A Verse I wish We Believed

Sometimes we see truth told to us with absolute clarity. Sometimes we hear it and understand it. And sometimes, even when we say that we do, we do not believe it.

Isaiah 55:6-9

6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We see, as Isaiah speaks to the people, that God is inviting people to turn from their sin and turn to him for mercy. This is a beautiful reminder from the Lord that he forgives sin and pardons those who come to him at his invitation. And I would suggest that, in general, people tend to believe it. They may have varying definitions in their minds as to what sin is or what is the way to find God’s mercy, but many agree that God will pardon us for our wrong if we will come.

The problem comes in the next verses. In verses 8-9, God makes a claim that, again, I would suggest that most people would say they agree with. The problem is, we say we believe it and we actually do not. God claims that his thoughts, his ways, his mind is infinitely beyond ours, as far above us as is the sky.

Why do I say that we do not believe that verse? The reason is that so many people, inside and outside of local churches, put themselves in a position to judge the actions, standards, and ways of the Lord. People will look at what God says about marriage, about sexuality, about justice, about worship, or about something else, and they will suggest that what the word says is not good enough. They will see what God says about how he saves, and they will make it clear that they are not fond of God’s ways. Perhaps they will buck against the idea of one way to God, by grace through faith in Christ. Perhaps they will battle against the idea of God’s sovereign election. Perhaps they will simply oppose the concept of eternal hell. But people look at the ways of God and assume that we can propose a better idea.

Or look at our own lives under divine providence. How often do we think that God has not treated us as we deserve? How often do we see the injustices done to us and believe that God should have done things differently? I’ve been hurt in my life. I’m sure you have been hurt in yours. Do we not, if we are not careful, act as though we should be able to understand God’s ways in why he has allowed certain things? But, just as God answered Job, we too must see that we are too finite to grasp all that is behind the mysterious ways of the Holy god. And, just as Job answered God, we should be humble before the Holy One.

We should, of course, be grateful to God for what he has revealed to us about himself. God has made himself known throughout the Scriptures. God sent his Son to live a human life so that we might see a more tangible display of his character. God has given us his Holy Spirit that we might better understand his word and his heart. But the truth is, while we live in our sin-scarred forms, while we live seeing through a glass dimly, we are not going to grasp the vast wisdom of the Lord. Yes, we continue to study the word. Often, if we will study faithfully, we will learn that the Lord has great and solid reasons behind every law, every standard, every plan, every action. But there will also be times when we must grasp that God is good, God is perfect, God knows all, and God’s ways are not ours.

Christians, do not give up on knowing the Lord or his ways. Do not even give up on understanding the why behind the commands of the Lord. But let your understanding of the Lord be from his revelation of himself in his word and not from your own mind. God’s word is perfect and profitable to teach you. Your mind and thoughts, left to your best wisdom, is far beneath that of the Lord. Your best philosophy, even your best science, will not match the perfect mind of the Lord. Come to him humbly. Accept his word and ways with the knowledge that his mind is greater than the greatest human minds. Believe his word. And come to him for mercy just like a little child coming to a loving parent for care.

Saving Faith or Non-Saving Faith

We know we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone. We also know that there is a kind of faith, or a thing often called faith, which is clearly not a saving faith. If one looks at John 2:23-25, the concept is quite clear.

John 2:23–25 – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

In this passage, we see people believing in Jesus, but not in a saving type of faith. Many people, the text tells us, believed in his name. The word there for believed is the same word for faith as in saving faith, so there is no language study that makes this passage say something we do not see clearly. They believed in Jesus. Jesus would not entrust himself to them. They had a type of belief, but not one that saved.

Take a peek at a few things that I’ve grabbed from John Murray on this topic, and perhaps it will help you to see the things that must be present in saving faith. Murray offers us 3 characteristics of saving faith, and I think they are quite helpful.

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There are three things that need to be said about the nature of faith. Faith is knowledge, conviction, and trust.

1. Knowledge… We must know who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is able to do. There must be apprehension of the truth respecting Christ…

2. Conviction. Faith is assent. We must not only know the truth respecting Christ but we must also believe it to be true…

3. Trust. Faith is knowledge passing into conviction, and it is conviction passing into confidence. Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation. It is a receiving and resting upon him. [John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, 2015), Part II, Chapter IV.]

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In the passage in John 2, people had knowledge of Jesus, to a certain degree. They even believed what they saw, to a certain degree. But there was no wholesale entrusting of themselves to Christ. The people believed in facts and power, but they failed to trust the person of Jesus. Saving faith is a resting of one’s entire self, one’s entire soul, one’s entire eternity on the person and work of Jesus. You must know the facts presented about Jesus, you must believe those facts, and you must entrust yourself to Jesus. Miss those things, and you miss saving faith.

