Can we change God's plan for us by using faith?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: Please write according to the bible about faith versus the will of God. If we have faith and we don't doubt then can our faith change the plan of God? (from Asia)

Answer: Greetings friend. I will be happy to respond to your query today, but the way you’ve asked this question tells me that you have the wrong idea about faith — so I cannot answer it as it was asked. You see, faith can never be seen as “versus” the will of God because one cannot have biblical faith in any way that counters God’s will. In fact, part of its essence is that it seeks to cooperate with God’s will… even when it hurts. This can be seen in the following explanation of Greek word pistis — the word most often translated into English as faith and belief.

Wherever we see the words "faith" or "believe" in the New Testament, they are usually a translation from the original Greek root word pistis. The noun form of the word, pistis, is usually translated as "faith" and the verb form, pisteuo, is translated as "believe."

The ordinary definitions of "faith" and "believe" imply intellectual agreement with an idea or accepting something as truth, but pistis means more than that. As used in the Bible, it also implies trust in and reliance on God or Christ, surrender of our wills to God or Christ, and conduct consistent with that surrender1. All those elements are present in any mention of "faith" or "believe" in the New Testament, but from the context we can often see that some of the elements are emphasized.

Unfortunately, there are no words in the English language that capture the full meaning of the original pistis and pisteuo, so we are stuck with the often inadequate words "faith" and "believe."

1W. E. Vine, et. al., Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Second edition, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

(The bold-text emphases are mine, and are not in the original text).

Because you are emphasizing that “we don’t doubt,” I suspect you have heard some incorrect teachings about faith — the kind that is often associated with the Word of Faith movement, whose flagship doctrines include the prosperity gospel and faith-healings. Their teachers would say that if you perform your act of faith audibly enough, hard enough, long enough… and with an iron will that allows no doubt… then your wishes will be granted… oops…. I mean… your faith will be rewarded by God — who would have certainly granted your desires if your performed faith well and according to the correct formula.

One big downside of this errant algorithm is that failure is not only failure, it’s also embarrassing. How so? If God did not give you what you asked for, then your faith or your technique was faulty… and this would make you a spiritual loser. You see, when you start with the patently unbiblical idea that God wants you healthy and that God wants you rich — and when that doesn’t happen — it simply can’t be God’s fault. After all, God never fails… and he wants those things for you! Therefore, God has not failed to deliver; you have failed to procure. This means that you have failed at faith… and this would make you a loser.

Not only is this is cruel, but it directly opposes the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 6:19-21) … and it’s shamefully American. Doesn’t this Word of Faith methodology turn God into a vending machine — where if you put in the proper coin (which is believing something with all your heart, insisting that God will do it, saying it with your mouth, never giving up, keeping your eyes closed and gritting your teeth, etc.) — then you will get your candy bar? If nothing comes out, there’s nothing wrong with the machine… I mean… the machine is God! So you must’ve done something wrong… like not putting in enough coins or putting in foreign currency.

That kind of faith has everything to do with human will and virtually nothing to do with God’s will… and that’s the problem. It is a properly basic understanding of biblical faith that we place our faith in God — and not in ourselves — and this means that we have faith in his plans (Psalm 40:5)… but even if they appear to oppose our own. God’s plan for you is like a flowing river, and faith is all about joining that river in confluence. Faith is not about digging your own swimming pool in the desert… which is perhaps the kindest thing I’m willing to say about the Word of Faith movement.

A true faith, that is a complete faith, must travel through three levels. First, you must have an object for your faith, because faith is actually meaningless without something or someone to have faith in. In our case, this object is God. With the Word of Faith methodologies, the object of faith is the self or self-effort… and God is merely a part of the algorithm. So, although the first step is to understand the entity that is the object of our faith, we should make every effort to select the correct object… or at least…eliminate the overtly wrong ones… like the self.

Second, you must agree that the object of your faith is true. So, if we are looking at faith in God, we need to be aware that there are a lot of things said about him… many of which are not true. This is where due diligence comes in. We have the Bible, evidence of God in his creation, an inescapable moral essence within human beings, logical and philosophical arguments for his existence that testify that God is true. This sounds like work because diligence is work… but it is necessary work, so get at it! After reasonable people assess the data they can give an informed assent that God is true.

