The phrase, “In God We Trust”, is found on the United States’ currency. I fear it will not be there for very much longer. Why? As a nation, the majority seems to have lost their trust in God. The polls suggest a majority of Americans still believe in God, but how can anyone have faith in someone or something they no longer trust. We know the biblical definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”(NASB). Thus, we have the difference in belief and faith; trust! Do we really trust God? When we receive a promise and feel assured the promise will be delivered, we must necessarily trust the promise giver.
In Joshua 1, God spoke to Joshua encouraging him to be strong and courageous in the face of the daunting task of taking the promised land. In His encouragement, He promised Joshua something that would bolster his courage; in verse 5 He tells him – “I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” What it came down to; did Joshua merely believe in God or did he believe God. Did he trust God when He said to enter the land which He was giving the people; the land of promise? The question we all have to ask ourselves is, do we just acknowledge God or do we really believe Him and trust Him?
When we read about the examples of faith listed in Hebrews 11, we read about people who really trusted God. God had made each of them promises. Each acted boldly based on their trust that God would keep His promises. Verse 13 tells us they trusted in God and His promises though they died without seeing the promises fulfilled. God has made us promises. Do we trust Him so as to act boldly based on those promises even if we do not see them fulfilled in this physical life?
This is a time in my life when I see the world not knowing who to trust anymore. Marriages fail due to a violation of the trust spouses place in each other. We see our current financial crisis because individuals with great power have violated the trust placed in them. Many see our government in what appears to be a complete shambles, so they have lost their trust in its ability to govern effectively anymore. When all else fails and when our trusted companions let us down, we can still trust in our God. We may not see the results we long for while on this earth, but do not construe this to mean that the results will not come. I often ask myself, do I want what I want now because I have placed too much emphasis on the here and now, or do I trust God to keep His most precious promise in the judgment? I strive to have a faith like Paul’s when he said in 2 Timothy 1:12 – “… for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (NASB).
I take great comfort in the words of Jesus when He spoke to Thomas about you and me in John 20:29 – “…Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”(NASB). As a part of that faith, we must truly trust in God and Jesus to fulfill the promises made to us all. True faith and trust comes from knowledge of God and the history of His promise keeping. This knowledge is not found in philosophy or secular education; it is found in the Bible according to Romans 10:17. God has revealed Himself to us through His Word. But even beyond that, He has revealed Himself to us through His creation. Romans 1:18-22 tells us that God’s creation reveals His power, and by its very existence, man knows God. Verse 20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Verse 21 tells us that some did not acknowledge God because of their futile speculations and their hearts became darkened. Verse 22 says “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” I am reminded of the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who while in space said he did not see God up there. Yet, astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders of Apollo 8, chose to read from Genesis 1 about God’s creation. As Romans 1 tells us, some may come to distrust God to the point they no longer acknowledge God. Their hearts have become darkened.
Let’s all be guided by the wisdom found in Proverbs 3:5-8 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body, And refreshment to your bones.” Do I possess all knowledge and all understanding? No! But I do know God and am determined to obey His will whether I understand it completely or not. It’s a matter of trust.
In God we must trust!
Philippians 3:2-3 says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”
This passage is shocking, because it is not like the people Paul is calling dogs and evildoers were all that bad. They were good Jews. They didn’t commit adultery, murder, theft. They kept the Sabbath day and tried to follow the Old Law. What was their problem? They put their confidence in the flesh.
What really shocks me is Paul’s following description of what putting confidence in the flesh looks like in Philippians 3:5-6.
1) Putting confidence in circumcision: I expected this. After all, he rebuked the evildoers for mutilating the flesh. They put their confidence in a fleshly ritual that actually didn’t mean anything about their spirit or real obedience.
2) Putting confidence in ancestry: Paul was a Hebrew. He came from the right nation. He was of Benjamin, the one tribe that stayed with Judah, the first tribe that produced a king. The Jews placed their confidence in being born into the right fleshly family. They were the seed of Abraham. It really didn’t matter what they did, they were okay because they had been born of the flesh to the right family.
