I trust my dad to act in certain ways because I have had a front row seat to observe his character in all kinds of situations. Even at times when I thought he was crazy and I didn’t want to do what he wanted me to do, I still trusted him. I knew he would never do anything to intentionally harm me.
One time when I was just a kid we went skiing on Memorial Day weekend at Whitewater Lake. Dad had just bought a ski boat, and he was so excited to try it out. So he loaded us up in the car, and off we went. Now that day I can say without any exaggeration was the coldest day that I have ever gone skiing. The three of us kids were not looking forward to jumping in that cold water, but, one by one, we all did.
As you may imagine, there were plenty of groans that came from us kids, but dad would not let our fun be ruined by anything on that day, not even a case of hypothermia. I exaggerate. However, the fact that it what cold can be verified by my dad himself seeing as how he also went skiing that day. When he jumped in he realized that perhaps it was slightly colder than he anticipated. The chunks of ice floating in the water were a dead give-away. Again, I exaggerate.
I assure you that no kids were harmed in this skiing incident. I can also assure you that any time after that when dad said that we were going skiing we went. We went because we wanted to, not because we had to. You see my dad had a vision for us to have fun as a family on the water. His enthusiasm was catchy. So because we knew his love for us, and we knew that, even though it was very cold that day on Whitewater Lake, he would never do anything to try and harm us, we trusted his words. We followed where he led. When he said that something was going to be fun, we said, “OK”. And you know, it was always fun. Some fun was colder than others, but it was always fun.
Isn’t it true for you that you believe what those whom you trust tell you? Trust opens the door. You will believe what they say because you trust them. You take them at their word, even if you don’t quite understand them.
But how about someone that you don’t know? How do you build trust with them? Simple. When the words they say match up with the things they do, then trust is built. This can be hard enough to do when you have the chance to observe a person’s behavior, but what about when it comes to God? Since you don’t have the opportunity to see and observe God in the same way as the people in your life, the way that you see God’s working is different. However, there is a similarity between the way we build trust with others and the way that our trust in God is built.
Many years ago when I was in college a friend from France came to visit my sister and I at Luther College. Since he wasn’t a believer we introduced him to all of our believing friends. He was into weight lifting, so I had him go hang out with my weight lifting Christian friend who talked to him about Jesus. For the time that he was visiting we were constantly getting him around believers. On one of the last nights there was a concert in the Center for Faith and Life, and we Christians had been praying very hard because the choir concerts there were full of gospel music and were very Christ-centered. During the concert, sure enough, the Lord touched his heart, and he broke down in tears. I was sitting next to him at the time, and I explained to him that was he was experiencing was the Lord. Over the next few hours we led him to personally know Jesus. Our friend had been hearing the message of Christ for the whole time he was there. Then he met the Lord as he encountered Him and realized how real the Lord was. He met the One behind the words, and his life was forever changed.
So we see that when words match up with action, trust is built. Unless we make a connection between message of Christ and the reality that Jesus is alive, that he is real, we won’t begin to place our trust in him.
Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This teaching is consistent throughout the Bible. When someone hears God’s words, the Bible, this is the means by which faith in God starts and grows. But just hearing the words of the Bible doesn’t always lead to faith. Faith comes through the message of Christ. So we know that the revelation of God through the Bible is the means through which God reveals Himself to us individually so that we can know Him.
Another word for faith is trust. Did you know that the word “faith” in the New Testament is the same word that is often translated as “believe?” So in English we use three words, “faith”, “believe”, and “trust” in order to share the same meaning as one word in the New Testament “pistis”. However, faith, believe and trust for us don’t always have the same meaning.
Here’s an example. A zip line is made of a pulley suspended on a cable, usually made of stainless steel, mounted on a slope. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to travel from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable by holding on to, or attaching to, the freely moving pulley. Lots of people if they had the opportunity to do a zip line would jump at the chance. But many would not. If you asked them why they would say something along the lines of the fact that they don’t trust it not to break. When you point out that already several thousand people have gone on it without breaking and that it is inspected regularly and it was made according to the highest standards of quality, this won’t make a difference for them. They are saying in effect, “I believe it will hold me. I just don’t trust it.”
This is the challenge that we have when it comes to understanding faith and belief. In our world we can believe something but not put our faith or trust in it. However, if we are to correctly understand what God says about believing His word, we will come to know that faith and belief cannot be separated. If you believe what God says you will also put your trust in Him, and if you trust Him you trust the words that He says.
So when the Lord said, “whoever believes in him shall not perish,” there are a few things going on there. “Whoever” believes what the Bible says is true and therefore what the Bible says about Jesus is true. That is: Jesus is God come to earth as a human being, without sin in his thoughts and actions, the sacrifice given for the sake of sinful humanity and the only way and hope that we humans have of being forgiven, set free from the consequences of our rebellion against God and coming into a right relationship with God.
