One of the more popular teachings going around in Christendom in the last few years is the idea that God has a great deal of faith in disciples. This sounds very encouraging and can really empower people to have faith in themselves because God has faith in us. It just sounds so good and so empowering.
But with all things that sound too good to be true, they often are. Regardless of how wonderful something might sound, it needs to be tested in the light of Scripture.
This teaching often stems from those who find a great deal of significance in the idea that Jesus was a formally trained rabbi who called his disciples to follow him in a rabbi and disciple situation. Some of that teaching is certainly worth delving into and is quite informative and worthwhile while other aspects of it inappropriately take aspects of formalized Judaism from the 2nd and 3rd centuries and then project it back into Jesus’ time without any solid historical evidence (such as the formalized rabbinic training that all Jewish boys would undergo in the 2nd and 3rd centuries is often projected back into Jesus’ time with little to no historical substantiation).
As a result of seeing every action of Jesus through the eyes of a formalized rabbi, the conclusion is usually drawn from that, that man is the object of God’s faith. Whoa, wait a second. How do we get from a discussion of rabbinic practices to that conclusion?
One of the key texts that is generally used from this school of thought to make that point is when Jesus walks on water and Peter requests to do the same because he wants to “follow his rabbi” wherever he goes (Matthew 14:22-33). When Peter fails, Jesus responds by asking him “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The conclusion, apart from anything that the text actually says, is that Peter lost faith in himself. Jesus, says this line of thought, was still standing on the water so Peter didn’t lose faith in Jesus but himself.
The conclusion from this interesting interpretation of the passage is that Jesus wanted Peter to have faith in himself. “What a pity,” the preacher will declare, “that we don’t stop to consider how much faith Jesus has in us.” The point they make is that rabbi Jesus called these men to be disciples and to change the world because he believed that they could follow in the steps of the rabbi. They could do what he did. Oh, it sounds so good. God has faith in us.
But is this a good conclusion from this passage and from the whole of Scripture? First of all, the Matthew 14 text makes clear that Peter did lose faith in the fact that Jesus would continue to enable him to walk on the water. It was when he took his eyes of off Jesus and focused on his fear of the wind and waves that he lost faith. He jumped out of the boat and started to walk on the water because he had faith in Jesus, not in himself, so when he lost faith, he must have lost faith in Jesus as well.
But even more important is the question of whether Jesus had faith in his disciples. Scripture seems to tell us something rather different. In fact Jesus made it very clear to Peter and his other disciples that they would fail him, deny him, and abandon him when the crucible of the Cross came to fruition. Peter was quite sure, though, that he would not fail. Matthew 26:35 tells us something quite instructive: “Peter declared ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same.” They seemed to have quite a bit of faith in themselves, and that was the problem. Jesus knew they would fail. He didn’t have faith in them and he didn’t want them to have faith in themselves.
In fact, it seems that Jesus wanted his disciples to learn the very clear lesson that they should not have faith in themselves. The popular teaching discussed earlier will declare something along the lines that “Jesus had faith in this group of nobodies to change the world and to be like him, and they did it.” That sounds good, but it is thinly veiled and dangerous humanistic thought that exalts man to an improper place.
Jesus told his disciples, following his resurrection, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8)
Jesus was quite clear. Don’t move a muscle until the Holy Spirit comes upon you. That was Jesus’ message. It was not the disciples, but the Holy Spirit, in whom Jesus had faith. That’s who Jesus wanted his disciples to have faith in, not themselves. That’s who would turn the world upside down.
We should never cease to dig deeper into the surrounding biblical culture and learn important lessons from the history of what was going on in the time of Jesus, but it is vitally important to do so with discernment and to never let our guards down. We simply cannot afford to let subtle messages of humanism, like God having faith in us and having faith in ourselves, to sneak into our churches. We can have all the faith in the world in ourselves but that would be to miss out on the true object of our faith. Our faith is and should always be in God alone. It is only when we realize that and rely on his Spirit rather than ourselves that we can truly turn the world upside down.