“And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matt. 8:5-10).
In discussing the subject of faith, it is instructive to insist what it is not.
Faith is not good character. It is not good character, as impressive as the character of the centurion was. Jesus did not marvel at the great character of Rome’s solider, but at his faith.
Faith is not being religious. While true religion involves faith, many people are religious but have no faith. Dr. William Barclay was a well-known theologian, and the author of the popular Daily Study Bible series read by millions around the world. He is widely quoted, honored, and respected in religious circles. Yet, the religious faith of Dr. Barclay is questionable, at best, because he attributes the healing of the servant to ESP – Extra Sensory Perception. Dr. Barclay concludes with this statement about the healing of the centurion’s servant. “The strange thing about this miracle is that modern thought, instead of making it harder, has made it easier to believe it.” The study of ESP, as invented by the American botanist, Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine (Sept. 29, 1895 – Feb. 20, 1980) of Duke University, will never cause Jesus to marvel, for it detracts from His power and person. Ironically, the Motto of Duke University, in English, translates, “Knowledge and Faith”.
Faith is not doing good works. The centurion did many good works, including the building of a synagogue where Jews could go and worship God. He was a philanthropist, and built the synagogue from his own personal resources. Rome had many gods, but the centurion was attracted to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Jesus did not marvel at his great philanthropy, and decide to heal the centurion’s servant.
Faith is not being humble. Humility is a great virtue. Humility is the opposite of pride, which seeks to compete with all others by its very nature. Pride finds pleasure only in having more of something than the next person. More knowledge, more money, a bigger office, a more important position. People are proud of being intelligent, or being rich, being better looking, or more clever than someone else. Abraham Lincoln was a politically ambitious man, but knew the virtue of humility. He often quoted from memory the words of the Scottish poet, William Knox (1789-1875).
“Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to rest in his grave.”
Every person becomes food for worms when he returns to the dust from which he came. The Bible commands Christians to “be clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5). As humble as the centurion was before Jesus, it was not his great humility that made Jesus marvel, but his faith.
Faith is made up of three specific elements.
First, faith consists of knowledge. There can be no faith which is not rooted, or grounded in truth, or knowledge. For the Christian, this means there must be knowledge about the Bible in general, and Jesus Christ in particular, who is presented in Scripture as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, who died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. It is impossible to have faith in Jesus Christ in a saving way without knowledge of who He is.
Christ is the object of saving faith, for it is always the object of faith which receives the merit. Charles Spurgeon once told the story of a lady who was asked by a clergyman what she believed. “I believe what the church believes,” was her replay. “What does the church believe,” she was asked. She answered, “The church believes what I believe.” The minister grew agitated. “Well, what do you and the church believe?” The lady responded by saying, “We believe the same thing!” Such ethereal faith is not helpful. Faith must have a definite object. Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith, not the church. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Second, faith consists of assent. There must be conviction of the truth of something. Dr. James D. Kennedy once told the story of a Christian worship service that was interrupted by soldiers brandishing guns. The leader went to the front of the church and told the audience that if anyone did not want to be shot, they were to get up, denounce Christ, and move to the right side of the auditorium. Some did. “Now get out!” screamed the solider. The people got out for they believed the soldiers. When the people were gone the leader turned to those trembling hearts left behind and said, to their astonishment, “Let us now worship the Lord together in spirit and in truth.” They wanted to get rid of the hypocrites. Christians must be convinced of the truth.
A third element of faith is trust. True biblical faith is made of knowledge, conviction of that knowledge, and finally trust in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The heart must rely upon Jesus alone for salvation. Many people rely upon their baptism, church membership, good deeds, or family heritage for salvation. Those who are born again rely upon Jesus. This is belief of the heart. All trust is renounced in self, or what he does, and rests upon Christ for what He has done at Calvary.
An illustration of trust is found in Acts 27:30-32. There was a storm at sea. The sailors were about to abandon ship. “And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. 32 Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.” All were saved because they heard the truth, they believed what they heard, and they trusted in the ship.
Hear the gospel today. Believe the truth. Rely upon Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour. Christ still marvels at great faith.