I have a question regarding faith. Is there a difference between faith described in Hebrews 11:1 and faith that is gifted from the Holy Spirit?
Also, some Christians whom I’ve been conversing with view faith to be in stages or levels. In other words, as one person said, that it is important for them to know what level they are because it helps them get a sense of where they are as a Christian. Is there doctrine that says Faith goes by levels?
(To know where I am coming from: I understand that as Christians we are in “a race”. As Jesus said to Peter, though, and also said by Paul, it is our own race so we ought not need to wonder abt the whys of others. And to that, we are all integral parts of the Body of Christ.
I understand that Christians can be “babies” that need spiritual milk, that immaturity prevents a Christian from eating solid food. I understand that with spiritual discipline and dilligence in drawing near to the Lord every day through QT and prayer and fellowship, over time, we will mature.
However, I adhere immensly to that Jesus is the Captain or Leader (Bible uses “author”) and perfector of faith, and that He is the one Who began a new creation in us, and through Him and only Him will we be the fullness of His likeness when Jesus returns. Of course it begins by each person having a willing heart to commit and take up their cross every day. But ultimately it is through His grace we are transformed.)
Thanks in advance for taking your time to respond. Please, correct me where I am off, thank you!
@tudojoia. It has barely been over an hour since you posted, I am sure more learned responses will be forthcoming. But, I have personal testimony why I moved from a pursuit of levels in GOD.
First, was the frustration of such a pursuit. It was a popular rhetoric in our church that I could never accomplish. Though I strove intently to do so. To find a place in GOD that would move me beyond the grief and failure of my walk to allow me to live with authority and power at my command.
It was during an encounter with cancer that the Lord began to teach me. As I prepared to enter the hospital well-meaning people would assure me that as I believed GOD would heal me. I heard often a reference to Romans 12:3, I was assured that GOD would heal according to my measure of faith. That left me feeling responsible for the affliction of cancer. GOD wanted to completely heal me, but I did not have a high enough level of faith.
That night in my hospital bed, from that scripture reference, the Lord began to teach me. I was directed to read that verse myself. I have always used the King James version so my reading was slightly different from many versions today. What I found was the verse speaks of “the measure of faith.” Not a measure of faith., For me that indicated faith was a singular and complete product. Perhaps that is why only faith the size of a mustard seed is necessary.
I begin to understand that my healing was assured in the sacrifice of the cross. Not in my ability to believe hard enough or live holy enough. At the cross, all needs had been addressed. The sacrifice at the cross was a complete and finished work.
What was being assigned levels was in fact the nature of my experience during the crisis. If my experience seemed supernatural in appearance, then it was an indication of a higher level of faith. If my path encountered human input like physicians or hospital, it was an indication of insufficient faith.
The Lord begin to teach me what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:11-13.
I begin to understand the pursuit of a level was largely doctrinal. Learning to live within the will of GOD, learning to trust him despite the nature of deliverance. To understand that trouble, pain, and even death serves the purpose of GOD, became my new focus.
I always make my desire known. I usually ask for the less painful, more human idea of prosperity and deliverance. But my heart continues to bend to the will of GOD because I trust him. Perhaps what we consider levels is simply the maturity to walk fearlessly through this life without being impacted by the markers we set for victory. But living completely with the assurance that GOD can be trusted. I find that awareness assures joy and victory in every stage of my life. That is how I wear this world as a loose garment.
I would agree with @cer7 that faith doesn’t have levels. If we look at it that way we seek only to practice in order to achieve perfection, which is going backwards. Is it not that we are given imputed righteousness through Christ and then need to practice achieving perfection/righteousness afterwards when we pick up our cross daily? I hope that makes sense, in essence, its the same as what @cer7 said:
It is a good topic and I think many of us struggle with this desire to have “enough” faith, which is very real. I have to try not to use comparative righteousness but remember that it is both imputed and then practised. Hope this helps in some way and makes sense!
This is a very hard question, because ultimately I think we are talking about sanctification here. Moreover, it is difficult for us as finite and broken human persons, to know exactly how the Holy Spirit works in our lives, AND, to what extent or degree we cooperate with Him in that same work. In theology this is called the “concursive” work of the Spirit; He works on us actively, and we respond to His working in us. But, how that whole process itself actually works, is somewhat mysterious.
That said, I don’t think we can quantify “faith” as if it is something that is measurable; certainly not measurable in the same way we might measure how much I could benchpress over time if I worked out such and such hours a week in the gym over a 3 month period. Classical theologians (e.g. the Scholastic Theologians of the Middle Ages, and later Protestant theologians) saw faith as a gift from God. The human person cannot, of his or her own will, generate faith. Faith is given to us, and strengthened in us, by the power of God. But, that leaves us scratching our heads as to what our role is in the whole matter. After all, isn’t there some kind of progression in our spiritual lives?
