Charles Stanley - The Stages of Faith
It is very clear from scripture that God always honors faith in Himself. I didn't say that God always honors faith, I said that God always honors faith in Himself. All the way through the Gospels, what we find is we find Jesus responding to people who believed in Him. He said of the woman, for example, who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, He said to her, "Be of good courage, your faith has made you whole". The two blind men who came to Him, He said, "Be it unto you even as you believe, that is, as your faith is". He said to the man who was let down under the roof as a result of the crowds and they could not bring him inside through the door, He said, "Friend," He said, "Your", seeing his faith, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you".
All the way through the scripture, Jesus is emphasizing the fact that people could believe in Him and to trust Him. For example, He said to His disciples, He said, "Have faith in God". On one occasion, they said, "Lord," having seen what was going on in His life, they said, "Increase our faith". And then you'll remember that when He was speaking with Peter on one occasion, He said to him, He said, "Peter, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. I'm going to pray for you that your faith would not fail". And then after His resurrection, He chided His disciples, the eleven, He said to them, He said, "Your hardness of heart, your unbelief. You wouldn't even believe the testimony of my resurrection".
All the way through the scripture, God emphasizes the fact that you and I are to place our trust in Him, to believe who He is, and to believe that He will do exactly what He promises to do. Now, the truth is the blessings that I receive from God and the blessing that you receive from Him will always be in proportion to, listen, in proportion to our faith in Him. That does not mean that God will not do some things oftentimes that you and I didn't expect, that we did not ask for, because He will. That's His grace, His goodness, and love and mercy. But so, most of the time I think you and I could say that our blessing's to be able to enjoy and to experience the best of God's blessings, they're gonna be in proportion to my faith in Him, my trust in Him, my expectations of Him, my looking to Him and believing and longing for and expecting God to do what He promises to do.
Therefore, what I certainly want to do is I want to increase in my faith because if the blessings increase in proportion to my faith, I certainly don't want a little bit of faith out here trying to live in this crazy world we have to live in with all the struggles and difficulties and hardships we face, we need faith that makes us strong to be able to face anything and everything and to come out looking as we ought, and that is obedient to God and one who has received the best of God's blessings. Well, what I want to talk about in this message is this: I want to give you three stages of faith. The title of this message is "The Stages of Faith". There are three stages of faith. And I think it's in the scripture, and I think, certainly as I look back in my own life and see how the Lord has worked in my own heart, I believe there are three specific stages of faith in a person's life.
Now, let me say, and I'm gonna say this more than once, this does not mean that every time you ask God for something, you have to go through all three of these stages. It would be wonderful if we could start out with every prayer request on stage number three, but we don't. Sometimes you will start out on stage number one. Sometimes stage number two. Once in a while, you'll begin in stage number three. Now, we're all, listen, we're all going to have our doubts about some things.
That is, no matter how long you've been a Christian, how long you've been saved, there are some things that you and I'll have to face that our first response will be that we will find ourselves struggling to believe that God somehow is going to provide on time, or that He's even going to provide at all, or that we're gonna be able to see our way through this and come out victoriously. So, I'm not saying that there won't be times that we'll not ever face that because there are times we will. But I want you to understand it does not mean that any stage of faith will always be an absolute necessity. So, I want to begin with this first stage, and the first stage of our faith is little faith.
Now, I'm gonna ask you to give it back to me in a moment. Little faith. And I think in terms of little faith as being restless faith. That is, there's something going on here. So, I want to describe what little faith is about, and then we'll give illustrations of each one of these. Little faith says, "I know He can, but I'm not sure He's going to". Little faith is struggling faith. Little faith is focused on the object. Little faith is focused on the obstacle. Little faith is focused on the reasons this may not happen or cannot happen or will not happen. Faith that is little is usually greatly influenced by what it feels, what it sees, what it hears, past guilt, false guilt, its understanding of God, its lack of understanding.
That is, little faith is greatly influenced, highly influenced by many things that will keep it small and little because the focus is not proper. That is, little faith always has this twinge of doubt. Little faith is wavering faith, going back and forth. Little faith will focus on God for a moment, but then back to the circumstance. Little faith is not only the faith of people who've been a Christian a short period of time, but little faith can also characterize a person who's been a Christian a long time, but someone who has not grown in their faith, someone who has not grown in their understanding of God, someone who is not meditating continuously upon the Word of God as we are admonished to do over and over again.