Instinct or Understanding

By what standard do we determine what is right? This ought to be an easy question to answer for the Christian. But in our day and age, we are not as solid on this topic as we should be. All in all, there are only two options. You can determine morality by the faithful study of and application of Scripture, or you can determine morality based on your own personal judgment. There are not any other solid choices out there. You choose divine revelation or something else.

In the letter of Jude, we see that there are a people doing evil in the church. They are rejecting biblical morality for their own instinctual standards.

Jude 10 – But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

The folks causing a problem have two things that they are doing. First, we see that they have gotten to a place where they blaspheme what they do not understand. When a standard is set before them that they do not want to follow, they speak out to revile that standard. In contrast, these people who are enemies of the faith in Jude are led to destruction by their instincts.

Let’s not let this seem mysterious. What is happening is simple. There are people in the church to which Jude is writing who do not understand God’s standards related to human sexuality. This is not to say that they cannot comprehend the command of God, but they do not agree with it. Their desires do not match the command of the word. And since they do not personally like or understand God’s standards, they speak out against the word of God and give themselves over to evil practices that go against God’s word and which will ultimately lead to their own destruction.

How do we know this is about sexuality and not merely about some other failure to follow Scripture? In verse 4, Jude says that these people “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality.” That word behind sensuality is a word that repeatedly appears in biblical condemnations of sexual immorality. As Jude speaks of other immoralities that mirror the licentiousness of these people, he compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah and says that they “likewise indulged in sexual immorality” (verse 7). And, in verse 8, speaking of the practices of the sinful, Jude says that they “defile the flesh.”

Jude is clear. There are people in his day who are in the church who are participating in sexual immorality. When they are challenged to stop sinning against the Lord and destroying themselves in this way, they speak out against the Scriptures. Instead of following the standards present in the word of God, instead of following the clear teachings of the apostles, these people rely on their own minds, their own dreams, their own instincts. And, as Jude said, these people determine their morality like unreasoning animals as they walk themselves into the judgment of God.

In no way am I trying to be personally harsh as I speak of this issue. But I must simply let the word of God say what it says. And God clearly inspired very strong language to describe the sexual immorality that was going on in Jude’s day. We cannot tone this down and be faithful to the word. Giving one’s self over to sexual immorality is deadly. Following our human instincts and passions instead of following what God tells us is right is deadly. And there is nothing good to say for those who would hear the word of God, see God’s standards, and speak out against those standards as if they somehow know what is best for us more so than the God who created us.

Of course, Christians, there is something for us to learn here about sexual immorality. We want to be very wary of any group claiming to follow God, yet which speaks out against the plain biblical standards of human sexuality. God is clear that human instinct will lead us to destruction if not corralled by the protective fence of biblical revelation. God has designed us to glorify him. One of the loveliest ways that we can honor the Lord is by submitting to his perfect plan for our lives and bodies. We are not our own. We are bought at a price. And our loving God intends that we honor him in our sexuality.

But the further truth, the foundational thing that we need to grasp, is that we must determine all morality based on the word of God and not on human instinct. WE are fallen. Our moral compass is corrupt. We lack the wisdom of the Lord. We are not naturally holy. For us to make moral choices that will not lead to destruction requires that we are fully submitted to the perfect word of God. Otherwise we will be misled by the blinding influence of our unreasoning instincts. Submit to Scripture and not to your best guess as to how things ought to be.

A Crime Against the Lord

Do you think that, were you to die and stand before God right now, he would welcome you to heaven or send you to hell? When that question is asked, most people who acknowledge the truth of God’s existence say that they hope for heaven. But if you ask them by what standard they expect heaven, they have no biblical answer. In most cases, they look to whether or not they believe themselves guilty of a damnable offense.

One of our greatest problems in relating to God is our inability to really understand what is offensive to the Lord. Yes, the Lord has shown us this in his word, but we are so very dull. Obviously we grasp that some things are wrong. There are things that nearly any human being would agree are evil. WE do not like to see other people hurt. We agree that things like theft and assault are wrong. We agree that murder is wrong.

The thing that is very difficult for the people of our world to imagine is that God would judge a person, eternally judge a person, based on issues of faith. It is an unwelcome idea in the world to suggest a person would be lost based on a refusal to believe in Jesus. Such a doctrine is seen as bigoted, closed-minded, and unsophisticated. A person will ask, “Are you telling me that I’m going to hell if I do not believe what you believe?”

When we are faced with the world’s scorn for suggesting that faith or lack thereof is the measure of salvation, we have one of two choices. WE can either compromise by ignoring the word of God, or we can allow the word of God to show us the truth. God has always judged men and women based on more than their participation in what we consider to be major evils. God also judges based on our hearts. And God sees a lack of faith in him as a damnable offense.

Zephaniah 1:12

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do ill.’

