Tag Archives: mistrust

All God Asked of a Jailer in Philippi

Conversations About God 3:2

Seeing trust as a central issue in the universe helps explain Paul’s very brief reply to the jailer in Philippi. An earthquake brought down the doors of that jail (Acts 16:25-26). The jailer was afraid that the prisoners had escaped, in which case he himself would be executed. But when Paul called out to him, he ran in and fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:27-29). He then brought them out of the jail and earnestly inquired, “What must I do to be saved?” At least “What must I do to be safe?” Paul did not reply, “If you have the time, I have 20 lessons for you. As we sit here in the rubble of the jail, I’ll lead you through the doctrines of the church.” No, all Paul said was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” So we need to clearly understand what Paul meant by that word translated “believe.”

We often go to great lengths to explain the difference between belief and faith. Of all the illustrations I’ve heard to explain the difference, the one that impressed me the most was the story of the man who strung a cable over Niagara Falls. A preacher described how a crowd watched the man crossing over the Falls on the cable, pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. Upon his return, he turned to the crowd and said, “Do you believe I can do that again?”
A man in the crowd replied, “Yes, I believe you can.”
“Then climb into my wheelbarrow.”
“Not on your life!” said the spectator.
The preacher telling the story would then say, “You see, he believed he could make it across, but he didn’t have faith.”

The difference between belief and faith matters in the English language, but there is no such difference between belief and faith in the Bible. There is only one word for both and that word is pistis. You see, the original conversation between the jailer and Paul was in Greek. And that’s the reason these Bible versions read differently.

Let’s look at Acts 16:30, 31 in several versions. The first reading is from the King James Version (KJV): “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'” But in the New English Bible (NEB) it reads, “Put your trust in the Lord Jesus. . . .” The Berkeley version has; “Have faith in the Lord Jesus. . . .” All three translations are based on exactly the same Greek word. In English the word pistis means belief, faith, trust, confidence. And the versions vary, just for variety.

Among these options, we’re most familiar with the word “faith.” As Christians we talk about it a great deal. But what is faith? What do we mean when we say to a person “Have faith,” or “You should have more faith,” or, “We’re saved by faith,” or, “Righteousness by faith”? Faith means so many different things these days that we almost need another word. The most notorious definition of faith is the one given by a small schoolboy. He said, “Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.” You see, in some people’s minds, if you’re prepared to believe what “you know ain’t so,” that’s real faith.

Now, most of us wouldn’t go that far. But we might say, “Faith is believing something for which you have insufficient evidence,” because if you had sufficient evidence, you wouldn’t say “I accept that by faith,” you would say, “I know.” Does that mean that the more we come to know God, the less faith we’ll have? When we actually stand in His presence will we say, “God, I see you now, and that’s the end of my faith? I’ll never believe in you again, because now I know you”?

The Consequences of Mistrust

Sin changes us, producing fear and mistrust of God. The results of centuries of mistrust are catalogued in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Let’s look first at Romans 3. What makes this quotation from Romans so significant is that it’s made up of six Old Testament passages; one from Isaiah, and five from the Psalms. This is a summary of the Old Testament picture of the consequences of mistrust (Romans 3:10-18): As the Scriptures say: “There is no one who is righteous, no one who is wise or who worships God. All have turned away from God; they have all gone wrong; no one does what is right, not even one. Their words are full of deadly deceit; wicked lies roll off their tongues, and dangerous threats, like snake’s poison, from their lips; their speech is filled with bitter curses. They are quick to hurt and kill; they leave ruin and destruction wherever they go. They have not known the path of peace, nor have they learned reverence for God (GNB).”

Paul has a lot more to say about the consequences of mistrust in Romans 1. There (Rom 1:18-20) Paul points out that there is no excuse to be ignorant about God. God has revealed Himself in creation and in human experience. So lack of knowledge is actually rooted in human rebellion. Notice some of the consequences (Romans 1:21-23): They know God, but they do not give him the honor that belongs to him, nor do they thank him. Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness. They say they are wise, but they are fools; instead of worshipping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles (GNB).

