The difference between faith and presumption

Series on Faith in God

We are continuing on in our series on Faith in God. As Scripture tells us we need faith to receive God’s promises. James says without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But Jesus tells us that with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). All that God has for us is made available to us by faith.

We also talked about how there are three parts to faith:

  1. A word from God, which gives us something to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word.
  3. And appropriate action based on his word to us.

We need all three of these to have the kind of faith that receives from God.

But the sad fact is that in various ways we often get off track in our attempt to have faith in God and to receive God’s promises. We will focus on one particular problem today, which is rooted in the first part of faith, having something from God to stand on. When we try to act in faith without a word from God, this is called –

Presumption

Here’s an illustration from everyday life. I have faith in my wife that she is kind and hospitable. But if I invite over a large group of people for dinner without her saying it’s OK, well, that is presuming upon her and would likely have dire consequences for me!

To be presumptuous is to move forward with unwarranted confidence. It’s to have misplaced assurance. In the things of God our confidence is unwarranted because it’s not based on a word from God.

Now easy examples of this have to do with when Jesus will return. Not too long ago Harold Camping and his followers proclaimed that May 21, 2011 as the day. Do you remember? These people really believed. They had certainty (the second part of faith). They even had actions of sacrifice and boldness (the third part of faith). But nothing came of it because it was not based on God’s word (the first part of faith). They found themselves waiting for God to act, when God never said he would.

The point today is that we need to make sure that we are standing on God’s word with our faith; that what we claim as a word from God is indeed a word from God. Otherwise, although we may look like we have faith, it’s simply presumption or fake faith; it’s a cheap substitute.

Now there are many –

Different paths that lead to presumption

I will just give a few examples today. 1. You misunderstand a word from God. This is quite common. For instance, you might say, if I raise my child right, they will become a Christian. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Well, this is a proverb, not a promise. It talks about the way things usually work out. Not the way it always works out. So this doesn’t give us a guaranteed end result for every person. And as we know from other Scriptures we must all make our own moral choices in the end.

Another exampleif I have faith, my whole family will eventually be saved. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is a misunderstanding of the context of the verse. Paul is saying that the promise of salvation by faith is not just for the Philippian jailer, but for everyone in his household. That is, if they believe, they too will be saved. He’s not saying that if he believes his whole household will be saved or will eventually be saved. Again, each of us have to make our choices. They can’t be made for us.

Another path to presumption is when 2. You claim a promise that has conditions, but you don’t meet them. For instance, God will always forgive me. You read the last part of Matthew 6:14 – “your heavenly Father will forgive you,” and you say, ‘Hey I prayed for forgiveness and God has promised to forgive me. I am standing on this promise!’ But you left out the “if” part; the first part of the verse. There’s a condition. It says, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” You won’t receive the blessing of forgiveness, unless you meet the condition of forgiving others.

Many of God’s promises have such conditions that we need to be aware of.

Another path to presumption is when 3. You trust in your own plan to fulfill God’s promise. You act without listening to how God wants to bring it to fulfillment.

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham who come up with a plan to get their promised son through Hagar the servant. But this wasn’t God’s will; this wasn’t God’s plan. And it caused many problems.

Another example can be seen in Matthew 26. Peter knew that God’s kingdom was being made real through Jesus. But when the police came to arrest Jesus he took a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He thought he could make the kingdom of God come by violence, instead of the suffering love of the cross; in his own way and not God’s way.

When you act on your own to fulfill God’s plan you end up further from the blessing (not closer). And it makes a mess of things.

A final example of a path to presumption is when 4. You take a general promise and make it rigidly apply to you. You take God’s general will, and say it has to happen to you in a certain way or time.

For instance, Psalm 91 talks about the one “who dwells in the shelter of the Almighty” – and it says some pretty amazing things:

  • 10 – “no evil (harm) shall be allowed to befall you.”
  • 14 – “I will deliver him, I will protect him.”
  • 15 – “I will rescue him.”
  • 16 – “with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

So you say, ‘this is what the Word says, God will protect me from all harm and give me a long life.’ Well, what should we make of Paul’s many trials which he enumerates in several of his letters, not to mention the trials of our Lord. Or the promise that it is through many trials that we must enter the kingdom? Act 14:22.

