Faith on Man’s Terms

The Scriptures are clear in describing faith as essential. The Hebrew writer said, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Yet too many have a conditional faith. In other words, even though the Bible tells us that faith is based upon the word of God (Romans 10:17), this is not enough for some people. They will not believe unless they see, receive, or otherwise experience something beyond the revealed will of God.

This is nothing new. Even during the first century, there were those who would only have faith on their terms, rather than have faith based upon what God had chosen to reveal to them. In this article we will notice a few of these conditions that men have placed upon their faith. At the end, we will also see what genuine faith looks like.

Those With Conditional Faith

Those seeking signs – When the royal official came to Jesus that He might heal his son, Jesus commented on the general state of the people: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe” (John 4:48). Of course, Jesus performed many signs and wonders (Acts 2:22). Yet what Jesus did was not enough for some. They wanted more. Paul described the Jews who would not believe Christ as ones who “ask for signs” (1 Corinthians 1:22). When the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus to “show them a sign from heaven,” He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:1, 4). They would have ample evidence to believe in Jesus through His resurrection, but they would not be content with this. Sadly, though the record of the signs that Jesus performed are sufficient to produce faith in us (John 20:30-31), too many people today have the same attitude as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others among the Jews in the first century. They are seeking signs. The ones revealed to us in Scripture are not good enough for them.

The crowds fed by Jesus – After feeding the five thousand, Jesus gained a large following (John 6:1-25). These people were so committed to Christ (at least initially), that they “were intending to come and take Him by force and make Him king” (John 6:15). Yet Jesus knew their hearts. They did not truly believe in Him as the Son of God. They were simply following Him for the free meal He had provided. “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled’” (John 6:26). When He proceeded to preach to them about the importance of the word which He spoke (John 6:27-63) – which is the source of true faith (Romans 10:17) – many of them “withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). Too many people today condition their faith upon them receiving temporal blessings. If there is no free “stuff” or they are not as blessed as they would like, they abandon their faith.

The Jews in the temple – When Jesus was in the temple at the time of the Feast of the Dedication, the Jews said to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). On the surface, it might appear that these individuals wanted to believe that Jesus was the Christ, but they simply had not received confirmation of that from Jesus Himself. However, the problem was not that Jesus did not tell them, but that they refused to listen. “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me’” (John 10:25). Jesus again mentioned the works that He did, but He also said that He told them. Their problem was not that they lacked the necessary information required to develop their faith in Christ. Their problem was that they felt the information they received was insufficient to produce faith. This is what many people think of the Scriptures – that they are insufficient on their own to produce faith in the lives of men today.

Mockers at the cross – When Jesus was dying on the cross, some mocked Him: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him” (Matthew 27:42). Ironically, these enemies of Christ were helping to fulfill a prophecy about Christ in their mocking of Him (Psalm 22:7-8). They were being completely unreasonable (besides being disingenuous) in their demand. Jesus proved who He was before the cross (John 10:25; cf. 5:31-39). Furthermore, the events at the cross led the centurion watching the crucifixion to say: “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). And though Jesus did not “come down from the cross,” He was raised from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6). But because the miracles performed did not fit these mockers’ narrow criteria, they refused to believe.

The apostles following the resurrection – After Jesus was raised from the dead, witnesses came and told the apostles of it. Luke recorded their reaction: “But these words appeared to them as nonsense [idle tales, KJV], and they would not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Though the resurrection was a fact and not part of some “cleverly devised tales” (2 Peter 1:16), it was not what the apostles expected to hear. So they were skeptical at first. In the same way, when people hear the truth taught today, if it is not what they expect to hear, they often conclude that it is nonsense and dismiss it. Similarly, Paul spoke of those who saw the gospel as “foolishness” because they valued worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22). Because the gospel did not line up with the thinking of man, Paul said, “The world through its wisdom did not come to know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21). But since “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), we must accept it, even if it is different from what we have previously believed or been taught. Paul said, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:4).

Doubting Thomas – When Jesus met with His disciples following His resurrection, Thomas was absent (John 20:19-24). When the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus, he answered: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). For Thomas, eyewitness testimony was not enough. He needed to see evidence firsthand of Jesus’ resurrection. Many have the same attitude today. Since the resurrection of Jesus – as well as every other event in the Bible – must be believed on the basis of eyewitness testimony, many reject it. However, eyewitness testimony is used to determine truth in a court of law. It is also the basis for all human history. Yet when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, many believe that the great number of eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8) is somehow insufficient to allow one to have faith. Yet Jesus said that such testimony was sufficient. When Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds firsthand and said, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28), Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). John concluded the record of this event by saying that his testimony of Christ was meant to cause others to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

Those With Genuine Faith

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego – Though there are many examples of genuine faith in the Bible, the example of Daniel’s three friends before Nebuchadnezzar is one of the most powerful. After boldly declaring to the king that God was able to deliver them, they said, “But even if He does not…” (Daniel 3:18). They did not presume to speak for God. They recognized the possibility that He would allow them to suffer. The fact that God had the ability to save them did not necessarily mean that He would. These men understood that God’s will is not always the same as man’s will. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God’s will is so far superior to our own that we are in no position to question Him or presume to understand what His will is unless He tells us (1 Corinthians 2:11-12). Therefore, these men acknowledged God’s power to deliver them while also recognizing that the decision about this rested with God alone – not with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Their faith in God was not based upon God doing what they wanted Him to do in this circumstance.

You and me – Hopefully we will fall into the category of those with genuine faith rather than be counted with those who had a conditional faith. God has proven worthy of our trust. Therefore, let us not place conditions on our faith. Let us believe in Him and be content with what He has revealed in His word as the source for our faith (Romans 10:17). Then, let us put our faith into practice that we might be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). While we are certainly saved by faith (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 5:1), we must remember that “man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). So let us faithfully obey God, no matter what circumstances might exist in our lives.

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