Faith: Tool or Relationship

Faith – Buzzword of Christianesse

Other than Grace, Faith is perhaps the most misused and misunderstood word in the Christian vernacular.

In its common usage throughout scripture, and especially the New Testament, it simply means full, relational trust in someone.

Though “relational” is not technically part of the definition, it is part of the process!

Trust is a relational term at its core, but when it is used in the realm of the “religious” it often becomes a work and is therefore NOT relational. AS such it becomes a merit badge rather than a proof of intimacy. This is especially true when the concept of trust is represented by the word – “FAITH”.

In my life and in my preaching, I virtually never use the word faith anymore. This is because it comes with so much baggage and so many misconceptions that I feel the need to define it every time I use it. To avoid this I simply say ‘relational trust’. These words say more without further definition than does the word Faith. Furthermore, it avoids the largest obstacle to genuine trust in Christ, namely, the stigma that the word ‘Faith’ has received over the years due to Christian abuse of the word.

Relational trust (faith) comes as the result of having the character of a person revealed to you through relationship with them.

This is the tone and meaning of the word Faith as it is used in the scriptures in regards to Jesus in the heart and lives of true believers. Which is why, the relational trust we have in Him MUST come from Christ being reveal to us…

“And this proves that faith comes from a Message heard, and that the Message comes through its having been spoken by Christ.”  ~ Rom. 10:17

This is the stated ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples just before He was to be executed that His departure was to their benefit because when He left, they would see and know Him better that they did now. This baffled them, but Jesus went on to explain that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to them to lead and guide them into all truth. Not 15 minutes prior, Jesus had just told them that He was the Truth. So the Holy Spirit was coming to reveal Christ.

“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now.

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears.

He will also declare to you what is to come.

He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you.

Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you.

“A little while and you will no longer see Me; again a little while and you will see Me.  ~ John 16:12-16

Jesus…the Alpha and Omega of Faith:

Christ is both the Author of all relational trust in Him and He is also the One Who matures that relationship of trust.

 “…looking off and away unto Jesus the Originator and Perfecter of…faith” ~ Heb. 12:2b

According to this verse, Christ authors our faith, which means that He is its Source and Owner. This is a doctrine which is foreign to many modern day Christians. Faith in Him is OWNED BY HIM. All faith is granted to us as a stewardship given to us from Him. This alone defuses one of the greatest abuses of “faith” as a modern church doctrine. An abuse that leads us to attempt to “use” faith to manipulate our lives to our advantage…all in the name of the Lord and for His glory of course. Faith cannot be conjured by our self-effort or our self-will, it is offered to us as a gift FROM HIM. Which is why we cannot direct our own faith – it is in His sovereign hands. It is HIS faith, NOT ours.

The concept of “my faith” is one which is virtually lacking in scripture. Yes, it is true that such wording exists. Even Jesus Himself said statements like, “Your faith and made you well.” This however, was never intended to be taken literally, in the English grammatical sense of the statement, any more than the idea that the sun actually stood still in Joshua 10:13 was intended to be taken literally. That passage, no doubt, is to be taken literally in that the daylight lasted much longer than normal, but it was the earth that stood still – not the sun! God knew this …as does your local Meteorologist, but I can almost guarantee that your weather station refers to daybreak as the sun rising even still! So it is regarding statements of “Your faith made you well”. Jesus is NOT saying, “The faith you conjured and created on your own which belongs to you because YOU created it in your own heart …is an entity with power of its own and it alone actually did the miracle of curing you – I had nothing to do with it, God had nothing to do with it – that was all you and your faith!”

No, it actually means that their willingness to surrender to the influence of the Holy Spirit, convicting them and convincing them to rely fully (have faith) upon the revelation He offers of Christ and the power delegated to Him from God, put them into a position to freely receive FROM HIM the health they required.

You might be thinking…Mark, your straining at a gnat here.

What difference does it make?

I know that it wasn’t actually the faith that healed them it was Jesus!

