Faith – Part 3
It’s Not About You
One of the problems with the doctrine of the Word of Faith Movement and non-Christian groups that teach about the power of the mind is that it puts the emphasis on the individual—you. Since most of these groups teach that it is a “law” that if you have faith, you can bring into your life whatever you want, it is clear that the pressure is on “you.” Kenneth Hagin, a Word of Faith minister, writes:
“That’s what you’ve got to learn to do to get things from God: Have faith in your faith” (Having Faith in Your Faith, p. 5).
Hagin says Jesus appeared to him in a vision and told him:
“If anybody, anywhere, will…put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father” (eBook: How to Write Your Own Ticket with God; Chapter 1).
W. Kenyon, one of the founders of the Faith Movement, wrote in his book, The Two Kinds of Faith, “Faith in your own faith is the law of success in the realm of the spirit” (p. 36). Kenneth Copeland wrote, “Faith is a power force. It is a tangible force. It is a conductive force. It will move things. …Faith is a spiritual force” (The Force of Faith p. 13). Victor Wierwille called this “law” the “law of believing,” and wrote: “The law of believing is the greatest law in the Word of God. As a matter of fact is it not only the greatest law in The Word, it is the greatest law in the whole world. Believing works for saint and sinner alike” (Power for Abundant Living, 1971, p. 32). So if this “law” is not working in your life, then Word of Faith ministers say that the problem is “you.”
Word of Faith ministers teach that you can make things happen in the physical world by your faith, so it is common to hear them use the phrase “have faith for” (or “believe for”). Many Christians are surprised to learn that no phrase like “have faith for” occurs in the Bible. The reason is simple: we don’t have the power to make things happen. God has the power. That is why the phrase that is in the Bible is “pray for.” We can’t “believe for” things and make them happen, but we can “pray for” things and let God make them happen.
The Bible instructs us to “believe in,” but not to “believe for.” The Bible says that we are to “believe in” God, Jesus, and the Gospel, but to “believe in” something is simply to have a firm conviction about it. But that’s the point. If we have a firm conviction about God (we believe in Him and trust Him), then we ask Him for things in prayer. However, we don’t have the power to get what we want on our own: we need Him to accomplish what we are praying for. That takes the pressure off “us” to “believe for” what we want and allows God, whom we “believe in,” to graciously answer our prayers.
Stealing God’s Glory
The flipside of making material success about “faith” and about “you” is that it takes the glory away from the One who really deserves it: God. If our success is really due to us tapping into a “law” that works for believers and unbelievers, then God is almost irrelevant (unbelievers would say He is definitely irrelevant). God is squeezed out of the picture. His plans and purposes for us don’t really matter that much. God (or some Power) becomes a convenient vending machine who is at the beck and call of anyone who has faith, whether he is a saint or sinner. In general, ministers in the Word of Faith Movement get around that argument by saying God wants everyone healthy, wealthy, and happy, and those things are ours for the taking if we have faith. While we agree that it is a general principle that God wants people healthy and blessed, it is also true that there are important reasons that not all of God’s people have those things now.
We are not in a position to understand the specific reasons for what happens on earth—for example, why one person is healed and another is not. The reasons are complex and involve the broken nature of the fallen world we live in; the spiritual battle that is raging between Good and Evil; a person’s individual situation and circumstances; and other factors as well. What happens in our individual lives is an intricate interplay between our will, the will of the Adversary, and the will of God. But we know that God loves us and has a plan to defeat evil and completely redeem His people, and He occasionally energizes miracles and healings that work to accomplish that plan.
The so-called “law” of faith is not a law at all, it is a false teaching. Taking the glory of God away from Him and placing it on the person who has “faith” should be shocking and abhorrent to any Christian. God did not say in vain, “I will not give my glory to another” (Isa. 48:11 HCSB). It is praiseworthy to trust God, but it should not be those who trust Him who get the glory, it should be God, because He is the One who is trustworthy. God knows when, where, and how to help, and He supplies the power that does the miracles and healings. The Hero is God, not us.