No, this Psalm talks about the way God works in general. God loves to deliver his own and bless them. But this doesn’t always happen, just as the righteous don’t always have long lives in this world. But this Psalm does speak to how it will be in the end for each of us. We will be delivered and blessed and live life eternal without evil or harm.

Now, if you get a specific word from God by the Spirit that says, he’s ready to deliver you or to keep it from coming to you in the first place, this allows you to have something specific to stand on, to pray in bold faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Let’s look at the big picture. This is how real faith works: 1) We have a word from God as a foundation to stand on. 2) We have firm trust in God and God’s word to us. And 3) we have appropriate action. And then God comes through for us and we receive the blessings.

But when we 1) have no word from God to stand on, 2) we have misplaced trust, and 3) we will have wrong actions; not in accord with God’s will. And we receive nothing from God. And we will likely look foolish and cause others to scoff or stumble.

So it’s really important to learn –

How to avoid presumption

And the key here is to discern God’s will. Here are some things that will help guard us from presuming upon God.

1. Know God’s word. Know what God’s will and promises are, what the context and scope of each promise is, and any conditions that apply.

2. Know God’s voice. Now this isn’t always easy. But you can get to know what God’s voice is like. It’s clear, pure and different than you. And of course, always check any such word against the word of God which is our standard.

3. Only claim general promises in a general way. We can only stand in faith on as much as we have from God.

A good example of this comes from Daniel 3:17-18. The three young men were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are saying, ‘God can do it, but even if he doesn’t we are fine with that.’ God loves to deliver the righteous, but he doesn’t always.

If you want more specificity in a case, pray and ask for it. “God what is your will?” “How do you want me to pray?” And then you can pray with bold faith. But short of something more from God, ask, but leave it open to what God chooses to do.

4. Ask others for discernment. Ask other Christians, ‘Do I have something from God here?’ Let them see if it rings true to them. This is one of the ways we can help each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I want to end with a Scripture that sums up what I’m saying today from –

1 John 5:14-15

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

He’s talking about firm faith or as he says, “confidence” toward God. And he makes the point that our faith comes to fruition if “we ask . . . according to his (God’s) will.” That’s when we receive what “we have asked of him.”

You need faith to receive from God

Series: Faith in God

I want to begin a series today on Faith in God. Faith is absolutely central to our lives as followers of Jesus and I want to encourage you in your faith as we go through this. And this especially so, since we as a congregation are all seeking to have God work through us during this year of discernment; that God might use us to bring people to know him.

Now, when you talk about faith certainly Abraham comes to mind. In fact, in Galatians 3:9 Paul calls him simply “the man of faith.” So I want us to look at his story, and specifically at –

Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a child

Now this story covers ten whole chapters in Genesis, but don’t worry, I’m gonna squeeze it down for you and go through it quickly.

First of all, in Genesis 12: He receives the promise. Abraham was seventy-five years old and living in Haran. And God spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. . .” (12:1-2)

Of course, to be a great nation means that he will have a child. And this was a big deal because Sarah couldn’t have children (11:30). Nevertheless, in faith, he packed his bags and all that he owned and went to Canaan. And once he got to there, God reaffirmed the promise in 12:7,  “to your offspring I will give this land.”

 Well, time passes. He goes to Egypt and fears for his life and then comes back. He splits the land for grazing with Lot, his nephew. And he has to rescue Lot after he is taken captive. But there is no child yet.

This brings us to Chapter 15: Where God confirms the promise. (See too the encouragement in chapter 13:14-17). And here we see Abraham’s humanity come out.

God spoke to him again about blessing him. But Abraham said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless . . . you have given me no offspring.” (15:2-3)

Then God said, “. . . your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (15:4-5)

And after this amazing promise it says, Abraham “believed the Lord . . ..” (15:6). He had faith in God.

