There is a story about a famous fellow who walked across the Niagara Falls on a tight-rope. Whether the story is entirely factual, I do not know; but the event was said to have taken place a long time ago with huge crowds of onlookers.
Anyway—as the story goes—before the tightrope walker stepped onto the very long rope suspended high above the swirling waters, he asked the crowds of people who had come to witness this daring event whether they believed he could do it. The expectant crowds yelled, YES! He stepped onto the rope while the spellbound onlookers watched him traverse the immense distance, with certain death yawning below him, across the Niagara Falls and back again. When he finally stepped safely off the rope the crowds cheered ecstatically.
He then asked whether they thought he could walk across the Falls pushing a wheelbarrow on the rope. The crowds again expressed their utmost confidence in him as a vast chorus of voices screamed, YES! Again he walked the long rope pushing a wheelbarrow while the onlookers watched the step by step progress with bated breath. And again, when he’d completed his act, there was widespread jubilant applause.
He then asked the crowds whether they believed he could do it while pushing the wheelbarrow, but this time with someone in it. Despite a few gasps the enthusiastic crowd again confidently shouted, YES! He then asked: Are you quite sure? The crowd roared louder, YES!!
He then asked for a volunteer.
The crowds looked abashed at one another. Meanwhile he waited … and waited…. But there was no response. No one dared! No one was prepared to follow up their enthusiastic word of faith with a deed of faith.
You get the message. It’s one thing to say that we trust but when it comes to the crunch, when our faith is put to the test, will our actions match our words?
God, of course, is no tight-rope walker. He is the almighty Creator of the universe and directs all events according to the purpose of His will. He never makes mistakes, never loses control of what He does and is completely reliable. We all confess this. But our trust can be so fickle. Sticky situations can so easily lead to doubts as human reasoning governs our actions.
Just consider two well-known Bible figures who had their trust put to the test and failed.
King Saul was going to do battle with the Philistines but was told to wait seven days till Samuel had come and sacrificed to the Lord. It was a long seven days.
The Philistines had gathered a massive army, armed to the teeth, and with many horses and chariots. Saul, too, had gathered his army, but he and his son were the only ones with swords. His men were scared stiff and each day more and more slipped away or hid. Yet Samuel had told Saul not to go into battle until Samuel came and sacrificed to the LORD.
Where on earth was Samuel? Why hadn’t he come? The situation seemed desperate.
Finally, on the seventh day, Saul felt he could wait no longer. The situation already seemed ridiculous—a small, poorly equipped army of jittery men over against a massive, highly efficient, well-equipped Philistine army. Saul felt he simply had to act now, had to take the initiative, before the remainder of his men slipped away. After all, wasn’t he king?
He knew that going to battle without first sacrificing would be wrong. But under these circumstances surely the Lord would understand that he, Saul, would have to sacrifice instead of Samuel. So he went ahead.
No sooner had he offered sacrifices than Samuel appeared on the scene. Saul had failed the test. He had not trusted that Almighty God could give victory where human reasoning said otherwise.
But, of course, that was Saul. And his behaviour, as subsequent events showed, wasn’t always particularly admirable. Then what about Abraham, the “father of all believers”?
We read that he trusted in God and this trust was accounted to him as righteousness. He was prepared to sacrifice his son, trusting that God could bring him back to life. Yet earlier, even he succumbed to human reasoning. The Lord had promised him a son. But year after year went by, and still there was no son.
Meanwhile Sarah became too old to bear children. And it probably wouldn’t be long before Abraham was physically too weak to engage in the act of procreation. Therefore, Sarah reasoned, he’d better lie with Hagar and hopefully they’d have a son by this bondwoman.
Abraham agreed. And it worked! But it was a lack of trust in God. They had resorted to human reasoning and had seemed to forget that with God nothing is impossible. The consequences were that the descendants of Ishmael, the son born of this relationship, became a thorn in the side of Israel for generations.
Christians and faith
There are Christians who say: I do believe what’s in the Bible. I do believe that God sent His Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him will be saved. And I do believe that God forgives sins and gives eternal life because of Christ’s payment. But I don’t know if Jesus saved me. I’m not sure if my own sins are forgiven. They fail the trust test because, when it comes to the crunch, they don’t believe God’s promise of forgiveness and life eternal applies to them.
For in LD 7 we confess that true faith is not only accepting “as true all that God has revealed in His Word” but that it is also “a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me (emphasis added) God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation….” True faith is trusting completely in Christ for salvation, eternal life and everything in life and death.
There are also Christians who acknowledge that they are sinners and believe that Christ has paid for their sins but who refuse to break with a dominant sin in their life. That, too, is not true trust. True trust, or true faith has fruits. As James says: “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” And he points to Abraham, who not only “believed in God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” but who was also “justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar”. It’s not that the works themselves save us, for only Christ can do that, but it is impossible to say that you trust completely in God and at the same time not want to obey Him and keep His commandments. The promises of the gospel and covenant fellowship with God through Christ will mean more to them than all the treasures this world has to offer.
And then there are those Christians who cry, Jesus is Lord, and Christ is king and they are active in fighting secularism—abortion, euthanasia, even homosexual marriage—but they deny the historic truth of the Bible. They don’t trust that what the Bible says in such passages is the real truth. So they interpret “hard to believe” historical happening in the Bible symbolically. For example, the first chapters of Genesis are reinterpreted to bring them more into line with the evolution theory. Likewise, miracles such as the sun and moon standing still at Joshua’s command are explained symbolically, as though they never really happened. That, too, is failing the trust test.
To have faith is to delight in God, to trust Him and His promises completely, and to walk with Him according to His commandments. Most of the Israelite adults who left Egypt and saw God’s miracles both in Egypt and in the wilderness never saw the promised land because they lacked faith. They failed the trust test. We read in Hebrews 3:19 “they could not enter in because of unbelief”. God had promised them “a land flowing with milk and honey” but that promise had to be trusted; it had to be accepted in faith for it to be fulfilled.
And now us. We so much need to trust, to have faith, in Christ. As Luther learned: Salvation comes by faith alone. So where do we get this faith? We confess that it is by the Holy Spirit who works it in us through the oral preaching of the gospel and confirms it through the visible preaching in the sacraments. Therefore, if we are to go through life trusting in our Triune God every step of the way, walking in holiness and in complete assurance of our salvation, faithful preaching is crucial; and to hear that faithful preaching we need to be in the true church because there the opening of Scripture is central to the church services. And we can complement this weekly spiritual food for our faith with daily serious Scripture study.
Otherwise, when it comes to the crunch, we will not have the faith and trust to act as we ought. Otherwise we too may resort to human reasoning instead of trusting in almighty God. Otherwise we too may reinterpret Scriptures to accommodate worldly thinking. And otherwise, at crucial moments (and every moment is crucial), we too will fail the trust test.