Faith, as depicted in the New Testament, has various aspects. Although its essential nature always agrees with the definition given in Hebrews 11:1, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV), this nature expresses itself in a variety of distinct but related forms.
The three main forms of faith may be defined as follows:
- Faith to live by
- Faith as a gift
- Faith as a fruit
The first form of faith is a continuing personal relationship that links the believer directly to God and affects every area of the believer’s life. It provides the motivation, the direction, and the power for everything the believer does. It is, in fact, both the sole and the sufficient ground for righteous living. For this reason, I call it “faith to live by.”
[In the book, Living by Faith, from chapter five onwards, we will thoroughly examine this form of faith. But first, in this chapter, we will examine the nature of faith as a gift. Then, in the next chapter, we will examine the nature of faith as a fruit.]
The Nature of Spiritual Gifts
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul dealt with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He opened the chapter with the statement, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (v. 1). Then, in verses seven through eleven, he listed nine distinct gifts:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.1 Corinthians 12:7-11
The key word that explains the distinctive nature of these gifts is “manifestation” (v. 7). The Holy Spirit Himself, dwelling in a believer, is invisible. But by these gifts operating through a believer, the presence of the Holy Spirit is made manifest to human senses. In each case, the results produced are in the realm of the senses; they can be seen or heard or felt.
Since these gifts are manifestations, not of the believer’s own personality, but of the person of the Holy Spirit within the believer, all of them are supernatural in character. In every case, the results that they produce are on a higher level than the believer could ever achieve by his or her ability alone. Each result is possible only through a direct, supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit. By these gifts, and through the believer, the Holy Spirit comes forth out of the invisible spiritual realm and makes a direct impact upon the physical world of space and time.
Paul established two important practical points concerning these gifts. First, they are distributed solely at the discretion of the Holy Spirit, according to His sovereign purposes for each believer’s ministry. Human will or achievement are not the basis for receiving these spiritual gifts. Second, they are given “to each one…for the common good” (v. 7), for a useful, practical purpose. As Bob Mumford said, “The gifts of the Spirit are tools, not toys.”
It has often been pointed out that these nine gifts fall naturally into three groups of three:
- Three gifts of utterance. These are gifts that operate through the believer’s vocal organs. They include prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
- Three gifts of revelation. These are gifts that impart spiritual illumination. They include the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, and the distinguishing of spirits.
- Three gifts of power. These are gifts that demonstrate God’s supernatural power in the physical realm. They include faith, the gifts of healing, and the working of miracles.
“Have God’s Faith”
The gift of faith, which we will now study, is the first of the three gifts of power. It is distinguished from the other forms of faith by the fact that it is a sovereign, supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit working through the believer. The two key words are sovereign and supernatural.
In Matthew chapter 21 and Mark chapter 11, we read that Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem with His disciples, came to a fig tree by the wayside. Jesus was seeking fruit. When He found that the tree contained only leaves, but no fruit, He pronounced a curse upon it, saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” (Mark 11:14). The next day, as Jesus and His disciples passed the same tree, the disciples were astonished to see that within twenty-four hours it had withered from the roots up. “Rabbi, behold,” Peter commented, “the fig tree which You cursed has withered” (v. 21).
To Peter’s comment, Jesus replied, “Have faith in God” (v. 22). This is how it has been translated into English. However, what Jesus actually said, in its most literal form, was, “Have God’s faith.” This statement highlights the special kind of faith we are speaking of here, that is, faith as a gift. Faith has its origin not in the human person, but in God. It is an aspect of God’s own eternal nature. Through the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit imparts a portion of God’s own faith, directly and supernaturally, to the believer. This is faith on a divine level, as high above mere human faith as heaven is above earth.
In saying, “Have God’s faith,” Jesus challenged His disciples to receive and exercise this kind of faith, just as He Himself had done. He went on to tell them that with faith of this kind they would not only be able to do what they had seen Him do to the fig tree, but they would be able to move a mountain by simply speaking:
Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it shall happen.Matthew 21:21
Jesus was not speaking merely to the disciples when He said, “If you have faith,” for we see in Mark 11:23 that He used the word whoever, extending His promise to all believers:
Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him.Mark 11:23
Jesus set no limit to the scope of this kind of faith. The phrases He used are all-inclusive: “Whoever says…what he says…shall be granted him.” There is no restriction concerning the person who speaks or the words that are spoken. All that matters is the nature of the faith; it must be God’s own faith.
In Luke 8:22-25, we see that, as Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat, they were suddenly overtaken by an unnaturally violent storm. The disciples woke Jesus, who was asleep in the stern, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (v. 24). The biblical record continues, “And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm” (v. 24).
