The synoptic Gospels indicate that believing has an important role in the Christian life as a response to specific revelation from God and as an instrument for the receipt of specific blessings from God, particularly the receipt of answers to prayer. The disciple who disbelieves specific revealed truths or acts of God is blameworthy,[i] while disbelieving a counterfeit of the Word as proclaimed by false prophets is commanded.[ii] On the other hand, answers to prayer are given to believers[iii] who, recognizing the ability of God in Christ to meet their needs, petition and trust in Him to do so[iv] and remain stedfast in faith,[v] as enabled by the Holy Spirit, although God in His mercy can answer the sincere prayer offered by one who groans under the burden of felt unbelief.[vi] Thus, while God preserves perpetually a root of faith in all those to whom He has given it at the moment of their regeneration and conversion, faith is sometimes a grace that pertains to the believer’s particular acts of trust for specific situations.[vii] A believer who wants certainty that God will answer his prayers must, enabled by grace, “have faith, and doubt not,” and then “whatsoever [h]e shall ask in prayer, believing, [h]e shall receive.”[viii] Such answers to prayer are related to the genuineness, rather than the quantity, of the believer’s faith (Matthew 17:20); one either is trusting the Lord for an answer to prayer, or is lacking in faith (Luke 17:6).[ix] Faith is consequently required in prayer for healing.[x] Likewise, one who lacks wisdom is commanded to “ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:5-7). Those who doubt in a particular situation, such as trusting God for safety and consequently being free from fear in a storm (Psalm 46:1-3; Isaiah 43:2), and are consequently wavering like the waves of the sea, have, in that particular situation “no faith,”[xi] instead of having a steadfast faith (Colossians 2:7). For specific blessings, Christians must with assurance and confidence trust the Lord to meet specific needs, and, in prayer, ask with unwavering faith, for then God has promised to answer them.
As a grace[xii] that pertains to the believer’s continual, lifelong level of entrusting himself to the Lord, some disciples have weak faith, some have strong faith, and faith can become weaker or grow stronger. When “the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase[xiii] our faith” (Luke 17:5), they asked for something very proper.[xiv] As regenerate persons, the Apostles already possessed faith, but they wished for their already extant faith to grow. They did not ask for a new type of faith, but for an increase and growth in what they already had from the time of their conversion—they want “furtherance . . . of faith,” faith progressing and passing into an ever more advanced state.[xv] Faith does not experience a qualitative alteration from mistrust into trust, but in progressive sanctification it does undergo a quantitative increase and a qualitative increase in stedfastness and decrease in mutability.[xvi] Furthermore, faith is not an autonomous product of the human will, but a supernaturally imparted gift given by Christ. Indeed, God deals to believers different measures of faith, and they should think soberly of themselves and exercise their spiritual gifts in accordance with the measure of faith God has given them[xvii] through Christ by the Spirit.[xviii] They should not have weak faith,[xix] or “little faith,”[xx] but “great faith”[xxi] and “strong . . . faith.”[xxii] They are to seek, by means of exercise, to have their faith “increase,”[xxiii] “grow exceedingly,”[xxiv] and “abound,”[xxv] growing towards the goal of having “all faith” (1 Corinthians 13:2), possessing the highest possible quantity and quality of faith, just as they seek the highest degree of diligence, knowledge, and love (2 Corinthians 8:7). However, as long as indwelling sin remains in the believer, faith has “that which is lacking”[xxvi] in it, and stands in need of being “perfect[ed]” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). Disciples should not let their faith become weak, but maintain a steadfast and strong faith.[xxvii] They should fervently pray, night and day, and have others pray also, for the perfecting of that which is lacking in their faith,[xxviii] and become those who are both “full of faith”[xxix] and yet growing ever the more full. While the New Testament emphasizes faith as either present or absent in regard to receiving spiritual blessings in specific situations, it also presents faith as a spiritual grace that, while present in all the regenerate, has degrees, and is Divinely strengthened, increases, and abounds, as believers exercise it.
[i] Mark 16:13-14; Luke 1:20 (cf. 1:45); 24:25.
[ii] Matthew 24:23, 26; Mark 13:21.
[iii] In all of the texts where faith is enjoined upon people for answer to prayer those who have exercised saving faith are in view; the unconverted are never in view.
[iv] Matthew 8:13; Mark 5:36; 9:23-24; Luke 1:45.
