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One of the challenging issues faced by followers of Jesus concerns the relationship between trusting God and our own responsibility to act. Regarding salvation from sin, people have mistaken ideas about how faith relates to obedience. But we will see that people have similar misconceptions regarding our lives as Christians.
So the purpose of this study is to consider the teaching of the Bible regarding how faith relates to man's actions in many areas of our lives as Christians. Please consider:
Many people think that trusting God means people need not do anything. They just trust God and He does it all. But notice these passages:
Psalm 37:3 – Trust in the Lord and do good.
1 Timothy 4:10 – To this end we labor, because we trust in the living God.
Galatians 5:6 – What avails in Christ Jesus is faith working through love.
So God requires His people both to trust Him and to labor. When people profess to rely upon God to do everything, they may appear to be spiritual-minded; but really they have a serious misunderstanding of Biblical faith.
Notice some specific examples in which people believe that trusting God eliminates the need for man to do anything.
Many people believe that we are saved by faith alone. They say Jesus did it all when He died on the cross; so if we trust in God, there is nothing for us to do in order to be saved. Some even claim that, if we think we must do anything to be saved, we are trusting in ourselves, not in God.
Such an emphasis on trusting God may sound virtuous, but consider the following passages:
Mark 16:16 – He who believes and is baptized will be saved.
James 2:24 – A man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Verse 22 explains that faith works together with man's actions. By works faith is made perfect.
Many passages show that true faith in God requires man to obey God in order to be saved.
(Matthew 7:21-27; 22:36-39; John 14:15,21-24; Acts 10:34,35; Romans 2:6-10; 6:17,18; Hebrews 5:9; 10:39; 11:8,30; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; James 1:21-25; 2:14-26; Luke 6:46; 1 Peter 1:22,23; 1 John 5:3; 2:3-6)
Some teach that, when Christians commit sins, there is nothing they need to do to be forgiven. So God automatically forgives an erring child of God, without his meeting any conditions. But again, note what the Scriptures teach.
Acts 8:22 – Repent and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us.
So, faith in God does not eliminate the need for people to act to receive forgiveness. Rather, faith and obedience work together, whether for an alien sinner or an erring child of God.
Some people face such decisions as what job to take or where to live; but they are afraid to make a choice, thinking they may choose something different from what God wants. Others hope for a “sign” from God to tell them what choice to make.
Matthew 6:11 – Jesus taught us to pray to God for our daily bread. Should we work to meet that need or just let God do it all?
1 Timothy 5:8 – A man must provide for his own, especially his own household.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 – If a man will not work, neither let him eat.
We should trust God to provide our necessities, but we should work to provide those necessities. We pray, then we do what we can to work on a job, then we trust God to use our effort to provide the blessing that we need. Most people understand this, but what about other areas?
3 John 2 shows that we should pray for good health.
Some think that going to a doctor shows a lack of trust in God. Near Ft. Wayne there was a religious cult in which several children died, because the parents believed they should just trust God for healing, so they refused to see a doctor.
I read a book in which a child died in a car accident. The mother comforted herself by thinking that, even without the accident, the child would have died anyway because God had determined that her time had come to die. This may sound like trusting God, but consider:
Colossians 4:14 – Luke, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a physician.
Luke 5:31 – Jesus Himself said that those who are sick need a physician.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Paul prayed three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh. Would Paul have sinned if he had gone to Luke the physician for treatment? Later God said He chose not to remove the problem. Does this mean Paul sinned when he prayed to be healed?
Using the services of people with special health training is not contrary to trust in God. God may or may not choose for us to get better, but we can’t know that ahead of time. In fact, the doctor may be the very means God uses to answer our prayer for health!
This illustrates a major principle: there are many specific aspects of our lives for which God’s will simply has not been revealed. So, we must do what we believe to be best, even as we pray for God to bless our efforts. Trusting God does not contradict working to bring about what we pray for, but rather faith works together with our efforts.
They believe it shows a lack of faith in God to use artificial means to avoid conception.