3) Putting confidence in personal knowledge of and protecting the Law: This is where I start to get shocked. Paul claimed to have reason to put confidence in the flesh because he had been a Pharisee in relation to the Law. That is, he had been extremely knowledgeable. He had been of the group that studied the Law in depth. We have a tendency to scorn the Pharisees because of Jesus’ rebukes. But among the Jews, the Pharisees were highly respected as righteous teachers of God’s Law. They studied it. They knew it. Not only that, they protected it. They were so afraid of breaking a law they developed their own set of protective measures to make sure the Law was kept. They didn’t want to be on any slippery slopes. The most well-known is the protective rule to only give 39 lashes when punishing someone. The law had said 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3; cf. II Corinthians 11:24). They feared someone might miscount and accidentally break the law, so they established their rule. This shocks me because this starts to hit me where I am. I’m not worried about circumcision. I’m not worried about who my parents were. But I tend to put confidence in how well I know God’s law and how well I protect it from potential violations.
4) Putting confidence in personal intensity and energy: Paul didn’t just know the law. He didn’t just protect the law. He was zealously fervent about God’s will. He was so personally intense and energetic he pushed for persecution of the church. He was a ringleader. He was out front. He could say, “Look at my accomplishments.” Again, this hits me where I am. I have a tendency to put confidence in how energetic I am, how zealous I am to preach a good sermon, write good articles, teach people. I can tend to want to let everyone know about all the people I’ve talked to or even baptized over the 15 years I’ve been a preacher. Look at my zeal. Look at my intensity, my fervor, my energy.
5) Putting confidence in obedience: Paul was blameless according to righteousness as to the Law. He was obedient. I struggle with this because I know Paul can’t be saying he was perfect. If so, then he wouldn’t need Jesus as he goes on to say. Not to mention, I’ve read what he said in Romans 7. Therefore, I can’t believe he is saying God couldn’t find fault with him. He must be saying the people around him couldn’t find fault with him. He was squeaky clean. There was no scandal, no public accusations, no knowledge of Paul’s sins. When others looked at him, he looked good. This shocked me again because that is what I try to maintain. I know my sins, but I don’t want anyone else to know them. I put on the mask so that I can be blameless in a legalistic sort of way. I want to make sure everyone knows I go to the right church, I do the right things, I worship the right ways, I say the right words, I answer the questions right, I treat my family right, I’m raising my kids right. It is like I carry my own personal image consultant with me everywhere I go to make sure I come out looking good when others are looking.
Go back again to where we started. No matter how good they looked or how righteous they appeared, Paul called people who put confidence in the flesh dogs and evildoers. I’ve had a tendency to focus on the circumcision and the fleshly birth in this passage because I’ve never had a problem with those. But what about those last three points. I’m a bit worried. Even as a Christian, I tend to put my confidence in those things as well. I’m sure I’m saved because I know God’s law so well, I’m personally zealous about it, and I obey a whole bunch of it.
I have often glossed over this whole passage by saying I don’t trust in my efforts to keep the Old Law. I’m all about the New Law. Is that really what Paul is saying? Is he saying that it is putting our confidence in the flesh if we are confiding in our knowledge of, protection of, zeal for, and obedience to the Old Law, but if we are putting our confidence in our knowledge of, protection of, zeal for, and obedience to the New Law we are okay? That makes no sense. After all, if a Law could have saved, it would have been the Old Law and there would have been no need for Jesus (Galatians 2:21; 3:18, 21).
Thus, just because I’m focused on the New Law instead of the Old, doesn’t change the fact that I’m putting my confidence in the flesh. I’m putting my confidence in me. Paul went on to say he gave up all of this in order to know Jesus. He gave up the personal attempt at righteousness in order to have the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus. I need to put my confidence in Christ.
Does this mean I simply say I believe in Jesus to save me no matter how I live? No. It means instead of believing I’ll save me through my effort, I believe Jesus will save me by His work in my life. How do I let Him work in my life? Like Paul, I have to know Him, put my faith in Him, and trust Him. Consider Galatians 2:20. The life I live is supposed to be by faith in Jesus, not by faith in my ability to obey Jesus.
Paul said he gave up all his efforts to save himself in order to know Jesus better. The better he knew Jesus, the more faith he had in Jesus. The more faith he had, the more his life conformed to Jesus. The more his life conformed to Jesus, the more hope he had of attaining the resurrection. But who was getting Paul to that state? Not Paul. He had tried to do it on his own and failed. It was God who was working in him. Remember Philippians 2:12-13. Paul could keep on serving God because he knew it was God working in him to will and to work for His good pleasure.
