5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. – Pro 3:5-6 NASB
I’ve been doing a sermon series in the book of Proverbs, and it’s been far more gospel-rich than I expected. These two verses in particular raised a very interesting line of thought.
I have often been troubled by the teaching that if we don’t adhere to certain forms of behavioral lawfulness, God will strip us of our salvation. For example, John Piper says:
“So the agonizing question for some is: Do I really have saving faith? Is my faith real? Am I self-deceived? Some well-intentioned people try to lessen the problem by making faith a mere decision to affirm certain truths, like the truth: Jesus is God, and he died for my sins. Some also try to assist assurance by denying that any kind of life-change is really necessary to demonstrate the reality of faith. So they find a way to make James 2:17 mean something other than what it seems to mean: ‘Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.’ But these strategies to help assurance backfire. They deny some Scripture; and even the minimal faith they preserve can be agonized over and doubted by the tormented soul. They don’t solve the problem, and they lose truth. And, perhaps worst of all, they sometimes give assurance to people who should not have it.
Instead of minimizing the miraculous, deep, transforming nature of faith, and instead of denying that there are necessary life-changes that show the reality of faith, we should tackle the problem of assurance another way. We should begin by realizing that there is an objective warrant for resting in God’s forgiveness of my sins, and there is a subjective warrant for God’s forgiveness of my sins. The objective warrant is the finished work of Christ on the cross that “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The subjective warrant is our faith which is expressed in ‘being sanctified.'” – John Piper, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-agonizing-problem-of-the-assurance-of-salvation
This interpretation of James 2:17 makes works the object of our faith, instead of making Christ and Him crucified the object of our faith. It thereby strips us of our confidence in the simplicity of our salvation. It is Christ who saves us, not our so-called “sanctification.” The declaration of salvation by mere belief creates the kind of faith in which we can sow the seeds of true goodness – because it sees that all we have from God is a gift, not a demand. This kind of teaching strips us of our confidence that God is kind and patient and forgiving and faithful to us. If we were to apply the same kind of capricious threat of rejection to our teachings on marriage that people of this tribe want to apply to our relationship with God, they would be horrified! But God, according to them, is entirely untrustworthy and is ready to forego His promise of salvation through faith at our first sign of imperfect sanctification.
True grace – simple faith that Christ died for our sins and that it worked – grants us a rock solid assurance that God is eternally on our side. He has saved us to the uttermost:
25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. – Heb 7:25-28 ESV
What could these verses possibly mean if they don’t mean that we can have confidence that we are truly saved through Christ? That it is not we who through our practice save ourselves, but that Christ saves us by the demonstration of His own love toward us?
So we come back around to Proverbs. If we are under the law, we come to this verse, and we press it as a command. We should and we must trust in the Lord with all our hearts – even though secretly we behold Him as a capricious bastard who would condemn us to hell for the slightest infraction. It is a complete absurdity to trust such a being. We are being asked to do the impossible. And everyone is expected to simply nod their heads and never ask a single question about any of it, because that would constitute NOT trusting the Lord! What a horror and a hell such teaching is! God save us!
And He does save us. If we are under grace, we fall easily and fully into the idea behind this verse. The gospel says that God is more trustworthy than we could have ever hoped for or imagined. God demonstrated His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly! We can have a full assurance and an eternal confidence that God is faithful to us, even to the death. Even if we killed Him, He would rise from the dead and love us all the more. He is faithful to us with a scandalous supernatural power that no one could ever have imagined. So it is easy easy easy to trust in Him with our whole hearts. I don’t trust my trust in Him. I trust His faithfulness towards me. He is faithful beyond my own understanding. My understanding says that He should uphold justice and condemn me. But His understanding is that Christ died for me, and that according to the God who created the universe and the very idea of justice in the first place, His Son’s blood is enough to justify me. And I trust that – simple “fire-insurance” “greasy-grace” “sloppy-agape” faith has accomplished what the law never could.
So in a nutshell, here’s what I’m saying. If you believe in an untrustworthy God, then no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to trust Him with all your heart. It’s impossible because it is ridiculously illogical. But if you believe in a trustworthy God, the God who is a Savior, it is almost nothing to trust Him. He in His own works and identity towards you simply IS worthy to be trusted. It is almost impossible NOT to trust such a wonderful God. This all boils down to what you believe, not what you do.
28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – Jhn 6:28-29 ESV