How To Trust God

God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. —Romans 4:17

What are we learning? That there are two ways to live. One is law, the other is grace. Law is simple. It makes sense. Law says, “Do this, and you will live.” It’s how the world works. It’s what we understand. And it can be exciting. It’s exciting to be told what wonderful potential we have, that there are five winning principles or three easy steps to whatever, and then we’ll be happy – with free-bonus this and if-you-call-now that. We live every day immersed in the dynamics of law. But is it working? The whole world and our own hearts tell us we can take control by rational principles, but when has that ever worked for us? The world is a mess. Look at your own inner world. Is it working for you? Are law and demand and flattery and penalty successful?

The Bible says, the law brings wrath (Romans 4:15). In other words, strategies for living based on law not only offend God but they disturb us. The moment a police car pulls up behind you, does it occur to you to think, “How reassuring to know that the police are out in force today” or do you think, “Uh oh, what have I done? Am I in trouble?” The law intensifies our anxiety about ourselves, because we are law-breakers. It intensifies our frustration with other people, because they are law-breakers. We look out on our chaotic world and shake our heads and wonder, “Why don’t they do the right thing?” And the truth is, they don’t do the right thing for the same reason we don’t. Our wills are not free enough to live and succeed on terms of law. We have forces inside us that undercut our good intentions. Why do I down a whole package of big-scoop family-size Freetos at one sitting? Why do I check the number of hits on my blog five times a day? Why do you do things and then stop and think, “Wait a minute. I know better than that”? Our wills are not free enough to do the right thing, even the obvious thing. You and I do not need a formula; we need a Savior.

Eric Metaxas, in his book Everything you always wanted to know about God (but were afraid to ask), shows us the alternative to law:

Q. What is Christianity? A. Here’s a crack at it. You could say that Christianity is a Twelve Step program for sinners. Something like that, anyway. Q. You’re saying that Christianity is a gigantic Sinners Anonymous group? A. Sort of. You admit you have a problem, then you admit that you are powerless to do anything to solve that problem, and then you turn your life over to God to solve the problem over which you are powerless. And then he does.

That’s the other way to live – the grace of God. We’ll live either out of ourselves or out of God in his grace. Living out of ourselves and our own natural moral potential is the law. Living out of God and his promises is grace. Which do you think will work? Christianity is not a better tool for your own sin-management. It is an ongoing miracle of God’s grace. It’s promises of endless grace for people who fail. What is God promising in the gospel? What does God give, on terms of grace, that we don’t have in ourselves already? What is God offering us that only God can do? That’s why we’re in church this morning. We didn’t come down here for self-improvement. We came down here because we’re desperate sinners who need God. What gracious things can we sinners get hold of for ourselves that only God can give? Well, for starters,

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:3 He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:21 I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:34 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19 He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

Really, the whole Bible is one massive promise of grace from cover to cover. God is saying, “Live out of me, moment by moment, and you’ll really start to live.” God refuses to relate to us any other way. It’s his grace or nothing. So we can turn away from our past, let it go and turn to God and put all our hope in his promises of grace for sinners and forget our sins forever. We disappoint ourselves. We disappoint others. But this is what only God can do. He puts our sins on Christ at the cross and redefines our future as a story of his unfolding grace. How does that sound? Anybody interested? God’s interested!

But what does God want from us? In today’s passage we find out. Paul answers three questions. One, what is God asking us to do? What is he looking for? Two, why is it hard for us to do that? Why is grace hard to live by? Three, how does God help us? How does God help us break the faith barrier? And here are the answers. One, God wants us to trust him. Two, it’s hard for us to trust him because his promises seem too good to be true. And three, God helps us trust him – not only does God promise us everything, but he also helps us receive it – God helps us to trust him by focusing us away from ourselves and onto Jesus. If your Christianity isn’t working for you, if you’ve stalled, Romans 4 does not tell you to get your act together. Romans 4 helps you to start trusting God.

