Faith in What?! (2:12)
There is a fascinating phrase in Colossians 2:12 that few commentators mention. It concerns the focus of our faith. Here again is v. 12 as it is translated in the ESV – "having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."
I find it interesting that Paul says our faith is in the "powerful working" of God and not simply in God or even in Jesus Christ. Of course, this isn't to deny for a moment that we are to trust and put our faith in the person of Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of God himself. But there is something significant in the fact that Paul here declares our faith is in God's "power". [It is grammatically possible, although noticeably awkward, to translate this, "through faith of the power of God," which is to say, "through faith that comes from God" or is "produced by" God. Whereas it is true that faith is a gift of God that is evoked in us by the Holy Spirit, it is highly unlikely that Paul is saying that here.]
The word translated "powerful working" (ESV) is the same Greek word (energeia) used earlier by Paul in Colossians 1:29 where he described himself as struggling with all God's "energy" (energeia) to accomplish the ministry he had been given.
But why would he say that our faith (indeed, our saving faith) is in God's "energy" or "power"? Someone might answer by saying that we shouldn't differentiate between God and his "power." In other words, our faith is in the God whose power is responsible for raising us to newness of life in Christ. I certainly agree with that. It isn't just any power at all, as if raw, independent power has saved us. It is specifically "God's" power. Indeed, it is the very power that was manifested and expressed when God the Father raised God the Son from the dead (v. 12b; see especially Ephesians 1:19-20).
But we are still left with the fact that Paul thought it important, for whatever reason(s), to highlight the power of God as the focus of faith. In what sense do we "trust" in or "believe" or exercise "faith" in God's power?
Surely part of the answer is in the verses that follow. In Colossians 2:13 Paul says we were "dead" in our trespasses. To bring to spiritual life what was formerly dead is no small feat! Nothing could accomplish this other than the "power" of God regenerating and renewing our lifeless hearts.
As if that were not enough, God also forgave us our sins by canceling the debt that stood against us, by nailing it to the cross (v. 14). He also triumphed over and disarmed demonic spirits through the work of Christ at Calvary.
My point is simply that these were obviously "powerful" expressions of divine grace and activity on our behalf. Only God could pull it off, so to speak. If we do not have faith in the fact that God did this in and through Christ we cannot be saved. That may be the sense, then, in which Paul declares that we are saved through "faith in the powerful working of God."
Saving faith entails confidence that God and God alone is able and powerful enough to deliver us from spiritual death and the guilt of sin. This isn't separable from faith in Christ as the one who by his death and resurrection made it all possible. But here in Colossians 2:12 Paul wanted to highlight the importance of faith in God's "power". That is to say, it's important for us to know and trust in the omnipotence of God, the limitless energy of the divine will, to do for us what we are helpless and hopeless to do for ourselves.
But I wonder if perhaps more is in the apostle's mind when he uses this language. In fact, it reminds me of something found in the gospel records of Jesus' healing ministry.
Jesus took special delight in healing those who trusted in his power; people who were open and receptive to his ability to perform a mighty work. In Matthew 9:28-29 Jesus asks the two blind men only if they believe he is "able" to heal them. He wanted to find out what they thought about him, specifically whether or not they trusted his ability. "Yes, Lord," came their response. "Be it done to you according to your faith," he replied, and they were instantly healed. Jesus regarded their confidence in his power to help them as “faith” and dealt mercifully with them on that basis.
"Jesus, I believe you are able to heal me" is the kind of faith that pleases him. I can almost hear Jesus say: "Yes! I was waiting to hear you say that. It's important that you truly believe that I am capable of doing this." The leper in Matthew 8 said to Jesus, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean" (v. 2). The leper didn't question Christ's ability. He asserts, without hesitation, you "can" make me clean. But he is less certain about the willingness of Jesus to do it. Jesus didn't rebuke him for such doubts, as if it were a shortcoming in his faith that might jeopardize his healing. Jesus healed him because of his confidence that he "could" do it, not that he necessarily "would" do it.
The hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 was healed when she simply touched Jesus' garment. "Your faith has healed you" (v. 34), said Jesus. In other words, “What I enjoy and respond to is your simple confidence and trust in my ability to make a difference in your life.”
So, I ask: Is there an extended application of this statement in Colossians 2:12 to the subject of miracles? In other words, I wonder, for example, if the reason we see fewer healings than we do (or any variety of supernatural manifestation) is related to our lack of faith in God's power to perform them? Do we take steps in our study of his Word and in prayer and in conscious dependence on the Spirit to cultivate a more vibrant belief that God can really bring it to pass? Would God do more in the way of the miraculous if our faith in his power were deeper, more intense, more consistent, and less plagued with hesitation and doubt? I'm not sure, but it's worth pondering!
Confident that he can!