A LACK OF FAITH

What is the difference between unbelief and a lack of faith? Does God require you to have faith in order for you to be healed? Is God obligated to perform according to your faith?

I think most everyone has heard the phrase “health and wealth gospel.”

In a nutshell, the basic idea of the health and wealth gospel is that God wants us to be wealthy and healthy.

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The downside of that preaching is the condemnation that occurs for those who do not experience wealth or health. And there are many who occupy that camp.

It is an especially American gospel, but it has been picked up by others in foreign lands.

While there is just enough truth in the things that are taught to make it sound legitimate, there is enough leaven in it to know that it should be avoided.

The condemnation I mentioned comes as a result of not measuring up to the promises of this particular gospel.

If you are lacking in either health or wealth, you are often told it is because of your lack of faith.

That is not very encouraging.

There is, though, a scriptural basis for that kind of negative thinking found in the NIV translation.

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Mat 13:58 NIV

The problem here is that the translators have taken the word “unbelief”—which is how it is translated in every other translation including the KJV—and made it into a lack of faith.

You may ask what is the difference between unbelief and a lack of faith?

Good question.

A lack of faith is just that—non-existent—there is no faith present.

Unbelief is an active resistance to believing.

Compare how the NIV translates Mk 16:14 with the ESV

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
Mar 16:14 NIV

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
Mar 16:14 ESV

Can you see the “refusal to believe?” It is an active resistance.

That is quite different from just a lack of faith—of not having faith.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s consider the concept of a simple lack of faith instead of an active resistance.

What happens for those who have no faith?

In the realm of the health and wealth gospel, if one is healed from a sickness, they are told it is because of the great faith and power of the minister.

If they are not healed, they are told it is because of the sick person’s lack of faith.

However, there is an often overlooked portion of scripture about Jesus’ ministry that we should consider from the Gospel of John.

In these lay a multitude of invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
John 5:3-8

This is the story of the Healing at the Pool of Bethesda.

There are a few things about this story that we should take note of as we consider the faith we need in order to be healed.

First thing is that there was a multitude of sick people in this place.

I have heard many people say that if they could be given the gift of faith, they would go into the hospital and get everybody healed.

However, I would offer that Jesus probably had more faith than all of us put together could ever muster.

Yet He only healed one person out of that multitude.

One.

Not everyone. Not two or three.

Just one.

Jesus approached that one man and asked him if he wanted to be healed.

What a question!!

Why do people go to the hospital?

To get healed.

Why were so many sick people lying around the pool of Bethesda?

They were hoping to be healed.

And Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed.

But what was the man’s answer?

Jesus asked him a plain question to which a yes or a no would have been the proper response.

But, as is so often the case, the man could not answer such a direct question.

He offered an excuse, a reason why he had not yet been healed.

I experience that on a regular basis.

I will ask a closed ended question for a yes or no response, but instead I get an explanation as to why something is the way it is.

The man said he didn’t have anyone to help him be healed.

What did Jesus do? How did Jesus respond?

He healed the man.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
John 5:8

QUESTION—Where was the man’s faith?

Jesus did not ask him if he believed.

He did not ask him if he thought he could be healed.

Jesus simply took the matter into His own hands and healed the man who had no faith.

Jesus supplied what the man was lacking.

He met him where he was and gave him what he needed in order to believe.

The last time I was with you, I told you that God would meet anyone wherever they are with whatever they need.

This is just one more example of that.

We have here an example of someone being healed who had no faith in the Lord or faith to be healed.

He was destitute and only able to live with a negative mentality, but the Lord met his need.

Now, yes, I know this may be construed as an exception to the rule; but it is just that.

It shows that any hard and fast formula for healing is probably not a good idea.

The Story of Mr. Bloom

Mr. Bloom was dying of kidney failure when his daughter-in-law asked me to go pray for him.

He hadn’t eaten in a few days, and had not gone upstairs in weeks.

I went out of a sense of duty. I was not operating with any kind of faith other than obedience to the scriptures.

The man was not a believer as far as I knew. I had never met him.

He had never attended the church I pastored.

But, I went to his home, laid my hands on him and prayed that God would heal him.

That night he asked for supper and after he ate, he went upstairs, got cleaned up and went to bed.

He lived for 6 weeks waiting for his kidney transplant, which extended his life for many years after that.

I was supposed to be the great man of faith and power for the hour, but I had none.

God operated in spite of me, in spite of my lack of faith.

So. What’s the point of all this?

Why do we need to know these stories?

What can we learn from them?

We learn that there are no rules that we must follow in order to get something from God.

Too many people believe that if we just do the right things, say the right words, believe the right things, then God is obligated to perform what we desire.

God is not a puppet on a string being made to dance according to the whims of the people.

He is not a genie in a bottle which must be rubbed a certain way.

He is the God of the universe doing all according to His plan and purpose.

We do the best we can with whatever level of faith we have or don’t have.

But, in the end, whether we get what we wanted or not, we should rest our confidence and our faith on Rom. 8:28

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Let us be like the man who came to Jesus and asked that his son be healed of what appeared to be epilepsy.

Jesus told him anything is possible for the one who believes, and the man cried out “I believe! Help me in the areas I don’t believe.”

Let us not be afraid to admit when our faith is weak or non-existent.

May the lord help our unbelief.

CONVERSION

What does it take to be converted? How can we aid the process for someone to be converted to our beliefs? Should we even be trying? The apostle Paul gives us much understanding as we consider his life and teachings.

In a moment of time, Saul was converted.

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The story of Paul’s conversion from a fire-breathing hater of Christians to becoming a Christian himself is found in Acts 9:1-19.

He had what could be described as a pretty severe encounter with the Lord.

