But You See, The Thing Is, You Just DON’T!

Jesus said something very peculiar to his disciples, didn’t he, when he opined ‘if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, be removed into the sea, and it will obey you’.  Ever since then, people have made the mistake of believing that Jesus wanted them to have ‘more faith’ (as though managing to have more of something ephemeral were at all possible, like having more ‘love’ or more ‘patience’).

It has not occurred to most, it seems, that having ‘more’ faith is something of which we are just not at all capable.  Just how does one have ‘more faith’?  Has anyone ever explained that sufficiently, or even carefully?  Not to my satisfaction and if you’re honest, probably not to yours either.

So I would like to suggest that many have read Jesus wrong.  He is not at all encouraging MORE faith- he is pointing out very sensibly that IF we had so much as a speck of faith, we COULD command mountains, etc.  The fact that we DON’T command mountains means that we have even LESS faith than a speck, and THAT is exactly what he wants us to know.

Quite plainly, he’s telling folk ‘you don’t have any faith to speak of.’  And that’s the real truth.  We don’t.  And when we try to ‘have’ more we just fail.  And then we feel faithless (because we are) and then we feel even worse (which we should) until, finally, we come to our senses and realize that he has faith aplenty for us and on our behalf.

And before you get all fired up in disagreement, you silly thing, realize that Paul understood things JUST this way.  Do recall his (and yes, Ephesians is Paul’s) – ‘For by grace are you saved, through faith.  And that not of your selves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one has anything to boast about.’

Faith is a gift which Another holds in trust for us.  Whew.  That, frankly, is quite a relief.  It means that faith is given to us and we neither manufacture it nor muster it up.  Faith is the gift of God.  And gifts are given to whomsoever the giver wishes.

If one has faith (which none of us do in and of ourselves) then that very faith is God’s magnanimous act of kindness.  We don’t need to have it in the volume of a seed.  Christ has it in plenitude and it is operative in us by virtue of him.  Anyway, the truth is, you see, you just don’t have any at all.  Stop worrying, then, about getting more- and trust the one who has enough already, for you.

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8 thoughts on “But You See, The Thing Is, You Just DON’T!

  1. John C. Poirier 7 Jan 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Jim, I disagree with your exegesis of Eph 2:8. The phrase “that not of yourselves” does *not* qualify “faith”. Rather, it qualifies the salvation that is by grace. Faith is *not* a gift in the New Testament. (I know that statement raises some questions about the charism of *pistis* in 1 Cor. 12, but that’s another story.)

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    • Jim 7 Jan 2013 at 12:34 pm

      your disagreement sans argument or reason or exegesis is noted

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  2. John C. Poirier 7 Jan 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Some exegesis supporting my basic position (but centering mostly on Rom 12:3) can be found at: John C. Poirier, “The Measure of Stewardship: Pistis in Romans 12:3”, *Tyndale Bulletin* 59 (2008)145-52.

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    • Jim 7 Jan 2013 at 1:24 pm

      interesting, but ultimately unpersuasive. the simplest explanation and most straightforward reading of eph 2:8ff would and does link faith to gift.

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  3. John C. Poirier 7 Jan 2013 at 2:00 pm

    But how do you explain the gender disagreement? If “that” in Eph 2:18 looks back to *pistews*, shouldn’t it be feminine (*tauta*) rather than neuter (*touto*)?

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    • Jim 7 Jan 2013 at 2:12 pm

      my greek teacher, once responding to a question in class, said to the questioner- ‘we aren’t washed in the blood of the subjunctive mood’. his point, in its context, was that the ancient greeks were no more slaves to grammatical rules than modern ‘common’ speakers. to build a doctrine on grammar rather than the context of texts and sensible and simple readings of texts is a rather poorly thought-out move. i would simply say, again, that in its context, and in the context of paul’s entire theology, divorcing faith from gift is a bad move.

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  4. Geoff 7 Jan 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Jim,

    I probably would say that more than just the faith is the gift there, but not less. I think people do not want “faith” to be the gift in the text because it monkeys with human agency. I understand their concern, because Paul’s whole point in Romans 9-11 ends up being that Gentiles who quit exercising faith are subject to branch cutting. But it would seem that in Ephesians 2:8-10, it is the whole process of being saved by grace through faith that is a gift.

    I’m not sure what the intellectual conflict is for anybody though, faith’s gift-ness, is not contrary to its human-agency-ness. At least no more than saying that loving another (which requires human agency) is obviously a gift from God. I think people miss the fact that faith would not even be possible if the man, Jesus (the presupposition of all New Testament preaching) had not lived, died, been raised, and put forth as faith’s object. Of course he has faith for us, his faithfulness elicits human faith. Isn’t that the point of Romans 1:16-17? From faithfulness (of Christ) for faith (the faith of those who hear)…

    Geoff

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  5. Brian 16 Jan 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I ran across this argument about Eph 2:8 being about salvation and not faith some years ago. I asked my pastor about it and he said that the author probably had in mind the whole process of salvation, which is a gift, and that includes faith, so to say faith is a gift and not of man lest any should boast, etc. is not wrong at all, because it’s part of the process.

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