I’ve noticed something recently. We tend to over-simplify the massive implications of Trusting God. The Almighty Lord of the Universe always honors His covenant: I will be your God, you will be My people, and I will never leave you nor forsake you. But His goodness and faithfulness are constantly questioned in this fallen world. You may not think you have trouble trusting God, but I would like to put that notion to the test. Over the last year, I’ve intentionally asked the question, “Do you trust God?” The overwhelming response is, “Of course I trust God!” However, this question (and answer) could sound trite or trivial if not examined properly. Our trust in God is foundational for living in a fallen world; therefore, we must be intentional and thoughtful if we are to understand its implications. Please stay tuned as we roll out a blog series entitled, Trusting God: Why Theology Matters.
Last week’s blog discussed both the vertical (spiritual) and horizontal (physical) dimensions of life on this side of eternity. To examine whether or not we truly trust God, we must think about trust both vertically and horizontally. These dimensions connect to two foundational doctrines in understanding God’s truth: Justification (vertical) and Sanctification (horizontal). While these terms may sound lofty, I pray this blog helps you grow in your understanding of how much they matter in our journey through this broken world.
We begin with justification, which is defined as “the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.” This vertical aspect of our right standing with God is found only in the already accomplished work of Jesus Christ. The act of justification has everything to do with Jesus and nothing to do with me or you. At first glance, most people in the Bible Belt seem to have a clear vertical understanding of Christ’s work, but I question if we fully appreciate what we are saying. Like me, you may be too quick to answer, “Sure I believe Jesus is who He says He is – what’s next?” But do we really believe Jesus:
- Was with the Father and Spirit during the creation account
- Condescended to earth and lived a perfect life of obedience before being brutally executed
- Defeated death by rising three days later
- Walked around for 40 days in his resurrected glorified state, even showing himself to over 500 men?
As I slow down to remember the massive implications of believing in Jesus for salvation, I am grieved to recognize areas of mistrust. For example, when I try to earn God’s approval by doing the “right” things and avoiding the “wrong” things, am I trusting God to justify me? Or am I trying to do it myself? When I force myself to do penance for sins I commit, am I trusting that I am already in right standing with God through faith in Christ, or am I attempting to earn my place before Him? While I believe in salvation by faith in Christ alone, there are times when my life shows I still struggle to trust God to justify me. In these times, the cry of the father in Mark 9:24 becomes ours: “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” And the response to our cries for help? God graciously reminds us that we are His – not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done.
While distrust of God for justification may seem elusive, our struggle with trusting Him for sanctification (our own and that of others) is probably more apparent. Sanctification represents the horizontal nature of our lives – the ongoing process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ. Perhaps this process is most visible in our relationships – an area in which our mistrust can be painfully obvious. However, seldom do we call it mistrust. Actually, we desperately want to call it something other than mistrust. For example, think about how mistrust is revealed in parenting. We often wrongly prioritize our children above our spouses. But as a picture of His covenantal love for His people, God gives marriage greatest priority of all human relationships. We prefer to describe our dis-ordered priorities as “loving our kids more than anything” – rather than admitting our failure to trust God’s perfect design for relationships.
Perhaps we disguise our distrust of God for sanctification by labeling our problems as diseases or disorders. Labels sometimes help us make sense of life in a fallen world, but they often contradict the way the Lord of the Universe defines His creation. In no way, shape, or form are we minimizing anyone’s pain or hurt. Quite to the contrary, we are seeking to properly define such suffering using the most helpful and appropriate dialogue. But we must press past a label in order to understand how the Lord works in all things. Rather than numbing chronic anxiety with medication only, do we trust God enough to ask Him to expose the root of our anxiety? Do we give in to the label of “addict,” or do we bring the sin and suffering behind the addiction into the Light of God’s truth? Do we trust God to redeem even the most broken parts of our lives? Or do we find ways to escape the pain? As C.S. Lewis states, “Pain is God’s megaphone.” Christian, are you listening?
As we continue to unpack such an important topic as trusting God, let’s remember just how profound and deep the story of Jesus actually is. He is at work no matter what we face on this earth. So consider this counterintuitive thought: The next time God shows you where you are failing to trust Him, consider it pure joy, dear brothers and sisters! Our Father is inviting you into deeper communion with Him. Yes, consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of all kinds because He is growing you in His endurance. What He has started with our justification He has promised to complete in our sanctification. We must learn to trust that this journey is aimed at God’s glory and our good – even when it hurts.