“Christianity in 12 Words – New Testament Christianity” Series
I distinctly remember the disaster of my first “trust fall.” I was seven years old. Two neighborhood boys, one and two years older than me respectively, told me how the game was supposed to work. “You stand on this chair and we’ll stand behind you. Close your eyes, cross your arms, and fall back when we count to three. We’ll catch you. You are supposed to trust us.” Though I didn’t share my friends’ confidence in their ability to catch, I didn’t want to insult them or, more pressing in the moment, I knew I couldn’t voice my fear and risk becoming known as the neighborhood wimp. So I got on the chair, crossed my arms, and waited for “three.” “One,” my friends counted together. “I can do this,” I thought. “Two.” “I think I can do this.” “Three!” “I can’t do this,” I thought and didn’t move. After a moment’s pause, “Three!” my friends repeated. Against my better judgment I swallowed my fear and fell back. The next thing I knew the three of us had collapsed in a pile of flailing limbs, screams, and groans. Once we had nursed our injuries, I asked what happened. “We tried to catch you!” they insisted, though clearly my friends didn’t understand the importance of their role in this game. A game supposedly designed to build trust only created suspicion and injury among three young boys. It took a great deal of convincing for me to agree to participate in their next “game” and only with much reservation.
Trust. It is difficult to engender, to assure, to…trust. Trust can be intentionally betrayed, unintentionally compromised, and permanently lost. Unfortunately most breaches of trust are more serious than a failed childhood game. Infidelity in marriage, gossip by a confidant, theft by a financial administrator, improper child or geriatric care, failures by political or spiritual leaders, failures by institutions, or any number of disappointments can result in a hesitation to trust anyone or anything. “What,” our cynical culture might ask, “if anything, can be trusted?”
Christianity provides an answer to this question by explaining the object of a Christian’s trust is reliable and competent, superior to other objects of trust, and that the decision to trust is not foolhardy, but full of eternal potential. Understanding the biblical concept of trust logically begins with considering the object of trust.
The God In Whom We Trust
“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” (Psalm 31:14, ESV)
The psalmist wrote these from a desperate perspective, reflected throughout the psalm. He was distressed. He felt trapped, forgotten, and abandoned. He was afflicted by enemies, who were plotting to kill him, and had become a reproach to his neighbors. From this perspective he reflected upon God and decided to place his trust in him. Why? To this point in his life he found God to be good and faithful and anticipated the same. This psalm serves as a model for biblical faith which is a decision to trust in the character and promises of God despite the circumstances.
• God’s character
In a moment of discouragement, Moses asked to see God’s glory. God promised to pass before Moses, allowing Moses to glimpse God’s glory as God announced to Moses his “name.” Moses got up early the next morning and climbed Mount Sinai. God descended in a cloud, sheltered Moses in the cleft of a rock, and passed by, describing himself:
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7, ESV)
God described his name in personal dimensions - mercy, grace, forgiveness, and justice. Moses was moved to worship.
These, and other, characteristics of God are affirmed throughout the Old Testament. God’s steadfast love is referenced more than two hundred times, in various contexts - the stories of the patriarchs, the founding of the nation of Israel, and in both the poetic and prophetic books. God is consistently characterized by steadfast love. In a book characterized in many respects as a dirge, the author affirms the steadfast love of God despite awful circumstances: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22, ESV). Out of desperation a psalmist questions God, “Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” but then responds, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (Psalm 13:5, ESV).
God’s grace is remarkably displayed from the opening to the closing pages of the Old Testament - in the creation, the choice of Abraham to bless the entire world, giving the Promised Land to Israel, and returning exiles to their homeland, just to name a few.
God’s forgiveness in the Old Testament is reflected especially in his providing sacrifices for lawbreakers and practicing forgiveness toward transgressors. The psalmist describes God’s forgiveness in a wonderfully personal way:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:8–14, ESV)
God’s justice is highlighted in the Old Testament especially in terms of rewarding the virtuous and punishing offenders. God blessed or cursed people according to their behavior and meted out retribution on pagan nations who disrespected him:
“‘See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.’” (Deuteronomy 11:26–28, ESV)
“Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”” (Jeremiah 25:12–14, ESV)
God’s character is more fully defined in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the exact imprint of God’s nature (He 1:3) and the fullness of God in a body (Col 2:9).