The great philosopher and theologian, Dallas Willard, once said that the Christian life begins when we realize we can do absolutely nothing ourselves. Now, Willard didn’t mean that we just sit by in our armchair and literally never do anything; he is talking about our spiritual life here. Obviously, we carry on with our day to day activities as we normally would. With regards to our spiritual lives, however, there are also spiritual disciplines that we can engage in, some of which you mention here. So, what we can possibly, at most, do, is open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit in ways that will allow us to more clearly and perhaps more powerfully hear from Him. However, even if we engage in the spiritual disciplines, if there is any strengthening of our faith, we recognize that it did not come from our efforts, but it came as a result of the Spirit’s gift of grace.
This is not to say, however, that the Holy Spirit couldn’t speak clearly and powerfully to us in the midst of the most mundane or the most chaotic times in our daily lives. It is just to say that He has invited us to engage with Him in a certain way, most notably, in prayer, devotional bible study, academic study of the Bible, corporate worship, and acts of charity and goodwill to our neighbor. Through these means it perhaps is more likely that we will have a stronger sense of our faith in God, and a clearer knowledge of His plan for our lives.
That said, Catholic and Protestant spiritual theologians (e.g. St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, perhaps the German Pietists) were always very aware of times or seasons in life, when our faith seemed weak, if not non-existent. As if God had literally removed His presence from us, causing to experience what has became known as “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The “Dark Night of the Soul” is not necessarily something that comes only during times of great physical distress or suffering; it can just come without warning. One’s faith can feel dried up, empty; even if everything else is going well.
However, these same theologians also saw this “Dark Night” as a kind of act of God in the life of the believer. God was not doing nothing; He was just no longer giving the sort of experiential consolation that He tends to give younger, less mature believers. Here, many theologians have thought that it is those who are actually more mature in Faith who don’t experience God as vibrantly. Why? Because it is the less mature, the younger in the Faith, who require the more profound experiences of God, because, in fact, if they did not have those experiences, they would falter in their faith.
A good book on theses kinds of seasons in the Christian life is this one by Bruce Demarest:
Finally, during times like these; these “dry” periods, we would do well to remember what John Calvin said about the Christian life. In the first paragraph of Calvin’s Institutes he says that there are two types of knowledge that are necessary to live a Christian life: knowledge of God and knowledge of Self. It is often the case that when God begins to remove His presence from us (well, more accurately, when we no longer sense God’s presence) that this is a time to contemplate our own self; to ask God questions about who we are as individuals, to pray to God about our pasts, our pains, our fears, and our joys. Faith in God also comes when God shows us very particular things about our own selves, that we otherwise could not or would not have known.
I hope this helps, it isn’t an easy question to answer.
I am along these lines.
I think there is that moment we take that (healthy) risk to trust the Lord, to have faith as described in Hebrews 11:1 – and then we trust the Lord to take us through it by His grace. (Easily thought out than done on my part )
Thanks for your thorough response @anthony.costello ! Thank you for the great references
I struggle with this often in my spiritual growth. The answers above are great, and make so much sense now that I just finished reading Exodus. As I read that it only took three days after the Exodus for the Israelites to begin complaining, I was like, WOW, they just witnessed all these miracles by God, yet they feel as though they will starve. Then they ask for an idol to worship after they get water from a rock and manna from heaven. I could not understand how the Israelites could be so forgetful about how God provided. The Israelites came from Egypt where all they knew was Idol worship. I guess it would be similar to that of a prisoner or someone institutionalized. How frustrated God must have felt, but as I am reading on God had mercy and provided them with a more “hands on” worshipping approach without them considering the lesson that God was teaching and how faith is something that they would come to rely on. I am a very impatient person, and very emotional so this is a very interesting topic.
I love your question, and if you would let me, I would like to present a slightly answer than most might give.
Firstly, it is important to know that I am Roman Catholic, so my understanding of Christianity may differ slightly from yours. However, I grew up as a strong faithful Protestant, and have much respect for my Protestant brothers and sisters.
Now, to your question.
I think that this problem is resolved when you don’t think of faith as the saving act by which God reconciles us to Him. Rather, it is by grace that we are reconciled to God, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). People overlook that qualifier too often. So it is the grace that saves, not the faith, for we were saved by grace so that none may boast, even of their own faith in Jesus!
So, if you allow me for the purpose of clarity, I will define faith as simple belief, and not as carrying your cross. Such things as carrying your cross every day and following Jesus I will classify as works, which do not save you. Only the grace of God does that.
In this set up, there is no real difference in faith, at least that seems to matter, because to believe is to believe, and to refuse to believe is to refuse to believe.
What is different among believers is what we Catholics would call holiness – holiness that results from God’s grace through our faith and obedience to our Lord. In Catholic theology, we are on a road towards what is called divinitization, or union with God, characterized as the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Church. Hence, Christ day by day sanctifies and purifies His Bride, the Church, that She would become holy.
There are those who make large displays of faith, but I think that God truly loves the quiet soul (who even doubts!), but who continues to faithfully strive towards holiness and to be united with Him.
Thanks @handres – yes, I agree, it is by God’s grace. I think most of the responses was saying that it is about God’s grace, not our works. I think everyone seems to be saying more or less around similar points on faith!