What does God want from us? (16-17)

Remember that Abraham is the paradigm of Christian faith. And even Abraham struggled the way we do. We ought to believe God easily. But we’re weak. We need a guarantee. So God gave us a guarantee. How does God guarantee that all of his promises will come true? Our sins are against us, we don’t change easily, the world is distracting us, the intellectual challenges to the gospel can be impressive, and so forth. How do we get to a place of settled confidence in the gospel? God gives us a guarantee, and that guarantee is God himself: “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (verse 17). God’s grace is no weak, pleading thing, down on its knees begging us to help God succeed. God’s grace is a power. God gives life to the dead and creates things in us that don’t exist. The guarantee that we won’t end up losers, if we trust God – the guarantee is not us but God himself.

A good thing, too. In ourselves, we are massively non-miraculous. Are you surprising yourself with your amazingly wonderful performance? We need to be released from ourselves. In Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller writes, “No rut in the mind is so deep as the one that says I am the world, the world belongs to me, all people are characters in my play. There is no addiction so powerful as self-addiction.” That’s why our guarantee for life and hope must come from beyond us. We are not capable of creating newness of life out of ourselves. God is able, and he guarantees it by who he is. There is no greater guarantee in the universe. God wants to give himself to you forever – and on terms of radical grace. That’s the new deal in town. That’s our only future, Nashville’s only future.

If you don’t feel God’s power in your life, but your heart wishes you could come alive to him, here’s what you can say to God today: “I’m stuck in myself. I’m fed up with myself. I need to break out, but I don’t know how. I can’t even muster the will power to chase you down. But here in the Bible, you’re turning the tables on me. You’re telling me about who you are. You’re telling me that you give life to the dead and call new things into existence. That’s what I need. Give me life. Call my faith into existence. I have nothing to offer you. I need you deeply.” Now, what if you said that to God? How do you think he’d respond? Here’s what you’ve got to know. God would have to unGod himself to turn you down. He is waiting for you to get real with him. He is watching for you, ready for you, right now. He will not reject you. The Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). That’s who God is. He himself is your guarantee that calling out to him is no wasted breath. All he wants from you is the empty hands of faith reaching out to receive good things you don’t deserve but that he wants to give, just because of who he is.

So, that’s what God wants from us – faith. The law gets into our heads with questions like, “Have I done enough? Have I suffered enough? Do I deserve this yet?” But it is so freeing, in all our weakness and failure and sin, to say to God, “I turn myself over to you. I’m your problem now. Please apply your promises to me.” You can live that way not just at one moment but all the time, moment by moment. God has a lot more to give us than we’ve seen yet. But let’s also figure out why it’s hard for us live that way. I came across this great statement last week:

We have lost the eternal youthfulness of Christianity and have aged into calculating manhood. We seldom pray in earnest for the extraordinary, the limitless, the glorious. We seldom pray with real confidence for any good to the realization of which we cannot imagine a way. And yet we suppose ourselves to believe him infinite Father.

We should feel rebuked by that. Our prayers are not God-sized. We need to stretch our faith and prayers out to the magnitude of God’s promises. We can get back a simpler, more biblical faith. Let’s think about that.

Why is it hard for us to trust God? (18-22)

Abraham found a way to stake his whole life on the promises of God – not on how he could manage things himself or manipulate his own outcomes. Abraham trusted God – and it wasn’t easy. In fact, when God made his promises to Abraham, do you know what Abraham did? He laughed (Genesis 17:17). If you look at the promises in the gospel, and then you look at yourself, and then you laugh, you won’t be the first. God does not come to people who need a little patching-up here and there. God comes to people who need a miracle. Look at Abraham. God promised, when Abraham was an old man and his wife was beyond childbearing years, that Abraham would father a whole new nation, a nation through whom God would redeem a broken world. God promised that he would rebirth the human race not through a vigorous, rising young leader but through a retiree on his way out. And Jesus, the son of Abraham, is the ultimate fulfillment. But Abraham couldn’t see how it would all work out. All he could see was a promise and the barrier he himself was to that promise. What made faith hard for Abraham was Abraham. And the same for us. Do you and I see the glorious future of the human race surging out of us? It’s hard to believe. How then did Abraham break the faith barrier?

