The Origin of Faith: Gift Card from God?

We’ve been studying faith in the context of Jesus’ statement that it is one of the weightier matters of the law, along with mercy and justice. There must be some truth in that, since we’ve been studying the topic for almost four months. A theologian has written that faith is both one of the most important and one of the most difficult subjects to fully understand, even for the believer.

We’ve been looking at many aspects of faith. Last week we looked at the effect of personality on faith. Today, I’d like to look at the origin of faith. Where does faith come from? Although we talk about faith as a possession (“my” faith and “your” faith, Abraham’s faith, Moses’ faith, etc.) where does it actually come from? In essence, this is the question: Am I the source of my own faith? Or does full faith come from God? Or does God give me a little bit of faith, maybe like a mustard seed of faith, and then I’m supposed to somehow grow the rest of the faith I need, after God gives me a little bit to begin with?

There are several passages which suggest that faith is a gift of God. And that’s what I’d like to have you address this morning: Is faith a gift of God?

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, without the possibility that mankind will find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

This was the true Light that, coming into the world, enlightens every person. (John 1:9)

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;… (Ephesians 2:8)

So the question is this: Is faith a gift? This is a rather appealing concept, so maybe it’s a good idea. But when you think about it further, it presents some challenges to understanding. I’m imagining God sitting on his heavenly throne, like a celestial Santa Claus, with a big bag full of gift cards. This one here is for you. This one is for me. You get the Meijer’s gift card, she gets the Target gift card, he gets the Walmart gift card, someone else gets the Dollar General gift card, and I get the Saks Fifth Avenue gift card.

If God is giving out faith, why doesn’t everyone get the same faith? Of course, as soon as the gift cards are given out, the claims begin. My card is better than your card. Mine is worth more than yours. You’ve got the cheap brand. Mine is the most expensive brand. He likes me better than he likes you. I am more valuable. Look at my card!

If you were God, and these were all your children, wouldn’t it be better to give everyone the same gift? Why, throughout the history of the world, and for all of mankind, do we see so many different faiths, each one insisting that they are more or most valuable, most true, the complete revelation? Is a gift card from Saks Fifth Avenue better than a gift card from Dollar General? Does it depend on what you need from that gift card? Is that what makes the card most valuable? You see, you can’t buy food at Saks Fifth Avenue, but you can at Dollar General.

Is faith something variable as well something that is different for different people—has different aspects, different applications, different strengths, different needs? Is it possible that some of us need Saks Fifth Avenue faith and others of us need Dollar General faith? Does God know what faith each of us needs—Target’s faith or Walmart’s faith? “This one’s for you. And this one’s for me.” No faith group that I know of sees their brand of faith as inferior. On the contrary, most faith groups see their brand as superior, more enlightened, more accurate, more the voice of truth.

God seems to have messed up when he gave out so many different faiths. It’s just too confusing. Is it possible that the type of gift card that you have isn’t as important as you think it is? Maybe it’s not important, because each card is to be redeemed by the same bank and the same banker—the Redeemer of each of the gift cards is the same person: The God of heaven, who provides for us a limitless supply of faith, just what you need—your measure, your light, your eternity set in your heart, your Grace.

It’s a fact that every year $3 billion worth of gift cards are given away and never used. $3 billion worth! Faith is like a gift card that has to be used in order to be effective. Just like grace, you can’t hoard faith. Your gift of faith is a limitless supply. It is everything and all that you need. You simply must use it.

In the stories we’ve been looking at—Moses, Abraham, Gideon, Rahab and others—we see doubt, but we also see action. We see doubt because we fail to see that the faith we need for action doesn’t come from ourselves and doesn’t depend upon us. We fail to see that the faith we need for action is a gift of God.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

How do we hear the Word of God? Samson is in the Faith Hall of Fame in the Book of Hebrews. He is, to be sure, a most unlikely candidate. This Judge of Israel found in his physical strength a metaphor for his faith, and his strength was linked to his long hair. The story clearly links the escapades of Samson with the length of his hair; for example, the killing of 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, or fire-branding 300 foxes and sending them through the fields of the Philistines, and carrying off the gates to the city of Gaza. All these escapades are linked to his strength and to his faith in God due to his long hair as a Nazarine. His strength of faith is strengthened faith is because his hair is long and is uncut.

Of all the bodily functions that we have—walking, running, our respiratory rate, our heart rate, even our GI function—one of the few we cannot control or alter in some way is the growth of our hair, how long it grows, what its thickness is, what its color is, whether it’s straight or curly. We cannot control this naturally. We have people who can help us control it unnaturally, but not naturally. Here we see the natural growth in the nature of hair linked to faith. Because it is a gift, it is not controlled by us. It is God’s hair, just as it is God’s faith. All we can do to our hair is to cut it, to eliminate it, to shun it, and to waste it. Faith, too, is like that: Just what we need for you and for me, but we can’t manipulate our faith, just as we cannot manipulate our hair.

