Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 3; part 6:
The most concise definition of faith in the Bible is in Hebrews 11:1 where it states that, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” In terms of this, we can understand ‘faith’ as a mental attitude of certainty which acts as the catalyst for receiving and imparting spiritual things. Word of Faith theology, on the other hand, holds that faith is a force. Protagonists of this view teach that faith is a tangible power force which makes the laws of the spirit world function.
I do not believe that faith is a force, although, as you know, I do contend that there is a form of spiritual energy and that God the Holy Spirit is the source of this energy. The scriptures do not give a name to this energy. Jesus referred to it as “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). John referred to it as the “anointing” (1 John 2:27). Perhaps one could refer to it as holy spirit, with a lower case ‘h’ and ‘s’ as opposed to the person of the Holy Spirit (capital H and S).
The distinction between ‘anointing’ and ‘faith’ is not just a matter of semantics. If the Bible did not consistently use the word ‘faith’ as an attitude of belief and trust, then perhaps we could substitute it for ‘anointing’. However, to use a word such as ‘faith’ to mean ‘spiritual power’, when it is already well used and defined in scripture, is to pervert the meaning of otherwise clear texts.
What then is faith?
The Amplified Bible translates Hebrews 11:1 as, “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].” Many people have written concerning this verse, and so I will only deal with the aspects which are relevant to the proposition that faith is the catalyst for releasing and receiving spiritual energy.
The Hebrews definition concerns mental activity – being sure and certain. So, faith is a mental attitude of certainty. Similes for the word ‘faith’ include belief, trust, confidence, and conviction – all mental attitudes. Faith is an act of the will. The only exception to this which I can find, is the reference in 1 Corinthians 12:9 to the ‘gift’ of faith. My understanding of this is that there are times when the Holy Spirit manifests himself in and through a believer by granting an unshakable conviction, a gift of faith. Not only is this qualitatively different from normal human faith, as I define it, but it is a manifestation, not of the mind of man, but of the Holy Spirit.
Can we develop faith?
Those who understand faith as a force believe that we can develop, build up, our faith. I understand faith, not as a force, but as an act of the will – so you have it or you do not. We cannot have just a little faith for salvation; we either believe, and are saved, or we do not believe.
A few texts tend to indicate that we can increase our faith. Matthew 8:26 asks; “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” I understand this as a description of the disciples’ condition rather than a definition of faith. The Message translation, for instance, reads, “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Similarly, it translates Matthew 17:20 as, “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously’. The NIV translates this verse as, “Because you have so little faith.” We are not obliged, in terms of the context or translation conventions, to see in these texts the idea that faith can be ‘grown’.
I see faith as a sort of mental ‘switch’. When the faith switch is on, then we can receive and impart spiritual power; when it is off, we cannot. I think that Jesus was making this point when he said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) He was comparing the smallest thing in the local environment (a mustard seed) to the largest visible object (probably Mount Hermon). We could therefore paraphrase the text as, ‘I tell you the simple truth; if you had a mere kernel of faith, as small as a mustard seed say, you would tell this mountain, “Move!” and it would move.’
In the next blog post, I will discuss if faith can be activated, stay tuned!