Many people miss out on the blessings of faith simply because they think they have faith when they really don't. What about you?
Could you be fooling yourself about your faith? Physically tired and spiritually exhausted, another minister and I sat in a coffee shop, sipping pensively on cups of Sanka and rehearsing the last two hours. We couldn't believe what had just almost happened. We, two ministers of the Worldwide Church of God, had just visited a severely depressed woman and her husband (both "members"), and had come within an inch of being physically thrown out of the house! Why? Simply because we saw that the woman probably lacked the faith necessary to be healed of a serious tumor she had growing in her body, and we had, in love and tact, told her so. The reaction we received gave us quite a jolt. She became furious! To think that we would "accuse" her — her — of lacking faith. She, after all, was a "leading member" and a constant server in the church. She said hello to the ministry each week, and she helped the elderly people, and, and... well, how could we accuse her of such a thing? How could we? It was simple. She lacked faith. And we felt an obligation to, in love, tell her so she wouldn't continue to labor under the false notion that she had faith when she did not. This woman's problem of misjudging the amount of her own faith is not unique. Many people — perhaps all of us, at some time — have mistaken our natural, human desires, fears or emotions for faith. The woman I described above was deceiving herself by confusing her human, carnal longing for health as faith. Yes, she may have known what faith is — in other words, she may have been able to recite the Bible definition (Heb. 11:1) — but she didn't know what faith is not. Do you? Your need to discern your own faith is important, because the stakes are high indeed. For, the promises God makes to us to heal us or to answer our prayers or to put us into His Kingdom all depend upon faith. But take notice: God will save us, heal us or answer our prayers according to the real faith we have, not according to the faith we think we have, or wish we had, or want others to think we have, or that we should have. God is not fooled by our human substitutes for faith. But are you?
False substitutes for faith
Sadly, some people, even in God's Church, are fooled by emotions, fears or wishes that disguise themselves as faith. And this is true even for people who may have been in God's Church for years. That is why many people lack faith today. They think they have it when they do not. But the real tragedy occurs when these people meet trials that demand real faith, and instead of real faith they find only a poor substitute. The substitute quickly crumbles under pressure and they are left with nothing. Such a person who finds his false faith crumbling beneath him quickly learns about his lack of faith the hard way — by experience. But there is a better way to learn. That way is to recognize how deceitful our human nature is and to identify the false substitutes for faith before they take root and block the growth of real, godly faith. Here are some of the most common human substitutes and counterfeits for faith: • Wishing. Wishing is simply wanting something to happen. All of us at one time or another wish for something. We wish for a new house or a new car, or we even wish to be healed. And wishing may not necessarily be wrong as long as our wishing doesn't degenerate into daydreaming or coveting. But it's most important that we do not confuse wishing for faith. Wishing is wishing, and faith is faith. • Hope. Hope is an optimistic expectation that you will get the results you want. Hope is a necessary element of the human experience (Prov. 13:12). And I Corinthians 13:13 shows that hope is a positive Christian quality. But that does not mean it is faith. An example of a situation that most of us have experienced at one time or another will serve to illustrate the difference between faith and hope. Most people at some time must approach their bosses and ask for time off from their jobs. If the person has an optimistic expectation that the boss will grant his wish, then that person has hope. But faith is more than just an optimistic expectation — faith is believing that God will do what He says, in His Word, He will do. For instance, God has not said that He will not allow you to lose your job, although He has said that He will never allow the righteous to starve (Ps. 37:25). The point is that faith and hope are different. We must be careful not to confuse the two. • A positive attitude. This is the ability to look at the facts and concentrate on a possible positive outcome. A good illustration is a gambler. Everyone knows that the house always wins in the end, but a gambler is able to look at the odds, which are drastically against him, and somehow believe that with the next pull of the slot machine handle or roll of the dice he will be a big winner. It certainly requires a positive attitude to concentrate only on the narrow potential for winning and ignore the overwhelming odds for losing. And it is true that having a positive attitude is a good quality — a characteristic we should all strive to obtain. We are, after all, to concentrate on good, happy positive things (Phil. 4:8). But a positive attitude is not faith and should not be confused with faith. • Emotional enthusiasm. A temporary surge of emotional enthusiasm is just that. A person who has thousands of dollars in the stock market on a day when his stock skyrockets may feel a flush of warmth and the prospect of potential wealth. Such an experience would give a person an emotional high. Certainly the children of Israel must have felt that way when they came out of the land of Egypt with a "high hand" (Ex. 14:8). But the enthusiasm that comes from winning on the stock market or leaving the captivity of ancient Egypt — or from hearing a powerful prayer for healing — is not faith. • Fear of punishment. It's amazing how some people can be motivated into doing something because they fear the punishment of disobeying. Ancient Israel, after refusing to enter the promised land, had a dramatic change of heart and wanted to charge in after being told they would be punished for not doing so (Num. 14:40). It would be easy for some to assume that the Israelites had, overnight, developed a great surge of real faith, so that they now were ready to put aside their fears of giants or war and, instead, stalk into the land with renewed bravery. But the