Notice whom God will judge in this passage. It is not that God says he will search Jerusalem for the vilest offenders only. HE is not simply after the murderers, rapists, and the like. For sure, those will face God’s judgment. But God is here telling his people that he will judge the men who are simply complacent about him. God’s judgment will fall on those who simply assume that God is a non-factor.

While I have no reason to try to justify the judgments of the Lord—he is absolutely perfect, after all—I will make a simple point here. God is the Creator. God is the Lord over the universe and beyond. God fashioned this universe for his glory. God created people in his image to acknowledge his lordship. It is an evil thing for a person, who has the responsibility to worship the Lord, to instead refuse to acknowledge him. God is not petty. God’s purposes are perfect. And to refuse him that for which you were created is to rebel against him deeply.

So, will a person be judged by God for something as seemingly trivial as not believing? Absolutely they will. This is because what seems trivial to fallen man is not at all trivial. God is our Creator. He created all things for his glory. He has every right to demand our allegiance. If we refuse him that allegiance, he has every right to judge us for that offense.

And before being offended about this concept, remember that the Lord has also given a global command. All people everywhere are commanded by God to turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ to be saved. Will you obey God’s call? Will you yield to the Lord who made you? If so, praise God, you will be saved. If not, do not be surprised that you will face the judgment of the God you refuse.

Does He, or Doesn’t He?

What the Lord says about himself carries great theological implications. When God says that there is no other god besides him, that is a significant statement. Is it true or is it false? If it is true, it is tremendously important. If it is false, then the God revealed in the Bible cannot be trusted.

Jesus declares there to be only one way to God, through him. Is he correct, or isn’t he? If he is correct, then Christianity is truly the only way. If he is not correct, then he is utterly unreliable.

Or how about this claim in Isaiah regarding God and his sovereignty?

Isaiah 46:9-10

9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

Contextually, this passage is part of God’s promise to bring someone from the east to accomplish a particular purpose with the people of Israel. That purpose, of course, was accomplished. God did exactly what he said he would do.

But what about the bigger picture. Are these words of God, these claims of God, always true? Does God declare the end from the beginning? Does God accomplish his purposes? These questions are one and the same. Does God accomplish everything he sets out to accomplish or not?

Stop and think of the potential answers, and really let yourself wrestle with their implications. Can you say no? Can you, as a believer, suggest that God fails to accomplish things he sets out to do? What would that say about God? What would that tell you about his claims of his power and knowledge and perfection?

Or dare you say that God sometimes accomplishes his will? What would that mean? What would it mean that, in some instances, God accomplishes what he wants, but in other instances, he just cannot get it done?

Perhaps you want to suggest that, in some instances, God makes sure his plan is accomplished. In others, you might add, God just leaves the outcome to chance or the actions of his creatures. Is that logical? If God knows his creatures inside and out—including their future decisions—can there be a zone in which the Lord still does not declare the end from the beginning? It would seem that, in order to make a part of creation where God does not accomplish his will because of the freedom of his creation, you would also have to limit God’s knowledge of his creatures and of the future. You would have to make God less than God for such a thing to be the case. Regardless of logic, the real question is whether or not Scripture speaks this way of God. Does the word say of God that he sometimes accomplishes his will, that he sometimes declares the end from the beginning, that he sometimes does all that he pleases, but in other cases he does not? Such a claim would be hard to find.

The word gives us some very clear claims of God. HE is God, the one and only. He is over all. HE declares the end from the beginning. His counsel stands. His purposes are accomplished. This is true in big governmental and empire issues. But it must also be true in the day-to-day. This does not mean that we, in our finite wisdom, can grasp those eternal purposes of God. We have no ability to judge the purposes or the practices of the Lord. And we will face hardships we cannot understand. WE will face circumstances we do not like. WE will face pains that we cannot imagine being good. But we must not comfort ourselves with a declaration that God is somehow less than God. WE cannot find comfort in thinking God is less powerful, less knowledgeable, or less active in accomplishing ultimate, perfect, holy good.

The question remains: Is he, or isn’t he? Is God sovereign or not? Is God over all things or not? Does he declare the end from the beginning or not? Does he accomplish his purposes or not? Our answer to these questions, our arrival at the true answer to these questions, our acceptance of Scripture, will have a significant impact on our theology, our understanding of Almighty God.

The Emptiest of Comforts

If you have lived through much hardship in this life, you will know the emptiness that is so often present in the words folks use to try to comfort you. Standing by a casket in a funeral home, sitting in a living room after receiving horrible news, watching a tragedy unfold on the national stage, in all such settings, people say things to you that just do not help.

Of course we need to be kind here. People are doing their best. Quite often a person who has no idea what to do with a hard situation feels that he or she must say something, anything, to try to salve your sorrow. And so they try their best. They try to give you something to help you pull through. They want to show you that they care, that they understand, that God is still good. And we need to be gracious with folks who try, even when their efforts leave something to be desired.