Yes, you may know that, even as I always did – but the statement left unchecked can and has developed a way of thinking about faith which has taken on a life and doctrine of its own. I fell for them myself and would spare any brother or sister from muddling blindly through the same deceptions I did for years. Doctrines arising from such wording are deeply flawed and misleading in virtually every way and it has already shipwrecked the overall faith in Christ for some. This is a pivotal issue!

One New Testament verse is more specific about this…

By faith in His Name, His Name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.” ~ Act 3:16

So you might ask – which is it? His Name or faith in His name that made the man well?

It was the Name of Jesus, because that is where the delegated power is represented.

So what part did faith play?

Well this would be obvious if we were using the term, “relational trust”. Let’s superimpose this wording into the verse so that its true meaning may become more obvious.

“Through relational trust in His Name, His Name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the relational trust in Jesus’ Name, which comes from Jesus Himself, has placed this man in the position to receive his health in front of you all.”

The grammar of the Greek phrase tells us that the word “given” here is used metaphorically.

“…has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.” ~ Act 3:16

It is the same usage as in Matthew 24:29,

“and the moon shall not give her light”.

Now in this example of the moon, everyone gets it. No one actually thinks that Jesus is here saying that the moon of its power, will refuse to shine its light upon the earth. That would be impossilbe.

  1. The moon does not have an intellect or a free will to do what it wants.
  2. The moon does not even have light, it only reflects it.

We know that of its own, the moon has no mind, personality or power of will to refuse to reflect sunlight. This passage simply means that at some time in the future the moon (for whatever reason) will not reflect light.

The usage is the same in regards to faith. Faith is not a cognizant entity with power of its own to do anything – it is simply trust. Trust is a relational condition birthed in the heart of a person. I has no power or virtue of its own to cause or alter any external condition.

“Faith is a response to a revelation God have given in our hearts;” – Malcolm Smith; Spiritual Burnout (Chapter 15 Sudden Burnout)

Faith as a Revelation of Christ

Faith always comes from God as a revelation of Christ.

Why is Christ being revealed to us once we are already born again?

Because we are still being transformed into His image.

We become like that which we behold, venerate and worship.

For example: If you idolize a movie star you will watch their movies, read articles about them, try to be where they are and attempt to emulate their ways. It is a “belief system” that changes you due to their influence over you.

So it is with faith.

By grace…through faith

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift– not from works, so that no one can boast.” ~ Eph. 2:8-9

The meaning of the word grace is God’s influence upon you heart and its reflection in your life; including gratitude. So, this verse is telling us that God’s influence over our hearts, convinced us of Jesus as Lord and Savior and drew our heart to place our trust in Him.

You see – grace (God’s influence over your heart) THROUGH faith (relational trust in Jesus, Who was revealed to you) placed you into relationship with God.

All who genuinely come to Christ realize that their salvation is not due to works, but most do not realize that neither is their faith. Faith is a gift from God produced by His influence over us – not by our study and meditation. It is NOT of works, lest we boast.

After salvation the process remains the same. God continues to reveal Christ to us with the express goal of influencing us with His nature and character so that we become like Him. This is the entire purpose and function of faith. 

 “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son,…” ~ Rom. 8:29

It is the purpose of His spoken word to us…

“… humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. ~ James 1:20-21

All the promises of God are IN HIM – yes and amen.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” ~ 2Cor. 1:20

What do these promises do? They make us partakers of the Divine nature!

 “May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the intimate knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. For His Divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the intimate knowledge of Him who called us by His Own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the Divine nature, …” 2 Peter 1:2-4

What is Faith for? 

1 Peter 1:8,9 tells us what faith is for…

 “You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” ~ 1Peter 1:8-9

Therefore faith…all faith is a very, very personal thing!

It is between God and His children – each of them as individuals.