But aside from Jesus’ virgin birth, every conception in the history of the world necessarily required human action. It makes no sense for a couple to say they leave it entirely up to God, when they know that their action is necessarily required in order to conceive.
Genesis 1:26-28 – After God created male and female, He told them to reproduce. Then He said “all the earth” is under our dominion to use for our good (verses 26,28).
Surely it is wrong to kill a child that has been conceived. But using artificial means to control when and how often a married couple conceive is no different in principle from any other medical treatment. Some use medical means to try to help when they are having trouble conceiving, and others use medical means to avoid conceiving when they are not ready.
God has not specifically revealed how many children a couple will have or when. So, they should pray to God, then do what they can, and then trust God to bless them according to His will. This does not contradict faith in God any more than any other decision about physical health.
1 Timothy 2:1,2 – We should pray for rulers. So some claim we should pray but not vote, because we might vote for someone different from the rulers God wants. We should just leave such matters entirely up to God.
Such reasoning is exactly parallel to all the other views we have discussed.
Esther 7:1-10 – A godly woman used her influence to bring down a wicked ruler. Was she wrong? Should she just have prayed and done nothing, leaving the matter entirely up to God? The main point of the book is that, instead of doing nothing, she had the courage and wisdom to act for the good of her people, even though she did not know what the outcome would be (4:6-17).
(This is an Old Testament example, but so is Daniel 4:32.)
Acts 22:24-29; 23:12-33; 25:10-12; 16:35-40 – The apostle Paul often used his rights as a Roman citizen to work for his own protection and to help further the gospel.
Our government allows us to voice our views about who should govern us and about the laws they make. If Paul used his rights to protect himself and help further the gospel, why should we not use the right to vote? Can we not thereby help protect ourselves and our families from harm, help maintain our freedom to preach and practice the truth, and even help bring down wicked rulers like Esther did?
God does not impute sin when people act with good intention in matters regarding which God has not specifically revealed His will (Romans 4:15; 5:13). This includes all the areas we have discussed. We should pray to Him and trust Him, but we should also do what we can to bring about the answer to our prayer, acting in harmony with the general principles God has revealed.
In the end, God may choose some outcome different from what we worked for. We may not get over a sickness. We may not have a child we hoped for. The ruler we voted for may lose. In such a case, we should accept His will (Matthew 26:36-46). But working to do what we believe to be best does not show lack of trust in God, since He has not revealed His will in such matters.
(Consider Esther 4:13-16.)
Not everyone who believes these things is a Calvinist, but these ideas are based on Calvinist concepts. Pure Calvinists believe God has decreed from eternity everything that will happen; they believe nothing they do can affect anything. God determines it all.
So the ideas we have discussed may sound like great faith in God; but they are all based on unbiblical concepts, even if the people involved would never consider themselves to be Calvinists.
The proper approach in such matters is to study the general principles God has revealed. If His specific will is not revealed in some area, we should make a choice based on our best information, then pray to God to bless our actions to produce the outcome He desires.
While action is needed on our part, the fact remains that far too often people show lack of trust in God by depending too much on human ability and wisdom and not enough in God.
Psalm 37:5 – Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. The verse does not forbid using human effort where God’s specific will is not revealed. Nevertheless, we often do show a lack of faith by over-emphasizing human effort and failing to emphasize the power of God. (Proverbs 19:21; 16:9)
Consider the application in the areas we have discussed.
Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trusting God requires us to allow Him to direct our paths, rather than leaning on human wisdom. We must work, but we must work in harmony with God’s will. Too often people seek salvation by following man-made plans different from what God has revealed.
Luke 18:9-14 – Some trust in themselves that they are righteous because they fail to admit their own sins and humbly seek God’s forgiveness. They may think the good things they do make up for the bad. Or they may think they will be accepted because they are better than others.
True trust in God requires us to humbly acknowledge our sins, repent, and plead for God’s forgiveness. We must never think that our own conduct alone earns a right standing before God.
Some people think God will accept them just because they are members of a faithful church or because other members of their family are godly. Or they may think they were baptized once or they attend church every Sunday, even though they do not live a faithful life otherwise.
