Question: "Can faith change God's plan?"
Answer: The short answer is that nothing can change God’s perfect, sovereign plan. However, God can and does give the gift of faith and work through that faith in individuals to accomplish His plan. So, from our human perspective, it often appears that our exercise of faith changes the way God acts.
For example, Jesus sometimes healed individuals and said, “Your faith has healed you” (Matthew 9:22; Luke 17:19). In Mark 6:1–6 and Matthew 13:53–58, Jesus is teaching in His hometown of Nazareth, and the locals reject Him. Mark says, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:5–6). So, the Bible contains examples of God acting (or not acting) in direct response to people’s faith (or lack of it). Does an individual’s faith change God’s plan? From a human perspective, it appears Jesus, God the Son, did something different based on the level of faith in another person. However, from God’s perspective, He already knew whom He would heal and whom He would not heal. In that sense, God’s plan was not changed.
The difficulty with the question of whether faith changes God’s plan touches on the larger question of God’s will and human choice. God knows all things, and He has a perfect plan. However, He also commands people to do certain things, thereby accomplishing His plan through humans. Also, God allowed sin to enter the world and allows suffering still today. These things are not part of God’s decretive will, but they are part of His permissive will. God’s ultimate plan for humanity, and the path He must take to realize that plan, is much greater and more complex than we can comprehend. There is room both for God’s commands for us and His foreknowledge of how we will respond to His commands.
Jesus taught, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, . . . you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (Matthew 21:21). Faith is extremely important in our walk with God (Hebrews 11:6). Even a small amount of faith can accomplish great things—not because faith is a special power we possess but because the object of our faith, God Himself, is all-powerful, and He asks us to trust Him.
Faith is also important in salvation, but even the faith that saves us does not change God’s plan. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and we are given faith as a gift (Ephesians 2:8–9). After salvation, we continue to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). And that faith-walk continues to accomplish God’s plan: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). From beginning to end, God’s plan comes to pass, as He uses Spirit-filled, faith-filled people to produce His fruit in the world.
Hebrews 11 is known as the chapter of faith. This passage provides numerous examples of biblical characters who lived for God by faith. The author of Hebrews emphasizes their examples as positive models for us to follow. Despite their many struggles and difficulties, these individuals showed that God was at work through their faith in ways that changed their own lives and the course of history. Hebrews 11:30 briefly describes one event in Joshua’s life: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.” Did Joshua’s faith change God’s plan? Did the marching of the army finally persuade God to act on the seventh day? Or had God planned to knock down the walls of Jericho all along? The biblical answer is that it was God’s sovereign will to conquer Jericho, and He used a faithful man and an obedient people to accomplish His design.
Faith does not change God’s ultimate plan, yet it is an essential part of Christian living (2 Corinthians 4:18). Faith encompasses how we come to know God, how we live for Him, and how we share Him with others.