Lack of Peace
As we have seen, one of the consequences of believing that a person’s faith determines what happens to him is that it puts the pressure on the individual. But that pressure tends to make people unpeaceful. One of the great blessings of the Bible is that we can trust God and rest in Him, and therefore have peace of mind (Ps. 119:165; John 14:27; Phil. 4:7-9; 2 Thess. 3:16). But people who feel their faith is responsible for what happens to them tend to spend a lot of time focusing on how much faith they have and what they can do to build more faith in order to get more of what they want. Despite the teaching of Word of Faith ministers, focusing on “faith” does not actually build more faith (trust); in fact, it can build more doubt. Once we realize there is no law of faith but that “faith” is trust, we can re-focus our lives and spend time dwelling upon God’s goodness and willingness to help us, which is what helps our faith (trust) increase.
A big problem with the “faith brings success” claim, also known as “prosperity theology” or the “Prosperity Gospel,” is that it gives sincere but inexperienced Christians an unscriptural and unrealistic expectation about the Christian life and God’s will for them. The “faith brings success” teaching encourages people to have ungodly desires for material things, including money and power, and this can be very harmful. Admittedly, the “Faith Movement” theology fits well with the modern, self-centered, “what’s-in-it-for-me,” “I want it now” culture, and thus brings some people to Christ who otherwise might not come. However, at some point all of those people will find out that “faith” does not solve their problems, and the reason they embraced Christ in the first place is no longer there.
People who believe their faith will bring them success in life eventually encounter circumstances that cause them to doubt their faith. They may get a sickness that does not easily heal; they may be afflicted by a natural disaster such as a tornado, flood, or drought; they may lose their job or have a huge financial loss, etc. Life is full of setbacks and tragedies that are not fixed by “faith,” and people who blame those setbacks on their “faith” will eventually begin to doubt themselves. They lose their “faith in their faith,” and sadly, if they continue to hold to the “faith brings success” ideology, they become confused and feel helpless and hopeless. Some of those people mature into simply accepting that they can only seem to solve a few of their problems by faith—although they don’t understand why it is only a few and not all—but unfortunately, other people abandon Christianity, feel betrayed, and become hurt and bitter about their Christian experience. Those people who become so disillusioned that they stop walking with or believing in Christ are badly hurt in other ways; for example, because they have given up the Christian life, they may lose rewards in the Messianic Kingdom. [For more on rewards in the Kingdom, see commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:10].
Misunderstanding the Scriptures
There are many scriptures that Word of Faith ministers and Christians who subscribe to the teaching of “believe and receive” use to support their teaching. However, they wrongly understand and apply those scriptures. This does two things at once: it leads them astray from what the verses are actually teaching and it obscures the true meaning of the verses.
A typical verse that is used to support the Word of Faith position is Mark 11:23, which says that if you tell a mountain to move, and do not doubt in your heart, it will move. That is true, but the context and scope of Scripture shows us that it is the manifestation of faith that moves mountains, not regular “faith.” Although no one moved a mountain in Scripture, great miracles like splitting oceans, stopping rivers, and causing great city walls to fall down did all happen by the manifestation of faith.
There are many verses that tell us it is God’s desire for us to be successful and healthy. In John 10:10 (KJV), Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Third John 1:2 (KJV) says, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health.” God does want us healthy, successful, and blessed. But that does not mean we acquire those things “by faith.” There are many biblical keys and principles, including trusting God, that work together so that believers can be healthy and successful. For example, Proverbs tells us that some great keys for being successful are saving money over time instead of spending all you make, working hard, and not making risky business deals (cp. Prov. 6:6-11; 10:4; 11:15; 12:27; 13:4; 19:15; 21:17). Similarly, staying healthy involves obeying God, being cheerful, and controlling our feelings and emotions (Prov. 3:8; 14:30; 17:22). Every verse that Word of Faith ministers interpret in a way that supports the “law of faith” has other interpretations that do not endorse that doctrine.