And looking at these godly men and women in the scriptures, they were men and women who focused and who meditated upon our Lord. They didn't have what we have to meditate upon, the Bible, but they were meditating upon God, thinking about Him. They were people who were trying to figure out the ways of God and how God operated and how He would work in their life. And so when we look at little faith, we look at faith that is struggling, faith that is restless, faith that oftentimes gives up. And let me say in the very beginning here: there's nothing wrong with struggling faith because that's where we all begin.
When you first trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and somebody said, "Well, the Bible says, 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. He that seeketh, findeth. Him that knocketh, it shall be opened.'" And so you started praying and nothing happened and you said, "Well, I must have misunderstood". And so you struggle with faith. All of us begin the Christian life with struggling faith, so it's not a sin. Now, listen carefully. Struggling faith is not a sin unless I give up and consent to going back to unbelief and saying, "Well, it just wasn't gonna happen. God doesn't answer prayer. He's just overlooked me, or all the things that we may respond with".
So little faith is not where any of us want to stay. It's where all of us at some point, depending upon the nature of the circumstance, may begin, but it is not where we want to stay. That's the bottom rung of the ladder. So, let's give some illustrations now of what little faith is all about, and you will notice here that Jesus identifies this as, for example, as little faith. Let's begin with Matthew chapter eight. Matthew chapter eight is a familiar passage of something that is going on here with the disciples. Beginning in verse twenty-three. So, "When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm in the sea, so that the boat," listen to this, "was covered with the waves; but He Himself was asleep".
Now, this is not a cabin cruiser, hm, hm, hm. This was one of those sailboats. That's the way they operated. So He's back in the back of the ship there somewhere, fast asleep, and the waves are breaking over the boat and He's sleep. What happens? "When they came to Him, they awoke Him and saying, 'Save us, Lord.'" Not we may perish, but what? We are sinking, we are going down, we are perishing! We're about to lose our life. This is present tense stuff. This is a critical moment, and You are asleep! Listen to what He said. "He said to them, 'Why are you timid,'" or fearful, "'you men of little faith?' Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and it became perfectly calm. And the men marveled, saying, 'What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?'"
Now, I want you to give me some feedback here. Now, I want you to listen carefully. You gotta get into this message. You say amen? Amen. All right, now watch. When we think about the obstacles to our faith and the things that keep us in little faith, we said how we feel, what we see, what we hear, past failures, past guilt, feelings of being unworthy, for example, our lack of understanding of God, God, of understanding His ways. Now, what was the major problem? What was the biggest obstacle in their faith? What was it? It was what they what? What they saw. What they saw was this ship is about to sink.
Now, I mean, human reasoning says: if this keeps up, we're going down. What they said was true. What they felt was legitimate. What they heard was legitimate, and more than likely, you see, if you're on board a ship and everybody else is saying, "We're gonna sink," after a while, you join in and you're thinking, "We're gonna sink". I mean, even if one or two of those disciples had a little faith and said, "Well, look, Jesus is on the back". They said, "No, this thing is about to sink. The waves are covering this boat". And their focus was on the storm and the waves, not Jesus. Their feelings were: they were getting soaking wet. And they knew that after a while this boat was gonna sink. They looked and the water was filling up the boat. They were hearing each other talking about this boat's gonna sink. They knew that other times they'd been in storms and maybe they had sunk before, so they had a lot of very legitimate reasons for saying, "We are perishing, Lord. Wake up"!
Now, if their focus had been the Son of God, they'd have said, "He can ride this out, hm, hm, hm, we're riding it out with Him"! They didn't think that way. The storm, the waves, all that was going on, their faith was very little and they were scared to death. Now, I wouldn't be critical of them because if you and I had been on board, we probably would have been doing the same thing. What I want you to see is, little faith. And what did He say to them? He said, "Why are you so afraid, you men of little faith"?
All right, now, I want us to look at another passage here because here's another example of the same kind of thing that's going on. And we hear Jesus again, saying again, we hear Him saying "little faith". Go back to Matthew chapter six for a moment. This is the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is talking here to the people and encouraging them. He knows that they are discouraged and, likewise, they're struggling in their faith.
And I want you to notice what He says in this passage. Remember He's talking here about why are they being anxious. He says in verse twenty-five, "For this reason I say to you, don't be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, what you shall drink; not for your body, what you shall put on. Is not your life more than food, and the body than clothing"? And then he says, "Now look at the birds of the air. Your heavenly Father feeds them. They're worth", then He says, "You're worth much more than they are". He says then "Look at the lilies of the field. If God so arrays the field like this and makes it so beautiful," He says, "aren't you much more valuable than they"?
