Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!” … Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very moment. (Matthew 8:10, 13)
Reading stories like this one, we have a tendency to focus on the “what.”
The centurion had great faith! Jesus said so.
Faith in what, we ask?
Faith that God could heal his servant, we answer.
His faith was great because he didn’t even want Jesus to come to his house. He figured Jesus could do the healing from a distance. Great faith indeed. If only we had faith like it.
The “What” of Faith
In some circles, we really highlight this emphasis on the “what” by our language. We speak of “believing for” a particular outcome.
There’s nothing wrong with this, especially when the outcome we’re “believing for” is based in the Word and promises of God.
But the centurion’s faith was great for another reason. It wasn’t about the “what.” It was about the “who.”
A Declaration of Great Faith
Look again at the centurion’s declaration of faith in verses 8-9:
“Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured. For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”
While the centurion makes it clear that he wants a particular outcome and knows that Jesus can do it, his faith is not really about the outcome. He doesn’t go in declaring that Jesus WILL do this. He just affirms that Jesus CAN.
His faith isn’t in the outcome, but in the Lord.
Not in the what, but in the who.
And that’s what makes it great.
What Faith Really Is
The centurion had a revelation of Jesus’ lordship that made him confident of his ability. He knew Jesus could heal, because he understood Jesus’ authority.
But his faith wasn’t in healing itself, nor was it in the strength or power of his own belief. He didn’t come to Jesus saying, “Lord, I know you can heal, because I believe so strongly.”
Faith is one of the Bible’s most pivotal concepts, yet it’s widely misunderstood. It’s easy for us to turn faith into some kind of spiritual power, a kind of law of attraction. It’s easy for us to place our faith in our faith, as though it’s the strength of our own willpower or ability to close our eyes and wish hard for something that moves the heavens.
In fact, faith is only as valuable as its object. Our faith is valuable because it is faith in a God who actually deserves it.
In Greek, the word we translate “faith” is pistis. It can be translated four different ways in English, and when we take all four together, we get a clearer understanding of what we’re talking about when we talk about faith.
The four are:
- “Faith” — as a set of beliefs or truisms; “the Christian faith”
In all four cases, the value is in the object.
“The faith” is valuable because what we believe is actually true. Belief is valuable because there is a real, solid object behind our belief. We don’t believe fairy tales; this is not about wishes and sand castles.
Trust is valuable when we place it in someone trustworthy.
Faithfulness is valuable when the person on the other side of the relationship is also faithful to us.
Faith in and of itself is not valuable. I may have unswerving faith in the Easter Bunny, but that faith is useless. Faith in God is the most valuable thing we have, because it places us in relationship with the Maker of the Universe and the One who loves us incomparably.
Faith = Relationship
Understood in this way, we can better see how the Bible’s “faith” is very close to “relationship.” Faith isn’t a blind leap or a strong-willed commitment to a dogma. Faith isn’t clinging to an outcome at all costs. It’s trust in a Person who is worthy of trust. It’s commitment to Someone who is committed to us.
In a very real sense, “saved by faith” can be understood as “saved by relationship.”
“Lord, You Can”
This is the power of the centurion’s declaration: Not “My servant will be healed,” but “You can.”
And in this case, Jesus did.
If you find, in your life, that you desperately need an outcome, may I suggest that your real need is not to “believe for” the answer but to “believe in” the Lord.
That the revelation of WHO Jesus is has more value than getting WHAT we want.
I don’t mean to discourage prayer for outcomes. By all means, ask. Jesus tells us to ask, many times. But in the asking, press in for more. Press in to know the Lord. Press in to see him more clearly. Press in for his perspective and his voice.
Because in the end, it’s faith that saves us, that gets our prayers answered, and that transforms our lives.
Not because there’s anything so great about faith, but because the object of our faith is Jesus.
I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!
This is Part 104 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.