46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
It is often said that the age we live in today is a “post modernist” one; an age in which the importance of absolutes has been undermined, and in which the focus has moved to a range of spiritual experiences, pointing to the otherness of life and praising existential experience. This is an age in which church attendance in Britain is declining. In which Christ’s 2000th birthday was consigned to one of a large number of “zones” in a ludicrous tent in our capital city. Yet, despite this, a large number of British people still believe in the existence of God. In this article, I will examine what it means “to believe,” and what it means to “have faith,” uncovering a difference that I feel is crucial we recognise in order to deepen our own relationship with God.
So what does it mean “to believe” and to “have faith?” There is much confusion regarding the definition of these words; even the Oxford English Dictionary gives a rather confused definition. It defines the verb “believe” as: “to accept as true or as conveying the truth; to think or suppose; to have faith in the existence of (e.g. God); to have (especially religious) faith.” It defines the word faith as “complete trust or confidence; firm belief especially without logical proof; a system of religious belief.” It seems then, that these words are more or less interchangeable.
So, am I making something out of nothing here, or should we draw a distinction between these terms? I think we should. As I mentioned earlier, a large number of people claim to believe in God, in the sense that they acknowledge His existence. Many, recognising the existence of God, choose to accept Him into their lives, and make a commitment to Him. Others, who also accept His existence, choose to do nothing about, whilst others still just don’t know how to develop this into something more – a personal relationship with God. For me, to say that one believes in God, or to put it another way, to simply acknowledge his existence without doing anything about it, is not an act of faith. I think that to have faith, it is necessary to hand our lives over to God, and live our lives in the way he instructed.
But once again, this is easy to say, but how do we actually practice what we preach and do something about it? Paul tells us, in his letter to the Romans, that we need to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). Whereas belief, in today’s world, is something that is easily admitted, faith is much more about how we live our lives. Jesus himself once stated that “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12). This is quite clearly a call to service for us; to follow Jesus’ example, and to use him as the ultimate role model for our own lives.
But faith is more than that. Faith is about trust – the trust that we need in order to place our lives in the hands of God. We’re told by Jesus that if we have faith in God, we can achieve anything. In one of the most famous passages in the Bible about faith, in Matthew chapter 17, Jesus tells his disciples, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
There are plenty of examples in the Bible of people who have faith, and whose lives have been changed because of this. One of my particular favourites is the blind man Bartimaeus, whose pleas to Jesus to heal him are answered, because of his great faith.
You can read about him in Mark 10: 46-52.
I think that we can all learn something from Bartimaeus. He’s been blind all his life – laughed at by the few friends he may have had, spat on by his many enemies. It would have been thought that he was blind because of sin; either sins that he had committed, or, if he was born blind, as I suspect he would have been, the sins that his parents had committed. Consequently, he would have been an outcast from society. This is the snapshot we get of him from this passage – an outcast; a dirty, smelly man reduced to begging on the outskirts of the city. He was sitting in his usual spot one day, trying to scrape together enough money to buy some food, when he heard that Jesus was approaching. He knew that this was his chance to be healed. He knew that Jesus could do it. He’d heard so many stories of Jesus healing people, and had complete faith. Even when people in the crowd with Jesus told him to shut up, he carried on, even louder. He desperately wanted to see. Jesus, being the compassionate chap that he was, called for Bartimaeus to come to him, which he did. Jesus then proceeded to heal him. I can imagine Bartimaeus was rather happy at that point, at being able to take his first ever look at the world. It would probably have been a little scary as well. But there and then, he decided to leave Jericho behind him, and to follow Jesus.
So how did Jesus heal Bartimaeus? Well, he’s the Son of God, so there’s nothing that he cannot do. But this wasn’t a one way transaction. Bartimaeus needed to have faith in Jesus. Jesus tells him, as he told so many of the people he healed, “your faith has healed you.” If Bartimaeus had casually thought, “oh yeah, this Jesus bloke, I’ll believe it when I see it,” would he have been healed? I personally do not think so. I’m more inclined to think that it was only because of his total, unquestioning faith, that Jesus rewarded him with his sight.
I think that there’s a very important lesson for us in this story. Just how much are we prepared to put our trust in God? Are we half-heartedly going to hedge our bets and say “yes, sure, God exists,” and then choose to do nothing about it, as seems to be the current trend in Britain, or are we going to put our complete trust in him, ask him into our lives, and follow His example? It is this process, I think, that leads us from a position of merely believing, to one of actually being able to say we have complete faith in Him.
Whilst making a conscious decision to do just this is by no means easy, I believe that we often make it harder than it really is. If we invite God into our lives, He will accept us; we really don’t have to struggle, and continually question whether we are really Christians or not. If we accept God into our lives and follow his word, that is enough for God. Jesus’ death on the cross means that no matter what we have done, no matter who we may have been, if we follow God, he will welcome us with open arms. This doubt that many of us continually face about whether our faith is real or not can be attributed to the Devil, and as such, we need to push it out of our minds, and ask God to help us to do this.
So, to conclude, what have we found out about belief and faith, and how can we put what we have learnt into practice? We’ve seen that a belief in God is easy to admit to, but is not enough. It is faith that makes the difference. It is faith that cements our belief, and enables us to put our complete trust in God. It is faith that spurs us on to do as Jesus told us – to follow His example. To be compassionate to our friends and enemies. To love our neighbours as ourselves. It is faith that gives us the confidence to know that when Jesus spoke about people being able to achieve anything through faith, that He was speaking to us. It is faith that tells us that when we pray, God is listening. It is faith that makes the difference. If you believe that God exists but have found it hard to accept him into your life, why not ask God into your life and ask him to make a difference to you? Why not turn this simple belief into something more – a genuine faith? And if you have already asked God into your life, why not just take time in the next couple of days to reflect how much faith you really have in him, and how much trust you place in him. Do you want to be a half-hearted Christian, or do you want to place complete trust in God, as Bartimaeus did?