Recently, an attendee of our church and former volunteer asked me this question: "What does it mean to trust God—not only initial saving faith, but a daily, abiding trust in God?"
I won't pretend to have a perfect answer. But if there's anything a follower of Christ should know with certainty, it's that they are trusting God. What follows is my imperfect attempt to answer that question, and draw attention to the right categories for how to think through matters relating to faith.
What does it mean to trust God daily?
This is a great question, because I fear that in our church circles, when someone struggles or suffers, the simply words “trust God” can roll off our tongues far too easily without us properly appreciating the other person’s suffering or fully grasping the weight of what we’re asking him or her to do. “Trust God,” in the context of 21st century American form of spirituality, can be taken as, “Take emotional comfort in the thought that things will generally be okay because there’s a benevolent higher power.” And that is not biblical; it is moralistic, therapeutic deism.
It’s also a worthy question because, as you imply, we tend to draw a distinction between saving faith in Christ and daily trust. The former belongs to the altar call on Sunday; the latter belongs to easing anxieties during the commute on Monday. But I don’t think such a sharp distinction is fully warranted. I see the difference between saving faith and the exercise of daily trust as one of degree, not kind.
The New Testament noun “faith” (pistis) or verb “believe” (pisteo) simply means trust, confidence, reliance, or knowledge. Faith, in Scripture, is never blind. Faith is not the generic term for “whichever religion you feel makes you the most happy,” contrary to the popular use of the term. Rather, it is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). To exercise faith is to rely on known truth.
That begs the question: what truth?
At the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is: God’s revealed truth in Scripture. Christians are never advised to believe what feels good or helps them cope; rather, we are exhorted to cling to the specific promises of God (see 2 Peter 1:3-4). We cannot know God apart from his own self-revelation. Emotionally trusting a generic god to relieve my worry is not biblical faith. Rather, faith is hope in the promises of God in Scripture.
As a believer, I do not have faith that my life will go easily, last long, or follow the course I’ve charted. In fact, I do not even know what tomorrow will bring, so all my plans should be held open-handedly in light of God’s sovereignty (James 4:14-15). I am even promised trouble in this life (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12). Perhaps this is why the modern, pseudo-biblical drumbeat of “let go and let God” has a hollow reverb. I need more than generic trust to sustain me through life. I need to anchor the hope of my soul in specific, written promises from God. For that, God has given us his Word.
Scripture supplies us with propositional truths to tell us with certainty what God is like. It also supplies conditional promises that tell me I can expect God to act in a certain manner when I seek him. So immerse myself in these specific, written words:
- “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:18-19)
- “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19)
- “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
- “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).
- “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
- “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).
- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
So to experience the blessings of trusting God through the day-to-day trials of life, we must hold to all the Scriptural promises of God with confidence. And when I truly do so, with a sincere heart, my emotions and actions will follow suit. That is faith.
That type of joyful, obedient confidence in God’s promises is, in fact, the same type of faith we exercise the moment we are converted. The gospel—the good news of Christ crucified for sinners—is a promise of forgiveness from God, specifically revealed in his word. To be saved is not just to think fondly of the Bible, enjoy church, or repeat a generic sinner’s prayer; it is to cling in desperate hope to the promise of forgiveness in Christ. That is why I said at the onset that moment-by-moment trust in God is not wholly distinct from saving faith.
Perhaps we rarely feel that we “trust God” because modern evangelicalism has reduced saving faith to intellectual assent. We believe “salvation” simply happens once we mentally accept the bare facts of the gospel. Thus we perceive faith not as the life-source coursing through our veins but as a one-time flu shot against hell. And true, saving faith is far more than a flu shot.
In regard to saving faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 72, says:
Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
Notice some key inferences we can make from this definition:
- “Saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and the Word of God”—that is, that faith itself is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) formed in us when the Holy Spirit impresses the specific truths of God’s Word on our hearts.
- “Not only assenteth… but receiveth and resteth upon Christ”—to be saved, I depend upon Christ and his finished work to save me, and I have the pledge of God that he will do that very thing (Romans 10:13). And “receiving” and “resting” are more than one-time actions; they indicate a continued posture of reliance on not only the basic message of salvation but also all of God’s Word.
- “Truth of the promise of the gospel”—faith grabs hold of specific truths revealed by God.
To summarize: faith is relying upon what God has spoken. It often brings emotional comfort, but not always; in fact, times of great despair can accompany the life of faith. Yet faith is also able to peer through the fog of present suffering to savor the promises of God as true.
As our emotions ebb and flow, our foundation is secure because the object of your faith is God himself. The issues is not how strong our faith is at any given moment so much as what the object of our faith is; if it is God’s Word, then it is secure.
My closing encouragement to you, then, is to “run the race of faith” every day—as the writer of Hebrews urges:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Jesus is the model of daily trust in God. Exercising faith in God’s revealed promise that he would be raised and exalted, Jesus endured the cross, looking through it all the way to the glory he knew was on the other side. In like fashion, we are to peer through the pains of life and grab hold of the promise of eternal life waiting on the other side, promised explicitly in God’s Word to all those who are in Christ.
Don’t settle for a generic, warm, fuzzy faith. Cling to what God has actually said—just as we first clung to the gospel promise at conversion. God’s promises are the only anchor that can tether us to him through the daily struggles of life.