Trusting God is an essential element of true and saving faith that looks to God and finds peace, strength, contentment, and much more in him, and all that he has done, is doing, and will do, both now and forever in his Son Jesus Christ.
In this chapter we look at what it means to trust God by observing how trust relates to saving faith. Then we will trace how trust grows out of a knowledge of God, his promises, and his actions. We conclude by looking at some biblical examples of trust and how it should manifest itself in our lives as Christians.
Trusting God is one of those truths we think we understand until we are called upon to do it, and then we discover that there is more to it than we realized. Trusting God is an aspect of saving faith which has been said to have three elements to it: knowledge, assent, and trust (cf. John Gill, Body of Divinity, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978], 411). All three aspects go together, but without trust, faith is inadequate and shockingly indistinguishable from the faith of demons who believe and shudder before God, yet do not repent and surrender themselves to him (Jas. 2:19 cf. Ps. 78:22). Trusting God is essential to Christian life. This, however, does not mean it is easy to trust God, especially in a world that questions the sanity of trusting him at almost every turn. Nevertheless, trust God we must, and the Bible has much to say that will help us no matter what our circumstances.
We Are Commanded to Trust God
The first thing to understand is that we are commanded to trust the Lord. In Psalm 4:5 David tells the reader to “offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.” Proverbs 3:5-6 exhorts us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” In fact, the Christian life is one of trust in God from the beginning to the end. In its inception we repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15) and then all the way through we are called upon to believe God, and to believe in the Lord Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:1, 6). As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (11:6).
This faith, of which trust is a central component, is what distinguishes those who are in Christ from those who are in Adam, the federal head of fallen humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-6:14). It is something that is wrought in us by the grace and power of God, through his word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but it is also something that we must do as believers. It is part of our responsibility to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). In order to encourage us to trust God, and to grow in our relationship with him, the Bible has much to say about God’s perfections, promises, and actions, as well as providing us with examples of trusting God, and describing some ways this trust should manifest itself in our lives.
The Perfections of God
Everything about God is trustworthy because of who he is in the perfection of his being. The Bible elucidates this great truth in two ways: first, it warns about the folly of trusting in anyone or anything other than the Lord, and second, it describes for us his unique glory.
In Proverbs 1:20-33 wisdom is personified and pictured as crying aloud in the street and raising her voice in the markets calling to anyone who will listen to her warning about the foolishness of disregarding her counsel and reproof. She chastises the scoffers and the fools for hating knowledge and failing to fear the Lord, choosing instead to go their own way and put their confidence in other things. These things are expounded in Proverbs and other scriptures.
So, for instance, we are warned about trusting in men: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord’” (Jer. 7:5). Proverbs 25:19 says: “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.” In the Lord’s dealings with Israel in the Old Covenant he was constantly censuring them for their political alliances with pagan nations rather than trusting in him. “Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, who will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him” (2Kgs. 18:21 cf. Isa. 30:2-3; 36:6).
We are also warned about trusting in riches: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf” (Prov. 11:28 cf. Psa. 52:7; Jer. 48:7; 49:4). Likewise, we must not trust in false gods (Psa. 31:6; Isa. 42:17), lies (Jer. 13:25), beauty (Ezek. 16:15), our own way and military superiority (Hos. 10:13), and in our own minds (Prov. 28:26); all of which amount to trusting in ourselves (Luke 18:9). This is the prototypical human sin and is at the heart of all our sin and rebellion—we worship—trust in—ourselves rather than the Creator who is blessed forever! (Rom. 1:25). At its root, this is idolatry, although it is chameleon-like in appearance.
Rather than putting our trust in anything created, we are called to trust in the Lord our God, and for many good reasons. He is not a creature but the uncreated, eternal creator (Heb. 11:3). He is not bounded by time, and he will never cease to exist. Furthermore, he is not dependent on anyone or anything for his existence. He does not need anything because he is the source of life and breath and everything else (Ac.17:25). In theology this is referred to as the aseity of God.