We must not think there is nothing for us to do to be saved. But neither must we think we can invent our own way to salvation or that we have been good enough to deserve salvation.
Trusting God means we rely on Him to provide the means of salvation. Then we obey and we trust Him to grant the blessing of forgiveness that He has promised.
(Isaiah 26:3,4; Jeremiah 7:1-15; Psalm 28:6,7; 34:22; 37:39,40; 52:8; 62:5-8; 92:1-13; 119:41,42; 143:8-10; Isaiah 12:2; 26:3; 30:1,2; Ephesians 1:12,13)
Here too people often depend too much on self or other earthly means and not enough in God.
1 Timothy 6:17 – We should not trust in riches but in God.
Some rich people seem to think they can buy anything they want. But riches are “uncertain.” They may not continue. And there are many things they cannot buy. Instead, we should trust God who can give everything we need.
But what is said about riches would be true of any other material resource. All of them are uncertain and may fail us in our time of need.
1 Timothy 5:5 – A widow indeed trusts God and continues in prayer night and day. Widows are among the most helpless of people. Where should they turn for help? To God!
Psalm 34:8-10 – When people trust God, He blesses them so they have no want, nor will they lack any good thing.
We should do what we can to meet our needs, but our ultimate trust should be in God. He may use our efforts or resources to care for us, or He may use other resources, or He may allow us to suffer as He did Job.
The end result is always God’s decision. Ultimately, He determines what will result in our lives. So even as we work, we must understand that the ultimate outcome is up to Him. We must put our faith in Him to use our circumstances for what He knows to be good in the end.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11; Mark 10:24; Psalm 49:6,7; 62:10; 56:3,4; 32:10; 52:7; 84:10-12; 112:5-7; Proverbs 11:28; Jeremiah 48:7; 49:4; Ezekiel 16:15; Daniel 3:28; 6:23)
Isaiah 31:1 – Woe to those who rely on horses, chariots, etc., but do not look to the Lord. Men and horses are flesh; they will fail when God stretches out His hand against them (verse 3).
Rulers may praise their armies and weapons. Some politicians praise the American people, our system of government, and free enterprise. They say things like, “I put my trust in the American people.” Citizens may think certain candidates can solve all our problems.
All of these may at times contribute to blessings for which we should be grateful. And we have the right to use the resources the government offers. But these too are not the ultimate grounds of our reliance. As with other material resources, rulers may be uncertain, unreliable, or simply unable to deliver what they promise.
Psalm 118:8,9 – It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man/princes.
The message is not that God does everything so we should reject all government resources. The lesson is that our ultimate trust should be in God. He may work through the rulers to care for us, He may use other resources, or He may allow our nation to suffer, like He did Israel.
But ultimately God determines what He allows in the affairs of a nation. So even as we work to accomplish what we believe to be best, ultimately we must trust Him to use our circumstances for what He knows to be good in the end.
(Psalm 146:3,4; Isaiah 30:1-5; Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 20:7; 44:6; Hosea 10:13; Deuteronomy 28:52)
So what does trust in God require of us? It involves at least all of the following:
* We must follow God’s word. Any effort, that goes beyond the bounds of His teaching, is unproductive and leads to God’s disapproval.
* Yet we must work to accomplish the needed results. Faith does not relieve us from the responsibility to work.
* We must recognize God as the ultimate source of all that we need in life. We must pray to Him to grant the blessings we need, then give Him glory when we do receive them.
* We must trust God to use our effort to produce the results He chooses in His way and His time. If things don’t work out as we hoped, we must continue to do His will and trust Him to work out the results in the way He sees best.
2 Corinthians 3:4,5 – Trust in God teaches us that we are not sufficient of ourselves. Our sufficiency is of God.
I suspect most of us can seriously improve in these areas: I surely can. In what do you and I place our ultimate trust? Are we following God’s will, working to achieve what harmonizes with His teaching? Do we trust Him to provide what we need and ultimately to bless the outcome of our lives to achieve His will?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2020
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.