Last week I began exploring how the bible uses the word faith and what it means by it. I began comparing Malachi 1-3 to Romans 9, and argued that the sense in which Paul is using faith in Romans 9 by quoting Malachi 1 is the same as that which Malachi is using it: the proper orientation of spouses in marriage. The bible uses “faith” in the sense of how marriage partners are supposed to be “faithful” to each other. It is, in this instance, not a set of markers for what is real. Faith is not a conceived set of limits to reality.

The second sense of faith that I want to look at is the way it functions in Luke 17 1-10. In verses 1-4 Jesus instructs his disciples to forgive the repentant and be forgiven without limit. The disciples response to this admonition is: “Lord, increase our faith!” (vs. 5). This seems an illogical request to the way we think of faith- why is faith the critical component of forgiveness?

If we are determined to maintain an understanding of faith that is purely cognitive, then we must construct an impressive network of patterns and cause/effect sequences to arrive at a point where we can understand the disciples’ response. We would need to assume that the way we understand reality determines our action absolutely. That construction assumes a cognitive authority that is imputable for action; that there is no action that can transgress what we think of as real. So in that sense, we would say that the disciples have a readily accessible understanding of the world which says that you cannot forgive a person that much because it will violate some universal principle of retibutive justice. And so a new paradigm must be employed that eschews justice in faovr of God’s mercy; trusting that God will make it right while we allow sin to reign.

This sounds all well and good, as we in fact do need to make those cognitive moves to arrive at a place where we can truly forgive others. But the problem with the logic that got us there is that it assumes a singular potential sequence of cause and effect from cognitive to active. That is to say, that no other possible option from point A exists except to arrive at point Z. It assumes a rational validity that only goes in one possible direction. Your “worldview” is changed and therefore you will inevitably act in this specific way, regardless of decision or action.

There is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, a better option in this reading of Luke 17 in my estimation: that faith here functions volitionally, not cognitively. When the disciples ask for more faith, they are not assuming that through some complex system of metaphysical leaps they will arrive at a place where they will understand forgiveness and so act accordingly, but are asking for the ability to decide to forgive. They understand faith as a volitional action that in some cases, such as the one under consideration, will violate our sense of justice and righteousness. Faith is, in some cases, a decision to act against our beliefs.

Jesus’ response in verses 6-10 demonstrate that this faith is not a magical power (as we sometimes assume), but is the expected posture of those who follow Him. “The slave does not expect a reward from his master for doing his job, does he? So you too, when you have done everything commanded of you, should say ‘we are only slaves doing our duty.'” This faith is not a change in perspective (although that does happen as a result of faith), but is the decision to act obediently.

Specifically, it is the decision to forgive even though the perpetrator persists. Faith is intrinsically the posture of forgiveness exhibited by those who are simply the slaves of the kingdom of heaven. This then implies humility…

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