[v] Note the present tenses for the state of faith associated with answered prayer in Matthew 9:28 (Pisteu/ete o¢ti du/namai touvto poihvsai; le÷gousin aujtwˆ◊, Nai÷, Ku/rie); 21:22 (pa¿nta o¢sa a·n ai˙th/shte e˙n thØv proseuchØv, pisteu/onteß, lh/yesqe; note the contrast between the aorist ai˙th/shte and the present pisteu/onteß); Mark 5:36 (Mh\ fobouv, mo/non pi÷steue); 9:23-24 (note both coming to faith and the state of faith in Ei˙ du/nasai pisteuvsai, pa¿nta dunata» twˆ◊ pisteu/onti) 11:23-24 (note again the aorist and present in aÓmh\n ga»r le÷gw uJmi√n o¢ti o§ß a·n ei¶phØ twˆ◊ o¡rei tou/twˆ, ⁄Arqhti, kai« blh/qhti ei˙ß th\n qa¿lassan, kai« mh\ diakriqhØv e˙n thØv kardi÷aˆ aujtouv, aÓlla» pisteu/shØ o¢ti a± le÷gei gi÷netai: e¶stai aujtwˆ◊ o§ e˙a»n ei¶phØ. dia» touvto le÷gw uJmi√n, Pa¿nta o¢sa a·n proseuco/menoi ai˙tei√sqe, pisteu/ete o¢ti lamba¿nete, kai« e¶stai uJmi√n); Luke 8:50 (Mh\ fobouv: mo/non pi÷steue, kai« swqh/setai).
[vi] Mark 9:23-24.
[vii] The texts in the first part of this paragraph employ pisteu/w, while the latter half examines uses of pi÷stiß. The two are combined because of the similar teaching enforced by the verb and the noun.
[viii] Matthew 21:21-22; Mark 11:22-24.
[ix] The ei˙ ei¶cete pi÷stin . . . a·n of Luke 17:6 (corrupted in the critical text to ei˙ e¶cete), a second class conditional, indicates that no faith was present for the particular prayer request mentioned in the verse.
[x] James 5:15 sets forth the general principle that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick,” while New Testament narrative provides a variety of examples where Christ tells those who have entrusted themselves to Him for salvation, “as thou hast believed” for a particular healing “so be it done unto thee” (Matthew 8:13), “according to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29; cf. 9:22; 15:28; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 7:9-10; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 3:16; 14:9). Acts 3:16 also agrees with James 5:14-16 in ascribing faith for healing to supernatural grace given by God through Christ (the faith which is by him, hJ pi÷stiß hJ di∆ aujtouv, cf. “the faith which comes through him,” hJ pi÷stiß hJ di∆ aujtouv, Ignatius to the Philadelphians 8:2).
[xi] Mark 4:40; Luke 8:25. Matthew 8:26 indicates that the disciples had a little faith, but as the storm kept going on, their faith for safety failed, even as Peter had faith for a little while to walk to Christ on stormy water, but then his faith, being only little, failed him as well, and he began to sink (Matthew 14:28-31).
[xii] Thus, faith is a central and abiding quality in the believer comparable to hope and love, 1 Corinthians 13:13.
[xiii] pro/sqeß, from prosti÷qhmi, “to add to something that is already present or exists” (BDAG).
[xiv] A genuine trust in the Lord for a particular request in prayer, such as an ability to forgive those who repeatedly wrong one, is a matter of either the possession of a true confidence in God to answer the request or a lack thereof—even the faith of a mustard seed, if a true confidence, will bring the fulfillment of the prayer (Luke 17:4-6). On the other hand, the believer’s entrusting of himself to God in Christ, which began at the time of his conversion and never thenceforward departs for the course of his life, can increase in its measure. As a mustard seed, in the proper conditions of watering and provision, grows into a very large tree, Matthew 13:31-32, so faith grows through the spiritual provision of God. Indeed, both the continual entrusting of oneself to Christ that marks a Christian and the ability to trust the Lord for a specific answer to prayer are Divinely wrought graces within the soul—neither is a self-production of the human will.
[xv] Philippians 1:25, prokoph\n . . . thvß pi÷stewß. A “progress, advance . . . frequently of moral progress” (Liddell-Scott) of faith, a “change [of] one’s state for the better by advancing and making progress,” to “advance, to progress, to change for the better, advancement” (Louw-Nida). Compare 1 Timothy 4:15 & TLNT, as well as proko/ptw in Luke 2:52; Galatians 1:14; 2 Timothy 2:16; 3:13.