God may speak to you about your health, or even something as silly and superficial as a car or a home. IF HE DOES – He is offering you the ability to place relational trust in Christ as He is revealed to you. However, the “Faith” is never FOR THE THING – it is IN HIM and for your growth and maturity.

Faith has nothing whatsoever to do with your personal happiness or goal achieving – it has to do with His goal IN YOU, which is Christ. Therefore it is Christ Who is being revealed.

How does this work regarding natural things?

If you need healing in your body, you seek His face – not the healing. God’s revelation to you is Jesus – Who IS your health, not the One Who gives health to you.

Notice the questions surrounding this in Jesus’ ministry…

  • Can you?
  • Are you willing?

What was revealed to them? A Christ who was both able and willing. It was a revelation of HIM as willing and able …not a revelation of what they could get from Him!

Faith done wrong

In this light there are many “faith phrases” which make absolutely no sense at all. Among them are the following…

  •  Faith for / I’m believing for…
  •  I’ll put my faith on it…
  •  I’ll just believe with you…
  •  I’ll add my faith to yours…
  •  I have my faith out for…
  •  Release your faith…

These and other statements

1. Turn faith into a work.

2. Attempt to use it like tool or a force to meet your objectives.

3. Makes assumptions on God’s character and purpose.

I cannot “join my faith” to someone else’s if I have not HEARD GOD TELL ME THAT WHAT THEY WANT – HE HAS GIVEN THEM.

My faith FOR them MUST come FROM HIM – not from their testimony that God spoke to them, not from the logos of God’s promises, but from HIS voice speaking TO ME.

In such cases one might as well say, “I will place my socket wrench (faith) on that bolt (problem) to loosen it (fix my problem).”

~ or ~

“I will release my dog (faith) on that thief (problem)”

Faith is relational and IN a person, NOT FOR a thing!

Even in times when the Jesus saw the faith in His listeners and told them that it was due to their faith that they were made whole, their faith was always IN HIM not FOR A THING.

Grammatically this is obvious. You cannot have relational trust in or for a thing.

You can however, have relational trust in a person who may give you something or do something for you.

In all the cases listed above, Jesus (the author of all faith) is not even mentioned! Such statements reduce our relationship of knowing and trusting God to a cold, methodical, selfish and goal oriented process.

Real faith comes from setting our gaze upon Christ, not on the focus of some earthly desire…mammon. [Matt. 6:24]

The way faith is often taught in today’s churches one would think that faith is a means to an end. A method by which we can receive unending blessings (by which are meant natural possessions or naturally favorable circumstances).

So much is focused upon “bless me, bless me, bless me Lord”, that one would think it was the very reason why Christ died – to bless me…everything is all about me!

It would probably astound most Christians today to realize that the words “Faith for” NEVER exists in the entire Bible! As such, it makes one wonder how it has become so popular and taught as a biblical truth.

Faith done right

What do we see in scripture?

  •  Faith in Christ
  •  The faith of Christ.
  •  faith in His Name
  •  full of faith
  •  by faith
  •  through faith
  •  faith towards God
  •  faith grows
  •  sincere faith

Never at any time did Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, John or any other person in the scriptures say a statement like…

“I’m just gonna believe FOR …..”

“I need you to be adding your faith to mine”

“I’ll just believe that wont happen.”

“Release your faith…”

In fact there is only one place which could be translated as “faith for” and even that actually means “unto” or “resulting in”…

 “who are kept by the power of God through faith for (unto) salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” ~ 1 Peter 1:5

I am not saying that through relational trust in Christ one cannot be healed or blessed, but Christ is always the focus of faith NOT things and circumstances.

My Crisis of Faith

Not many years outside of college I experienced a faith crisis. I was always searching the scriptures and meditating in order to “build up my faith”.

If you had asked me if faith came by the logos of the Word, I would have told you “No, it comes by the Word being revealed”. This knowledge however, did not stop my devotional, self-effort of trying to produce faith in my life by the works of devotion, meditation and study. I did not know at the time that faith isn’t conjured…it comes. So I continued struggling to produce in my heart what could only be given as a gift.