Let me give you an example of the emptiest of comforts that a believer might receive. In the middle of hardships, I’ve heard this one. A person is suffering. A person has faced hurt. And a friendly, well-meaning believer tries to assure that suffering saint that God had nothing to do with their hardship.

Have you heard that one? Perhaps have you said that one? Stop and think a step deeper. When you say that God had nothing to do with an ugly event, what are you really saying? Are you saying that God wishes he could have stopped the sad thing, but was powerless to do so? That does not offer comfort. Are you suggesting that God did allow a bad thing to happen, but he washed his hands of it? Are you suggesting that God let a sad thing occur without purpose, without meaning, without anything redemptive in it? That is not comforting in the long run.

To say that God has nothing to do with our dark times is not only empty comfort, it is also unbiblical.

Isaiah 45:7

I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

When God was speaking of King Cyrus the Persian through Isaiah’s prophecy, God wanted folks to know of his sovereignty. God was going to bring some great things to pass. God was going to bring some very hard things to pass. And God wanted all who were watching to understand that he, the Lord, always accomplishes his will.

Friends, we do not honor the Lord when we say that God can be responsible for good but that he has no purpose in hardship. WE do not honor the Lord when we depict him as sorrowful over a situation he just wishes he could have changed. We do not honor the Lord when we pretend that bad things happen, and nobody knows why. We honor the Lord, and we comfort one another, when we remember that God is good, that his purposes are perfect, and that is understanding is infinitely beyond our own.

How then do we need to comfort others in pain? I’m not suggesting that, when a person hurts, you go and give them a theological treatise on divine sovereignty and suffering. It is far better for that doctrine to be worked out in your life and theirs before the hardship hits. When they suffer, weep with them. Tell them you care. Tell them that you hurt with them. Tell them that their pain is real and not a thing to pretend does not exist.

But, when you speak to a person in pain, do not tell them something false. Do not paint a dishonest or impotent picture of the Lord. That is the emptiest of comforts. Help believers who suffer know that God is good, even when we have no concept of what he is doing in a particular situation.

Yet I Will

Scripture speaks in a beautiful way to those who are hurting. A student of the Bible does not have to read far to recognize that there are men, faithful people of God who have gone through hardships that are difficult to fathom. And if the people of God were believers in the prosperity gospel, their faith would have crumbled.

Repeatedly in the psalms, we see David cry out to the Lord. He asks questions like, “How long O Lord,” and then lists calamity after calamity. AT the end of those psalms, however, we quite often hear David say something like, “Yet I will trust in the Lord.” David tells us how hard things are, how hopeless his situation looks, and yet he cries out to God in faith knowing that, in the end, God will do all things rightly.

WE see a similar prayer at the end of the book of Habakkuk. For some of you, these beautiful lines are familiar. To others, these need to be lines you memorize. The prophet has cried out to God. He knows that God is going to judge a wicked nation of Judah by bringing in another wicked nation, Babylon. Habakkuk is aware of calamity after calamity with still more to come. But Habakkuk expresses, at the end of his book, genuine hope in the Lord. Just take a peek at his closing proclamation.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk, in classic Hebrew poetry, comes up with six lines that express the potential misery that the nation faces. They may have no wine, no crops, no livestock, no real reason for hope that they can see. All has fallen down around Habakkuk, and God has let him know that it will continue that way for a while.

But look at the turn of faith. Habakkuk says, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD.” No matter the circumstances, Habakkuk makes a decision of faith. Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord. HE will find hope and joy in the true character of God. Habakkuk acknowledges that the Lord is his strength. And no matter how painful is his life, no matter how bare the cupboard, Habakkuk will choose, in the face of pain, to rejoice in the Lord.

Christians, we may face pain like Habakkuk. WE may face worse. The nation may turn on us. Our friends or our families may betray us. Famous church leaders will fall short. Denominations will split. Once reliable church members will depart. We will hurt. If you think you will live without pain, you have not believed the words of the Savior who promised us that this world would be a hard one to live in.

What do you do when you hurt? Learn from Habakkuk. Make rejoicing in the Lord and hoping in his goodness your choice. You can weep and still declare God to be good. You can cry out in sorrow and find a sustaining joy in the true, revealed character of the God who made you. You can face a life of seeming emptiness and ruin knowing full well that the Savior who promises you forgiveness has also promised you that he will return, he will judge, he will do justice, he will bind up the broken-hearted, he will make all things new. Our hope is not in the ease of this life. Our hope is in eternity. While Jesus can, and often will, make this life happy for his followers, he promises us something better. Jesus promises us to sustain us through the hardships of this life and to grant us everlasting life in his presence forever.

So, when your life hurts, Christian, what should you say? Perhaps try, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”