Then he says in verse thirty, look, "But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith"? Now, where was their focus? Their focus was on what they didn't have. Their focus was on their needs: clothing, food, shelter, all the rest. He said, "Why are you anxious about these things"? He said, "Look at the birds. The Father takes care of them. Look at the lilies. The Father's the one who arrayed the field with beauty. If He can do that for them, why can't He do the same for you? He can". And so, their focus is in the wrong direction. They had fear, fear of not having enough. And so, He says, "Why are you so fearful, ye of little faith"?
Then if you'll turn to the ninth chapter of Mark, and I want us to look at a passage here in verse twenty-four, and notice here what's happening. Twenty-fourth, the ninth chapter. And you recall that this father had brought his son possessed with a demon, a spirit, to His disciples, and He said he's foaming at his mouth and all the rest. And, he says, "Your disciples tried to cast him out and they couldn't do it". Now this man's desperate. Here's his son, demon possessed. And so, he says in verse nineteen, "He answered them and said, 'O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with this? Bring him to Me!'"
Jesus is casting reflection on their unbelief. "And so they brought the boy to Him," in verse twenty. "And when He saw him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion," right in front of everybody, "and falling to the ground, he began rolling about and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood. And it has often thrown him into the fire, into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!'" Here's a desperate father who sees his son almost at the point of death and wallowing in the mire, here right in front of everybody, foaming at his mouth, demon-possessed, and Jesus said to him, "If you can"!
"Jesus said to him, 'If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.' Immediately the boy's father cried out and began saying, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.'" Here's a perfect example now of restless, struggling faith. What does he see? He has his focus, his eyes were on his son. This has been going on since he was a young boy, struggling, foaming at the mouth, wallowing, cannot control himself, acting like an animal. And so He says, "Now if you can believe that I can heal this boy, I will heal him". So, what's the biggest obstacle this father has to face? What's the biggest obstacle to his faith at this moment? What is it? His biggest obstacle, number one, is what he sees.
What's another one of his obstacles? The past, exactly right, the past. He's got all these remembrances. This has been going on for years and years and years and everything looks hopeless. Little faith struggles. Little faith is wrenched. Little faith is thrown off base. You see, little faith is restless faith, with doubt, a continuous barrage of doubt. Satan will say, "Now, look back in the past". Satan will always throw you into the past. Satan will keep your mind off of God. And so when He comes to Jesus, here is a perfect example of genuine honesty. He says, "I do believe, help my unbelief". He says, he says, "On the one hand, I'm trusting You. On the other hand, I'm having difficulty because this is my son. This is the way he's been all of these years". And so little faith, he says, "I want to believe, I'm having difficulty believing, I do believe, I don't believe, I do believe, I don't believe. Help me believe".
Now, Jesus didn't say to that father, "Well, I'll tell you what, when you start believing, when you trust Me I'll heal him". No, which underlines what I said twice already. Listen, struggling faith is not a sin. Struggling faith, listen, is part of the education. It's part of the process that, when we struggle with our faith and we see God work, then what happens? As we move on from this stage of faith of struggling, restless faith, we move into the second level, and something begins to happen in our life. And so Jesus did not criticize his father. He did not say, "Shame, shame, shame on you". He simply, look what He said.
Notice what He says here. He said to him, "'Now, if you can,'" and He knew his father was struggling. "'All things are possible to him who believes. Immediately the boy's father cried out and began to say, I do believe; help my unbelief.'" Now, Jesus didn't say "little faith". He understood where this father is. Now, listen carefully. Your heavenly Father and mine understands where we are every single time we face a situation or circumstance, a need, a desire, a desperation in our life. He knows exactly where we are. But there's so much stuff that would cause us not to believe.
The first stage of our faith is what? Little faith. The first stage of faith is little faith, and that's what kind of faith? Restless faith, restless faith, struggling faith. All right, which brings us to the second stage of faith, and that is great faith. You say, "Well now, where do you get this idea of great faith"? Great faith. Because when you begin to examine the scripture and you begin to look at what Jesus said to people, for example, about their faith, He talked about great faith. So, let's think about for a moment, what is great faith? Great faith says, now listen, little faith said, "I know He can, but I'm not sure He will. I know it may happen, but I'm not certain it will". Great faith says, "I know He can and I know He will".
Great faith is focused on the Father, not on the object. Great faith is entrenched in the Word of God. Great faith meditates upon the Word of God. Great faith, listen, great faith is trusting in the promises of God. Great faith is trusting in the nature of God. Great faith is trusting in the character of God. Great faith is God-focused, Father-focused. Great faith desires to understand the ways of God. Great faith doesn't just ask with doubts and frustrations and anxieties. Great faith has discovered the will of God. Great faith will endure no matter what. Great faith is not thrown off balance by questions and doubts and fears and the negatives of other people.
