Last week, as we started the book of Judges, we learned about this cycle of sin, repentance and restoration that plagued the nation of Israel and we noticed the same type of pattern in our own lives. When I see this type of cycle, I notice something about a Biblical worldview that is different from any other system of belief in this world: it is entirely dependent on God where other faiths try desperately to give godly authority to humankind.
We arrive at this story in Scripture where the Midianites (Baal worshippers) came against the people of Israel and took them captive. God had given the people of Israel over to the Midianites because the people of Israel turned against God and began worshipping Baal. After being persecuted, the Israelites cried out to God and God rescued them by raising up a judge. In this case, God did not raise up a Samson, who had the strength to kill one-thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone. He did not raise up a Hercules. He did not even raise up a man with much military experience. God went to the lowest of all families and chose the youngest man in that family (Judges 6:15) to deliver the people of Israel.
This young man’s name was Gideon and he is remembered for taking 300 Israelites against an army of 135,000 (Judges 8:10) and winning! Here is what we don’t often talk about: Gideon had little faith. He often did not follow God’s specific instructions. He was unsure of himself, and he did not trust God. Yet, God used Gideon to deliver Israel.
In this story there is a scene that sums up Gideon’s lack of faith very well, and I want to look at this part of the story with you:
Judges 6:36-40 (HCSB)
Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said, I will put a fleece of wool here on the threshing floor. If dew is only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, I will know that You will deliver Israel by my strength, as You said.” And that is what happened. When he got up early in the morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung dew out of it, filling a bowl with water.
Gideon then said to God, “Don’t be angry with me; let me speak one more time. Please allow me to make one more test with the fleece. Let it remain dry, and the dew be all over the ground.” That night God did as Gideon requested: only the fleece was dry, and dew was all over the ground.
Gideon’s lack of faith
In this story, we recognize something very important about Gideon. He did not trust God. By this point, God had already promised to deliver Israel and to use Gideon in this act of deliverance. In fact, it was God who came to the youngest man in the lowest family of Israel in the first place in order that Israel would be delivered through him. We can deduce from verse 36 that Gideon even recognized this promise was already made by God. “If You will deliver Israel… as You said…” Gideon proclaimed, “I will put a fleece… on the threshing floor.” Gideon then proceeded to test God, trying to insure that God would follow through with His own promise.
Let us not be guilty of condemning Gideon for his lack of faith. There was a time when I was younger, in high school, and I had $90 in my pocket. It was all I had and I planned to use it. There might have been a nice girl I wanted to take out or a new video game that I wanted to buy. Maybe there was a new footswitch out on the market for my Les Paul Custom (that’s an electric guitar). I do not remember what I wanted to use the money for, but I know that this was my money. I am sitting in church one Sunday and the offering plate is coming toward me. God is convicting me to give that $90. “No, no!” I cried in the privacy of my own mind, “I have plans for that money!” Whether I gave that money or not is unimportant. I showed a lack of faith when I did not immediately follow God’s conviction in my life.
If we are to be honest with ourselves, my thought is that we would all examine ourselves and find that we lack faith. This is not unique to us. It is the condition of living in a fallen, imperfect world. My thought is that we are absolutely incapable of having enough faith. If we are going to make this a point of argument, let me reason with you.
- Faith is complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
- I have faith in my perception. I trust that what I see is a correct representation of the world we live in and that I am not being deceived.
- To have perfect faith in God requires that we trust God perfectly.
- To trust God perfectly is to rely completely and utterly on God.
- To rely completely and utterly on God is to not rely on ourselves at all.
- To not rely on self is to not trust in our own abilities but only God’s.
- To not trust in our own abilities includes our own ability to trust.
- To rely on our faith is to rely on self and to fail to trust God completely.
- Thus: any system where human faith earns eternal life or God’s grace is a system that makes faith in God impossible.
I will sum this up simply: If we rely on our own faith, then we are guilty of producing a works based system that will only keep us from God because we are always trying to be good enough. There are many Christians who say things like, “All you need to do is have enough faith.” No! This is why we need Christ, the Messiah, to deliver us. We are incapable of having enough faith. If we were capable of having enough faith, we simply would not need Christ.