Obviously, the faith that Jesus exercised here was not on the human level. Normally, the winds and the waters are not under human control. But at the moment of need, Jesus received a special importation of His Father’s own faith. Then, by a word spoken with that faith, He accomplished what people would consider impossible: the instantaneous calming of the storm.
When the danger had passed, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “Where is your faith?” (v. 25, emphasis added). In other words, He asked, “Why couldn’t you have done that? Why did I have to do it?” He implied that it would have been just as easy for the disciples to have calmed the storm as it had been for Him – if they had exercised the right kind of faith. But in the moment of crisis, the impact of the storm on the disciples’ senses had opened the way for fear to enter their hearts, thus excluding faith. Jesus, on the other hand, had opened His heart to the Father and had received from Him the supernatural gift of faith needed to deal with the storm.
Quality, Not Quantity
Later, Jesus confronted a storm of a different kind: a boy rolling on the ground in an epileptic seizure and an agonized father imploring help. Jesus dealt with this storm as He had dealt with the one on the Sea of Galilee. He spoke an authoritative word of faith that drove the evil spirit out of the boy. When His disciples asked Him why they had not been able to do this, He told them plainly, “Because of the littleness of your faith” (Matthew 17:20). Then He went on to say, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you” (v. 20).
Here Jesus used a mustard seed as a measure of quantity. In Matthew 13:32, we are told that a mustard seed is “smaller than all other seeds.” In other words, Jesus was telling us that it is not the quantity of the faith that matters, but the quality. If a person has the right kind of faith in even the amount of a mustard seed, it is sufficient to move a mountain!
Near the climax of His earthly ministry, outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus once more demonstrated the power of words spoken with the right kind of faith. He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). This brief command, energized by supernatural faith, caused a man who was both dead and buried to come walking out of his tomb, alive and well.
The original pattern for supernatural faith is found in the act of creation itself. It was by faith in His own word that God brought the universe into being. “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath [literally, spirit] of His mouth all their host…. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6, 9). God’s spoken word, energized by His Spirit, was the effective agent in all creation.
When the gift of faith is in operation, a person becomes, for a time, the channel of God’s own faith. The person who speaks is no longer important, but only the faith that is expressed. If it is God’s own faith at work, it is equally effective whether the words are spoken through God’s mouth or whether they are uttered by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of a human believer. As long as a believer operates with this divine faith, his or her words are just as effective as if God Himself had spoken them. It is the faith that matters, not the person.
In the examples that we have considered up to this point, this supernatural faith was expressed through a spoken word. By a spoken word, Jesus caused the fig tree to wither. By a spoken word, He calmed the storm, cast the evil spirit out of the epileptic boy, and called Lazarus out of the tomb. In Mark 11:23, Jesus said this about any word spoken in faith: “Whoever says…what he says…shall be granted him.”
Sometimes a word spoken in prayer becomes the channel for the gift of faith. In James 5:15, we are told that “the prayer of faith shall save [or, restore] the sick” (KJV). There is no room left for doubt about the effect of a prayer of faith. Its results are guaranteed. Prayer prayed with God-given faith is irresistible. Neither sickness nor any other condition that is contrary to God’s will can stand against it.
As an example of someone who prayed “the prayer of faith,” James referred to Elijah. By his prayer, Elijah withheld all rain for three and a half years, and then caused rain to fall again (James 5:17-18). Scripture indicates that the giving and withholding of rain is a divine prerogative, exercised by God Himself. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 11:13-17 and Jeremiah 5:24; 14:22.) Yet, for three and a half years, Elijah exercised this prerogative on God’s behalf. James emphasized that Elijah was “a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17) – a human being just like the rest of us. But as long as he was enabled to pray with God’s faith, the words he uttered were as effective as God’s own decrees.
However, faith of this kind does not need to operate through a spoken word only. It was by this same kind of supernatural faith that Jesus was able to walk on the stormy Sea of Galilee. (See Matthew 14:25-33.) In this case, He did not need to speak; He merely walked out onto the water. Peter began to follow the example of Jesus and to exercise the same kind of faith. This enabled him to do precisely the same thing that Jesus was doing. But when he looked away from Jesus to the waves, his faith deserted him, and he began to sink!
The comment that Jesus made is very illuminating: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Jesus did not reprove Peter for wanting to walk on the water. He reproved him for losing faith in the middle of doing so. Don Basham, author of several books on the power of the Holy Spirit, has pointed out that there is a divine urge implanted in every human heart to step out in supernatural faith and to walk on a plane above the level of our own ability. Since God Himself placed this urge in human beings, He does not reprove us for it. On the contrary, He is willing to give us the faith that will enable us to do these things. He is disappointed, not when we reach out for this kind of faith, but only when we do not hold on to it long enough.
