The Enemy of Faith (Part 1)

“How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Mt. 21:20-22 cf. 17:20; Lk. 13:6-9; 17:6).

And Jesus answered them,

 “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk. 11:20-24).



      In our previous blogs, we have attempted to unpack several of the truths in these verses. We continue now with a summary and then to attempt to find their application – how we are taught to overcome doubt, the great enemy of faith.

    Our next lesson of faith addresses the great enemy of faith ─ doubt. Matthew compressed Mark’s Have faith in God to simply if you have faith, and he immediately added and do not doubt. Mark does not introduce the issue of doubt until the end of Jesus’ faith saying, does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass. Mark hears Jesus’ insight that doubt is an internal, spiritual, heart issue, and he hears that faith is declarative; it must confess what it believes, what he says will come to pass. Faith overcomes internal doubt by taking the external action of declaring and confessing itself. Faith refuses to be controlled by doubt. Matthew in a similar vain hears Jesus say that faith is disqualified as a Jesus-like faith by doubt, thus Matthew hears Jesus warn that doubt is the great enemy of faith. Matthew by setting doubt over against faith defines faith as an unassailable confidence which must be fortified against doubt, and Mark agrees but also emphasizes that faith conquers doubt by its action and behavior.

     Faith’s battle, according Mark’s insight, against this disqualifying doubt is internal, at the center of one’s veracity, the heart, where one truly believes or doubts. Doubt is like a tiny parasite which enters the heart and begins eating away at one’s faith, weakening and diseasing faith. Doubts are dangerous. They inhibit our faith. Doubt’s tentacles surround and slowly squeeze the life out of our faith. Here, in the heart, faith must throw off these internal doubts and squash them. This process can become quite complex because doubts have to be deliberated. They serve the purpose of having a thoughtful and examined faith, a faith tempered in the fires of reason. If doubts can be answered we should answer them, but doubts will always raise questions beyond our ability to answer them. So what do we do with these nagging doubts? Mark’s insight is that ultimately faith must decide for faith and cast aside parasitic doubts. Billy Graham spoke of this kind of battle in his own faith in the Bible as God’s inerrant word.


“I believe it is not possible to understand everything in the Bible intellectually. One day some years ago I decided to accept the Scriptures by faith. There were problems I could not reason through. When I accepted the Bible as the authoritative Word of God – by faith – I found immediately that it became a flame in my hand. That flame began to melt away unbelief in the hearts of many people and to move them to decide for Christ.


“The Word became a hammer, breaking up stony hearts and shaping men into the likeness of God. Did not God say, ‘I will make my words in thy mouth fire; (Jer. 5:14), and ‘Is not my word like as a fire? Saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?’ (Jer. 23:29)?


“I found that I could take a simple outline, then put a number of Scripture quotations under each point, and God would use it mightily to cause men to make full commitment to Christ. I found that I did not have to rely upon cleverness, oratory, psychological manipulation, apt illustrations, or striking quotations from famous men. I began to rely more and more upon Scripture itself and God blessed it.” 1



     Faith must finally squash the attack of doubts by declaring itself, by deciding for faith, and then it takes the next step.

     Mark records still more teaching us how to combat doubts. This internal faith is then confessed with the mouth, what he says; it must be acted upon. Then, faith is defined as the opposite of doubt. Like in Matthew, faith is a certitude, he believes, but Mark goes beyond Matthew adding that faith is a certitude about what will be, that what is confessed will become a reality, will come to pass. Mark’s definition echoes the Hebrews writer’s definition, faith is…the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) and Paul’s statement that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7; cf. Rom. 8:24-25). So faith must declare itself. It must take action. It cannot remain simply internal or the battle continues to rage with doubts. There, internally, it continues to walk the fence between faith and doubt, being tugged first in one direction then in another. Faith escapes this battle by declaring itself. Whatever the faith issue is it must be declared. If it is a promise of Scripture, a personal conviction of God’s leading, a doctrine of faith, or any other issue, Jesus says it is to be confessed, declared. It must be acted upon.

     We need to add a warning. Beware of a “presumptuous faith.” Satan tempted Jesus with such a faith. Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and quoted Ps. 91:11-12 saying,

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against as stone.”

     Jesus responded quoting Dt. 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Paul warned the Corinthians, we must not put Christ to the test (1 Cor. 10:9). Such testing has many illustrations: Israel grumbling about the manna God had provided for them (Num. 21:5; Ps. 78:18; 1 Cor. 10:9-10); David taking a census of Israel to measure his strength rather than trust in God’s provision (2 Sam. 24:10; 1 Chron. 21:1); a man was declared “presumptuous” and sentenced to death if he refuses to abide by the judgment of a priest or judge (Dt. 17:9-13); and Jesus was tempted to test God by forcing the hand of God by arbitrarily jumping from the temple. Faith is never meant to be a leverage to force God to do our bidding however honorable it might be. Such a use of faith is to test God. For one not to accept God’s provision or complain that it is not enough, or to refuse His Word or promise demanding, in its place, our desire, are each a presumptuous use of faith. It is to test God and Christ. Many people act presumptuously saying, “God will take care of me” when they are acting arbitrarily without the promise of God and motivated by their own pride, immaturity, or self-interest. God has given us precious and very great promises (2 Pet. 1:4), and they are to be claimed with a God-glorifying and humble faith; so beware of “presumptuous faith.”

     We can summarize Matthew and Mark’s lessons about faith:

  1. Matthew – the enemy of Jesus-like faith is doubt – if you have faith and do not doubt.
  2. Matthew – defines faith as an unassailable confidence which is fortified against all doubt – if you have faith and do not doubt.
  3. Mark – doubting and faith begin in the heart – does not doubt in his heart.
  4. Mark – such undoubting-faith cannot stay in the heart, but it must be spoken, confessed, acted upon – that what he says.
  5. Mark – faith is defined as a certitude about what will be – but believes that what he says will come to pass


     From these lessons, we want to move beyond the immediate context of Jesus’ sayings to the broader context of His teaching throughout His ministry. We want to ask very simply, what did Jesus teach about dealing with doubt? 

 

Endnotes

[1] Billy Graham, “The Authority of the Scripture,” Decision (June, 1963), in John F. MacArthur, Jr., Why Believe the Bible (Glendale: GL Regal Books, 1980), 14-15. In Martin Luther’s struggle with the rationalism of the sixteenth century he had to battle with his own doubts. “[Luther] felt that every article of his creed – the trinity in unity, the incarnation, the transmission of Adam’s sin, the atonement by the blood of Christ, baptismal regeneration, the real presence, the renewal of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the body – transcended human comprehension.” He wrote Melanchthon, “For more than a week I have been tossed about in death and hell; so that, hurt in all my body, I still tremble in every limb. For having almost wholly lost Christ, I was driven about by storms and tempests of despair and blasphemy against God. But God, moved by the prayers of the saints, begins to have pity upon me, and has drawn my soul out of the lowest hell. Do not cease to pray for me, as I do for you. I believe that this agony of mine pertains to others also.” On another occasion he wrote, “It is a quality of faith that it wrings the neck of reason and strangles the beast, which else the whole world, with all creatures, could not strangle. But how? It holds to God’s Word, and lets it be right and true, no matter how foolish and impossible it sounds. So did Abraham take his reason captive and slay it, inasmuch as he believed God’s Word, wherein was promised him that from his unfruitful and as it were dead wife, Sarah, God would give him seed” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church [Grand Rapids: Wm. E. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1910], 30-31)..

The Enemy of Faith (Part 2)
Faith in the Gospels (Part 3)
 

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Saturday, 21 October 2017

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