We first meet him as Saul in chapter 7 of the Acts at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Act 7:58

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Act 8:1

Then from chapter 13 to the end of the book of Acts, it is all Paul’s story which occupies more than half the book.

Paul’s letters to the various churches also comprise half the entire New Testament. There are 27 books in the NT and 13 of them were written by the apostle Paul.

Paul is a fascinating individual. Of all the characters in the Bible, his story stands second only to the story of Jesus.

Much of our theology—that is, our understanding of what the life of Jesus means—is drawn from Paul’s writings.

Let’s look at what we can learn about being converted from Paul—both from his life and his teachings.

‘Converted’ is an interesting word which is mainly used in the idea of religion—being converted from one faith to another.

It has the basic idea of changing from one thing to another.

When I was in Italy, I converted my dollars into Lira, and when I was in France, I changed them into francs.

Gracie has converted a bedroom of our house into her craft room.

In religious terms, we know it means to convert from one faith to another.

Paul was converted from Judaism to Christianity.

We can learn from Paul how someone is converted from whatever it is that they believe to Christianity.

What was in Paul’s character that made him open to becoming a Christian?

He was furious with Christians for causing many to leave his beloved Jewish heritage. But, he had something going for him that Jesus said would satisfy him.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matt 5:8

Now, we may question the idea of a pure heart that wants to see people killed, but we must remember that those were the laws of the Jews at that time.

That word ‘pure’ carries with it the idea of sincere.

And Paul was sincerely zealous for God.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
Act 22:3

This is another thing that Jesus spoke about in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Mat 5:6

I think that we too often look at those of another religion and think that they are completely lost.

We may not do that so much with other Christian denominations, but we certainly do it with faiths like the Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus.

However, if you will carefully consider what Jesus said, you will see that there are no qualifications other than purity of heart and a desire for righteousness.

With those two qualities—sincere heart hungering for righteousness—God will meet anyone right where they are.

We see that with Thomas and his skepticism about Jesus resurrection. Jesus met Thomas with what he needed in order to believe.

Thomas needed physical proof and Jesus gave him just that.

Thomas was converted from an unbeliever to a believer.

In both Thomas and Paul, we see a heart condition that was conducive to the working of the Holy Spirit.

Is a certain heart condition an absolutely necessary thing to have, though, for the Holy Spirit to work?

If we say yes, then we are limiting the power of God to the condition of the human being; and we know that is a lie.

So, let’s reconsider what I have said about Paul.

Let’s look at him from our vantage point of being human.

When we do that, we see that Saul, before he became Paul, was not a nice man.

In fact, we read that he was a murderer before he was converted.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest”
Act 9:1

He was threatening. He was intimidating. He was on a mission to destroy the new faith which was growing in Israel.

Later on, when Paul was writing his letters, he gained a different understanding of what he had been doing.

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  was pleased to reveal his Son to me, …
Gal 1:13-16

Paul believed he was set apart by God before he was born.

I would bet that many of you could also say the same thing as you think back over your life with the Lord.

I know I can. I can trace the beginnings of my spiritual awareness to when I was 6 years old.

And because of my understanding of salvation, I can also say that I was set apart by God before I was born.

But that is not the most important part of this passage.

The main point that I want us to see is that God had a plan.

He had a plan that was waiting for the right time in Paul’s life.

And when that time came, God did not send a preacher, teacher or evangelist.

He simply revealed Himself to Saul while he was on the way to Damascus to collect more Christians for the Jewish jail.

God has done that with many others also.

He did it for my mother, who was a Catholic.

She was concerned about her oldest boy who was going the way of following the protestant way of thinking.

One day in the kitchen while praying for me to be restored, the Lord revealed Himself to her in a way that dropped her to her knees.

She never again doubted what I was doing as a preacher in serving the Lord.

God has a way of revealing Himself to anyone in any way that they may need in order to see His truth.

We call their experience “being converted.”

Conversion can also happen through another means, as we see in the case of Timothy.

“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2Ti 3:15

Paul is telling Timothy here that the scriptures are able to make us wise concerning salvation.

The scriptures are what God used in my life.

A year or so after I got out of the Navy, I was still wandering around lost as a goose wondering what I was going to do with my life.

Somehow, I don’t recall how, I came across a little paperback book called Good News For Modern Man. It was a copy of the New Testament in modern language.

After work, I would stay up all night until 3 or 4 in the morning at a restaurant reading from that book.

I was fascinated with what I was learning.

I had read other books about spiritual ways, but this one captivated me.

I couldn’t put it down.

My life began to change.

Why? The answer is simple and found within the scriptures themselves.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Heb 4:12

The words from the Bible were doing their work in my life.

I was converted by the reading of the New Testament.

Others have been converted by reading from the Old Testament.

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. … And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Act 8:30-31, 34-35

The Ethiopian was reading from the OT, but he needed someone to explain to him the meaning of what he was reading.

This brings us to the final thought about the means God uses for how we are converted. Paul writes in Romans—

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Rom 10:14

Many have made this the only way that someone can be converted or saved.

Hopefully, though, you have been able to see from this that God is not limited by any means. There is nothing He cannot use, no place that He cannot go, no resistance that He cannot overcome in order to bring someone to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

He can meet them in church, in their home, on the road, in a shooting gallery for meth and heroin addicts, in a bar, in jail or even in hell—as the psalmist wrote.

“If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”
Psa 139:8

We do not have to require our family or friends to come to church to get saved.

We do not have to force them to listen to our preaching.

We do not have to force or arrange anything, because God is greater than any plan we could ever concoct.

How does conversion happen?

I will leave you with one last verse.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.”
Zec 4:6

Pray for those who do not yet know the Lord.

Pray and leave it there.

God’s got this.

Of that you can be sure.