God Retains the Initiative
This supernatural kind of faith is given in a specific situation to meet a specific need. It remains under God’s direct control. It must remain so, for it is God’s own faith. He gives it or withholds it at His discretion. This kind of faith is included with all the other supernatural gifts, concerning which Paul said, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). The key phrase here is at the end – “just as He wills.” God Himself determines when and to whom He will impart each of the spiritual gifts. The initiative is with God, not with us.
This was true even in the ministry of Jesus Himself. He did not curse every fruitless fig tree. He did not calm every storm. He did not call every dead man out of his tomb. He did not always walk on the water. He was careful to leave the initiative in the hands of His Father. In John 5:19, He said, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” Again, Jesus said in John 14:10, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” The initiative was always with the Father.
We must learn to be as reverent and as careful in our relationship with the Father as Jesus was. The gift of faith is not ours to command. It is not intended to satisfy our personal whims or ambitions. It is made available at God’s discretion to accomplish ends that originate in God’s own eternal purposes. We cannot, and must not, wrest the initiative from God. Even if God should permit us to do so, it would ultimately be to our own loss.
Pictured as a mustard seed, the gift of faith is similar to two of the gifts of revelation: the word of wisdom, which is directive, and the word of knowledge, which is informative. God has all wisdom and all knowledge, but, fortunately for us, He does not burden us with all of it. However, in a given situation in which we need direction, He supernaturally imparts to us a word of wisdom – just one little “mustard seed” out of His total store of wisdom. Or, in a situation in which we need information, He imparts to us a word of knowledge – a little “mustard seed” out of His total store of knowledge.
So it is with the gift of faith. God has all faith, but He does not impart it all to us. In a given situation, in which we need faith on a higher level than our own, God imparts to us a “mustard seed” of faith out of His own total store. Once the special need has been met, God withdraws His faith, and we are left once again to exercise our own.
Equipment for Evangelism
From another point of view, as we have seen earlier, the gift of faith is associated with the other two gifts of power: the gifts of healing and the working of miracles. In practice, the gift of faith often serves as a catalyst to bring the other two gifts into operation. This is illustrated by the ministry of Philip in Samaria, as described in the book of Acts:8:5-8:
And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was much rejoicing in that city.Acts 8:5-8
In the first phase of his ministry, Philip cast out evil spirits. As we have seen from the example of Jesus, in Matthew 17:14-21 and elsewhere, evil spirits were cast out by the spoken word through the exercise of the gift of faith. In the second phase of Philip’s ministry, the associated gifts of healings and miracles came into operation. As a result, miracles were performed, and the paralyzed and the lame were healed.
In Acts 21:8, Philip is called “the evangelist.” There are only two actual patterns of the ministry of the evangelist presented to us in the New Testament: that of Jesus Himself and that of Philip. In each case, there was a strong emphasis on the casting out of evil spirits, followed by miracles and healings. The three gifts of faith, miracles, and healings together constitute the supernatural equipment, endorsed by the New Testament for the ministry of an evangelist.
The gift of faith is one of nine gifts of the Holy Spirit listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. Each of these gifts is a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in a believer and operates through him.
Through the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit temporarily imparts to a believer a portion of God’s own faith. This is faith on a divine level, far above the human level. It is not the quantity that matters, but the quality. A “mustard seed” of this kind of faith is sufficient to move a mountain.
The gift of faith operates frequently, but not exclusively, through a spoken word. Such a word may be spoken in prayer. Through this gift, Jesus caused a fig tree to wither, calmed a storm at sea, drove an evil spirit out of an epileptic boy, called Lazarus out of his tomb, and walked on the stormy waves.
God has implanted in us an urge to exercise this kind of faith. Therefore, He does not reprove us for doing so. Rather, He is disappointed if we let go of it too soon. However, as in the ministry of Jesus, the initiative must always be left with God.
The gift of faith can serve as a catalyst for the related gifts of healings and miracles. These three gifts combined are the equipment endorsed by the New Testament for the ministry of an evangelist.
This article is excerpted from Faith to Live By, written by Derek Prince, (c) 1977 Derek Prince Ministries – International, first published in 1977 by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, and republished in 1997 by Whitaker House, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, USA.
Top image credit: photo of a sunset landscape with tree and mountains, from BigStock.com, © by jenyateua, stock photo ID: 226901230, and Scripture passage from Matthew 17:20 added.
Derek Prince (1915–2003) was born in India of British parents. Educated as a scholar of Greek and Latin at Eton College and Cambridge University, England, he held a Fellowship in Ancient and Modern Philosophy at King’s College. He also studied Hebrew and Aramaic, at Cambridge University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. While serving with the British army in World War II, he began to study the Bible and experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Out of this encounter he formed two conclusions: first, that Jesus Christ is alive; second, that the Bible is a true, relevant, up-to-date book. These conclusions altered the whole course of his life, which he then devoted to studying and teaching the Bible.