We cannot straighten our hair, we cannot make it naturally change color. We cannot make it thicker or thinner. But the question is, do we treat our faith like we treat our hair—something that we can artificially manipulate, change, control, and leverage? Can’t we just see our faith as a gift of God, and just let it work for God’s good?

If faith is a gift from God, is it really a gift? Is it really free or does it come with strings attached? If it’s a gift, why do we worry a bit about what faith we have (or don’t have)? Because we need to understand that it can be exercised only as a gift. What is the origin of faith and how does Samson’s hair relate to something he has no control over?

Donald: The analogy of the gift card is interesting. Why isn’t it an equal gift? Why do some people get Neiman Marcus and somebody else gets the dollar store? Maybe we’re not looking at it properly. The gift from God through Jesus Christ is equal. He died on the cross to save all mankind, each one of us. So that is exactly equal. How we respond to that is our faith. But the amount of faith that we have is not based upon somebody doling something out. What was doled out is an exact same thing for all mankind. And how we respond to it is how we develop a relationship with the Godhead that has provided eternal life.

I think prayer is a method to measure one’s faith. If you never pray, I suppose you’re just not into it. But if you pray all the time, then you are certainly very connected to the source. But that may have something to do with personality as well.

Ahmed: I think the notion that it is only a gift from God, that faith can only be attributed to just a gift from God, would remove all responsibility from mankind towards what they believe in. Nobody would be liable for having no faith, having little faith, or having different faith. I wouldn’t agree with that. My understanding is that part of it is a gift, but what I think happens is that God draws your attention to incidents that happen to you in life and urges you to reflect on them. He measures your response—how you deal with these notices that you encounter along your way. Your search for faith, your search for God (or not) and how far you go in doing that determines, finally, what you end up with.

So I think it is partly our responsibility, but there is a part for God in trying to draw your attention to it. But if it were only just a gift, then nobody would be responsible for not believing or having no faith. And this would abolish completely the idea of the afterlife and how people are measured by their faith, because they would not be responsible for it.

As for having different gift cards from different stores: I don’t think there are different gift cards. The gift is one message. The way I see it, at the end of the day, it’s one God and one message.

Donald: I think it is partly a gift given to each one of us along with many others, such as the muscles in our arms or legs. Some of us have strong muscles, and some of us have weak muscles because we don’t use them. The power of the gift comes with a combination of use and dependence. We must use our muscles—we depend on them to grow and to move and move forward. We must use our gifts in order to be able to utilize what God has His measure for.

Jay: The faith, love, grace and other things that come directly from God seem to be uniformly distributed by God, yet the Bible seems to quantify it, as in saying, for example, that if you had faith greater than a mustard seed—if you had more faith than you have right now—you could move mountains. Like muscle, faith seems able to grow, to mature. The very first chapter of James talks about faith becoming perfect—maturing, growing, evolving. But that process is the result of trials, not the result of your proactive exercising. As James describes it, trials build endurance and ultimately perfection of faith.

Faith is the acknowledgment that God is in control. And that’s a hard thing to do in times of tribulation and trial, when it seems more productive for us to take control of the situation, even thinking we have been abandoned by God, because God’s abandonment would result in bad things. But if trials have the potential to grow faith, to help us endure, to bring faith to perfection, this gives us a very different way of looking at the things that happen to us, and we can find peace and assurance, even when things are really bad.

Adaure: I’m not sure I can get behind the idea of faith being a gift, because it implies a transfer of ownership and control, and we have no control.

Kiran: I like the idea of the gift. The weather is beautiful today. Cold was forecast, but it’s turned out warm, and that’s a gift. I can either go out and enjoy the day by putting up Christmas lights outside, or I can waste it watching TV. The exercise of faith depends on what we do with our gift card. I think that is in our control. What we don’t have in control is the means to make the day warmer or brighter. I can’t turn a $100 gift card into a $200 card. It is what it is. What I do with it is what matters.

I realize that there are certain things that are not in my control. When an opportunity for grace or faith is presented to me, my ego tends to ignore it. It wants me to try harder to fix the problem on my own, by my own willpower. I’ve tried that enough times, and it didn’t work for me. It may have worked for some people, but not for me. And that’s when I reach a desperate state where something beyond me needs to take care of me. I can’t do this on my own.

