T. PIERCE BROWN
Jesus told his Apostles in Mk. 11:23, “Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, `Be thou removed and cast into the sea’ and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” There are some passages that are difficult to explain without watering them down or practically explaining them away. We want to make sure that our doctrine conforms to God’s word, and not try to make God’s word conform to our preconceived notions. Let us examine with care what the passage in Mark 11:22-24 actually says, and then see if there is any application of the principle to us.
Some astute scholars in the Lord’s church have pointed out that since moving mountains would involve a miracle, it would take a “miraculous faith” which was limited to inspired men, so this passage has very little, if any, application to us. We are sure that the age of miracles is past, but also feel that probing into the meaning of this passage has great value to us if, as, or when we uncover eternal principles.
In the first place, it is our opinion that the expression in verse 22, “Have faith in God” almost certainly has a deeper and slightly different meaning than any translator or commentator of our knowledge suggests. The literal translation is “Have (the) faith of God.” It is ASSUMED by practically everyone, as far as we know (including Greek scholars of note) that this means, “Have faith IN God.” After having checked as far as our limited resources allow, we are convinced that it is merely an ASSUMPTION based upon conclusions that are related to the way the objective genitive is used in some other constructions thought to be similar, and based upon theological conclusions that are improperly founded. When Paul (or the Holy Spirit) wanted to say in Galatians 3:26, “We are all children of God by faith IN Christ Jesus,” he did not use this construction, nor in Col. 2:5, where he speaks of “the steadfastness of your faith IN Christ.” Perhaps in Galatians 2:16, the distinction in meaning of the two expressions can be seen more clearly. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith OF Jesus Christ-.” Almost every translation of which we are aware except the Authorized translates that by such expressions as “faith IN Jesus Christ,” “simple trust in Jesus” or such expressions.
It may seem quite arrogant to take the position that they are all wrong, but since most of those translators are committed to the position that salvation is by “simple trust in Jesus,” it is my conviction that their theological bias makes them unable to see what should be apparent to a careful reader. Paul is not talking about that grand truth that we are justified by our personal faith IN Christ, in that scripture. He is contrasting two systems — the system of the Law of Moses and the system of the Faith of Christ.
Although we know of no commentary or translation that says so, it seems that both the text and context demand that interpretation. He next says, “Even we have believed in (eis) Jesus Christ that we might be justified by the faith OF Christ.” The “faith of Christ” is neither our personal faith IN Christ, nor is it Christ’s personal trust in God. It is the SYSTEM OF FAITH, as in Gal. 1:23, Paul “preached the faith.” He was not simply “witnessing” to his own personal belief, for it was the “faith he had once destroyed.” It was a system of faith, consisting of the Gospel. In Acts 6:7, priests “were obedient to the faith.” They were not simply obedient to someone’s belief! They obeyed the Gospel. In Jude 3, when we find “contend earnestly for the faith” it could not refer to a personal faith, for it was “once for all delivered unto the saints.” Half a dozen other passages lead us to the conclusion that the “faith OF Jesus” or “the faith of God” is not just an objective genitive that means the same as “faith IN Jesus.” Perhaps Galatians 3:22-26 would make it even clearer. The promise was by the faith OF Jesus (the Gospel System) and was to be given to those who believe IN Jesus. “Before faith came, we were kept under the law.” The faith of which he speaks is not our personal belief, but THE SYSTEM OF FAITH, afterwards revealed, contrasted to the law. It is our conclusion that since the Holy Spirit was quite capable of saying “faith IN Christ” when He meant that, He probably means something different when He says “the Faith OF God.”
