“One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”” (Luke 8:22–25 ESV).
There are things that happen in our lives – things that God ordains – that may make us feel like God is distant, disinterested or unconcerned. We know, in our minds, that this is not true, however, if we are honest this is what we often times believe. This is where our faith gets tested – this is where our true beliefs are revealed. Beliefs are the narratives of our hearts; the bible views the heart as the central part of a person which directs all thoughts, emotions, and from which all of actions spring. Indeed, the unregenerate, hardened “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)? However, this is not true of the Christian to whom God has written His law upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, 32:40; Ezekiel 36:26; Romans 5:5, 6:17; Hebrews 10:22; 1 John 3:21).
We know that our work is to believe in Jesus (John 6:29), and as a friend of mine says, “it sure does feel like work!” We all have beliefs, the core values that drive our hearts; it is just that they are often times not biblical or God glorifying – they are man exalting and self protective. Faith is not some passive, fuzzy, ethereal thing. True biblical faith is unbelief kept quiet, faith is active, faith takes work, faith is not automatic. Faith is not primarily a feeling – it can’t be because we know that our feelings change. Faith includes and envelopes our feelings, but it is more – it involves our minds, our wills and our understanding. Faith is our response to what we believe is true. Developing Christian faith is an activity that must be exercised, it is not an automatic or passive thing. This is why Jesus calls it work (John 6:29) and why we are all recovering unbelievers. Growing in biblical faith involves displacing our false beliefs with true, biblical beliefs. Here is what is true about biblical faith:
1. Faith refuses to be controlled by circumstances. The disciples in the boat were afraid of the storm around them. That is understandable, but it revealed what they really believed. Jesus rebuked them saying, “where is your faith” (verse 25)? They had faith – it just wasn’t set on the right things. Their false faith, drove their response to the situation. Biblical faith refuses to be controlled by the circumstances of life. This is not saying that we should be robotic stoics! We are influenced and impacted by our circumstances; we hurt, cry, beg and plead with God to deliver, redeem & restore in the midst of adversity, but ultimately we can’t be controlled by the circumstances around us. We are affected by circumstances, but we can’t be controlled by them. This is why Paul can say that he has learned the secret of being content in any situation in his life (Philippians 4:12). Dr. Martin Loyd Jones says that “faith is a refusal to panic…faith means perpetual unbelief kept quiet.” That is not what happened with the disciples in this situation, they panicked. Biblical faith involves keeping ourselves under control so that we don’t respond to the circumstances of life out of our fear, anxiety & our feelings. Faith keeps us under control.
2. Faith rests in what is true – it works to remember, recite and rest in God’s promises. Refusing to be controlled by our circumstances is not enough – we may be able to muster that on our own. True biblical faith must then run to the promises of God that are revealed to us in the bible. Faith works to remember, recite and rest in what God says is true. This is where so much of the wrestling takes place and where so many fail. This involves trusting that what God says really is true instead of relying on what we think, feel, see or experience (2 Corinthians 5:7). We must remember that God’s love for us is so great that He was willing to die to have us (John 3:16), and that He did this while we were still dead & disobedient (Ephesians 2). We must remember that we are adopted children of the Almighty (Romans 5:10) and that He has granted us His precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:4). Remember that He who began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). We must work to remember to cast all of our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), that sin truly is deceitful (Hebrews 3:12-13), that every hair on our head has been numbered (Luke 12:7), that we are His beloved child (1 John 3:2), that we have been bought with a great price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and that He works all things for good (Romans 8:28). Perhaps the greatest and most encouraging declaration of scripture is that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). God has never once been caught off guard by anything, nothing has ever happened that He did not ordain. He is intimately involved in all of the details of this world and your life (Colossians 1:17). Believing these things really are work. It takes time to remember these things, to preach them to ourselves and to beg God to have them take root in our hearts.
You must realize that no one talks to you more than you do. The question is, what are you saying to yourself? What are you dwelling on? What are you turning over in your mind? What things are you saying about, “if I only had this, or if that would only work out then life would be ok?” Developing real biblical faith that transforms us works to remember what God says is true and then preaches that to oneself. What are you preaching to yourself in your mind?
3. Faith apples what is true and walks in obedience to what God reveals. There is no replacement for walking in obedience to the commands of God. We should pray, then we should obey. Faith always applies what is revealed, indeed “it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4:17 NLT-SE). To sit passively by and say “I’m praying,” or “I’m hoping,” but to never walk in obedience to the revealed will of God is not biblical faith. We must bring all that we know to bear on the situation at hand and then we must apply it! This obedience flows from a heart that understands that obedience doesn’t earn anything from God; your obedience doesn’t keep God from punishing you. Obedience is not part of a secret formula to protect you from crisis. No, true biblical obedience flows from a heart that knows and embraces that God is happy with you and that you are blessed based on the perfect obedience of Jesus alone. You don’t obey for acceptance, you obey because you’re already accepted. True obedience flows from a heart that embraces the amazing grace that has been extended to you and it becomes a joy to obey. Joyful obedience flows from a grateful heart and it always leads to greater joy. God created the universe and knows how it works so when He says, “do this,” or “walk like that,” it is not because He is oppressive, it is because He knows it will lead to your joy. God is not after any kind of obedience – our begrudging submission does not glorify God – God is after joyful obedience. Joyful obedience is always rooted in the unconditional acceptance God has given you in Christ and is fueled by marveling at His ongoing sustaining grace towards you.
Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones addresses this in more detail in chapter four of the free book, A Vision for a Gospel Centered Life. Faith always acknowledges the situation and circumstances, however it always puts up a “but…” It might feel like you’re all alone, but you know that God says that He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). It may feel like all things are lost and hopeless, but He who began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it in you (Philippians 1:6). Remember that God has not held you this long, just to abandon you. He has not forgotten or forsaken you. It is work to rest in these beliefs when our minds want to believe otherwise, but if you want to walk freely in life this is the work that you must do. All of this is fueled by the ongoing amazement that God would love a wicked, hard hearted sinners like us. It should shock and amaze us that God would give us soft hearts of flesh instead of our natural hard hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). When our hearts are ruled by the majesty of how unworthy we really are and how much we don’t deserve His grace, we are forever changed. There is a shift in us from saying, “I don’t deserve this trouble or struggle,” to “I don’t deserve His unconditional love – all that I deserve is bad and yet He gives me good.”