And then Abraham said, “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:8). This is an honest question. He was already old. How would he know that this will happen after he is gone? And so God let him see into the future, and God made a covenant with him – a guarantee (according to the culture of that day) and then reiterated, “to your offspring I give this land . . ..” (15:18)

Next, Abraham tries to fulfill the promise on his own, through Sarah’s servant Hagar, who bore him a son named Ishmael. And this caused a great deal of conflict in his household.

This brings us to Genesis 17-18: Where God confirms the promise again. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. God said, “for I have made you the father of many nations.” He speaks of it as if it is already done. And now Abraham has as his name “father of many nations.” How ironic that everyone calls him this, “father of many nations,” even though he has no child from Sarah.

God said to him – “I will give you a son by her” (v. 16), that is Sarah, his wife. And Abraham laughed (v. 17) because they were so old! Abraham is now 99 years old, and Sarah is 90.

Abraham asked, “Why not Ishmael?” You know, this would be a lot easier. But God said no. The son will come from Sarah and the name will be Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham laughed. And then God said that it would happen within a year (v. 21).

Then we have another story where Sarah laughs about having a child. Then Lot is rescued from the destruction of Sodom. And we have another story of Abraham’s weakness, where he was afraid he would die.

And then, sure enough, a year later, in Genesis 21: Isaac is born!

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” (21:1-2)

Abraham got off track at times, he was afraid, he questioned, he laughed about the promise, but he believed. And because he believed, he received the promise. He was 100 years old. And he had waited for 25 years.

Let’s look briefly at some –

Lessons on faith from this story

1. Be prepared for the unusual. God often works in unusual ways. He does it his way, not necessarily what we want. We want things to be quick, smooth and easy. But as we see with Abraham there were lots of difficulties and obstacles. And so it will be with us. Walking in faith is an adventure with God.

2. Faith can involve a lot of patience. As we saw, Abraham waited 25 years. And there were years at a time where there was nothing from God about the promise. Just silence and waiting, for two, five or maybe seven years at a time. And we will need patience too as we look to God in faith.

3. God often acts when we are at our weakest. God acted when they were both too old to have children, so no one would doubt that this was a miracle; that it was God working – and not just the natural course of things. And often with us as well, God waits until we know we can’t do it in our own strength, and then he answers.

These are some good things to remember. But most basically, this story teaches us that –

You need faith to receive God’s promises

And this is my point today. Abraham received the promise because he believed God and he acted on his belief.

Paul gives us an amazing description of his faith.

Romans 4:18-21 – “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He did not look at the outward things, his circumstances;  how they were both too old to have a child. He looked to God and knew that God was able. And that’s all that really matters.

And just as Abraham received God’s promise by faith, so this is true of all God’s people. As Hebrews 11:33-34 says, They, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness . . ..” This was all through faith in God.

And just as Abraham and all these other examples received what God had for them by faith, so we receive all that God has for us by faith.

  • What do you need to receive new life from God? Faith! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • What do you need to receive God’s provision for your needs? Faith! In Matthew 6:30 Jesus tells us not to be anxious or to have little faith, but to trust that God will provide for our needs.
  • What do you need to overcome the evil one? Faith! Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
  • What do you need to overcome the world? Faith! 1 John 5:4-5 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
  • What do you need to have your prayers answered? Faith! Scripture says that God gives generously to all, “But let (each one) ask in faith, with no doubting . . .” – James 1:6

And what do we need to be used by God to work at bringing people to know the Lord? Faith!!!

We can be like the people of Nazareth who received very little of what Jesus could do because of their “unbelief” – Mark 6:6. Or we can be like the disciples who, though stumbling, had faith and received what Jesus had for them. Think of them at Pentecost and in the book of Acts.

We can choose doubt, but then as James says, we will not “receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Or We can choose faith, for as Jesus said, “all things are possible for the one who believes” – Mark 9:23.

Do you believe that God can work through you to touch other people’s lives that they might come to Christ, and grow and be encouraged and helped? Do you believe? It’s your choice. I choose faith. And I encourage you to do the same.