It is God’s desire that His people be blessed and seek His wisdom (Prov. 1:7; Ps. 115:13). His wisdom is personified as a woman in Proverbs. If we listen to Wisdom, we are blessed, but if we do not, we will be in trouble and may end up “eating the fruit of our way.”
Proverbs 1:20-32 (NIV84 abridged):
Wisdom calls aloud in the street, ‘How long will fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you, But since you rejected me when I called and since you ignored all my advice, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways. For the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease.’
In this section of Scripture, Wisdom is highlighting the principle of reaping and sowing, and pointing out that if a person sows foolishly throughout his life, when distress and trouble comes, God may not simply undo the results of years of unwise decisions.
The “faith brings success” teaching has caused many Christians to miss the true message of Scripture: life is difficult, even for believers, and “faith” is not meant to change your circumstances but rather to help you persevere through them. This truth is supported by the examples of godly believers in both the Bible and history who experienced terrible difficulties. Could it really be true that the prophets and apostles—the most notable believers in the Bible—could have had such little faith that they seemed to face nothing but problems? This alone should tell us the message of the Word of Faith Movement is false. The true doctrine is that life is difficult and we need to trust God and stay faithful to Him and He will give us strength to endure.
Does “Faith” Bring Financial Success?
It is a standard teaching of the Word of Faith ministers that faith brings financial success, but verses such as James 2:5 directly contradict that teaching. James 2:5 (NASB) says, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom…?” James tells us something we know if we take a look at Christians around the world: there are many who are very materially poor but are rich in faith. It is not hard to find people like that, but if the Word of Faith message is true, Christians who are “rich in faith,” should also be rich in the world. Those Christians who are rich in faith but poor by the world’s standards should not condemn themselves for being poor, but rather commend themselves for trusting in God’s promises even though their life is difficult. They will be rewarded.
Compassion and the Faith Movement
Another hurtful consequence of believing that what happens in life is based on a person’s faith is that it discourages having genuine compassion toward others who are experiencing problems. The Bible commands us to have compassion for others, but it is hard to be compassionate when we think people are causing their own troubles. We see this in the book of Job: Job’s “friends” could not console him because they thought his problems were his own fault. Their misguided appeals to Job to repent of the sin that he had supposedly committed hurt them by damaging their friendship with Job, and hurt Job by compounding his grief. Similarly, when those in the Word of Faith Movement try to help someone who has suffered a tragedy by telling them to have more faith, it can hurt the friendship and cause frustration and despair in the person who is already suffering. The Bible says that “no temptation has taken hold of you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13 REV). When we understand that “faith” is “trust,” and that what happens to us in life is not always our fault, then it becomes easier to have compassion for others who are having problems.
Is “Trust” an Inappropriate Translation?
In the Word of Faith Movement, the wrong doctrine about “faith” has obscured the right doctrine about “trust.” The teaching of the Word of Faith Movement has infiltrated so much of Christian thinking that, for many Christians, “trust” is not a good translation of pistis. Some people would respond to this by saying: “Faith is much bigger than trust.” But that’s a serious problem because pistis is not “bigger than trust;” pistis is “trust.” No ancient Greek speaker would have thought pistis referred to a power or force of the mind, and they would not have thought that their own mind could tap into a spiritual “law” such that they could just have pistis and then the universe would have to respond to them. But to people who buy into the modern teaching on the great power of faith, the translation “trust” seems pretty anemic and impotent.
The reality is, however, that on our own we humans are quite impotent. We are mortal and weak. Without God, we would have no hope. But God stepped into our lives and helped us. He sent His Son to die for us so we could live forever and He gives us revelation according to His purposes so we can bring His power to bear on earth and perform healings and miracles. And what’s our part in all this greatness? We trust Him. “Trust” is an honest and accurate translation of pistis. It magnifies God and it clarifies the part that we play in God’s plan. [For a biblical and historical examination of the modern Faith Movement, see, D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel].
