Why do we struggle so often to live by faith? I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see mountains move as a consequence of me exercising my faith.
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20).
But if we’re honest, most of us see a disconnect between Jesus’ promise and our experience. We struggle to move “mountains,” because we struggle to live by faith.
In a related post about faith and knowledge, we defined faith as “living as if what God says is really true.” In this sense, faith isn’t the same as knowledge, but rather is the demonstration that we really do trust what we know to be true. Simply put, faith is acting on knowledge; or as Dallas Willard put it, “faith is commitment to action…based upon knowledge of God and God’s ways.”1
In diagnosing the reason for our struggle then, we’ll look at these three elements: belief, commitment, and knowledge. It’s hard to separate them, because they really all work together, but we can still look at each in its turn.
Reason 1: A failure of belief itself
It may seem obvious, but if faith is living as if what God says is true, then the first question the struggler must ask is whether they actually do believe God to be true. So often Christians merely parrot what the faithful should believe, but never truly believe it for themselves.
More than a mere mental exercise, the self-question of belief should be done before God. Can you truly tell him you believe that he is true? Honesty is the best policy here, because you can’t go anywhere with God until you’re honest with him.
Let his Spirit expose your disbelief, which itself is a step of active faith. Ironically, it takes belief to have God help you with disbelief, and so as the father of the demon-possessed boy did, we too should cry out to Jesus, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Reason 2: A failure of commitment
Commitment is different than belief, because we can actually be committed to something we don’t believe in.
When my son was four years old, he asked me to help him build a block tower, instructing me where and how to place the supporting blocks. I knew that his engineering was unsound and would result in collapse, a fact I tried pointing out. But he was adamant, and so desiring him to learn, I committed myself to do what he asked…but I never believed that it would work.
Commitment then, to borrow from Willard again, “is simply a matter of choosing and implementing a course of action.”2
Now, while it may be possible to commit ourselves without believing, it’s not possible to believe without committing.
And this is where many Christians come up short. To use Jesus’ words from Luke 14:28, they do not first “count the cost” before assenting to believe, thereby never really accepting the actions and consequence that belief may entail. Thus, the attempt is made to keep belief a mere feeling or profession, existing only in the abstract arena of thought.
But in fact, such a faith is really no faith, for as James put it “faith without deeds is dead” (2:26). This is perhaps the most important aspect of faith, because in committing ourselves to action, our faith becomes real.
And our faith can grow by degrees, since some acts of commitment require more faith than others. How vital it is, then, to enter into the school of the spiritual disciplines (e.g. prayer, study, meditation, etc.), where we practice the “easy” faith steps in private, so that we’ll be prepared for the “hard” ones when they find us in public.
Reason 3: A failure of knowledge
Finally, faith may fail for lack of knowledge. This may occur in two ways.
Not knowing what to know
First, you may not know what you should know about God. For example, you can’t trust God for your “daily bread” if you aren’t aware that he’s consciously and continually supplying your every need (Matt. 6:25 and following). This is simply a failure to be informed, and would be expected if you never read or studied your Bible.
Not knowing through experience
Second, you may not be coming to know God through experience.
Remember that the goal of your faith is to “know God” (John 17:3), and that entering new life in Christ is entering into life with him.
Certainly this entails tending to the interior life of the spirit, practicing life in God’s presence through prayer, meditation and worship. But in addition, it includes those living moments where we actively commit ourselves to faith steps with him. (I told you these all related together.)
It’s in those living moments where we step out in faith and act precisely because God tells us to, that we enter into a living experience with him. Because in those activities of our lives where we bring our actions into conformity with what God desires, his Holy Spirit is right there orchestrating the whole thing. This is what Paul meant by keeping “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
To do the will of God is nothing less than walking with God. So, as we grow in those living activities of conforming our lives to God’s will, we’re in fact growing in our knowledge by experience of what life with God is like. We’re doing life with him, and in so doing coming to know him more.
Do you struggle to live by faith? Are you frustrated with your “on again/off again” tendencies toward faithfulness? Do you long to see “mountains” moved, but obviously are short on mustard seeds of faith?
Starting with a heart of repentance, go to God and admit your failure, renewing your desire before him who is always ready to give a second chance (or third or thousandth). And begin applying your mind to becoming a careful thinker about faith, so that your faith is grounded first in a knowledge of the truth.
Then, take some deliberate steps to move your faith away from a mere mental notion into being something you equate with action. Ask the daily question, “What does my faith do?”, for even a “mustard seed” of working faith based on truth will truly move mountains.
Originally published May 2, 2013, updated Sep 22, 2020.
 Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, (New York, Harper One, 2009), 20.
 Ibid, 16.