I received a question on Formspring recently that is worthwhile sharing more widely. Here is my answer.
Firstly, faith is God’s gift to us – it’s not something we conjure up on our own.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God ~ Ephesians 2:8
Faith is an expression, on our part, that God has made us spiritually alive. This is why the size or amount of our faith is irrelevant – because it comes from God, our ability to believe isn’t what saves us or makes us a Christian. (NB: Jesus use of “little” faith is describing the inadequate quality of man-made belief as opposed to the greatness of God given faith.)
The faith God gives us is a powerful transforming thing. “Mere” faith that is nothing more than an intellectual agreement, is not Biblical faith. Sometimes people talk about having faith as though it is some sort of quality that we develop over time. Thus, we praise and adulate people of “great faith” as though they are somehow more worthy of God’s love and grace. There is a very sinful habit amongst some misguided Christians that a person can believe God more than or better than others – all this amounts to is a false teaching that I can save myself by having more “faith” than you.
(How do I know if I have Biblical faith? – If you have a desire – on any level – to believe God’s Word about Jesus then it is very likely that you do have faith.)
Here’s a quote from a Christian book about the nature of faith as God’s gift versus faith that we somehow come up with on our own.
“The glory of the gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to him in spite of their sin. But our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into his work of grace. How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we remain justified only so long as there are grounds in our character for our justification. But Paul’s teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification. So powerful was his emphasis on this that men accused him of teaching that it did not matter how they lived if God justified them. If God justifies us as we are, what is the point of holiness? There is still a sense in which this is a test of whether we off the world the grace of God in the gospel. Does it make men say: ‘You are offering grace that is so free it doesn’t make any difference how you live’? This was precisely the objection the Pharisees had to Jesus’ teaching!” – Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, pages 82-83