The Plans and Purposes of God
A terrible consequence of the Word of Faith teaching is that the plans and purposes of God lose their great importance. God’s plans and purposes are the most important reason for the great miracles and healings we see in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, we see many great miracles: Moses splitting the Sea, Joshua making the walls of Jericho fall, Elijah calling fire down from heaven, Shadrach and his two companions staying alive in a furnace of fire, Daniel being delivered from the lion’s den, and many more. Faith ministers say these miracles were done by “faith,” but is that true? Some of them were done by the manifestation of faith, which is dependent on specific revelation from God, which further depends on His plans and purposes. But also, some of the miracles were just God acting in power to fulfill His purposes without any human interaction. Shadrach and his companions staying alive in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace seems to be one of those cases. According to what they said in Daniel 3:18, they were not sure God would rescue them.
The miracles and healings in the Bible are all part of God’s grand plan, and that explains why simple “faith” (trust) can’t reliably bring them to pass at our discretion or repeat them whenever we desire. If Joshua knocked the walls of Jericho down by his faith (Joshua 6:1-21), why didn’t he conquer all the cities in Canaan the same way? If Samuel could make it rain during the dry season in Israel (1 Sam. 12:17), why couldn’t other great believers, like Abraham and David, make it rain during famines? If Elisha could feed many prophets by multiplying food (2 Kings 4:42-44), why could he not do the same thing when there was a famine in Samaria (2 Kings 6:24-7:20)? If Peter could raise Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-42), why couldn’t he raise others, such as Stephen?
That God energizes miracles and healings according to His plans and purposes explains Jesus’ healings and miracles. God knew certain Messianic prophecies and foreshadowings had to be fulfilled. Thus, in some cases, like the time Jesus fed the 5000, He energized healing for everyone who needed healing (Matt. 14:14; Luke 9:11). But there were other times when Jesus healed only one person. For example at the pool of Bethesda there was a crowd of sick people, but Jesus only healed one man (John 5:1-9). It is unreasonable to think that at the feeding of the 5000 every single person in that huge crowd had faith for healing, but at Bethesda, a pool people went to be healed, only one person had faith. Like the other great miracles in the Bible, the miracles Jesus did were according to the purposes of God, and God gave the revelation for them to be done. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).
It is because God works healings and miracles in a way that fits His plans and glorifies Him that there is no “formula” for healing or miracles. Christians who pray for miracles and healings are well aware of the fact that there is no formula for success. The factors that are involved in a healing or miracle vary from case to case. We certainly see this in the life of Jesus. Sometimes Jesus just spoke and a miracle or healing happened. Sometimes he used something physical, like putting mud in a blind man’s eye. Sometimes he healed in front of a crowd, while at other times he took the person aside alone. Sometimes he asked if the person believed in him, sometimes he didn’t.
Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, it has been God’s plan and purpose to rescue mankind from sin and death, and to do that, many things had to happen, such as the Exodus from Egypt; the conquest of Canaan; the establishment of the kingdom of Israel; the return from Babylon; and the birth, death, and resurrection of the Christ. In order to accomplish His great purposes, God had to energize many specific miracles and healings. God chose to work many of those miracles in concert with people who operated the manifestation of faith, but it was because of God’s plans and purposes that He gave the revelation to do the miracles in the first place; they did not happen just because someone had “faith.” If, when we read the Bible, we look for how a miracle or healing fits into the plan of God, we will see the glory of God in a way we may never have seen it before.
“But I Want It To Work!”
Another consequence of the Word of Faith/Power of the Mind teaching is that it allows people to avoid engaging in the true situation in which we all live: we are not ultimately in control of our lives. The Bible speaks of this in many different verses, and it is confirmed by experience. People face unexpected tragedy on a daily basis. But it is so important for some people to think that they are in control, or that they can have what they want in life, that they willingly ignore the plain evidence of the world around them and push forward with their beliefs. Thus, it is the case that millions of people follow the teachings of the Word of Faith Movement even though they do not reliably work and the people do not have what they “believe for.”
The standard response of the Word of Faith ministers to this problem is to say, “Well, those people didn’t have faith.” But is the massive failure of the Word of Faith message that easy to explain? We say, “No.” The real reason why the teaching of the Word of Faith movement seems to fail so often is because it is a false teaching.