What does “faith like a mustard seed”mean?

faith like a mustard seedThe Bible says that if a person has faith like a mustard seed they can command a thing to be. If by praying and believing for certain mountains in your life to move, however, nothing changes no matter how hard I believe. Then are there other works that can be done?

This is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching, and as a result, you are expecting things to happen which Jesus never promised. The full context of the quote you mentioned is:

Luke 17:3-6 (KJV)

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

And if he trespasses against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamore tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

The Lord tells His disciples that He expects us to extend limitless forgiveness to our brothers and sisters in faith. For a 1st century Jew, this would have seemed like an impossible standard.  faith like a mustard seed

Jewish culture did not operate this way. Forgiveness was a powerful source of leverage in Jewish society, and it was granted only after gaining as much benefit as possible from extending it. Jewish religious leaders offered God’s forgiveness to the people only after they had met the Pharisee’s expectations for contrition (repentance) and atonement. Individually, Jews commonly withheld forgiveness from one another as a means of securing financial concessions, etc.

But now Jesus tells His disciples to extend forgiveness without preconditions and without limit. To this request, the disciples respond, “Increase our faith!” They are so astounded by Jesus words that they question their abilities to keep His command, so they ask the Lord to grant them more ability (i.e., more faith) to carry it out.

In response, Jesus uses hyperbole to explain how they have completely misunderstood how faith works. He says that faith isn’t a means of increasing personal strength such that we may carry out the commands of God. Rather, God must do every good work in His own power:  faith like a mustard seed

James 1:17 (KJV)

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Therefore, faith is merely believing in God’s ability and inclination to do that thing. The Bible defines faith this way:  faith like a mustard seed

Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

11 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

So faith means holding to a confident expectation concerning something God will do in the future, but such faith is only possible when the Lord reveals HIs plans to us. If the Lord has not told us of His future plans, there is nothing in which to place our faith. God must tell us what He will do before we can place our confidence in that word.

So when Jesus says we only need a little faith to move a mountain, He means that if God reveals to us that He is willing to move a mountain by our word, then we only need a little faith (i.e., trust in His word) to see that mountain moved. We do not have to find the power within ourselves to accomplish it. The power is God’s alone. We only need the faith to trust God at His word.

If we act in faith and speak that word and the mountain moves, it was not our word or even our faith that moved the mountain. It was God Who moved the mountain. Out faith allowed us to be in the right place to see it happen.

Likewise, Jesus’ disciples did not need faith to learn how to forgive. They only needed to place their trust in the word of Jesus when He commanded them to forgive, and the Lord would do the hard part of granting them the capacity to forgive. The disciples knew the Lord was inclined to grant them the capacity to forgive because He commanded it!

Therefore, no believer can issue commands “in faith” as described in the question expecting the Lord to carry them out. When you try to misapply the Scriptures this way, you are treating God as if He were a genie in a bottle, and as the results were experienced, nothing will happen. You must act according to the will of God as He reveals it to you by His Word and through His Spirit.  faith like a mustard seed



“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”


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