The long and short of this is I need to quit putting my confidence in me. I need to quit thinking that if I just try harder and obey better, I can somehow be saved. That won’t work. My best efforts got me lost. I need to simply give my life over to Jesus, use every possible means to know Him, put my faith in Him, trust Him. When I do, my life will change and I’ll have the righteousness that comes by faith. I’ll have the surpassing righteousness of the saved. I’ll be like Christ in His suffering, His death, and His resurrection.
For about as long as I can remember, I’ve been afraid of the dark. As a kid, my dad would say, “Take out the trash” even if it was already dark. At our house, that meant a long walk through the backyard. I had to pass the separate garage. Anyone could be hiding in the shed connected to it or even behind it. I had to go into the alley. I had never even watched the movies, but I was certain Jason, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers were waiting outside the backyard gate. And if it wasn’t one of those figments, there might be a garden variety thug. After all, someone had stolen clothes off our clothesline in broad daylight; who might be waiting in the narrow darkness?
But my dad told me to man up and take out the trash anyway. Perhaps that was good; I learned to go out in the dark even though I was scared. I’ve learned that my overactive imagination is just that. I try to let my logical and rational mind be in control when I’m in the dark instead of my 10-year-old tv brain. However, I have to admit that even as a 36–year-old full grown adult, I am still afraid of the dark. I generally plow through it, but my mind still convinces me someone or something is there ready to pounce.
You can imagine my anxiety when my family and I went camping in Indiana a few weeks ago. We got there late Sunday evening and I knew if we were to keep the dog quiet, he had to go for a walk. I couldn’t send one of the kids. I’d have to do it. I had to walk down the road, through the state park, without any street lamps. There was only the moon, the stars, and my flashlight. I was certainly not going to admit I was afraid to my wife and kids, so I dutifully started off on my trek. Surely, if something happened, my dachshund would protect me.
You’ll never guess what I encountered. First, there was the mountain lion that stalked me. I know it was there because I heard it repeatedly snapping twigs just past the reach of my flashlight. Then there was the bear I’m certain I heard growl from within the woods. A wolf pack considered eating my little wiener dog and me for a late night snack. Not to mention my old friend Jason was tramping through the woods (did I mention the campground was on a lake?). To top it all off, a serial murderer had escaped from the prison we passed a couple of hours away from the campground and was hiding in the woods lusting for my blood. All of this was within the first hundred yards of the walk. Frankly, it was enough to make me scamper back to the cabin, taking my chances with a barking dog. But I couldn’t show fear to my kids. I tried to let my logical brain be in control.
Then something very interesting happened. I decided to quit taking matters into my own hands and I started talking to God about my fear. I don’t mean I started thinking about God, I mean I verbally decided to talk to God as if He were walking right next to me. I know you are expecting me to say that I got this amazing sense of God’s presence and knew He would close the mouths of the mountain lions if they were really there. That, however, is not true. I didn’t get that feeling.
Something even better happened. I remembered Romans 8:28 (dare I say, God’s grace brought it to my mind): “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
It hit me like a falling tree; my fear was actually a manifestation of my lack of faith in what God said in that verse. I realized, that for my all my belief in God, I wasn’t believing Him when He promised to work everything out for my good.
I can hear the reactions now, “But Edwin, bad things have happened to Christians. Some have been attacked by animals while camping. Some have been killed by crazies.” Oh, I know. My faith and courage were not borne out of some misplaced notion that God promised to never let anything I might think is bad happen to me. No, my faith was that anything God let happen to me would certainly be for my ultimate good and His glory.
The question in my mind suddenly became, “Am I willing to let God decide what is actually for my ultimate good and His glory or am I going to quake in fear that His decision may not be the one I want Him to make?” That was when the fear subsided. At least for that night, I was willing to say, “I’m doing the right thing right now, I’ll be happy to be used by God in whatever way He chooses.” As all of that fell into place, fear vanished. It wasn’t that I no longer heard strange noises or had visions of attacks. Rather, I had come to grips that if that was what God wanted to let happen to me, then I would trust Him that it would all be good. I was able to have not only a nice walk through God’s nature, but a wonderful talk with the God of that nature.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that means I’ll throw caution to the wind and take late night strolls through a crime ridden inner cities, “Whatever God wants to happen will happen.” I also remember Jesus’ response to Satan in Matthew 4:7, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” However, if at some point in my service to Him, walking in those inner cities at night is what I’m called to do, then I’ll start praying to grasp Romans 8:28 all over again.
I can’t say that I always grasp that point, but for today, I’m not afraid of the dark. How about you?