[xvi] The qualitative continuity and quantitative development of faith is well expressed in the Old London/Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1689:
1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8) in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the (Romans 10:14, 17) word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased (Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32) and strengthened. 2. By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true (Acts 24:14) whatsoever is revealed in the word, for the authority of God himself; and also apprehendeth an excellency therein (Psalm 19:7, 8, 9, 10; Psalm 119:72) above all other writings, and all things in the world; as it bears forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power and fulness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations; and so is enabled to (2 Timothy 1:12) cast his soul upon the truth thus believed; and also acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the (John 15:14) commands, trembling at the (Isaiah 66:2) threatenings, and embracing the (Hebrews 11:13) promises of God, for this life and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon (John 1:12; Acts 16:31; Galatians 2:20; Acts 15:11) him alone, for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. 3. This faith, although it be different in degrees, and may be weak (Hebrews 5:13, 14; Matthew 6:30; Romans 4:19, 20), or strong, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind, or nature of it (as is all other saving grace) from the faith (2 Peter 1:1) and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets (Ephesians 6:16; 1 John 5:4, 5) the victory, growing up in many, to the attainment of a full (Hebrews 6:11, 12; Colossians 2:2) assurance through Christ, who is both the author (Hebrews 12:2) and finisher of our faith. (Chapter 14, “Of Saving Faith.”)
[xvii] Romans 12:3-6. In Romans 12:3, both meri÷zw, “to make an allotment . . . deal out, assign, apportion” (BDAG), and me÷tron, “the result of measuring, quantity” (BDAG), are clear evidence that faith can increase in its quantity and quality, as is the reference to faith’s aÓnalogi÷a, “proportion” (BDAG; cf. “mathematical proportion,” Liddell-Scott), in Romans 12:6.
[xviii] Ephesians 6:23; 1 Corinthians 12:8-9; Galatians 5:22.
[xix] Romans 14:1; aÓsqene÷w & pi÷stß.
[xx] Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Luke 12:28, ojligo/pistoß, “pertaining to having relatively little faith—‘of little faith, of insufficient faith’” (Louw-Nida). ojli÷goß can refer, among other uses, to smallness in amount (1 Timothy 5:23) or duration (Acts 14:28). Little faith is both small temporally and quantitatively. Also, while little faith fears (Matthew 8:26), strong faith does not (Hebrews 11:23).
[xxi] Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9, tosouvtoß pi÷stiß, faith of a “high degree of quantity, so much, so great,” or a “high degree of quality . . . so great/strong” (BDAG).
[xxii] Romans 4:20, e˙nedunamw¿qh thØv pi÷stei, explained in v. 21 as “being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform,” plhroforhqei«ß o¢ti o§ e˙ph/ggeltai, dunato/ß e˙sti kai« poihvsai.
[xxiii] 2 Corinthians 10:5, aujxa¿nw, “to become greater, grow, increase . . . in extent, size, state, or quality” (BDAG).
[xxiv] 2 Thessalonians 1:3, uJperauxa¿nei hJ pi÷stiß, from uJperauxa¿nw, “to increase beyond measure; to grow exceedingly” (Thayer). Such spectacular growth ought to be a continual process, as it was among the Thessalonians.
[xxv] 2 Corinthians 8:7, perisseu/w, “to exist in abundance” (Louw-Nida). The verse affirms that faith is a spiritual grace that can grow and abound like other graces, such as love, knowledge, or diligence.
[xxvi] uJste÷rhma, “the lack of what is needed or desirable, frequently in contrast to abundance, need, want, deficiency . . . a defect that must be removed so that perfection can be attained, lack, shortcoming” (BDAG). The word is usually quantitative in the New Testament; note the complete list of references: Luke 21:4; 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 8:13–14; 9:12; 11:9; Philippians 2:30; Colossians 1:24 (not Christ’s vicarious sufferings, which are never designated with qli√yiß in the New Testament, but Paul’s afflictions for Christ, which have a Divinely ordained full measure); 1 Thessalonians 3:10. The Christian’s failure to have “all faith” indicates his quantitative lack, which muts be perfected.
[xxvii] Colossians 2:5; Acts 16:5; stere÷wma, “firmness, steadfastness, strength,” & stereo/w; cf. Acts 3:7, 16.
[xxviii] 1 Thessalonians 3:10, nukto\ß kai« hJme÷raß uJpe«r e˙kperissouv deo/menoi ei˙ß to\ i˙dei√n uJmw◊n to\ pro/swpon, kai« katarti÷sai ta» uJsterh/mata thvß pi÷stewß uJmw◊n.
[xxix] Acts 6:5, 8; 11:24; plh/rhß pi÷stewß.