“Whoever” doesn’t just believe these things. “Whoever” is counting on the One who offers them. “Whoever” trusts not just in statements of truth. They trust in the Truth Himself. To trust in Christ is to not have a plan B just in case the Jesus thing doesn’t work out. To use our example, you either get on the zip line or you stay on the sideline.
We are counting on him and only him to keep us from the judgment that is our due. Many people believe that they will be ok with God when they die because their good deeds outweigh their bad. However, even a casual look at what Jesus says will show you that this is not humanly possible. He says it plain as day, “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18) In other words, if you don’t believe or trust in Christ the judgment for you has already happened. You are already condemned as unworthy. That’s where every person starts out. Every one of us starts out owing God, and there is nothing we can do to pay Him back. The only way is to place our faith in the message of Jesus.
But let’s be clear about the message. Remember belief and faith cannot be separated. So you may think that you believe in Jesus, but if you don’t trust him, then you actually don’t believe. Many of those who have prayed to Jesus and believe that He is the Savior of the world haven’t actually placed their trust in him. They have believed in their head but they haven’t trusted with their whole heart. Is this kind of belief real faith? The book of James asks the right question for anyone in this situation, “Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14) The answer is no. You don’t have faith if you don’t trust Jesus, not just believe things about Jesus.
The location of your belief in Christ is really important. The demons believe in Christ in their heads but not their hearts. This is what James says in chapter 2 verse 19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” If you trust Jesus with your life and your eternity, it means you believe in your heart, in other words to the very core of your being. You believe to such an extent that your bet your life and your afterlife on it.
The difference between the trust levels of head and the heart belief can be summed up in this little parable. The chicken and the pig both offered themselves to their owners for breakfast. The chicken gave something, but the pig gave everything. When we trust in the Lord with all our heart we give all of ourselves into his capable hands. The Bible says it this way, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10) We see that God’s message to us about real faith is clear: you must believe or trust God’s words about himself to be true in your heart.
We trust God because of what we know of His Word. We trust His word because of what we know of God.
You may be thinking, “How do I know if that’s me? How do I know if I believe only in my head and not in my heart?” Good question. Jesus has the answer. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:20-21) Whoever believes and places their trust in Jesus comes to the light.
Jesus is the light, and His words, the Bible, are the light for the world. We can know if we have trusted Jesus when the Spirit of God draws us to the truth which we find as we learn the Bible. Those who have true faith are draw to the light of God’s word like a moth to a flame. They don’t run from what God says. They run to what God says.
The Word of God reveals all the hidden ugliness in our hearts. What is one of the huge changes that happens in our hearts when we trust Jesus? We don’t run from God when he reveals the rebellion and wickedness of our own hearts. Instead we turn to God and humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness and for his help to know and love and serve and follow Him more closely.
We talked about the evidence of faith during camp this week. The book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) Properly understood in context James is saying that when we trust God, His work in us and through us will be evident. The works of God in us humans are clearly seen when we desire to know Christ and to run from anything that would keep us from Him.
Galatians chapter 5 points out the difference between a person that trusts Christ and in whom God is working and the person who has not trusted Christ. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19) These things characterize those who haven’t trusted the Lord. There is a desire to toy with them, not run from them.
However, when the Lord has moved into our hearts by faith, we come under the burden of the Holy Spirit, and we want to run from these things. It doesn’t mean that we don’t fail, but it does mean that our hearts no longer desire these things. We want them out of our lives. Instead we run to God and His word, and we allow His Spirit to move in and through our lives. The work of God that begins to take root and grow is found in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These things are the evidence of trusting Christ, that when we trust in Him our heart’s desire and our life choices center more and more on allowing God free reign to grow these holy characteristics in our lives.
What would our world be like if those who say they follow Christ would not just believe in him but put their trust in him? Well according to Jesus there would be a lot of repenting from evil thoughts and behaviors. Because everyone who trusts Christ Jesus comes into the light. Once we confess our sin and bring it out of the darkness and into the light, the Lord promises us forgiveness and healing.
The world we live in is tilted in the opposite direction from the Lord. It is so easy to fall into a pattern of believing God in our head but insulating our hearts from trusting in Him and in His Word. Yet, I think that if we as a church family were to together move out of the shadows and purpose to live in the light what would happen would be something like we’ve seen at camp this week. We’ve seen hearts that are broken over their attitude towards the Lord and towards each other. We’ve seen ugliness rear its head and then forgiveness asked for and given. We’ve seen the powerful presence of God wash over us during worship and teaching and prayer. We’ve seen healing of deep hurts of the kind that only the Lord can heal. We’ve seen God move, and we are different because of it.
But we saw the Lord move because these students heard the Word of God, and they decided not just to believe in their heads, but to trust Him with their heart. Trusting the Lord makes all the difference. So my encouragement to you today is to trust the Lord. Trust him with all of the places inside you that you don’t want to bring into the light. You will be glad that you did. Anything that we keep in the dark is just an extra weight to carry. You don’t have to carry it anymore. Let these words from the book of Proverbs encourage your next move. “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 straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)