As far as we have been able to discover, in the approximate dozen cases in the New Testament when the expression is used like this: “the faith of God,” “the faith of Christ,” it never refers to a personal belief in Him, but a system of faith — the kind of life regulated and controlled by a trust in Him and what He says. There is a great deal of difference in the meaning of the expression, “I preach the faith” if “the faith” means my personal belief, and if means the system of life and thought ordained by God. Of course, they should be the same! There is a great deal of difference in preaching the gospel, and preaching how I feel about the gospel. This is the primary difference in the “witnessing” done by the Apostles, who were witnessing the facts of the gospel, and the “witnessing” done by many persons today, who are merely witnessing to their own personal feelings and experiences. We have no objection to a person witnessing to what he has felt and experienced as long as neither he nor others confuse his subjective feelings with the objective truth that God revealed. We shall be glad to tell you how happy we are to be a follower of Christ, but this is not the gospel.
So, when Jesus said to the Apostles, “Have the faith of God,” he did not merely mean, “Have a general trust in the being or Word of God,” as important as that is. He meant, “Let your life be ordered of God. Let the system under which you operate be that which God ordains and approves.” This is almost exactly what Paul meant in Galatians2:20, ” — and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith OF the Son of God.” Paul is not merely saying, “I have spiritual life because of my faith IN the Son of God.” This is true, but the point here is that his daily life — the system under and by which he operates — is the faith OF Christ. The focus in not on HIS personal faith, but on the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. One of the great problems with much of our preaching is that the focus is on us — what we do, feel, and get. We have become anthropocentric rather than Theocentric. It would take another long article or two to dwell properly on the different results that are achieved when the climax of a sermon is “This same Jesus — is made both Lord and Christ” and when the central point is, “Lord, we have left all and followed thee. What do we get?”
But since misunderstanding about faith is so widespread, even among members of the Lord’s church, we must emphasize this point. The average (and above average) person seems to think that faith in God means an opinion or feeling that will do something. We dream up some program that we think is worthwhile. We are asked, “How will it work (or be financed, or whatever –)?” We reply, “I do not know, but I have great faith in God.” We may or may not, but the answer has no necessary connection with the question. Faith comes from hearing the word of God. There is a world of difference between “Noah, being warned of God, moved with Godly fear” and “Noah, feeling that it looked like rain decided he had better build an ark, for he had faith that God would save him that way.” No doubt Nadab and Abihu would have said, “We have great faith that God will be pleased with this fire.” No doubt Moses would have said, “I have great faith in God” as he struck the rock, but God says, “Because YE BELIEVED ME NOT –.” The key to it is in Luke 5:5, “AT THY WORD I will let down the net.” Suppose Peter had said, “I have great faith in God. Let us try one more time over here.” He may have had great faith, but that would not have been proof that it was so. I have great faith that God will take care of me, but whether He will keep me from breaking my neck is not a matter of faith. Trusting in God is one thing, and having an opinion that God is going to act in A PARTICULAR WAY YOU DESIRE is another. Failure to realize that may cause a person to lose what little faith he has if his particular request is not granted.
When Jesus tells His Apostles, “Have the faith of God,” He means, “Let your thinking, talking, acting — your manner of life — be directed by Him. Make your will conforms to His. Do not try to manipulate His will to conform to yours.” When God gave them a promise that they could drink poison, heal the sick, do all sorts of miracles, then “the faith of God” involved their ability to do that as they lived in conformity to His promise and will. It is our judgment that the so called “miraculous faith” of the Apostles or others in the early church who received one or more of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:9) was not a special infusion of a special kind of faith, but simply that when He promised them the power and they believed the promise, they had the power. As our “common” faith comes through the “common” revelation, their “special” faith came through special revelation. But its basic meaning is the same. They relied on God. We are to rely on God.
It is our conviction that verses 23 and 24 are tremendous promises, not fully appreciated, and the principles are just as applicable to us as to them. That is, when a man has “the faith of God,” the extent of that faith is the extent of this promise. If that “faith of God” included a command for us to walk on water, then we would be able to walk on water.
When He says in verse 24, “When ye pray and ask for anything, believe that YE HAVE RECEIVED IT, and it will be to you,” He means about the same thing God meant when He said to Joshua, “I have given Jericho into your hand.” As far as the purpose, plan, and will of God is concerned, it is yours.
