I admit that I had always assumed that belief, trust, and faith were essentially the same thing and spoke from that standpoint. Recently, however, my inner skeptic kicked in and called on me to question that belief. When I did, I was left with some egg on my face, but with a far deeper understanding than I was anticipating to find.
To begin with, let’s take a look at how the three words are defined:
an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.
a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
Hmmm… fascinating. All three are part of the same spectrum but don’t have the same meaning. To use an analogy, you can believe that chairs are intended to hold people’s weight without collapsing, you can trust that a particular chair will do so, but you must have faith that it will before you will take action and sit down in it.
James puts it well in the second chapter of his letter when he says
But someone may say, “You claim to have faith and I have good works; show me your alleged faith without the works if you can, and I will show you my faith by my works—that is, by what I do.” You believe that God is one; you do well to believe that. The demons also believe that, and shudder and bristle in awe-filled terror—they have seen His wrath! But are you willing to recognize, you foolish spiritually shallow person, that faith without good works is useless?
Strong words, indeed! To place it in the context of my analogy, you can talk all you want about the faith you have that that chair will support you, but as long as you choose to remain standing when you should be seated, you are denying the faith that you profess.
Brothers and sisters, don’t be fooled; your own actions will tell you how much belief you truly have. If your actions do not match those of a holy God, do not attempt to rationalize them by saying silly things like ‘we all struggle’, ‘I’m doing my best’, ‘I wasn’t thinking straight’, ‘s/he said/did yadda yadda yadda and that set me off’, etc. They are all just excuses. You need to diagnose why you did those things. It is only when we understand why we (or others) do things that ‘miss the mark’ (the original definition of ‘sin’), that we can start taking steps to counter the thought patterns that generated that sin. (In fact, the very core of forgiveness is understanding. Consider the shift in perspective when you find out that the guy who terrified and enraged you by cutting you off, then flew through that red light, horn blaring, swerving all over the road, was getting his four-year-old daughter to the hospital before she bled out and died. When we know why someone does something, forgiveness, more and more, becomes automatic, to the point where we will do it without thinking even while we are in the middle of having to deal with someone’s actions.)
Jesus Himself was extremely pointed when He outright said that unless you do the will of the Father, you will never walk through the gates of the Holy City. Period. Even those who honestly believe that Jesus is their Lord, yet who don’t have faith that He is and therefore demonstrate it through their actions, still will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt 7:21:23) This is a hard teaching, and it goes completely against what is preached from many pulpits. Here is reality: salvation is a process, not something that happens in an instant because you said a prayer in a moment of emotional conviction. Yes, from the moment that God accepts you as His Own, your salvation is assured, as He knows the outcome and thus can’t fail at anything, but that just marks the beginning of your salvation process; He still has to prune away everything that is crippling you and getting in the way of you becoming like Him. Much of what that process entails is Him converting unbelief to belief, belief to trust, and trust to faith. It is only when we have achieved faith that what He can do with and within us becomes unlimited. Until then, He has to operate within a narrowly defined set of limits to avoid overwhelming and harming us. It is only as He builds our belief, trust, and faith that He has more space to work with and within us.
Even more to the point, consider the phrase used at the beginning of the previous paragraph, ‘will of the Father’. How can you do someone’s will if they don’t tell you what it is? How can they tell you what it is if you aren’t listening? Why would you be listening if you don’t have a relationship with them? If someone never speaks to you and straight-out tells you that you are his child, is he really your father? These are questions that require answers, and the sad reality seems to be that most people who self-identify as ‘Christians’ can’t say that God has ever spoken to them, let alone confirmed that they were His child. They may offer up the excuse that ‘He speaks to them through the Bible’, but that is like saying that I am speaking to YOU, O Reader, personally, through this post. I’m not. I don’t know who you are; I am sharing a general truth, but I can’t speak directly to you, O Reader, and to your specific situation, unless we are directly communicating, which can’t be done like this. The Eternal One, the Lord Almighty, YHWH of Hosts is a Living God. He speaks to and through His children, who are One as the Father and Son are One; through the conduit of the Holy Spirit. If He has not told YOU, O Reader, personally, specifically, that you are His child, then you are not. Period. …yet.