The third step of faith is the most important, and it is best described as trust. I see this as a change in posture, and here’s how. Through steps one and two we have become aware of Jesus and have been convinced that he did indeed walk in history, performed some miracles and that he died on the cross. This is still only mental assent — step two. But when we trust Christ’s atoning death as the basis of our salvation, that is like jumping up into his arms — which is decidedly a change in posture! But not only does faith require that we trust Christ to save us, but it also requires that we trust him to carry us — and this implies that we trust his plans. Trusting God is the proof of faith while ignoring him is proof of its lack. Prosperity preachers ignore the biblical counsel that a view towards riches is a view away from God (Luke 16:13) — and that chasing after that type of thing is not faith… it is a lack of faith!

Did you notice the key difference between the definition of faith that you proposed in your question and true faith in Jesus Christ? When we jump up and to Jesus’ arms, he decides where we go… and although we are happy passengers who help decide which roads to use, we are not the driver — and here’s the test: faithful people spend that time finding out what God wants; they figure out how best to do his will… and when you think about it, this makes so much sense. We human beings have no idea how future events would play out under the different responses that we would make to them. But God does — and this is why it is best to let God drive… and now that I see it in print, I think that “letting God drive” is a good working definition of faith.

I am not saying that we should abandon the idea of petitioning God to affect our future. Indeed, that’s how miracles have always occurred — and I believe that they still occur today. But I believe they are few compared to the claims that they are happening. People who are in the Word-Faith movement, the prosperity gospel or the cheap-and-easy healing ministries, see no reason why miracles cannot occur on demand — as if snapping your fingers-of-faith makes God jump through the hoop of obedience. (If you haven’t picked this up, I repudiate the idea.) Let’s take the biblical example of King Hezekiah to show you the proper way to approach faith.

“In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’ ” (2 Kings 20:1–6, NIV, emphases mine)

When you examine the emboldened text, please note that Hezekiah is pleading with God on the basis of his ongoing faith. (“Remember, Lord, how I have walked for you faithfully…”) Hezekiah’s life was contextually faithful — he was interested in God’s will as he led God’s people. But who wants to die? So this was an entirely reasonable petition… and it seems as if this petition changed God’s mind. But what do you think God was looking for in all this? I ask because usually people just die without receiving an announcement from a prophet that they’re going to die this week… so I think that God was “fishing” to teach a lesson. You see, there is only one thing that the Self-Existent One could logically “want”… and that’s an intimate relationship that is manifested in ongoing communication and prayer. Even the omnipotent God cannot “create” that which a volitional creature must initiate: love, communication and communion. Those require a handshake… a heart-decision for a more intimate faith.

This is why people of true faith are not constantly tugging on the ship’s wheel, trying to make the vessel go someplace else. They know basically where the captain is going, and the essence of faith is trusting both the course and the pilot. Now, every once in a while the captain runs a safety drill… and that’s what happened to Hezekiah — and he performed faithfully… but faith is much more about staying-the-course than it is about changing-the-course— and “change” is at the root of your question.

So, did the strength of Hezekiah’s faith change God’s plan for his death? No. His life of faith affected this instance of faith… and that’s how faith works. There is no such thing as a discrete or momentary faith. It is integrated into one’s life… or it is not there at all… and it is symptomatic of those who are tugging on God’s steering wheel — trying to get him to change course — that they do not have lives of faith. But according to the Word of Faith preachers, their failure to change the course of their lives so that they’d arrive in the land of riches is because they did not tug hard enough or long enough on that steering wheel… and such teachings are plain old evil.

I’m going to leave you with a few links to questions that other people have submitted — but which have to do with the overarching issue that is driving your questions: how can you have meaningful freedom where God has a plan for you?

I differ from many commentators in my insistence that human beings have libertarian free-will and that God made us so we can indeed respond to his grace… or not. This opposes Calvinism (… and many evangelicals are more Calvinistic than they realize). But what these teachings will do for you is to show you how your free-will can coexist peaceably with the election, predestination and the plan that God already has in place for you. As such, this material will not so much answer your question as it will make your question moot.

Visit the following links:

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20160905 Faith, not Word-of-Faith).

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