The Bible also teaches that God is also all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful; no one can thwart his will, resist him, and come out unscathed (Job 9:12; Dan. 4:35). As the Psalmist says, “Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases” (115:3), and the apostle Paul affirms that God, “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s sovereignty is absolute without in any way destroying or making irrelevant human freedom and responsibility. Nothing happens that he does not ordain. Nothing catches him by surprise. He knows the end from the beginning, and he will do all that he has purposed and bring his plan to completion. As the sovereign of the universe we can trust him no matter what happens. We are safe in his hands. As Proverbs 21:30 assures us, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.”
In addition to God’s aseity and sovereignty, the Bible teaches that God is love (1Jn. 4:8). God loves all his creation and cares for it in many ways (Matt. 5:43-48; Acts 14:17; 17:25-27), but he has a special love for his people that will bring them into fellowship with himself and result in the full salvation from sin and all of their enemies in this world and the next (John 17:23; Rom. 8:29-39). This love of God will never let us go and we can always rely on him.
God is also holy, which not only means he is transcendent and glorious, but he is pure and without any sin or defilement whatsoever (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). Given the eternal nature of God and his awesome sovereign power and majesty, it is welcome news that he is holy and loving. There is no evil in him and nothing about his love that is inconsistent with who he is as the righteous one. His love is pure, and his judgments are flawless. No charge can be brought against him. Nothing can undo what he has done and declared to be just (Rom. 8:32-34).
God is also wise, which means that he knows the best goal and the best way to achieve that goal (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], 193). It is critical to understand God’s wisdom if we are to trust him. It means that this world, and our lives in it, represents a course charted by divine wisdom. God’s wisdom is often difficult, if not impossible, to see at this point in redemptive history because we cannot see things from his perspective. But at the end of this age when we can see the big picture from the vantage point of the age to come, we will see that God is wise and that he knew what he was doing all along ob 12:13; Rom. 16:27; 1Cor. 3:19-20).
The perfections of God engender trust in his people and the scriptures testify to this connection. David says, “Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you,” and again, “some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psa. 9:10; 20:7 cf. 13:5; 21:7; 52:8; Isa. 26:4).
The Promises of God
God can also be trusted because his word is true, and he keeps all his promises (John 17:17; Num. 23:19). The Lord pronounces a blessing on “the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7), and he will be blessed because the Lord cannot lie and he will keep all of his promises. The Bible is full of what Peter calls “precious and very great promises” that have to do with our complete salvation and entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Pet. 2:3-11). Not only are these promises wonderful in themselves, but we can rely on them as God’s word to us, the fulfillment of which will be more than we can ask or think (Eph. 1:20). For example, our Lord has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), to be with us always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), to bring to completion the good work he has begun in us (Phil. 1:6), which is nothing less than saving his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
Furthermore, the Lord has promised to keep us safe despite the numerous enemies both human and demonic who want to destroy us. He is the good shepherd who cares for his sheep and he tells us that no one can snatch us out of his or his Father’s hand (Jn.10:28-29). No weapon that is fashioned against us as the servants of the Lord shall succeed and we will refute every tongue that rises against us in judgment because the Lord has promised to vindicate us (Isa. 54:17). Paul alludes to this great promise when he writes that no one can lay a charge against God’s elect because it is God who justifies, and no one is able to condemn because Christ has died and risen from the dead and is interceding for his people guaranteeing the ultimate salvation of his people (Rom. 8:31-39). What are commonly known as the “beatitudes” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-12) are not only descriptions of kingdom citizens blessed by God, but repeated promises of blessing to those who have been transformed by his grace, secured for them by the preacher of the sermon when he died on the cross and rose from the dead as Matthew’s gospel proclaims.
The Actions of God
God is trustworthy because he has acted in history to carry out his plan of salvation for his people. In the beginning, God did not abandon the world but provided a redeemer to rescue the lost children of Adam Paul speaks about believers as being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4). Down through the years God has worked to prepare for the coming of his Son and when the fulness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that they might receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5). Not only did he provide salvation for Jewish believers but for gentile believers as well, so that now, if we are in Christ, we are part of the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16).