There are two ways anybody can try that. One way is to ignore the barriers to hope, look the other way, don’t think about the intellectual objections to the Christian faith, sweep your own sins under the rug, go into denial. Some people think that’s faith. Abraham didn’t. What did he do, and what should we do? Abraham looked hard at the facts before him and he thought it all through: “He considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (verse 19). Abraham didn’t shy away from the realities that seemed to put the grace of God beyond reach. He looked at it all. And he did not believe God in spite of his own inadequacies; he believed God because of his own inadequacies. God was the one who put Abraham in an impossible position, so that Abraham could experience what only God can do. And God shows us what impossible people we are for the same reason. The real barrier to faith is not the odds, because God trumps all odds. The real barrier to faith is whether we want God in our lives. Really believing something costs us. Really believing something will take over our lives and change us. What helped Abraham was, in verse 20, he gave glory to God. He humbled himself before God and said, “My life is not about me any more. It’s about you now. Go for it, Lord.” So do you see? Faith is not making ourselves think that things are better than they really are; faith is looking at our real problems and then looking beyond to the promises of God and saying to him, “Display your glory in me. Prove again how wonderful you are, in me, for the sheer hilarity of it.”

Verse 18 describes how Abraham made that choice: “In hope he believed against hope.” Abraham faced a choice. He could put his hope in his own potential, or he could put his hope in God’s promises. He thought about it, and he chose God. In his hope in God he believed against any hope in himself. Faith in God is always an act of defiance against an alternative hope. Abraham didn’t mix the two hopes. He said, “My only chance for happiness and significance is the grace of God – and I wouldn’t even want it any other way.” God is not our fallback position when we run out of own brilliant ideas; God is the Fountainhead of everything hopeful. Faith in God is not a weakness we should be embarrassed by; it is the only real strength for facing real life, because it changes everything into an opportunity for God to put himself on display through us in our weakness. If you struggle to trust God, don’t try to make yourself believe. Try to make yourself not believe, and see how far you go. Keep looking at the hard realities, keep looking at the promises in the gospel, and ask yourself if God has thought of everything.

That is faith. And it isn’t super-spiritual faith. It’s entry-level, justifying faith: “His faith was counted to him as righteousness” (verse 22). What a great way to live! It makes your life an adventure unfolding from far beyond yourself. And the cool thing is, God takes over not in spite of your weakness and sin but because of your weakness and sin. Wouldn’t you like to live that way? God wants to help you do that very thing.

How does God help us to trust him? (23-25)

When you struggle to believe, here is how God helps. God helps us by showing us his grace in Jesus. Abraham’s story in the Old Testament focused on the Promised Land and other historic things, but they were all forward-pointing symbols of Jesus himself. At the focal point of history, Jesus was delivered up, handed over to his crucifiers, because of our trespasses. And he was raised from the dead because of our justification. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was God’s “Amen!” to Jesus’ “It is finished!” We know that Jesus succeeded in bearing all our sin far away. We know that, because God raised him from death. At the resurrection, God was announcing to the whole human race, everyone who would ever hear about Jesus, that there is Someone who has taken our sin away, and God has received his sacrifice. God is satisfied with Jesus, and that’s why his arms are open to you.

When your faith in God has been beaten up and is lying there on the ground, bleeding and dying and you wonder if it’s going to survive, here’s how God helps you. He tells you in the gospel, “What satisfies me is not ultimately your faith, which is weak, but my Son, who is strong. Your future has been opened up not by your virtue but by his sacrifice. You’re involved in something larger than yourself. You lost your credibility with me a long time ago, anyway. That’s why Jesus died for you. He succeeded for you. I am promising you everything because of him. That’s the way I’ve set it up, because that’s who I am. I am too good not to be shared with sinners, and I have opened the way through Jesus. Believe it, and rejoice.”