Conversations About God 3:4
Doesn’t it seem too little, however, that God would only ask for trust? Isn’t it also necessary to know Him? To love Him? To obey Him? Don’t we need to repent? To be reborn? To be converted? To be justified? To be sanctified? Don’t we even need to be perfect? The list of expectations gets so long it’s no wonder that it discourages many people from really wanting to have a right relationship with God. But don’t be scared by that list. Understood in the larger view of what went wrong and what needs to be set right, every one of those items I have mentioned is an integral part of a single, transforming experience that is made available to us all. It was never supposed to be so complicated, or divided into so many different parts.
Let’s take, for example, the expectation “to know God.” What’s the difference between knowing God and trusting Him? A classic text for this is John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (RSV). As we noted in the previous chapter, to really know someone is to love, trust, and admire them. To know God is to trust Him, to love Him and to admire Him. That word is even used for the intimacy between a husband and his wife. I can hear God saying, “If only My children really trusted Me. If only they really knew Me. If only they really loved Me. If they were only willing to listen, and let Me help them, I could perfectly heal all the damage done. Everything would be right again. And we could keep it right forever.” Now that’s the whole list, if you want to put it in simple terms. Is there anything He couldn’t do for us if we honestly regarded Him that way?
I often hear God saying in the Bible, “How I wish My children could be My friends once again. And they could see Me as being their friend. And then all would be well.” Now the Bible describes at least one such friend of God, Moses. Notice what it says in Exodus 33:11, 17: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. . . . And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name’” (NIV). What an honor to be listed in the Bible as God’s friend! And can you see how being a friend is the same as being known? To know someone is to trust them, and one trusts people who are known and who have behaved in a trustworthy manner. So trust includes being loved and all those other things.
Now surely trust in God, and friendship with God, is no “leap in the dark,” as some people describe faith. It is not safe to trust someone we do not know. So God doesn’t ask us to trust Him as a stranger. “So faith (trust) comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17, RSV). “Faith comes from what is heard,” because they didn’t have copies of the Bible the way we do. They had to listen as the scriptures were read. And as they listened they heard the truth. They heard the evidence. And some were won to repentance and to trust, particularly when they heard the truth revealed by the Son of God Himself.
David surely knew what God wanted of His children, so that peace could be restored everything be set right. Look at Psalm 51 (selected from verses 6, 10, 16 and 17):
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being: therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. . . . For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (RSV)
This is what God wants, in order to have peace once again in the family. Because that means we are willing to stand humbly in the presence of our God and ask “What must I do to be well, to be saved?” And He says, “You need a new heart and a right spirit.” And then we say, “I’d be very happy to have one. Please give me one soon.”
Hosea understood what God wanted, to have peace in the universe again. Look at Hosea 6:6: “It is true love that I have wanted, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Phillips). In Hebrew parallelism, the second line of the sentence simply reaffirms or enlarges the point in the first line. The parallelism in verse 6 shows that true knowledge of God and love for God mean the same thing. That’s what God wants. Hosea goes on in verse 7: “But they, like Adam have broken their agreement; again and again they have played me false” (Hos 6:7, Phillips). They cheated. How much security can you have in the family when some of the children are playing false?
Do you remember what Jesus told Nicodemus had to happen before he would be safe to save? John 3:3: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God'” (RSV). “Born again” means a new heart and a right spirit, exactly what David was saying in the fifty-first Psalm. Jesus didn’t say “Unless you are forgiven.” Or “Unless you are justified (have your legal standing adjusted), you cannot enter the kingdom.” He said “Unless you be changed and become a trustworthy person, a teachable member of My family, you will not be safe to admit into the hereafter.”
How can anyone tell they have really been reborn, and have genuine trust and faith? How can anyone know they have been put right with God and all is well? This is a question which was much debated in the early days, and is still debated to this day. In fact, a leader in the early Christian church wrote an entire book to clear it up, a book that has troubled many saints: It’s in the Bible, the book of James. Note James 2:14, 19, and 21-23:
My brothers, what use is it for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it? Can that faith save him?. . . . You have faith enough to believe that there is one God. Excellent! The devils have faith like that, and it makes them tremble (James 2:14, 19, NEB).
The devils believe God is powerful but there is no friendship between them and God.
Was it not by his action in offering his son Isaac upon the altar, that our father Abraham was justified? Surely you can see that faith was at work in his actions, and that by these actions the integrity of his faith was fully proved. Here was fulfillment of the words of Scripture: “Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness” (James 2:21-23, NEB).
According to James, false faith is useless, but a genuine faith is demonstrated by one’s actions. But then in the following verse is the puzzling word “counted.” If you take the legal view of what’s gone wrong in the universe, you can hear the cash registers ringing as you read this verse. But the word “counted” has another meaning besides its use in accounting or math: It can mean “considered,” or “reckoned as.” Reading it this way God was saying, “Abraham trusts Me, and that’s good. That’s what I want. That’s what it means to be right.” Evidence that this is the correct reading is found at the end of the verse, “Elsewhere he is called ‘God’s friend'” (James 2:23, NEB). When you are God’s friend all is right, all is well.