When I accept the gift of God, I become no more special than anybody else. That’s difficult for me, because I used to be very judgmental. Now, I’m among those I judge. Thats hard, and it took a while. But now, it’s motivating me to be more sympathetic with others, no matter what their struggle is. But my choice is to use the gift to enhance myself to be a better person, to enrich other people’s life, or leave it as it is. It’s up to me. That’s the exercise of faith, I believe. It’s not making it more valuable or changing the store.

Jay: We always want to do something. There always seems to be some thing we feel we have to do. The Bible doesn’t help in that regard: “You need to do something! Don’t hoard the grace—pass it on! Don’t just have faith—do works as well!” There’s a quid pro quo: You have to do something in order for these things to be valuable.

The trouble we get ourselves into is strictly defining those things: “This is what you have to do with grace. This is what you have to do with faith. Let me tell you the ten specific works you need to do.” I wouldn’t say, using the gift card analogy, that people are getting different gift cards. It’s what they do with them that is different.

And to think that gifts of God—love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, etc.—are uniform is a trap. There’s a uniform response to faith, yet the only thing that may be uniform in all of these things is God’s unstinting giving of them to everybody. And they’re all of them resolved and strengthened in an acknowledgement or connection to God. As I pass grace on, my connection to God is strengthened. As I exercise my faith, especially in time of tribulation, it seems as if my connection to God is strengthened. I think that grace and faith and love and mercy and all those things are all uniform “God down” but become very un-uniform as they pass through the individual.

Donald: It’s a matter of how frequently you use your gift card. It’s like your wallet. When do you reach for your debit card?—only when you need something. So I go back to the idea of dependence: You should be using this card all the time, and not wait for it to become urgent. I have stronger faith if I’m reaching out with the connection. I don’t just use the card when I’m in a bind and can’t get myself out of it. You can’t change things. When life comes at you pretty hard, that shouldn’t be the only time you go for the card.

Jay: It shouldn’t be the only time that you go for the card but the Bible seems to suggest that those are the times when the card is more powerful or is strengthened. James is specific: Your faith is increased through trial, not through goodness, not through happiness. The Bible is replete with verses and examples of God testing faith, not people utilizing their faith.

This is what flips the mindset. If God is testing—and strengthening—your faith through trials and tribulation, then your trials and tribulations come from God. That’s a hard thing to get your mind around. But if you can get your mind around it, it brings a lot of peace, first and foremost because you know it’s coming from a source that isn’t going to fail you in the end, a source that is all love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.

Donald: I think what’s missing is something the Lord gave us to help us to acquire this faith, or utilize this faith. We need the Holy Spirit every minute of the day. This is why we have been given that gift, to be able to face these turbulent times. Because we can acquire the peace that comes from letting the Holy Spirit do the work. And let us follow suit, to be able to follow and do the things that he guides us to do.

Reinhard: God is the author of our life. The outpouring of our faith is through the gift of the Spirit, part of our faith. We are indoctrinated and learn about God from childhood by our environment, our families. As we grow up we put our faith into use by hearing and reading the scriptures and hearing things through our religious organizations. Most of us here are Seventh Day Adventists. Our faith is strengthened when we discuss our Christian life, our faith, with our friends from other perspectives. We may face personal, family, and group challenges, but our faith grows stronger through our action, our thought, and our spoken word. We may mess up our faith but as long as we connect to the source, the author, we’re gonna be okay.

David: Well, I don’t see faith in terms of something external. To me, as a Daoist, faith simply exists, like love and goodness. It is simply there. The Daoist just accepts and goes along with the Way, which cannot be stopped. It’s a universal power that you can do nothing about. It’s the equivalent of God. And it’s in charge. It has created everything and brought us to where we are. Just go with the flow. That’s the only “faith” in Daoism. It’s already there. We already have it. I equate it with the Holy Spirit. It is simply there, something that everyone has. Some people, to varying extents, ignore it or deny it, but to the Daoist it really doesn’t matter what they say.

We’re talking about faith as an intellectual, religious construct, but to me, it’s a divine, spiritual construct. Spiritually, why does it matter to know the origin of faith? I would go back to more fundamental questions such as “What do we have faith in?” The religious proposition is that we have faith in three aspects of God: As a Creative Being and as an earthly and heavenly Father. God the Being or God the Creator is Good because it created the universe and continues to perfect it. God the Father—the common metaphor used by Jesus—is a good father in a human sense. “He” is a personal God who is good for you in your mortal lifetime and in your life after death.

Faith in life after death and in a God we can rely on to resurrect us and give us a good life in heaven is very different from faith as a card that you can go and try to spend during your mortal lifetime and maybe—just maybe—succeed in getting some mortal benefit. If faith is such a card, it’s a lottery card. You might win a million dollars. You might win a cure for your cancer. But lottery odds being what they are, you probably won’t. So does a lottery card have any value? They certainly can give people hope for a while, only to dash it at the next drawing.

