By Jeremy D. Myers
There are two kinds of faith that amazed Jesus: great faith and little faith. In Luke 7:9, Jesus marveled at the great faith of a Gentile, a Roman centurion. He said, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
There were also times when the Lord was amazed at people of little faith (cf. Matt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Luke 4:14-30 12:28).
Curiously, in the Gospels, it is primarily God’s chosen people Israel, and the disciples, who were most commonly rebuked for having little faith. Though they prided themselves in being men and women of faith, descendant from Abraham—the father of faith, and protectors of the one true faith, they were chastised over and over for their lack of faith.
Little faith should not be confused with mustard seed faith, since Jesus taught that mustard seed faith was enough to move mountains (Matt 13:31; 17:20; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19; 17:6). In using the picture of a mustard seed, Jesus is teaching that faith does not come in quantities. If you think your faith is small, you do not have to muster up more. It’s not about how much faith you have, but about Who your faith is in, and what your faith believes.
This becomes clear when we understand what faith is. Faith is the conviction that something is true. Jesus spoke of little faith and great faith, but He never spoke of more faith or less faith. Faith does not come in percentages or degrees. We are not made with faith containers in our souls which overflow when our faith is great, and which are nearly empty when our faith is little. Faith does not work like that.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb 11:1). Faith is confidence and persuasion in something God has said. When you are persuaded that something is true, either because God has said it, or by the supporting evidence, then you have faith in that truth. Therefore, you either believe something or you don’t.
Faith is like a traditional light switch—it is either on or off. And there are no dimmer switches with faith. You cannot believe 80% that there is a God. Even if you are 99% sure, you still don’t believe. You are not yet persuaded. You have not yet been convinced.
So what is the difference between great faith and little faith? Great faith is being persuaded of some of the harder and more difficult truths of Scripture, whereas little faith is the failure to be convinced of these truths.
Little faith believes the simple, elementary and introductory promises of Scripture like “God is love,” “All Scripture is inspired by God” and Jesus’ promise that “he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” It is a telling fact of the condition of faith in our churches when most Christians don’t even believe these things. As simple as these truths are, for some, they are hard to believe.
But little faith does not believe in the advanced truths, like “God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory.” Do you believe that? If so, then why do you worry about tomorrow? I worry about tomorrow all the time, which means I don’t yet believe it. But great faith believes it.
Great faith believes the hard to believe truths of the Bible. Great faith has nothing to do with the size of your faith. Rather, it’s about the difficult truths you do believe. This brings us back to the centurion and what he believed.
Jesus praised the centurion in Luke 7:9 for having great faith. He said he hadn’t found such great faith in all of Israel. This centurion believed at least two things, two advanced truths, which very few believe. First, he believed in his own lack of merit. Though he was courteous, humble, and a good man, though he loved the Jewish people and built a synagogue for them, he knew he didn’t deserve anything from God, or from Jesus Christ. Despite his high standing and all he had done, he knew he was unworthy to meet with Jesus. Most people do not believe this. Most people think they do deserve favors from God. Most people think they are pretty good people and that God owes them something. It is much harder to believe that all we have and all we are given is simply and only by the grace of God. But that is the first thing the centurion believed.
Second, he believed in the awesome miraculous power of Jesus. He believed in the divine authority of Jesus. He was confident in Christ. He likened Jesus to military commanders. He knew that what Jesus commanded would be done. He knew that the words of Jesus were sufficient to accomplish whatever He said. Again, most people do not believe this. We have promises in Scripture that Christ will make us more and more like Himself. He tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He tells us that He will provide for all our needs. He tells us that He has given us everything we need for life and Godliness. He tells us that getting the Word of God into our lives will wash us and transform us into His likeness. His Word is sufficient. Most people don’t really believe these things. I’ll be the first to admit that some of these are hard truths to believe. But the centurion showed great faith because he believed in the power and authority of Jesus to do exactly what He said He would do. The centurion believed that Christ’s word was sufficient.
The Centurion believed these things when almost no one else did, and so he had great faith. “Great faith is not some higher level of conviction. It is believing something that is harder to believe, something that is contrary to what most people believe.”1 He believed some difficult truths. Christ marveled at such faith, and healed the man’s servant long distance, by the power of His word.
There is great power in believing what God has said.