Can we do anything if we have enough faith?
It is common for some Christians to think that if they have enough faith, they can name their request and claim it into existence. This is commonly called “name it and claim it.” While other Christians may not agree, they do believe that Jesus taught that if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can move a mountain or stop the rain. We just need enough faith! The purpose of this Q&A is to discover what does scripture teach.
Characteristics of Little Faith?
Jesus used the phrase “little faith” several times during His ministry. The gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus used “little faith” four times (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). The gospel of Luke is the only other New Testament book where Jesus is quoted as saying, “little faith” (Luke 12:28).
These five passages reveal four characteristics of “little faith.” In Matthew 6:30 and Luke 12:28, we discover the first characteristic of “little faith” is worry (Matthew 6:25, 27, 31, 34; Luke 12:22, 25, 26). Someone who worries has little faith because they are not trusting God. In Matthew 8:26 we find the second characteristic of “little faith” is fear. The third characteristic of “little faith” is doubt (Matthew 14:31) and the four characteristic is panic (Matthew 16:8).
Faith Of A Mustard Seed – Move Mountains
Matthew 17:20 reports that Jesus changed the phrase “little faith” to “littleness of your faith” when the disciples asked why they could not cast out a certain demon (Matthew 17:19). Therefore, Jesus helped them understand that their faith was extremely small by saying that it was not even the size of a mustard seed. A mustard seed is a very small seed.
And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20 (NASB)
The key to understanding this verse is found in the Jewish culture of Christ’s time. For example, the biblical scholar John Lightfoot helps us understand that in the Jewish culture of Christ’s time, an influential, brilliant person who could win arguments was considered an eminent or significant person. Notice the expression “rooter up of mountains” in the following quote was used of a person who was an eminent or significant person.
The Jews used to set out those teachers among them, that were more eminent for the profoundness of their learning, or the splendor of their virtues, by such expressions as this: הוים ﬠוקר הוא He is a rooter up of (or a remover) of mountains. “Rabbah Joseph is Sinai and Rabbah is a rooter up of mountains.” The gloss [or the interpretation is]: “They called Rabbah Joseph Sinai, because he was very skillful in clearing difficulties; and Rabbah Bar Nachmani, A rooter up of mountains, because he had a piercing judgment.”
The metaphor “rooter up of mountains” was common in Jewish culture and would have been clearly understood. Therefore, Jesus was simply saying that someone who has great faith is very significant. He was not saying that the disciples or a Christian should be able to design God’s creation. Remember that in Genesis 1 God repeatedly said that everything was good. Why would He want sinful men designing His creation?
Imagine how would you feel if Jesus said you should be able to move a mountain, but you could not because your faith was so pathetically small? If it was at least the size of a mustard seed, you could move a mountain. Since the disciples had never moved a mountain, their faith was smaller than a mustard seed. That would be an embarrassment.
For those who believe that Jesus means a Christian can do anything with enough faith, this question must be asked, “Are we to think that God would really let us redesign the planet by moving mountains, changing the shape of the oceans, creating new islands and modifying the universe? If a Christian became angry with someone, would God actually allow him or her to redesign someone’s face? Has any Christian ever moved a mountain? No Christian has ever moved a mountain in modern times.
Jesus was not saying the twelve disciples should be moving mountains or that Christians today should be able to move mountains. He was simply demonstrating that their faith was horribly small and that is why they worried, had doubts about God, were fearful and would panic. In Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:27-29 Jesus stated that faith is not enough to cast out certain demons. We must go to Him in prayer to even cast out demons. There are limits to what Christians can do.
Only God can do anything and everything. Are we to believe that we can do anything that God can do? Christ was demonstrating that their faith was extremely small. He was not encouraging them to seek power through faith. If so, then their faith would be rooted in themselves and not in God. Imagine a Christian wanting more faith so that they can cause God to give them what they want. Jesus was encouraging them to be men of faith. Men of faith in God are the eminent believers (James 5:16-18).
Have Faith And Do Not Doubt – Cast Mountains Into The Sea
Later in Matthew 21:18-22 Jesus caused a fig tree by the road to wither all at once. The twelve disciples were surprised and asked how this happened. Jesus answered explaining that they needed faith without doubting.
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will 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 will happen.” Matthew 21:21 (NASB)
This is another occasion when Christ told them that if they had enough faith they could do something to a mountain. This time He said they could cast the mountain into the sea. The correct understanding is found in the above Jewish metaphor. This time Jesus does not use the metaphor directly, but He uses the principle of the metaphor. The mountain is still removed. Then He promised that their prayers would be answered if the disciples were believing.
And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. Matthew 21:22 (NASB)
The Greek word for believing is a present participle which implies ongoing faith in God. But should we understand that all things means a Christian can violate the will of God or redesign His universe?
Jesus was not saying the twelve disciples should be moving mountains or that Christians today should be able to move mountains. He was demonstrating two things. First, their faith was horribly small. They worried, had doubts about God, were fearful and would panic. The second point was anyone with great faith would be a great saint. He or she would be like the saints in the chapter of faith in Hebrews 11.
In Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29, Jesus stated that faith is not enough to accomplish some things, such as casting out certain demons. That means there are limits to what a Christian can do. Great faith in God does not worry, is not fearful, does not doubt and never panics. It yields to God and trusts Him that He will do whatever is best. That is the message of the “The Syrophoenician Woman.”
1. John Lightfoot. Commentary on the New Testament From The Talmud and Hebraica. Hendrickson Publishing. 1989. p. 283.
Suggested Links:The Syrophoenician Woman
Characteristics of Biblical Faith
Walking By Faith
Is “name it and claim it” biblical? – Mark 11:23-24