We know from ancient records that the Egyptians worshipped crocodiles and even beetles. Think what that would do to a person. We’ll look more closely at that in a later chapter. But Hosea says that it is a law that we become like the object of our worship: “When Israel came to Baal-Peor, they began to worship Baal and soon became as disgusting as the god they loved” (based on Hosea 9:10). That’s the devastating consequence of worshipping a false picture of God. Those who worship the Father through the revelation we have in Jesus become more like Him. Those who follow Satan become like him.

How God has tried to keep in touch, but how unwilling we have been to listen! Because people have refused to keep in mind the true knowledge about God (Rom 1:18-23), Paul goes on to say (Rom 1:25, GNB): “They exchange the truth about God for a lie.” And you know who the Father of lies is. Paul then outlines the devastating consequences of this exchange (Rom 1:28-32):

(God) has given them over to corrupted minds, so that they do the things that they should not do. They are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; they are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, and malice. They gossip and speak evil of one another; they are hateful to God, insolent, proud, and boastful; they think of more ways to do evil; they disobey their parents; they have no conscience; they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or pity for others. They know that God’s law says that people who live in this way deserve death. Yet, not only do they continue to do these very things, but they even approve of others who do them (GNB).

Notice how the Bible says (to our comfort) there will be no gossips in eternity! The saved will be those who can be trusted with the memory of other people’s sins and still treat them with dignity and respect. Paul also mentions people who break their promises, a translation of the Greek word for “faithless” (ESV, NIV) or “untrustworthy” (NASB). These are all consequences of a breakdown of trust in God’s human family.

The stubbornness and unwillingness to listen that Paul features in Romans 1 is echoed in Hosea 4:16, 17: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer. How can the Lord feed them now like lambs in a broad meadow? Ephraim is wedded to idolatry, let him alone” (Phillips). When people don’t love, trust, and admire God, “their spirit is steeped in unfaithfulness and they know nothing of the Lord” (Hosea 5:4, Phillips). Notice also the following selections from Hosea 4:1 and 5:6, 12: “There is no honesty nor compassion nor knowledge of God . . . My people! Asking advice from a piece of wood and consulting a staff for instructions” (Phillips)!

This raises a significant point, how could it be said that Israel does not know God (see also Jer 5:4; 9:3)? Who else knew God so well? Look at all the Old Testament prophets and their marvelous pictures of God. But the way Israel knew God in those days was not knowing God in the special, biblical sense. That is, to know God as a friend– to even know God intimately as a husband and a wife know each other. The Bible says, “Adam knew Eve,” his wife (Gen 4:1). And as a result, they didn’t just learn each other’s names. They had a baby.

Elsewhere, God says of Israel, “Thee only have I known” (Amos 3:2). He knew all the other nations. But He knew Israel in a special way. Something similar happens at the last judgment. When disappointed saints find that they are not acceptable in the kingdom, they plead “Lord, Lord. Open unto us.” He says, “Go away. I never knew you” (see Matthew 7:21-23). He knew the hairs on their head (Matt 10:30; Luke 12:7), but He did not know them as friends. And friendship is the very essence of the relationship God wishes to have with His people. If Israel had really known God, they would have been better friends. They would have been jealous for His reputation. And they would have been better people themselves, like the prophets in the Old Testament who wrote so well of God.

When we believe Satan’s lies, we don’t trust God and allow Him to heal us. And the ultimate result of that can be found in Romans 6:23: “Sin pays its servants: the wage is death” (Phillips). Or in the Good News Bible: “For sin pays its wage – death” (GNB). You see, as human beings we cannot make it on our own. Not until God breathed into man the breath of life, did man begin to live (Gen 2:7). We are not gods; we’re just created beings. God hopes we won’t find that too humiliating. He won’t rub it in. He even treats us as gods in the Psalms (82:6). He even speaks of us as brothers of His Son (Matt 25:40; Mark 3:34; John 20:17). But we are still created beings. It makes good sense, therefore, to listen very closely to the One who made us. To pretend to be God was Satan’s insane idea. And look what it’s done for him.