She sat in my office in significant spiritual distress. “I’m not sure I have faith,” she cried. I’m not sure I really believe.” This was a spiritual struggle not unknown to any sincere Christian. These crises of faith come to anyone who deeply cares about God and his or her standing at the final judgment.
The question, however, is a ploy of Satan. Do you really believe? Do you really trust Jesus? Is your faith strong enough? These are his seemingly legitimate questions. That’s what Satan does: he accuses. And he’s good at it. He has a way of finding our weak spot and probing to see where such innuendo and insinuation can weaken our soul and destroy our confidence before God.
Satan knows that we know we will give an account to God. He knows that sincere Christians want to give a good account. He also knows that we have given into his tricks and ploys. His schemes have unfolded around the unsuspecting and innocent in ways that cause us to fall. He has shown us the fruit that is good for food, desirable for wisdom and pleasing to the eye. And we’ve taken it and eaten it. That fruit always hides a sharp barb that we discover only after we’ve tasted its sweetness.
So when Satan accuses, he has a leg to stand on. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have missed the mark. We’ve all turned aside. We’ve ignored God’s voice and abandoned his ways. If we think otherwise Satan has already blinded our eyes to the essential first step in receiving the benefit of God’s redemptive work. We’ve forfeited the foundation of faith, for we look inward rather than to God for our hope. That’s not faith; that’s idolatry.
The answer to whether our faith is good enough or not, or whether we have saving faith, or any faith at all is to confess, “I have failed God and sinned so greatly that if I am to be saved it will only be by God’s grace.” Notice the intentional wording of that declaration. It’s not about our faith but about God’s grace. Faith looks to God’s grace, never to itself.
Our faith is not perfect. We waver and doubt. Even the first disciples – after Jesus’ resurrection and proof-giving 50 days of post-resurrection appearances – struggled. You doubt this? Take a closer look at Matthew 28:16-17 “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Emphasis added).
These are the men who are going to turn the world upside down. They would all one day, except for John, die the martyr’s death. They would become the hingepoint of the dramatic opening of countless hearts throughout the world to the Good News of Jesus. They would be imprisoned, tortured, beaten, burned alive, skinned alive, crucified (upside down) and otherwise abused for the sake of the name of Jesus.
This was not a matter of atoning for their own sins. Their distress was not to make up for their earlier doubts. Their distress was because they believed that Jesus’ message and the resurrection was more important than life itself. Their doubts had turned to faith.
Jesus did on occasion challenge the disciples’ faith. “Oh you of little faith,” Jesus laments as he stood in the boat and rebuked the raging sea (Matthew 8:26). “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?” he asks, right before feeding the multitude. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Jesus asks the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:25).
The answer to questions about one’s faith is not to focus on faith, but to look at the One in whom we are to believe. The strength of faith is not the faith, per se, but the object of that faith. Have I sinned? Yes. Do I have doubts? Certainly. Do I have perfect faith? No way. But I have a perfect Savior. I have one who said, “Reach your hand here. See my hands and side” (John 20:27). Do I have perfect faith? No. But I have a Savior who in perfect faith entrusted himself to his Father and has sat down at the right hand of God.
Satan wants us to focus on our faith. Faith focuses not on itself, but on our Savior.