Author: Ron Graham
There are many many people who believe in God in some way. However, not everyone believes in the same way.
The Bible tells us that God will save those who believe. "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6)
However, belief must be of a certain quality to be rewarded. Any lesser kind of belief will not please God at all. Three stories in the Bible help us to see three kinds of belief. However, only one of these is the kind of faith that saves anyone.
Paul was invited to speak at the famous Areopagus in Athens where philosophers and wise men met to discuss new ideas (Acts 17:16-21). Paul said...
"Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and looking closely at the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription: "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD". What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you." (Acts 17:22-23).
Paul went on to tell some basic facts about God (Acts 17:24-34).
The Athenians believed in God in a very vague way, without really knowing God. They mixed up this belief with all kinds of superstition and philosophy. "The times of this ignorance God once overlooked," but he does so no longer.
The trouble with this kind of faith is that it means we invent our own religion, design our own God and commandments, and put God where we feel comfortable with him (or her).
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil" (Proverbs 3:5-7)
James talks about the quality of our faith —particularly that it must be one that "works". It must show itself in obedience to the word of God.
In this discussion James says something, at first surprising, about demons... "The demons also believe and tremble" (James 2:19). The last thing we might consider a demon to be, is a believer in God. But the demons do believe. However, James adds, "...and they tremble." The demons tremble because, quite the opposite of the Athenians, they know God. They know what his will is, and know that they will be judged by him on the last day. Yet they do not obey God.
One of the stories that shows that demons recognise God is found in Mark 5:1-20. Read that story, and notice especially what the "Legion" said to Jesus in verse 7.
Demons, it seems, are "angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode" (Jude 1:6). They once knew God as angels know him. He is not "an unknown God" to them.
But what is the use of a demon's belief in God? Many people have a similar belief. They know God exists, many may even have once been Christians, yet they are God’s enemies because they do not love God and do his will. "Perfect love casts out fear" (1John 4:18) but the demonic faith is devoid of love, and so is full of fear. "This is the love of God that we keep his commandments" (1John 5:3).
That last statement brings us face to face with a true and effective faith or belief in God. But rather than describe it as "the true faith" or "the perfect faith" I am labelling it...
The faith that saves us is not always as strong as it ought to be, and there is certainly always room for improvement. But it does at least dare to do, as the story of Peter's experience illustrates in Matthew 14:22-33.
Peter dared to walk on the water to Jesus, but the wind made him afraid. When Peter began to sink, Jesus reached out to help him, and said, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
A faith that DARES and then DOUBTS. How characteristic that is! Nevertheless, though it was "little faith", it was of the right QUALITY. Peter just needed to work on the QUANTITY.
Another account of this event leaves out Peter's experience but provides an interesting commentary on the disciples' state of heart at the time. "...They were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the loaves, but their mind was closed" (Mark 6:49-52)
The "loaves" in that statement is a reference to the feeding of the five thousand, which Jesus had just done hours earlier. Although they had seen the glory and power of God in that miracle, they were still unable to recognise Jesus walking on the water. They thought he was a ghost. The eyes of their heart were not enlightened (Ephesians 1:18).
We are often like that. Our faith struggles to keep up with God. Our insight is not clear about the power of God. At times we dare to throw ourselves into the water and trust God. Then we doubt because we have left our 'comfort zone'.
The disciples once, when Jesus challenged them with a hard saying, requested of him, "Lord increase our faith" (Luke 17:5) and Jesus then said something even harder to accept, about the power of faith "as a mustard seed" (Luke 17:6). The parable of the mustard seed explains what Jesus means —even a tiny faith of the right quality will grow and become large (Matthew 13:31-32).
Peter found it so. He dared, he struggled, and he grew, "by the strength which God supplies" (1Peter 4:11). So can you.