There’s a Christian song titled ‘Trust and Obey’. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the song, the two key words of the title are simple yet profound. If there were two words which we could impress upon the memory of people as they leave school, or publicly profess their faith, or marry, or become office bearers, it could well be these. Indeed, the words could be used as a maxim, a shibboleth, for the life of every Christian. They characterise the life of faith.
If faith is trust in God, then to live by faith is to have an unshakable trust, to trust irrespective of the consequences. It is to hold onto and obey God’s Word in the face of difficulties, to trust in His promises, to be confident that He is everywhere, sees everything, governs everything in your life and will do what He said He would do. It is to say with David, ‘I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand…’ (Psalm 31).
A taste of what this means has been given in Hebrews 11, that list of examples of those who lived by faith. Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrew Christians in order to encourage them to continue to trust in God and His Word. They had, apparently, lost heart. To be sure, they had learned wonderful things about the Lord Jesus Christ. They’d learnt about His miracles and words, His high-priestly work, His sacrifice on the cross as complete payment for our sins, His ascension to heaven and his authority over all things. They’d been taught that Christ would soon return and conquer sin and Satan, hardships and sicknesses, disasters and death.
But He hadn’t come. Instead of the promised fulfillment, instead of a new heaven and a new earth, instead of Christ coming in glory, the Hebrew Christians were experiencing increasing hardships and misery. What they saw before them was not Christ arrayed in glory but the Roman Empire extolling its glory, trampling underfoot faithful believers. The enemy had robbed God’s children of their property and goods, dished out death, thrown Christians to wild beasts in the arena. Reality seemed to contradict what had been promised.
Nevertheless, says Paul, don’t go by what you see and experience. Instead, live by faith. Trust what God promised. Christ will return. You will be glorified. And then Paul illustrates his point by giving examples of people who trusted: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and others.
What was it that characterised these people who Paul said lived by faith? Despite hardships, dangers, lack of observable evidence, they simply trusted and obeyed.
Take Noah. The LORD had told him to build a ship because a great flood would destroy all the godless. But what did Noah experience? The godless continued to live it up; the seasons continued to come and go; the world’s mockery as his family built the huge ship on dry ground continued unabated. When he spoke of the impending judgement, society contemptuously ignored his warnings and laughed him to scorn. However, despite the scorn and hardships year in year out he kept building. He believed that the flood would come – simply because God said so. He continued to trust and obey.
Years late Abram was told to go to Canaan which would be given to him and his descendants. He wandered around on it all his life and when he was about to die he still had nothing but a gravesite that he’d purchased. He was told that his descendants would be as innumerable as stars and sand, but for many years he had no child. When he finally received a son, an only child, he was told to sacrifice him. It seemed ridiculous, utter foolishness, unbelievable. How on earth could he have descendants if his only son was to perish? Yet he undertook the three days’ journey to the appointed place, bound Isaac, and raised the knife to kill. He trusted and obeyed.
Moses’ parents, living under the oppression of Pharaoh, knew that there was a proclamation that baby boys were to be killed. But Amram did not say to Jochebed, “Listen sweetheart, it would be irresponsible to have children now. You know that if it’s a boy he’s to be killed. And even if we could hide him, which we can’t, look at the sort of world our children would grow up in. They’ll be slaves, worked to death by these wicked Egyptians. Let’s abstain or take precautionary measures.” But Amram didn’t. Reason could dictate this, but God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply”. God, they knew, was in control. Trust and obey.
Church history is replete with those who demonstrated, through the Spirit of God, what it meant to trust and obey. Many lost their friends, their jobs, their possessions, even their lives knowing, believing, trusting that God would fulfil His promises – an eternal inheritance. They knew that perfect joy and eternal peace and glory awaited them.
Trust and obey – it sounds so easy, but, when you think about it, every transgression of a commandment is not only to disobey but also shows a lack of trust. When the Israelites served other gods, they showed lack of trust in God. So did serving the LORD in a self-chosen way. And remember how the LORD railed against Israel when they broke the Sabbath. They would harvest the crop on the Sabbath if a rainstorm threatened. After all, just imagine a whole yearly crop ruined by one storm. Surely to work on the Sabbath in such a situation was responsible stewardship! But God was angry because by their disobedience they demonstrated lack of trust in Him. Breaking the law is not to trust and obey. We no longer trust in God’s providence when we steal, when we lie, when we mislead the tax office, when we covet. To trust and obey disturbs our sinful desires.
It also disturbs relationships. For Abel to trust and obey was to ignite Cain’s murderous anger. When Enoch spoke up against the evils of his day, people sought to kill him. Those who trust and obey should not expect to get it easy in life, just as the faithful in Hebrews 11 did not get it easy. For to trust and obey is to stand on the side of God in the great antithesis which He put between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. It is to act when you know God’s Word tells you to act. It is to speak when God’s Word tells you to speak, and to speak pointedly, obediently, trusting in God. It is to face scorn, ridicule, and oppression. It is to be snubbed, ignored, gossiped about. It is to receive a cold stare when you greet someone you know, to see people turn away when you approach, to lose old friends.
Today all the signs are that those completing their studies, or doing public profession of faith, or getting married are doing so in a world of increasing godlessness and wickedness. What’s to become of them and us? We don’t know. But this we do know: Christ our Saviour, to whom all authority has been given, is in full control. With this comfort let us simply trust and obey. Holding fast, in the ups and downs of life, to God’s promises – that is trust. Being sure that revolution and war, communism and materialism, existentialism and postmodernism, tolerance and intolerance, freedom and persecution come not by chance but are controlled by our Father in heaven who, through it all, is coming to the great day of the LORD – that is trust. It is to do mission work in the face of danger and opposition. It is to start a Christian school when you don’t yet have the money or teachers. It is to resign from a lucrative job rather than compromise Christian principles. It is to point out one another’s errors rather than tolerate sin. It is to know that in health and sickness, richness and poverty, good days and bad days, life and death “I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” and to live with and for Him eternally.
O LORD, help me simply to trust and obey.