Great faith says, "I'm gonna hold on". Great faith says, "I'm reaching out". Great faith reaches out to God, listen, reaches out to God, believing that because of who He is and what He's promised, He will do what He says. Great faith has learned to endure all the obstacles. Great faith is focused, listen, on the ways of God, on the very character of God, and so therefore great faith can face difficulty, hardship, and trial and, no matter what, here's what faith says. Faith says I know what You're saying. Faith says I hear what You're saying. Faith says I know what feelings are there. Faith says I know what it looks like, but I'm trusting Him. I'm going to believe Him no matter what, why? Because this is who He is, this is what He said, and I'm gonna believe Him no matter what.
Oftentimes we come to big obstacles in our life, big challenges to our faith, and here's what happens. Because our feelings and our sight, and because of what we hear are so overwhelming, we stop at the lowest level of little faith and we get defeated. I am fully persuaded that many of God's people could have more, could experience more, could understand more about the Father, would have a greater sense of peace and joy and contentment and happiness in their life if they moved, got off of that lower level of struggling faith, little faith, restless faith, doubting faith, and began to move to the second level. And that is the level, the stage of great faith.
Well, there's a third stage. Thank God there's a third one. This is the most exciting thing! Third stage. The third stage is perfect faith. You say, "Well now, does that mean my faith's gonna be perfect about everything"? No. Remember this now. Every single circumstance, every single request, every situation can be one of three. It can either be little faith. You can approach God with little faith, great faith, or perfect faith. Here's what perfect faith is. Perfect faith is able to hear from God and shut out everything else. Perfect faith is able to see the invisible right through this obstacle that is so visible.
Perfect faith is able to see God in every single facet of life. Perfect faith is resting faith. Perfect faith has reached the place where no matter what he or she sees, hears, feels, recalls, or thinks, there is this awesome sense of contentment and perfect peace that makes it possible to rest in the midst of turmoil and struggle and hardship and all kinds of obstacles and all kinds of sounds and sights and all the rest. Perfect faith is able to say, "Thank you very much".
Now, watch this. Perfect faith, watch this now, you listening? Say amen. Little faith says I know He can, I'm not sure He will. Great faith says I know He can, and He will. Perfect faith says it's done. It's already done. Perfect faith says it's done. Perfect faith has the capacity to see the finished work even before it becomes a visible reality. Now, friend, that's when life gets real exciting. Because, you see, you don't have to go through all three of those stages and every facet or every time you pray. Some things are not that momentous in our life. But perfect faith says I see the end result. I see my heavenly Father with such clarity and I see Him with such conviction and I see Him with such absolute assurance that I will now, listen to this, I will now operate, you listening? I will now operate on the basis that it's already done and it'll become a living, visible reality when my Father knows the timing is right.
God is an awesome, faithful, loving Father who wants us to walk on the highest level possible in absolute unwavering, unfaltering trust in Him. Because He will never let us down. How do I get from stage one to stage three? If I want to get there more often, I need to meditate upon His Word daily because that gets the mind of God into my heart. If I want to get on that higher level and stay there, I want to be sensitive to how God is answering little prayers, big prayers, how he's operating in things that seem impossible and things that look like they're very simple.
I want to be sensitive to what He's doing and looking for His ways and having my spiritual antennae out, looking for the evidence of God in every single aspect of my life. Then you know what happens? You'll come up against a tidal wave of awesome opposition that you think that is no way in the world. And you know what, you just stand there and look at it and watch it go right around you and never even phase you. Why? Because you've discovered that the sovereign God of this universe is your shield, your refuge, your fortress, your salvation. He will see you through every single circumstance of life.
What He wants is this. He wants us to be able to enjoy the trip. And if I'm down here in little faith and struggling and restless, I'm not enjoying the trip. When I get up on the stage of great faith, I begin to enjoy the adventure. When I get up on the stage of perfect faith, there is an adventurous awareness and assurance and confidence and peace and contentment that is absolutely unshakeable. That's the kind of God He is. He wants us to live experiencing His very best.
And Father, we are so grateful that You're so patient with us while we wallow in stage number one. You're moving us on and sending us enough difficulty and hardship and trial and persecution and suffering to just move us on to level number two. Thank You for the kind of peace that You give that is beyond human comprehension. We bless You and praise You and worship You and adore You for the God that You are. And I pray for so many people who are struggling, Lord. That they might understand that You're a heavenly Father. You want the best, You've provided the best, You're waiting to give the best to those who are willing to trust You in Jesus's name.