To the Daoist, faith is not amenable to intellectual discussion. It’s simply there, like Goodness. You know it when you sense it. It is the holy spirit, it is there, inside you. People recognize it to varying degrees. Can it be encouraged and brought out more clearly? Perhaps, but to what end? What is gained by revealing your faith, your holy spirit? What is the value? Is the value in this life or the next? What faith, or aspect of faith, are we talking about? Is it about faith in a personal God? An impersonal God? In life after death? There are so many aspects to faith that the Daoist would say don’t worry about it—just go with the flow .

Don: Do Daoists take any personal responsibility for their faith?

David: There is no notion in Daoism of an obligation to follow the Dao, but there is a notion that deep inside you know you must. It’s there and it’s up to you whether you listen or not. In either case, the Dao shrugs! If you don’t go along with it, that’s your right and your responsibility. But Daoism does not focus upon this. There’s no sanction except the natural sanction that comes from fighting the Dao. It’s not a wise thing to do. In the end, you cannot win.

Jay: What happens, happens. If it happens because God is either letting it happen or causing it to happen, that’s just the way it is. I can either fight against that or, through faith, I can accept that that’s what it is. When I accept that, I am in the Way, and being In the Way seems better than being outside the Way even though you can’t expect it to be all rosy and butterflies and rainbows. That’s not what being in the Way means. But it does mean that you’re in alignment with goodness, with grace, with love.

Donald: But I always thought it was a matter of needing to grow it, like muscle. It’s not just there.

Jay: Growing is recognizing that you’re in the Way. Sometimes it is very hard to recognize that you’re in the Way. When things are really icky, it sure doesn’t feel like God is with you. It feels like abandonment. It fees like punishment. It feels unfair. Faith gives you the ability to say “No, that’s not what this is. It’s not about hate. It’s not about abandonment. It’s not about punishment. God is in control. The Way is the Way.” That strengthens my faith.

How do we do that? We do that through prayer. There’s no doubt that God gave us prayer to help us do that a little bit easier. There’s no doubt that God has given scriptures to help us see that he is in control of everything, as Job defines clearly. Faith is the recognition of that, and if we do, then we can move mountains.

Anonymous: This morning, I read the book of Ecclesiastes again in its entirety. It is my favorite book. I have read it so many times, but each time I see things I haven’t seen before. From this morning’s reading I realized something that even Solomon, the wisest man on the face of this earth, could not figure out: That all is vain. Everything. Solomon cannot explain why things happen the way they do, but in the end, he gives us hope, he gives us the bottom line, the crux of the matter:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

This is the subject that we’re testing. Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith. Paul also said that faith is a gift. It’s a given. It’s a verse in the Bible, and we believe every word in the Bible. So our part is to accept it and try to understand it, not to defend or attack it. If Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith, that means we have nothing to do with it. He starts, he walks us through, and he finishes it. The only part that we have to play is to fear God and keep His commandments.

Based on the Bible, I believe everyone has a partial faith or a portion of faith given. We cannot see the faith of other people. Everyone knows that God is, that God exists. Even devils, even Satan, believes in God and trembles. So it’s from the greatness of God that He makes himself known. Paul says in Romans that even those without law, by looking at nature, know God because He has revealed himself even in nature. So no one can say they don’t believe there is God. We can deny our faith, like Satan does. We tremble. We don’t want to have this faith, we reject this faith, we fight with this faith. But in fact, and according to the verse, everybody has a portion of faith.

If he is the author of our faith, and he provides the trials to strengthen our faith, and he’s the guarantor of the results of our faith or the outcome of our faith, which is life eternal and salvation, then we really don’t have much to do, except: Fear God and keep His commandments. We don’t have to understand. Just like Solomon. He did not understand things, and we understand far less than he did.

So what do we do? Do we keep hitting our heads against the wall, trying to understand? In Ecclesiastes, God says that man does not know the plans of God. So it’s in God’s plan that we don’t understand him. All we can do to relate to God is by fearing God and keeping His commandments. It’s like a scientist trying to explain very complicated science to a five year old. There’s no way no way the child can understand; however, the scientist can tell the child to sit still, to say this, to read that, to pick up a pen, and so on. It is very simple stuff, but the scientist is giving the child a chance to participate in the plan, the great, grand plan of God just by “Fear me and keep my commandments. You don’t have to understand.”

Don: That’s a nice summary. We’ll pick up our pen like a five year old next week and again look at the subject of faith.

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