God was good enough to wound me in this area of self-effort. [Jer. 30:11-17] For years my particular brand of faith had worked.

  • It had gotten me healed
  • It had paid bills
  • It had mended relationships

but now….nothing!

What had changed? Did faith?

No, but I had grown older in Christ. It wasn’t faith that changed I had, and as such so did my juvenile concept of faith need to change.

I came to realize that earlier in life, I had training wheels on, and God allowed that for a time. A baby always makes life about themselves- they are inherently selfish to the core. Christians however, are not supposed to live in diapers forever.

There came a time when “my faith” which “I” developed, by countless hours of reading, study and meditation utterly and completely failed!

Oh, I kept up a good front.

Smiled and quoted the “faith mantras”, but in my heart I knew I was living a lie.

Eventually it came to a head and I lashed out at God and said,

“When is it ever going to be enough for you? Why do I have to have ‘FAITH’ for everything! If you loved me, it seems to me that you would just do things be cause you like me and stop require more and more faith out of me just to heal a hangnail!”

Needless to say, I was angry – God had my attention.

As is true in so many examples, God did not teach me what I thought I needed to know. He answered me, but His answer didn’t seem to have anything to do with my complaint.

I wanted to know “why does it always take faith”… what He taught me about was Grace.

My good friend Dan Erickson sent me a book by Malcolm Smith called, “Spiritual Burnout“, which I cited earlier. It was fresh water to my soul. I took many things away from that book, but the one which God used many years later to finally answer my questions about faith was this…

 “Your weakness is the necessary trigger to release the grace of God in your life.” [Not a direct quote]

He was borrowing from a “gun” analogy, meaning that grace was the bullet in the gun and my surrender to my weakness and embracing of His offered strength (relying upon it) was the trigger which released it into my life.

Now this made all the more sense to me at the time because I was still thinking of grace as if it were God’s power, which it is not, it is His influence. However, it still painted a picture for me which aided me both then and later.

I came to realize that I had been treating God like a coke machine….

Put in all my “faith tokens” press the appropriate “promise” button and walla – out pops my prize! (Real relational hu?)

Up to this point I knew the scriptures (I thought) and was intellectually convinced that they were right, but they did not deliver me. How could they? They only told me stories about people who had a personal encounter with Him – they were NOT that encounter!

Jesus said,

 “And the Father Himself, Who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because Whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” ~ John 5:37-40

I wanted what the patriarchs and the Apostles had, without doing what they did to get it.

I read ABOUT their encounters, but failed to have one of my own.

All I did was encounter my bible, not the living God.

I could attack a problem in my life by…

– quoting the word (logos)

– binding this and loosing that (…Oh, don’t even get me started on this one!)

– “believing for this” and “confessing that”

… but when the dust settled, I was no closer to God than when I started.

I might have gotten what I wanted and even convinced myself that it was God Who gave it, but I was no closer to Him. Oh, I had a momentary emotional high, but it quickly faded or turned into bragging contest with other Christians about “my great faith”.

The goal of genuine faith had not been accomplished in me, because my faith was fake faith – not genuine & sincere faith.

Paul speaks about this,

“… true stewardship for God, which only exists where there is faith… But the end sought to be secured by exhortation is the love which springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience and a sincere faith. From these some have drifted away, and have wandered into empty, fruitless words.” ~ 1Tim. 1:4-6

One example of ungenuine faith producing empty, fruitless words is attempting to use faith as a means of gain.

Let me interject something here on this point. One of the lies the enemy sells people who want “stuff” but need to spiritualize their desires in order to sidestep guilt for spending far to much on material things is this…

“People in the world need to see Christians living affluent lives. Living in large houses, driving nice cars, wearing designer clothes and eating at 5 star restaurants so they can see that your God is a good God. Then they will ask you about Him and you can win them to Christ. No non-regenerate person is going to want to follow a God whose children are poor.”

