The Bible is clear that faith is measured in terms of both quantity and quality.
Before going into detail about what the Bible says about measuring faith, it is important to clarify just what faith is. Hebrews 11:1 says it best: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We understand this to mean that faith is an action which treats things that have not yet happened, and things which are not empirically evident, as truth. There is no practical distinction between the object of faith and reality to the believer. Faith is the ability to believe in deed.
The Bible tells us that proper faith is very powerful. Having the right kind of faith allows amazing miracles to become possible. Healings of otherwise incurable illnesses are possible (Mark 5:34). Moving mountains is possible (Matthew 17:20). Causing trees to wither (Matthew 21:19-21) or become uprooted and move is possible (Luke 17:6). Each of these actions and events of similar miraculous stature are possible, but always subject and pursuant to God’s Will, when the right kind of faith works within the life of a Christian.
The first way that faith is measured is in terms of quality. When we talk about the quality of faith, we refer to the type of faith, and how well that faith is able to work for its intended purpose. A person may have faith in ungodly, selfish or misapplied things or people, such as riches, pride, power, or violent man. However, this is not the kind of faith that God looks for. In fact, it is disloyal to God to have faith in anything that is not of God. Jesus Christ tells us in Luke 16:13: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” A Christian must first determine if his or her faith is the correct type to ensure that it is Godly faith if it is to be the kind that is pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:1). Faith in Godly things is different from faith in “magic tricks.” Jesus refused to perform any miracles which, by themselves, were not ungodly, but which would have placed His action in a wrong light. For instance, He refused to command stones to become bread when He was hungry, as He would otherwise have given in to Satan’s temptations.
There are different kinds of Godly faith as well. The first kind of Godly faith is faith in God and Jesus Christ. This quality of this kind of faith is characterized by the belief that it is possible to receive salvation and the gift of eternal life through the sacrifice of God the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. In our free booklet, “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – How to Understand It,” we write about this in detail:
“It is of course true that we must have faith in Christ—including in His name, identity, role and function, His message, and His sacrifice (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; John 3:14–15; 5:24; 11:24; 12:46). Before we receive the Holy Spirit, which God gives us only after repentance, belief, proper adult baptism (Acts 2:38) and the laying on of hands through God’s true ministers (Hebrews 6:2; Acts 8:14–20)—our faith IN Christ is the ONLY kind of faith we can have.
“But even this is not a ‘dead’ faith, but a ‘living’ faith—it is that kind of faith that manifests itself through works of OBEDIENCE (James 2:14, 17, 22, 26; Romans 1:5; 16:26; Acts 6:7). John 3:36 reads, correctly translated: ‘He who believes IN the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not OBEY the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him’ (compare Revised Standard Version). In fact, without living, obedient faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot even receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32).”
It is also important to note that true faith in God and Jesus Christ requires that a Christian is called by God first. It is only then that one may begin to be receptive to understanding God’s way of life and truth. In John 6:44-47 we read the words of Jesus Christ: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes [in Me] has everlasting life.”
Jesus Christ taught very clearly that being called by God is necessary before it is possible to truly learn from God. Additionally, it requires faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to make it possible to obtain salvation. But this kind of faith is a gift from God. We cannot just decide to have this kind of faith—it must be given to us by God as a free gift. As we explain in our free booklet, “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians,” when discussing Ephesians 2:8–10:
“Paul states in verse 8, in the Authorized Version, that ‘it is the gift of God.’ First, this refers to ‘faith’… our belief in Christ is a gift of God (Philippians 1:29). Nobody can come to Christ unless the Father draws Him (John 6:44, 65). In fact, even repentance is a gift from God (Romans 2:4), and so is our ability to understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:9–12). God must reveal Himself and His knowledge to us (Matthew 11:25, 27; 16:17).”
Yet, the faith in God and Jesus Christ by a Christian who is called by God is only the beginning of Godly faith. In order to actually obtain the gift of eternal life, another type of faith is required. This is the faith of Jesus Christ living and working within us.
Once a called person has been properly baptized, he or she literally receives the faith of Christ working within his or her life. The object of the faith of Christ working within us is unique. It is the actual faith of Jesus Christ Himself that allows us to become righteous. Again quoting from our booklet “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – How to Understand it,” we describe how the faith of Jesus Christ works within the life of a Christian:
“The Bible teaches that the faith of Christ—Christ’s faith in us—makes us righteous. Those who believe in Christ must have the faith OF Christ living IN them. Philippians 3:9 says: ‘… and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith OF Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.’”
The type of faith that we have is a qualitative way of measuring faith. Godly faith is required to please God, and that involves having both faith in God and Jesus Christ, as well as having the faith of Jesus Christ working in us to obtain righteousness.
The quality of faith is also measured by how pure and complete it is. Faith that is mingled with doubt is marred and becomes less effective or ineffective completely. Writing in the context of asking God for wisdom and understanding, James states the following in James 1:6-7: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” This description of how doubt affects faith is enlightening. When doubt gets in the way of the belief of a Christian, the effect is instability, and may even make the object of faith fruitless. The quality of faith is measured by the degree to which doubt contradicts and interferes with its efficacy.
Faith is also measured by quantity. The amount of faith each individual has varies, and may grow or shrink, depending on his or her conduct. In Romans 12:3 we can see that Godly faith—“quality” faith– is clearly quantitatively measured when Paul writes the following: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” The amount or measure of faith each Christian receives from God varies according to His Will, as He looks at our heart and to what extent we obediently act upon the faith that we have already received. It is also important to note that the faith that Paul mentions—both the faith in God and Christ and the faith of Christ in us–is a gift from God, and not something that originates in the individual Christian pursuant to his or her own will. Fortunately, faith is quite potent, and only a small amount may be required at first in order to do amazing things. But as the proverbial mustard seed is very small, but grows into a big tree (Luke 13:19), so our faith in God and Christ must grow and increase, and we must allow Christ’s faith in us to work more and more mightily and powerfully in our lives. The apostles asked Christ to increase their faith (Luke 17:5).
At the same time, we are told that Abraham did not become weak in faith, but that his faith grew. Romans 4:19-21 reads, in the Revised Standard Version:
“He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead, because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. “
The amount of faith of a Christian may also decrease. We read the following in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 when Paul writes his greetings to the early Church: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other…” Even though the members of the Church in Thessalonica may have initially received a small measure of faith, Paul acknowledges that their “quality” faith has grown in quantity. At the same time, Christ chided His apostles for their little faith, as He had been expecting a larger amount of faith in them (Mark 4:40). He even said that He had asked for Peter that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32).
Jesus Christ Himself acknowledges the amount of faith a believer has when evaluating the faith of His followers. In Matthew 8:10, Jesus encounters a faithful centurion who believes that Jesus has the ability to heal his servant. “When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’”
The Greek word for the word “great” is “tosoutos” which means “of great quantity or amount.” Understanding this, we can plainly see that faith varies in amount, and in this case the centurion demonstrates that he has it in large amounts relative to others in Israel.
Faith is a critical element involved in being a Christian and obtaining the gift of eternal life provided by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By growing in the amount of faith one has and by allowing Christ’s faith to work mightily in him or her, the ability for a Christian to obtain the object of faith, whether it is healing, understanding, or righteousness, becomes even more sure.
Lead Writers: Eric Rank and Norbert Link