The concept of faith is fundamental to Christian life because it is central to the biblical view of salvation. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Without faith, we have no place with God, and it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). There is a Faith that saves, and there is a Faith that does not save. In this article, I am going to examine the marks of a saving faith.
In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we read an encounter Jesus had with a Canaanite woman. The basic theme of this conversation is about ‘great faith’. Great faith is a relative term. This is not the first time great faith is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel. Back in chapter 8, a centurion came to Jesus and pleaded to heal his servant, who was paralyzed. And Jesus said to him “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel ” (Mat 8:10).
If you’ve noticed, both of them were gentiles, not Jews. They were pagans outside the covenant, outside the law, outside the promises, outside the Scriptures. To them, it was great faith because they had so little on which to build it. On the other hand, when the Lord says to the disciples, “Oh, you of little faith” it is only little in a relative sense. Relative to all they knew and to all they had been exposed to, they should have had a greater faith. Now, this Canaanite woman gives us a perfect picture of saving faith.
What is it about the faith of the Canaanite woman that constitutes it as ‘great faith’?
It has the Right Object (v22a)
Saving faith is, first and foremost, based on the right person. It is interesting to see how many people say that they believe. Believe in what? What god? There is a whole world of people who talk about God, some are very religious. They have all kinds of gods. Most people just invent their own gods, and their gods are impersonated by demons. The one they think is God is the devil. Catholics say that they believe in Jesus but pray to Mary to mediate and administer grace. There are people who believe, who baptize and go to hell. Faith based on the wrong object is a phony faith. True salvation is based on not only faith, it is based on the faith that is based on the right person, Jesus Christ. This woman came to the right person crying out.
It has Repentance (v22a)
At its root, repentance is about changing one’s mind. In Christianity, this means changing one’s mind about Jesus, accepting Him as Lord, Christ, and Savior. Repentance is closely tied to belief. It means a re-directing of priorities to align one’s thoughts and values with God’s. Here is a woman coming out of paganism and putting her faith in Jesus. She probably have gone after false-gods and dumb-deities, done all the pagan rituals, and came up with nothing. Now, she left her religious system, friends, false belief, idols, and came to the only one who could help her.
It has the Right View of Self (v22b)
This woman came after Jesus crying out for ‘Mercy’. She presented herself before Jesus as one who is unworthy and undeserving. Mercy is not something God has to do. Mercy is something God does voluntarily. She did not come demanding, or naming and claiming much like the charismatics today, she came begging for favor that she does not deserve. Pride is a very severe problem that keeps man from God. As long as man thinks that he is something he won’t be able to come to God. Man must see himself as lost without God and separated from God, as weak, as inapt and hopeless, before he enters into the concept of faith that does save.
It has Right Attitude Towards God (v22b)
This woman is outside the covenant, she has no claim on the covenant, she has neither scriptures nor rabbinic teaching like Jews. Yet, she comes to Christ with great reverence and a sense of awe, first acknowledging His sovereignty. She called Jesus “Lord”. Then she addressed Him using His messianic title, “Son of David”, promised Messiah, the long-awaited Deliverer, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It is really amazing! It was a great contrast to the irreverent Jews who refused to believe His deity, and called Him a drunk, a friend of publicans and sinners, and demon-possessed. But this pagan woman came believing in Jesus’ supernatural power over sin, death and the kingdom of Satan and demons.
It is Persevering (V23-27)
Some people come to Christ struggling through their own doubt. But this woman, in order to get through to Christ, has to struggle through the barriers that He puts up. Beginning in v23, Jesus puts up a series of barriers for this woman. First He completely ignored her (v23). Then He refused to show compassion to outsiders of the covenant (v24). Then He pushed her further reminding her of the historic distinction between the cursed Canaanites and the blessed Israelites. In short, saying the Jews are the “children” and the Gentiles are the “dogs.” The children get fed first (v26). He is not playing games with the woman. Jesus wanted to heal her daughter but He wanted to strengthen and test and pull this woman’s faith to its fullness. Jesus resists shallow faith and wants to demonstrate in this woman the genuine faith that ‘presses its way into the kingdom’ (Luke 13:24).
It is Humble (v25)
At this point, a lot of people would dishearten, get angry and give up. But, this woman had no resentment, no anger about her situation; she put her head in the dirt and worshiped (proskuneō) Jesus. She knew that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. She humbly accepts that she may not be able to sit down at the Messiah’s table and eat with the “children”, but she was ready to grab some of the uncovenanted mercy of God, His general saving grace to all people (v27). She dropped the Jewish ‘Son-of-David’ part, and begged Him saying ‘Lord, help me’. This is the truly seeking heart, humble and contrite where she came begging in her spirit, and even the Lord Himself cannot put sufficient barriers to keep her back. Jesus rewarded her faith by healing her daughter (v28).
Jesus honors the faith that seeks mercy. The gospel is for all, and not only for some chosen race of people. If you remember, the Canaanites were a cursed, doomed people, marked for divine removal through the instrumentation of the people of Israel. They were the original occupants of the Promised Land, and God commanded Israelites to totally eliminate them when they entered the land. The only reason this woman was alive is because of Israel’s disobedience. Like Canaanites, we are all marked for destruction. The only way of avoiding this death is to seek mercy by faith.
Faith comes to the believer as a gift from God. It is not something that individuals are capable of mustering up on their own. Faith is the instrument that God uses to bring individuals into a saving relationship with Himself. Faith comes as a result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit-He quickens our hearts to believe. Apart from the new birth, there can be no true faith.