGES, 4,5,12. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.