God is characterized by steadfast love, grace, forgiveness, justice, and more, all making him the worthy object of trust.
• God’s promises
God promised Abraham many descendants (Ge 12:1-3). But how could he have many descendants if he did not have any descendants (cf. Ge 15:2)? But God insisted Abraham’s offspring would be as numerous as the stars (Ge 15:5). Over the course of many years, God allowed Abraham to see that God keeps his promises. At age ninety-nine, despite having a barren wife, Abraham was given the child of promise.
The Old Testament documents again and again that God was faithful to his promises. God promises to give Abraham a child and did it. God promised to deliver Abraham’s descendants from slavery and did it. God promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation and did it. God promised to give Abraham’s descendants a homeland and did it. God promised to exile the Israelites from their homeland due to sin and did it. God promised to allow the exiles to return to their homeland and did it. by allowing the exiles to to return to their homeland. God made grand promises to bless all people - to give his mighty Spirit and to bring salvation. In time and by remarkable power and grace God sent his Son Jesus to fulfill these promises. The apostle Paul was able to declare that all God’s promises find their “Yes” in Jesus (2 Co 1:20).
We can trust God’s sterling character and unfailing promises, but God’s full trustworthiness is demonstrated by way of contrast. In several ways, biblical writers depict God over against alternative objects of trust.
• God’s competition
Throughout the Old Testament, trusting God is encouraged over trust in other objects - both persons and things. Trusting God is superior to trusting fortified cities, which can be destroyed (Dt 28:52; Je 5:17); nations, which can fall (2 Ki 18:21; Is 36:6, 9); idols, which are impotent creations of people (Ps 31:6; 115:8; Is 42:17; Hab 2:18); war instruments, including bow, sword, chariot, which can be break (Ps 44:6; Is 31:1); riches, which have limitations (Ps 49:6; 52:7; Pr. 11:28) friends, who can betray (Ps 41:9); princes, who can disappoint (Ps 118:9; 146:3; Je 46:25); one’s own understanding or way, which can be mistaken (Pr 3:5; 28:26; Ho 10:13); and one’s own righteousness, which is incomplete (Eze 33:13).
Practical experience affirms the folly of trusting any of these objects. History also attests to the fickle nature of trusting anyone or anything but God. A sobering and powerful example is that of Jan Hus (in English “John Huss”), a Czech priest, considered the first reformer for challenging the doctrines of the Catholic Church in the early fifteenth century. In the midst of a political and spiritual firestorm, in which politicians and spiritual leaders were calling for Hus’ death, the kings of Italy and Bohemia promised him asylum. They broke their promises, however, and Hus was martyred. His last words were, “Put not your trust in princes.”
Only God has an impeccable character and absolute power. The Old Testament writers show again and again the folly of putting one’s absolute trust in anyone or anything thing other than God. Under certain circumstances we must trust others and should ourselves strive to be trustworthy, but trusting anyone or anything absolutely instead of God is setting up oneself for failure and disappointment.
New Testament writers prefer the word “faith” to “trust,” though the essential meaning of the two words is similar. The English word “faith” is derived from the Latin fides, which conveys the absence of fraud or deceit. According to this definition God is faithful. He does not lie or betray. He is worthy of our faith.
New Testament writers encourage faith in God rather than other objects. Faith in God is superior to the wisdom of people, which is limited (1 Co 2:5) and the love of money, which is the root of all evil (1 Ti 6:10). Faith contrasts unbelief (Ro 4:20; 11:20), sin (Ro 14:23), doubt (Jas 1:6), and trust in one’s own righteousness (Lk 18:9).
God’s character, faithfulness to his promises, and superiority over all other objects of trust combine to present an unassailable case for his absolute trustworthiness. What does all this mean for us? What can we expect if we choose to trust God?
The Potential of Trusting God
In a scene recorded in Matthew 17:14-20 Jesus performs an exorcism of a demon from a man’s son. The father had asked Jesus’ disciples to heal the boy but they could not, despite having been given healing powers by Jesus. After Jesus heals the son, the disciples ask why they could not cast out the demon. Jesus responds: “‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’” (Matthew 17:20, ESV)
Jesus’ statement about faith or trust is profound. - even small faith in a worthy object has enormous potential.
