“The Meaning of Faith”
I want to start with something funny I heard about this father: A young woman brings home her fiancée to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out about the young man. The father invites the man to his study for a drink. “So, what are your plans?” the father asks the young man. “I am a biblical scholar.” He replies. “A biblical scholar, hmmm,” the father says, “Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she’s accustomed to?” “I will study,” the young man replies, “and God will provide for us.” “And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?” asks the father. “I will concentrate on my studies,” the young man replies, “God will provide for us.” “And children?” asks the father, “How will you support children?” “Don’t worry, sir, God will provide,” replies the young man. The conversation goes like this, and each time the father questions, the young man answers that God will provide. Later, the mother asks, “how did it go, Honey?” The father answers, “He has no job and no plans, but the good news is that he thinks I’m God.”
Do you remember when you became a Christian? How did you become a Christian? Some of you, perhaps, have grown up Christian since birth; some of you as a teenager through confirmation, or some, much later through some life experience, such as did I. Whenever we began our faith journey, it is a lifelong journey. Some people have left the church and come back to it repeatedly. Some people have been steadfast in their faith. We may say to those who have been consistent that they, “have a strong faith.” And, to those who are back and forth, “their faith is weak.” No doubt, we may judge their faith by their good works. I want to talk about “the meaning of faith,” wondering what you think of faith.
We have often heard about “faith.” When you hear the word “faith,” perhaps, “a mustard seed” comes to your mind. It does for me. When asked by a columnist from Inter-County Leaders, “a mustard seed” came to my mind first as my column’s standing head. Because I think it is an excellent opportunity to spread the Gospel to people, I prayed my column would be a tiny seed of the Gospel to plant in the hearts of those who read it. It is like a mustard seed that is tiny, but when it grows, it becomes a big tree, providing good shelter for many people and birds. My column will be published in the Inter-County Leaders the first week of every month. Please pray for my column that the seeds of the Gospel shall be planted in people’s hearts so that the kingdom of God may be extended. It is my faith, like a mustard seed, and my prayer.
The faith of a mustard seed comes from the Gospel of Matthew. When Jesus’ disciples tried to heal a boy possessed by a demon, they couldn’t heal him. And the father came to Jesus and asked him to heal his son. As soon as Jesus rebuked the demon, it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. The disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus answered, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:14-21).
Has anyone been able to move a mountain through your faith? If not, does it mean all of us to have no faith? We are sometimes confused about what faith means. When I was 25, a pastor suggested I attend a seminary. As soon as the pastor suggested it, I was concerned about whether I could make enough money for seminary and my living expenses while I was studying in a seminary. I asked the pastor, “If I go to a seminary, how can I afford the tuition and my living expenses while I am studying.” He said, “God will provide what you need.” Guess what I thought at that time. I expected that the church might provide my tuition through a scholarship. I thought of the funny story I told you earlier, about the father. But, the church or the pastor didn’t provide me with a scholarship. With little faith, I expected it and was disappointed. However, as I grew in faith, I realized God had provided me with all I needed so far. But, still, I cannot move the mountain by faith.
The Letter of Hebrews is the so-called, Scripture of Faith. It says regarding the definition of faith, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Simply I may say, faith is that we have confidence that God makes things happen as we pray. Again, faith is that we have no doubt that God answers our prayers. A good example is Hannah’s prayer. Hannah was loved by her husband but had a concern about not having a child and suffered from it because her husband’s first wife gave her a hard time. One day, she prayed at the sanctuary like a drunken woman, perhaps, as she was crying and shouting to God. After praying, Eli the Priest told her, “Go in Peace. May God hear your prayers!” She returned to her place, and she was never worried about it again. Rather, she enjoyed eating and no longer felt down. Finally, she gave birth to a son, Samuel, and she believed God makes things happen (1 Samuel 1:9-18).
Likewise, we know Abraham’s story, Moses’ story, and the Israelites’ stories. “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). However, Abraham also had a hard time waiting for God’s answer. The promise that God would give him a lot of his descendants, like the sand of the beach and stars in the sky, took longer than he expected. He got the promise when he left his hometown. His age was seventy-five. Until after the age of eight-five, he didn’t have any child. So, he got a child from Sarah’s servant Hagel. Even Sarah laughed at God’s angel, who said, “You will give birth to a son,” because her age was ninety. She thought how it could happen. However, God kept his promise, giving him Isaac when he was one hundred. According to the scripture, Abraham and Sarah hadn’t kept their faith in God. God made things happen for them by grace only.
Let’s look at Moses’ case! “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, he chose to share ill-treatment with the people of God” (Hebrews 11:24-25). Well, really? Did Moses refuse to be called a Pharaoh’s son so he would save his people? He ran away from Pharaoh after mistakenly killing an Egyptian soldier. If he left the Castle of Pharaoh to save God’s people, he should have accepted when God asked him to go to Egypt to save the people first. But he didn’t. Only by God’s grace, Moses ran away from the Pharaoh safely, and he returned to Egypt to save God’s people. All the believers in the scripture are similar to us. Their faith also wavered, sometimes it was less and sometimes it was more.
I conclude that faith is by the grace of God, not by our efforts or good works. We are weak, but God is strong. Our faith is tiny, but God’s grace is full in our life. The scripture says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They were longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.” Even though we cannot move a mountain by faith, God still loves us and is pleased to be our God. By grace, we became Christians. By grace, we live day by day. By grace, we pray, give thanks, and rejoice in God. We are saved in the faith of Jesus Christ by the grace of God. Our faith is only by the grace of God. Thanks be to God. Amen!