Faith in the Gospels (Part 3)

    Author's note: This is the final segment on Faith in the Gospels. It continues the study from Faith in the Gospels (Part 2).

 

Ultimate Reason for Miracles
     Lastly, we want to address two important features which are closely related and which must have reference for our understanding of Jesus’ words in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14, 20-25. First, we must realize that the ultimate reason for miracles is the witness of God to the veracity of the Gospel of Jesus. We find this clearly stated in Hebrews 2, …how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (vv.3-4). This is the ultimate reason for miracles, and we realize that there are secondary reasons as well; but this is the primary reason.

Faith, Prayer, and God’s Will
The second feature is related to this first feature. Both Matthew and Mark apply Jesus’ saying about faith to prayer when He cursed the fruitless fig tree (Mt. 21:22; Mk. 11:24). Such is a natural application of faith which is reflected in the saying, “prayer is faith breathing.” Faith and prayer are intimately related. Jesus’ saying concluded, And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith (Mt. 21:22). This saying has been repeatedly abused by taking it independently and trying to make it the defining verse for prayer, while disregarding everything else which Scripture teaches us about prayer, faith, and God. This saying has been made to mean that prayer, prayed with a doubtless faith, is simply a personal Carte Blanche issued by God. Pray for whatever you want, and God is obligated to deliver because of this promise. The only caveat is the requirement to pray with a confident and doubtless faith.

Praying according to God’s Will
The correction to this abuse is to balance it with what I believe is the cardinal verse on prayer. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 Jn. 5:14-15). The critical correction is that prayer is not simply about our will and desires, which James warns us can even nullify our prayers when they are accompanied by a wrong attitude (self-serving presumption, 4:3, 13-17), but it is about God’s will and desires (cf. Mt. 26:39; 6:10).

To make this more emphatic, Paul explained that this is the reason for the Holy Spirit’s intercession in our praying. We need His intercession because we don’t always know what God’s will is for a given situation. Paul calls this lack of knowledge and understanding of God’s will our weakness. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26-27). These verses in 1 John and Romans point out that we can be confident (i.e., to pray with a faith which does not doubt) that God will hear and answer our prayers when our requests align with God’s will. In many cases, we do not and will not know what God’s will is in every situation (part of our weakness), therefore God has given us the Holy Spirit who will intercede for us, praying for us according to God’s will.

Remember, we often pray for the wrong things, but Jesus taught that God will only give His children good things. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him (Mt. 7:11)! God will not give His children candy if it is bad for them. It is for these reasons that the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is prayer?,” and then answers, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (Question 98).

Prayer “Warrants:” Special Revelation and Promises
This leads us to a very practical question. If we don’t know what God’s will is for us, then how can we pray with faith that does not doubt? Older theologians answer with a word which we do not often hear in relation to prayer, but it is a good descriptive word which I believe is very helpful. It is the word “warrant.” A warrant is an authorization which guarantees, assures, or attests to a certain result. Robert Dabney explains, “The warrant for prayer is of course to be sought, immediately, in the promises” (of the Bible).1 He points out that the only other option for gaining a warrant is by “special revelation” which is incumbent to certain spiritual gifts (e.g. word of knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, revelations, etc.)

Praying for General Needs without Warrant
There are many things which we may pray for without a specific warrant under the general invitations and examples of Scripture (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7; Phil 4:6). For example, Paul prayed fervently for God to remove a painful and inhibiting malady which he called a “thorn,” but the Lord in His sovereignty did not remove it, because it kept Paul’s pride in check. Instead Jesus taught Paul that His daily grace would be sufficient for Paul’s needs (2 Cor. 12:5-10). Paul had all the necessary special gifts, but no warrant was given him though we are encouraged and exhorted to bring our needs and desires before His throne of grace (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6). We certainly are not to pray for what Scripture forbids. Scripture assures us that such things are not God’s will. We further know that God’s will is more complex than just the case of knowing “what” to pray for, but God’s answer is also conditioned by “when” He deems it the right time to provide His answer. God’s answer is further conditioned by the “way” in which God will bring about the answer. Often, God’s answer comes in ways we had not anticipated or according to our expectations, but nonetheless the answer is “yes.” Accordingly, it has been said that God answers prayer in three ways. He answers, “yes,” and we receive what we requested. He answers, “no” denying our request, or He answers, “not yet” because the timing is not right. Therefore, we can ask for a request which is according to God’s will, but God’s timing is different than ours. His answer is not a “no” but simply “not yet.” Our must have enough insight and greatness to embrace all of these responses to our unwarranted requests.

Scriptural Warrants
Here are some examples of Scriptures’ warrants for which we can pray without a need to doubt. For such we can pray in a fullness of faith. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (Jas. 1:5-8). Lacking wisdom, perhaps particularly the wisdom to deal and respond to trials and suffering may be what James has in mind (cf. vv. 2-4), God promises to provide such wisdom for those who ask and believe that He will provide it. Keep in mind, He does not promise how or when this wisdom will come, but it will come. Undoubtedly the book of James provides such wisdom when received by an applicational faith. Other qualifications must be assumed to have bearing on the answer as well, such as the attitude of our asking (4:4), or if a husband is overbearing and dishonoring toward his wife (1 Pet. 3:7), etc.

Another example comes from 1 Thessalonians 5 and opens up a complete line of warrants. Here, Paul urges the Thessalonians to pray (vv. 16-18) as he does for their sanctification and their perseverance (v. 23) with the assurance that He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (v. 24). This falls into topics for which we can pray regarding our promised redemption in Christ. Our redemption is completely purchased by Christ’s death with the Spirit as our down payment (1 Cor. 6:11; 1:30; 2 Cor. 1:22).

Dabney instructs us in regard to this whole class of topics. “The other class of objects of prayer is the benefits accompanying redemption; all the gifts which make up, in the elect, growth in grace, perseverance, pardon, sanctification, complete redemption. For these we pray with full assurance of a specific answer, because God has told us, that it is His purpose specifically to bestow them in answer to all true prayer. See Ps. lxxxiv:11; Luke xi:13; 1 Thess. iv:3; Luke xii:32; John xv:8. So, we have a warrant to pray in faith, for the grace to do the things which God’s word makes it our duty to do. In all such cases, our expectation of an answer is entitled to be as definite as was that of Apostles, when inspired with the faith of miracles. God may not give it in the shape or channel we expected; He may choose to try our faith by unexpected delays, but the answer is sure, because definitely promised, in His own time and way. Here we may say, Habak. ii:3, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come it will not tarry.” 2

We now want to return to our study of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14, 20-25. There Jesus identified doubt as the great enemy of faith, so we turn now to examine this great enemy of faith in our next segment.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Robert Dabney, Systematic Theology (St. Louis: Presbyterian Publishing Company of St. Louis, 1878), 721.

[2] Dabney, Systematic Theology, 723, 724. Bold added.

The Enemy of Faith (Part 1)
Faith in the Gospels (Part 2)
 

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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

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