In the Old Testament trust in God is connected with accessing his saving power (Ps 78:22) and receiving his blessings (Je 17:7). Believing in God is connected with being made righteous (Ge 15:6) and being established (2 Ch 20:20).
The psalmists call for trust in God (4:5; 9:10; 13:5; 21:7; 25:2; 37:3; 52:8) and acknowledge the good results of placing trust in him, such as deliverance (22:4), rescue (22:5), help (28:7), hope (71:5) protection from fear (56:3-4, 11), refuge (62:8; 91:2), and salvation (Ps 78:22).
In the New Testament, faith in God is directly connected with many wonderful concepts, such as the forgiveness of sins (Mt 9:2; Mk 2:5; Lk 5:20; Ac 10:43), salvation (Lk 8:12; Ac 15:11; 16:31; Ro 1:16; 10:10; Eph 2:8), propitiation (Ro 3:25), justification (Ro 3:26, 30; 5:1; Ga 2:16; 3:8, 11, 24), being made righteous (Lk 18:8; Ro. 1:17; 3:22; 4:5, 9, 11, 13; 9:30; 10:4, 6; Ga 3:6; Php 3:9; Ja 2:23), peace (Ro 5:1), hope (1 Co 13:13; Ga 5:5), lack of fear (Mk 4:40; 5:36; Lk 8:25, 50), and a life of boldness, confidence and assurance (Eph 3:12; Heb 11:1).
God’s track record is impressive. His ability to act correctly and comprehensively for his people is both moving and motivating. Trusting God has positively shared and changed the lives of countless people throughout history - from the famous people of faith, like David or Paul, to ordinary men and women who humbly place their lives in the hands of a trustworthy God. Trusting God holds the potential of chaining both our circumstances and our hearts for the better.
Christianity: A Life of Trust
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)
In a chapter which defines and outlines the practical effects of faith, the writer claims that all who wish to be near God must trust him. Christianity is the decision to seek and trust God.
Seeking and trusting includes responding to the Bible and Christ of the Bible (Lk 24:25; Jn 2:11, 22-23; 4:41, 42, 53; 1 Th 4:14). Seeking and trusting God is directly linked with repentance (Mk 1:15; Ac 20:21; Heb 6:1) and baptism (Mk 16:16; Ac 8:12, 13; Col 2:12). Seeking and trusting God involves obedience (Ro 1:5) and doing good works (Tt 3:8; Jas 2:14-26). Seeking and trusting develops spiritual character, also called sanctification (Ac 26:18; Gal 5:22-23; 2 Pe 1:5-7; 1 Ti 6:11; 2 Ti 2:22). Seeking and trusting God makes possible effective prayer (Jas 5:15), resisting Satan (1 Pe 5:9), and receiving the Holy Spirit (or that which is of the “spirit”) (Ac 6:5; 11:24; 19:2; 1 Co 12:9; Ga 3:2, 14). Seeking and trusting God finally culminates in victory (1 Jn 5:4) and eternal life (Jn 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 1 Ti 1:16).
Sometimes our experience with people can cloud our relationship with God. Perhaps you have been severely betrayed by someone you trusted. This happens almost inevitably in our human experience. But a Christian’s absolute trust is placed in a God of mercy, grace, forgiveness and justice, who faithfully keeps promises. Trust in God is full of power and potential.
A trust fall with God is a different scenario than one with two young boys who do not understand the importance of their role in the game. God knows how much we need him. He is capable, faithful, loving, and willing to save.
A trust fall with God might look something like this. I am grasping onto the edge of a spiritual cliff. I am on the verge of despair. Looking to the bottom of the cliff, I see my guilt, sin, and shame. I look around for someone or something to save me and suddenly realize I am utterly alone. My friends are nowhere to be found, my good deeds can’t rescue me, the money I have in the bank and the things I own can’t save me. The situation is desperate, without help or hope. I begin to panic. But then I hear a voice saying, “‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV). I decide to trust the one who speaks these words. I let go of my determination to rescue myself and soon discover his promises are true! He catches me and wraps me in his steadfast love, grace, and forgiveness. I keep trusting him, and he becomes my Savior and Lord.
Christianity In Twelve Words is the next Expository Files Book, to be available later this year.By Josh Kirby From Expository Files 21.6; June 2014