fact is that they did not develop faith overnight. Instead, they developed a fear of the punishment that would come upon them (wandering 40 years in the wilderness) if they didn't do what they were told. Unfortunately, some people obey God only out of fear of punishment. Fear of punishment certainly should not be confused with faith. It may be a motivation in obeying God, but if we lack faith we should obey anyway and ask God for the faith. • Fear of a worse alternative. Some people put off operations or decide not to seek a doctor's help not because they have deep faith in God for healing, but because they are afraid of the surgery or afraid of the doctors. This was the real reason why the woman I spoke of at the beginning of this article did not want to see a physician. She, clearly, did not have the faith. But she was also fearful of the alternative to trusting on God — a surgeon's knife. I could not blame her for having the fear, but can find fault with her for confusing the fear with faith. Such a mistake can be deadly. • Peer pressure. Suppose a person came into God's Church and had to ask his employer for time off to keep God's Sabbath, even though the person did not have the faith to trust in God if he were to lose his job. If the employer threatened to fire him, the person might capitulate and work on the Sabbath anyway. Why would such a person not stand up to his boss and take off the Sabbath after he had asked for it? There could be many reasons, of course, but one reason is that, often, such a person does not have the faith to trust God in the first place. His real motivation for asking for the Sabbath off was fear of what other people in the Church would think if he didn't keep the day. But unfortunately, not even peer pressure, in the long run, can make a person obey if he doesn't have the faith to back it up. • Guilt. A person's conscience can be a powerful motivator toward obedience. Someone may tithe, for example, not because he has real faith or not even because he might fear God's punishment, but because he would feel guilty if he didn't. The person is not motivated by faith but by guilt. Of course, tithing because of guilt may be better than not tithing at all — we truly understand God's way only after we begin following it (Ps. 111:10) — but the tither should not confuse and misdiagnose his guilt as faith. God is not deceived, although the person might be. No wonder some are not blessed for tithing. • Intimidation. Have you ever bought something, not because you wanted it or needed it, but because the salesman was slick and aggressive and talked you into it? Sure you have. We all have. Many a used-car salesman has sold many a used car to many a person solely by intimidating him into the purchase. And a minister who gives a powerful sermon might unintentionally intimidate you into obeying God in some area. Of course, obeying God is good. But someone who is obeying solely because he is intimidated is not obeying out of faith. • Resignation or hopelessness. Most of God's ministers, at one time or another, meet a person who, on his deathbed after having tried all of the doctors' methods and approaches, comes to us and asks to be anointed for healing (Jas. 5:14). Sometimes, of course, the person has real faith and will be healed (Luke 8:43-48). Other times, the person comes for anointing or for advice simply because there are no other alternatives left. Out of sheer hopelessness or resignation, a person may seek God's help. Of course, we should take all of our trials to God. Trials are a tool God Himself uses to draw men to Him. But one who seeks God or "prays about it" simply because there is nothing else to do is not exercising faith. He is simply exercising good old carnal logic and doing what any soldier in a foxhole, under the thunder of blasting shells, would do. • Self-righteousness. Believe it or not, people sometimes obey God, pray for healing or other needs or even endure trials not because they have the real faith that God is looking for, but simply because they have told other people in similar situations that they wouldn't do whatever the other "weak" people had done instead of seeking God. One may put on a show of righteousness by toughing it out. But such a show of righteousness occasioned merely by self-righteousness is unrighteousness In God's eyes (Isa. 64:6). • Stubbornness. From time to time a person will be confronted by a great trial and will see it through to the end in grand style, keeping a stiff upper lip. We may assume the motivating factor behind his great steadfastness is a deep and abiding faith in God. It may be. But it also might be plain old human stubbornness. Stubbornness can be a good quality at times. It may help a person or group of people hold on and endure in times of stress or trial. But it won't get you into God's Kingdom, because it's not faith. In fact, stubbornness can be as much of a liability as it may be an asset. If you don't believe that, read the story of ancient Israel and their legacy of being stiff-necked (Deut. 9:6)
What faith is
An article on what faith is not would not be complete without a simple definition of faith. Faith is easy to define: The Bible tells us. Faith is simply the belief that God exists and that He will do what He, in His Word, says He will (Heb. 11:6). Read that again. Faith is not merely wishing, nor hoping, nor a positive mental attitude, nor a temporary surge of emotional enthusiasm, nor fear of punishment, nor fear of a worse alternative, nor peer pressure, guilt, intimidation, resignation, self-righteousness, nor stubbornness. But it is confidently knowing that God will do what He says He will do, when He says He'll do it. This faith — real, saving faith — comes only from God. It is a gift only He can give, and it in no way comes, in any part or fragment, from our own human nature or attitudes, such as the false "faiths" listed above do (Eph. 2:8). True faith is a gift God wants to give you. He will give it to you when you ask. But you will not ask until you see that you don't have it and that you may have been fooling yourself with worthless counterfeits. For an in-depth study of the kind of faith required for salvation, write for a free copy of our booklet, What Is Faith? And, finally, realize this: All of the false "faiths" have two deadly things in common: First, none of them fool God. And second, all of them can fool us humans unless we ask God to show us our human self-deceptions. Don't you be fooled — know what faith is, and what it is not!