Posted by: Damon Whitsell | February 8, 2010

Is Faith a Superpower?


SOURCE: I have recently received an email with questions about some Bible verses on the topic of prayer and, more particularly, faith. I know many people struggle with the issue of faith. In many circles—such as the Word of Faith—the issue of faith is taken out of its Biblical context and used as a personal method for selfish desires. So, when I got this email, I was happy to reply. Below is the email and my response follows:

What does Mark 11:22-24 mean?
What does Matt 21:21-22 mean?
What does John 15:7 mean?
What does Mark 9:23 mean?
What does Luke 17:5 mean?
All of these are on the same subject, but I have never heard them preached in a “reformed” sermon, and I have listened to hundreds of them in the last year.

Mark 11:22-24 and Matthew 21:21-22 (since these are of the same reference, I will be using the former).

Matthew 21:21-22, “21 And Jesus answered them, Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will happen.22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

From what I study of this, the use of moving a mountain was common among Jewish literature as a metaphor for doing what was seemingly impossible. You have to remember, the Jewish community sought power, while the Gentiles sought knowledge. Thus, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, would be using language they would understand, that would not only convey knowledge to them, but also some pictorial and emotional meaning.

We must also remember that the Scriptures use extremes as examples for us to learn from, so as to better illustrate a meaning. While these extremes were very real in history, they are unlikely to repeat themselves because the message has already been verified. In other words, the gospel has been confirmed. Take for instance the experience of Job. This is unlikely to happen to modern day man, or any other man for that matter. It was an extreme event that basically describes humanity: things happen to people that we simply do not know how to answer, rather we are to trust in the Lord and His good purpose(s).

Therefore, miracles do happen, but we should not seek them, rather we should seek the most of the Kingdom of God as it is in us to seek, not without the calling of the Spirit.

John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

The meaning of this text cannot be overlooked. We must not forget by what context it is positioned, which is the context of bearing fruit, which brings joy. If we begin with John 15:1, it is clear that Jesus is explaining who he is. This is one of the “I am” statements of the New Testament. Jesus “IS” the vine, and his disciples are the branches. Since he is the “I am,” apart from him one can do no—thing (John 15:5). And the point of being part of the vine is to bear fruit (John 15:1-2). Why would the purposes of the branches be to bear fruit? So that the Father can be glorified. Therefore, following verse 7, verse 8 reads, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” And in doing this, His “joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

We must conclude here that Jesus is not meaning that a person can have what ever they so please and it will be done for them. Rather, He is speaking to His disciples who are IN Him—to bear fruit. Therefore, what they would “wish” is what would help them bear fruit, which would bring glory to God, not themselves. This is much like Psalms 37:3-4, where God is says through His spokesman, “3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This is often misquoted by saying that God will give you what you really want. We miss, however, verse 3! Also, it is followed in verse 5 by “Commit yours way to the Lord” (Ps. 37:5)! It’s not about what the individual wants, it’s about what the newly regenerated heart desires, and the indwelling Spirit quickens in the purchased believer to desire that which the Lord desires; because what the Spirit wants is to glorify God; what the regenerated heart wants is more of Jesus and also to glorify God.

Mark 9:23, “And Jesus said to him, If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”

Again, we must include context: a boy that has been convulsing and foaming at the mouth since birth is brought to Jesus. The disciples could not drive out the demon, so Jesus picks up the slack. In Mark 9:21, Jesus asks the man how long this has been happening to the boy, to which the man replies, “From childhood.” Then in the very next verse the man says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). It is then Jesus responds, “If you can!” Well, of course Jesus can! That is why he continues, “All things are possible for one who believes.”

I do not think Jesus is here meaning that if only a person believes, they can become the next president; or that if a person believes, they can take place of Bill Gates; or if they JUST believe, they could have the answer to all life’s mysteries. Again, Jesus uses language that is certain to get across a message of faith. But who or what is the object of faith? Is it our own words spoken? Our own faith manifested into words? Not at all! It is Christ Jesus, of course! Why else would the man respond, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)? The man is at this point asking the one who grants faith to help his own faithlessness, he is not speaking encouraging—feel good—words to himself and neither is Jesus responding in that manner. In other words, we can understand it this way: “have faith in me.”

Luke 17:5, “The apostles said to the Lord, Increase our faith!”

Yes, once again, context is needed. After the apostles said this, Jesus replies, “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” (Luke 17:6). I’m not sure about you, but I have never seen, nor have read any reports, of something of this nature happening, other than Jesus himself withering the fig tree. I think Jesus is, again, using a metaphor to convey a message that even the tiniest bit of faith can lead to remarkable results.

Let us, for a moment, say that Jesus really means this thing can happen. It would only be possible with one in whom he resides, for this kind of faith is not found in the flesh; and then how would it bring glory to God? What purpose would it serve? Some fancy trick? Here is why it would not happen: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed” (Luke 17:20).

The problem with Word of Faith teachers is they usually always take the Scripture passages out of context.

They manipulate the meaning of the text, so as to tickle the ears of people. After all, who wouldn’t want the power to do such things? But when these passages are read in the context of their surrounding text, we see a message Jesus is conveying through types, metaphors and illustrations. So, not only must we read them in their immediate context, but within the context of the entire Bible. What does the Bible speak about regarding prayer in other places along with the immediate context? What does the Bible speak about regarding faith in other places along with the immediate context? These questions are good to keep in mind, especially when the immediate context is difficult to understand. Remember, the Scriptures are consistent, just as God is consistent. Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Scripture.

Self Disclaimer

What I must say before closing out this post is that I certainly do not dismiss the veracity of miracles. I’ve seen them, and I believe God can do great things. However, they are not to be the object of our pursuit. Rather, they will accompany our journey in faith, if God wills, when God wills. Perhaps the many miracles God performs are those we overlook every day.



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