That is a deception I was sold in college and it is misrepresentation of the Gospel if ever I’ve heard it! Furthermore, if that is the calling card for Christ then Paul, the other apostles and Jesus Himself were misrepresenting the Kingdom flagrantly!

No, the New Testament is actually rife with warnings against wealth and its corrupting influence. Paul tells us to be content with such things as we currently have – not in things we seek to procure. This same Paul, whose example of faith both Timothy and we are to emulate said of himself,

“On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. ~ 2Cor. 11:26-27

We cannot invite people into a genuine relationship with Christ by appealing to their flesh. The kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom and it wars against the flesh.

“For the cravings of the lower nature are opposed to those of the Spirit, and the cravings of the Spirit are opposed to those of the lower nature; because these are antagonistic to each other, so that you cannot do everything to which you are inclined.” ~ Gal 5:17

If the Spirit and the flesh are at war, how is it possible to evoke genuine faith in the heart of a non-believer by appealing to their lower nature?

No, this is the true kingdom we represent before the world…a kingdom of true riches…

“Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” ~ Rom 14:16-17

In other words it is a faith which, whether we have wealth or not, finds its contentment, satisfaction and full delight in Him and NOT in what we happen to have.

I say again, faith is NOT for or about things it is IN and about Him.

What Faith is … conclusions

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized what I am saying now.

Faith in Jesus Christ, is not intellectual conviction only, but a personal commitment. A great example of this is found in Gal. 2:16, which is literally translated as,

‘we have believed into (eis) Christ Jesus.’

It is an act of committal, not just assenting to the fact that Jesus lived, died and rose again but a wholehearted running to Him and throwing the whole of our weight upon Him relying fully and completely in Him resulting in safety, refuge and wholeness.

This is the faith of the bible, it is relational to its core and you can do anything but walk away unchanged because it places you face to face with Him.

All faith…all relational trust occurs at an encounter with Him. You are undone, you are altered, you are wounded, you are cured and walk away never the same – THAT IS FAITH!!!

It is not cheap, it is not a 5 step program you can perfect by listening to a series of messages, it is not a transient power which when rubbed on life makes everything better – it is to know Him intimately and as a result rely upon Him fully.

I encourage you to take a look at your thoughts about faith, your faith terms and sentences you use the word ‘faith’ in and examine them in this light. Do they represent true biblical relational trust, or something else? Can you substitute the words “relational trust” for faith in your theology and it still make sense or be true?

This relational trust in Him is the one thing Christ appears to be interested in finding upon His return,

“…Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?” ~ Luke 18:8

Hi my name is Mark and though I am opposed to titles, I am currently the only Pastor (shepherd/elder) serving our assembly right now.

I have been Pastoring in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years now, though never quite like I am today.

Early in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our assembly (church) was not scriptural in that it was out of sync with what Paul modeled for us in the New Testament. In truth, I (like many pastors I am sure) never even gave this fundamental issue of church structure the first thought. I had always assumed that church structure was largely the same everywhere and had been so from the beginning. While I knew Paul had some very stringent things to say about the local assembly of believers, the point of our gatherings together and who may or may not lead, I never even considered studying these issues but assumed we were all pretty much doing it in numbers right?! Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

So needless to say, my discovery that we had been doing it wrong for nearly two decades was a bit of a shock to me! Now, this "revelation" did not come about all at once but over the course of a few weeks. We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until following 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We now understand and believe that the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keeps authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provide teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

For a while we had two co-pastors (elders) (myself and one other man) who led the church with equal authority, but different giftings. We both taught in our own ways and styles, and our leadership skills were quite different, but complimentary. We were in complete submission to each other and worked side-by-side in the labor of shepherding the flock.

Our other Pastor has since moved on to other ministry which has left us with just myself. While we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers.

As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my closest friend and most trusted ally.

As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught.

I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled).

Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then, "If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling." ~ Fredrick Buechner

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me.

I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!