Yet. Yet. YET! Those three letters form one of the most powerful words in the English language, for just by adding them to the end of a sentence, you add room for things to change in the future. ‘I can’t’ becoming ‘I can’t, yet’ gives hope and direction. The impossible becomes possible. The unreachable becomes reachable. The unholy can become holy. There. Is. Time. YOU can become holy. YOU can have true love, hope, joy, peace. YOU can become a Child of God. You just have to start wherever you are and ask Him without ceasing to have Him accept you as such, then ask Him to turn your unbelief into belief, your belief into trust and your trust into faith. Be desperate. Cry out. Let your tears flow. Hold nothing back. Mourn for who you are. Yearn to be more than you are. Let your pain flow out in agonized howls of suffering. Let your heart be completely open and truthful, for the first time in your life. It’s okay. You can be honest with Him. Yell at Him, scream at Him, demand that He explain Himself, let out all of your anger and feelings of betrayal that He allowed you to suffer as you did. It’s okay. He understands why you are hurting, why you are angry, why you feel betrayed. There is nothing that you can possibly say that will offend Him. You can call Him every name in the book and He will still love and accept you and wants you to understand why things happened as they did. (In time, He will show you the reasons why, so you will understand and be able to let them go.) For now, the important thing is to communicate with Him, to tell Him all that has been hiding and festering in your heart. It is time to lance the infection of bitterness that has been poisoning you for all of these years, to reveal what has been stifled and smothered under ‘I can’t trust anybody’ and ‘nobody can help me’ and ‘nobody cares what I’m going through’. He can be trusted. He can help you. He cares. He has always been trustworthy and helpful and caring. But His love is conditional. Not conditional in the sense of ‘deserving’, but in being limited by your capacity to accept it, for true love isn’t a feeling, but a verb, an action word, something done. His idea of love and justice is based on meeting needs, not punishing (or rewarding) deeds. He wants desperately to meet your needs, no matter what you’ve done. (Think about it; if you meet someone’s need for food, stealing a loaf of bread would never even occur to them, even if they have done it in the past when they were hungry, would it?) There is a catch, though; He can only (actively) love you as much as you will allow Him to, for there can be no love without liberty, and you have always had the liberty to go your own way and refuse His love, to your sorrow and His. He cares for you enough to allow you to have the free will to do whatever you decide to do, no matter how much it may hurt you or those around you. This is your life; yours and yours alone. You are responsible only for yourself and your actions. You are at liberty to do whatever you want. What He is asking is for you to give Him permission to do whatever HE wants with and in you. That is a scary thing when you don’t know Him. You find yourself asking ‘What if…’ and imagining all kinds of things, none of which make you want to turn your life over to this… stranger. Very well. The problem contains the direction to its own solution; you need to know Him. You need to know who He is and why He does what He does. You need to know that you can believe, trust, and have faith in him. How do you do that? By having evidence. How can you get it? You can get circumstantial evidence from others who know Him, but the only absolute way is to simply ask Him for it. (…or demand that He produce it. Being angry at Him because you don’t understand why He did something is okay; he is a big God and can take it.) The reality is that the most compelling evidence must come directly from this extra-dimensional Being whom we can’t physically sense. It is the only way that you can know His character and ways of doing things. I can talk to you until I am blue in the face and my voice is a rasping whisper, and still not have the impact of a single leaf falling exactly when and where it needs to in His exact timing.
…when it needs to. Timing is also vitally important. At one point, I cried out to Him for hours, begging Him to talk to me, to prove that He even existed, to no avail. He said nothing to me, nothing, and I was left desolate, able only to acknowledge that, if He existed, then He would have to be the one to contact me, as there was clearly no way for me to make Him speak to me. It was over eighteen years later that He answered my prayer. I have since come to understand why; I needed to come to the end of my rope and completely shatter before I would listen. I had to prove to myself that going my own way, doing ‘the best I could’, living as I thought best, could only end in pain, destruction, and despair. He waited patiently until I understood and came to a place where all of my delusional pride was stripped away, laying my filthy, twisted, broken soul bare before me, to where I lay screaming in agony over what I had become, what I had lost. It was only THEN that I was able to listen. It was only THEN that He spoke to me. It was only THEN that I was open to hearing what He had to say and start to follow Him. Only THEN.
Now… Now I live a life that I could never have imagined. Now I have a peace seated deeply within me that the storms I still go through cannot tear away. They can bury it under the waves for a time, but it is my anchor holding me firmly in place, and I have absolute confidence that I cannot be swept away, no matter how wild the winds may get. Now I know what love really is. Now I know that hope is a feeling of confidence simply without a known date for its fulfillment. Now I know what joy is, and how solidly it can support me, whatever may try to drown me. Now I know what peace truly is and the wholeness that comes from the war within being calmed. Now I am being saved, and salved, a loving Father applying the balm of His active love to my wounds, leaving nothing but the faintest of scars and the story of how He is healing and restoring me. It is because I constantly cry out to Him to ‘search my heart and show me the wicked way within me’ that He can do so and then work to excise the tumours of hurts, habits, and hang-ups that were killing me and causing me to lash out at everyone around me. I now look at myself with a sense of awe and wonder. I no longer know who I am, and it is with wild joy that I celebrate that! Who I’ve always been is being pruned away, and now I’m becoming healthy enough to bear good fruit for others to enjoy and be nourished by. Hallelujah!
It is my hope that my words have had an impact on you. If so, the rubber must meet the road or it is in vain. To that end, I encourage you to join me in your own version of my constant, earnest prayer and set your life’s rudder accordingly.
Father, while there are many things about you that I have faith in, there are still some that I only trust you in, or just believe you in, or even have outright unbelief. This is not acceptable! I desperately need to come to a place where my faith in you is complete, not full of holes and weak points, where the Enemy can enter and wreak havoc. I ask you to work within me to show me where my faith isn’t complete, and make it so. I accept any discipline, any suffering, any sacrifice to make sure that I become as much like You as I can on this Earth, so I can be the most powerful instrument of healing and restoration that you can make me, that I may have and give love, hope, joy, and peace to all who so desperately need them.