If we are to look at other faiths in the world, we will find systems that depend utterly on human ability to have faith. Islam requires complete devotion. Be good enough, follow the five pillars and maybe God will choose to save you. Non-messianic Judaism requires ritual for people to remain in right-standing with God and depends utterly on the human ability to have faith. Hinduism- human devotion to the gods and good deeds gains either a better life or an end of the reincarnation cycle. Atheism- human devotion to progress gains a right standing before other people. Buddhism- self-control and the ability to empty one’s self gains a oneness with the universe or the real. Mormonism- having enough faith gains eternal life and devotion to hard work gains happiness.
The catch here is that people simply are not capable of perfect faith or devotion. All of these other systems are not different in this respect and, therefore, all are systems that defeat themselves. If we rely on our own ability to have faith or rely on our level of devotion, then we will also defeat ourselves.
As we look back to the story, we can recognize something very important about God. He is faithful despite Gideon’s faithlessness. If we learn nothing else about the sovereign God of the universe, let us learn this: God, if He is God, does not depend on us. In fact, any belief system that claims God depends on people in any way cannot be true because we are the creatures. If our faith, our deeds, our works, or our level of trust earns us a place with God then God depends on our faith to work. This is why I am convinced that no other belief system can possibly be true. Every one of them philosophically subjects God to people because they all argue that people need to have enough faith or devotion.
It amazes me that here, even in the Old Testament (before Christ), it was God who remained faithful to His people no matter how little faith they had in Him. This is the good news of a Biblical worldview: Even though we have sinned against God and have trusted in ourselves, earning death, Christ, who was God in the flesh, paid that death penalty on our behalf in order to restore us to God. This is the Gospel and it does not depend on us. Believing in Christ is not the same as relying on our own faith to get us to God. Believing in Christ is saying, “God restore me in your power despite my lack of faith and despite my sinfulness.”
This is what He does over and over again in the book of Judges. This is what He will do for us through the person of Jesus, God in the flesh (John 1). Remember that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God will give us eternal life through His own power, not through the power of our faith. This is His promise!
Our lives today
Here is the good news: we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to feel spiritual. We don’t have to be religious (by religious I mean ritualistic). We don’t have to be wise. We don’t have to know everything. We don’t have to perform good deeds. God does not depend on us. We don’t have to have some sort of crazy emotional feeling and we don’t even have to be absolutely sure that God will fulfill His promise. God used Gideon to restore Israel even though Gideon lacked faith, did not follow God’s specific instructions, was young and was born in an insignificant family according to human standards.
In the same way, God will fulfill His promise of restoration and eternal life to us even though we may lack faith, even though we may be selfish sometimes, even though we do not always trust God, even when we are young, even in our old age, and even when we do not pray. Though we may feel consequences for our sin on this earth, we will not be condemned if we have believed in Christ.
I just want this to be an encouragement in our lives today. If you are reading this and you have not believed in Christ, there is nothing stopping you from asking Him to be your Lord and Savior today. God does not depend on us and we don’t have to be good enough first. Ask Him to save you and accept His gift of eternal life.
A Biblical worldview is the only worldview that depends entirely on God in this way. Even Muslims depend on human deeds (http://islam101.net/index.php/theology/islamic-faith/138-life-after-death) and Atheists require a person’s place to be earned according to whatever popular view of progress there happens to be at the time (http://atheists.org/about-us/aims-and-purposes). Mormonism declares that to make Christ’s atonement effective in our lives, we must exercise faith, repent, be baptized, and follow the teaching for our entire life. It argues that if we work hard then we will receive happiness in this life and personal happiness is the end goal (https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/plan-of-salvation). This is a works based system and depends on the human ability to have faith and to live well. I reply with the Biblical view that God does not depend on us.
If we have accepted God’s gift of eternal life, let us strive to honor Him in this life and spread this message of reconciliation according to the Scriptures; not because this will earn a greater degree of grace for us (for God give all of Himself from the start), but in response to what God has already done for us. This is why believing in Christ is so important for us in this world. Any other way depends on us and is self-defeating because we are incapable of restoring ourselves.