One more word we need to understand, then let us examine the scope of this tremendous promise. The word “heart” as used in verse 23 does not merely mean the mind. It is the very center and core of your being — the wellspring from which life flows. Now, let us put together what he says. “Have the faith of God. Let all your thoughts, desires, words, and lives be directed by and surrendered to God’s will for you. When God’s Word reveals that He wants you do a certain thing, and you are totally impregnated with both the desire to do it, and the belief that you can — your conscious and subconscious mind is fixed on it — there is no obstacle which can prevent you from doing what God wants you to do, being what God wants you to be, or having what God wants you to have.” He is NOT saying, “If some fellow believes strongly enough that something will happen, and prays hard for it, it will happen.”
But we need to understand something about that. Because prayer has both subjective and objective value, things happen through strong desire and prayer in relation to God’s natural psychological, physiological, emotional and mental laws IN ADDITION TO these promises to His disciples. This is a principle which we never remember hearing a gospel preacher emphasize, for most of our preaching in this area has been done to show that God does not hear a sinner’s prayer, and that we need not expect to get salvation through prayer. We are not denying any truth relative to that, but we want to emphasize another truth that may be helpful in explaining some things that have led many astray.
God has laws that operate in EVERY realm of life — physical, mental, moral, emotional, financial, artistic, agricultural, etc. Regardless of whether you are a Christian or an atheist, if you operate in obedience to those laws, certain results will follow. An atheist who plants corn in the right way and attends to it properly will produce results, regardless of the fact that he does not believe in God. Many of God’s laws relate to and depend on belief of some things. Men may be mentally sick — or get well — in terms of strong belief of certain things. Without going into detail, let us realize that the SUBJECTIVE aspect of prayer will work for anyone who wants it to work in almost ANY area. We do not know what Hank Aaron’s belief is, but we presume he WANTED to beat Babe Ruth’s record of home runs, and probably prayed to something or someone about it. At any rate, he had what a psychologist would call “creative anticipation.” His whole heart was in it. He believed he could do it, and did it. The marvelous thing we need to know is that the principles of Christ will benefit even an atheist INSOFAR AS HE CAN USE THEM! The trouble is, of course, he can not use some of the most important ones, for they relate to spiritual matters which he does not believe. As strange as it may sound to some of us, a man may pray to a totem pole or the North Star, “Let me have a strong body.” Then if he obeys the laws of God for having a strong body, his prayer helped him to do it, if it was the utterance of the inner longings of his heart.
There are thousands of things that believing in, centering your life on, and keeping them constantly in mind will accomplish, because God has planned His universe and laws in terms of those principles. All the writers of the “self help” books we have read deal with those things. These are some of the things that witch doctors inAfrica, K. Kuhlman, O. Roberts and others have in common. Many “cures” of many things are accomplished because of these laws. This is why “tongue speaking” has been found among pagan tribes, believers and disbelievers of all shades, stripes, and colors. It is not related to the Biblical idea of speaking in other languages, but is subjective jabbering and not a “tongue” at all. But in addition to any SUBJECTIVE value any person may have through intense longing and prayer to ANYTHING or ANYONE in whom he believes, the Christian has an OBJECTIVE advantage in prayer. We have a REAL GOD who hears and responds!
So, what God is saying in Mark 11:22-24 is not merely, “If you get your mind set on something strongly enough and believe in it enough, great things will happen,” although that is true in thousands of cases, probably even in the cure of some diseases. What he is saying is, “When you find God’s will for you (and you find it in His Word), and your whole heart is set on doing that — when, with the very center of your being you are not only desirous of doing it, but assured confidently that God already has it planned for you — there is no power on earth or in hell that can prevent you from getting what God wants you to have, doing what God wants you to do, or being what God wants you to be.” Any “mountain” that God has said for you to remove, if you have “the faith of God” and set your heart on it and pray earnestly for it, it will be removed! Do you believe that?