All four gospels chronicle Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection from the dead (Matt. 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-21). The book of Acts tells of his ascension into heaven and the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2 cf. Heb. 1:1-3). It then goes on to tell about the birth, growth, and expansion of the church first among the Jews, then the Samaritans, and then the Gentiles. This saving work of God continues today through the preaching of the gospel and the witness of the Christian church and will continue until he has saved all of his people from their sins and they are gathered together from every nation as symbolically portrayed by means of two prophetic pictures in Revelation 7. While this is only a snapshot of what God has done and is presently doing in Christ and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, this is enough to provide an anchor for us and give us every reason to trust in God.
Examples of Trust
There are many inspiring examples of trusting God found in the biblical narrative. The most extensive treatment of this subject is found in Hebrews 11 where we are told of the faith (and therefore trust) of a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). These include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Moses, the remnant of Israel, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, and many more who are not mentioned by name. From this list we learn that the Old Testament Scriptures give us many examples of what trusting God looks like as it is lived out in this fallen world with its attendant troubles.
Particularly noteworthy in this regard are people like Abraham (Gen. 22:1-19), David (1Sam. 17; Psa. 26:1; 28:7 52:8), Job (13:15; 19:23-27), and Daniel and his three Hebrew friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who courageously trusted in God (Dan. 3:1-30; 6:1-28).
In the New Testament people like Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-25), John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-17 ; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:19-34), and the apostles including Paul, trusted in God in their own unique circumstances as they walked in the way he had ordained for them (Peter at Pentecost, Acts 2; Peter and John, Acts 3-4; Stephen, Acts 7; Paul, Acts 16:16-40; 20:17-38; 27:13-44; 2Tim. 1:12; 2:8-11; 4:1-18).
The Manifestation of Trust in Our Lives as Christians
- If we trust in God, we will obey him as our sovereign Lord and because we believe he knows what is best. Disobedience and trust cannot coexist; if we trust God, we will walk in his ways and do what he tells us. The prophet Samuel rebuked King Saul’s disobedience when he said, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams” (1Sam. 15:22). As the hymn says, we must “trust and obey” (John H. Sammis, 1887).
- Trusting God will help us wait on him when he delays or is silent regarding our prayers or the fulfillment of his promises. If he delays, it is for a good reason. His actions are founded on his wisdom and love. Before his ascent to the throne of Israel, David learned to wait on the Lord. He writes: “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off” (Psa. 37:34). We must do the same.
- Trusting God will keep us from taking matters into our hands as if we know better than God what we should do. Abraham (though generally a wonderful example of trust in God) along with his wife Sarah tried to bring about the fulfillment God’s promise of a son by means of Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant who bore Abraham, Ishmael (Gen. 16). This was not how the promise would be fulfilled and their actions had many unforeseen consequences.
- If we trust God, we will not be afraid. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:2). Fear comes when we take our eyes off God and start to look at our surroundings. In life and when we pass through the experience of death, we must cling to him (Psa. 23).
- If we trust God, we will be content with what he has given us. We know that he has promised to give good things to his people and that he holds nothing back (Rom. 8:32). He tells us to ask him for our daily bread and to seek first his kingdom, and we must believe that he will supply our needs one day at a time according to his will (Matt. 6:11, 25-34).
- Those who trust God will act in faith. Knowing who God is, what he has promised, what he has done, and how his people have trusted in him in times of temptation, darkness, desertion, adversity, and affliction, as well as in time of joy and abundance, the Christian should be bold and courageous. In the words of William Carey (1761-1834), those who trust God will: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
- John Gill, Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 409-420.
- Jerry Bridges, Trusting God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988).
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Trust in God – True Wisdom,” sermon on Proverbs 16:20.
- John MacArthur, “Trust, Praise, and Bearing Fruit,” sermon 1 John 5:10.
- Jerry Bridges, “Trusting God When Life Hurts,” sermon.
- Alistair Begg, “Trusting God in the Dark,” sermon.
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