HELP FOR OUR UNBELIEF
There are times old, memorized Bible promises just don’t help me trust Jesus. I recite them in the face of temptation, but nothing. No power, no belief, no victory. Is this because Jesus isn’t trustworthy? After all, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20). Why aren’t they “amen-ed” in my heart in the face of temptation of despair? Is there something wrong with my Bible? Or maybe Jesus only occasionally makes good on his promises? That, of course, contradicts God’s Word, and we must always interpret the Bible in light of the rest of the Bible.
No, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is always trustworthy and his promises are always true. The problem is with my faith. I am like the centurion who cried: “I believe; help my unbelief!” In those moments, my faith is temporarily stuck in something other than Jesus. When the truth of God’s promises is set before me, for some reason, my faith doesn’t seize upon it. In those moments, we need fresh faith in the gospel of Jesus.
How can we cultivate fresh faith in his gospel?
SPIRIT-LED BIBLE READING
In order to cultivate fresh faith in the gospel, Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen recommends we return to prayer—but perhaps not as you usually pray. Owen suggests if we consider the Spirit’s working in our hearts by prayer, we may understand much of his working upon our hearts by grace. He is saying that prayerful communion with the Spirit can lead to grace-based transformation of our hearts.
How, then should we pray? Owen recommends we pray to the Spirit for three things: 1) Insight into God’s promises, 2) experience of our need, and 3) creation of desire.
The Spirit hovers over the deep, ready to disclose the will and presence of God to us.
When reading God’s Word, all too often we assume we can gain insight by ourselves, neglect to experience our need, and are too proud to ask for God to create desire for him. What if, whenever we read the Bible, we began to talk to the Holy Spirit? What if we asked from help from the divine Helper given to guide us into truth (John 14:16)? The Spirit wants to help us in our reading, experiencing, and desiring before the face of God. He hovers over the deep, ready to disclose the will and presence of God to us (1 Cor. 2). He loves to rivet our affection upon the risen Christ.
So how should we pray to him?
Whenever you are reading the Bible and feel like you aren’t getting anything out of it, pause to ask the Spirit for insight into God’s promises. What if you paused and asked him, “Lord, you have been given to us so that we can understand all the things freely given to us by God. Will you give me insight into God’s Word right now?”
Now, insight isn’t enough. Unregenerate scholars have lots of insight into God’s Word. I’m willing to bet that you have gained an insight in Scripture but not known how to respond, right?
What if, instead of trying to “figure out application” on our own, we asked the Spirit to give us an experience of our need? What if you paused to ask him, “Lord, who knows the heart of man like the Spirit of God, will you help me to experience my specific need for right now?” Perhaps the Spirit will lead you to respond by rejoicing, repenting, interceding, or obeying.
Approach God’s Word with God’s Spirit.
Finally, have you ever read with insight, known your need, but felt no desire to respond to God? You know what to do but you’re flat. Hollow. Cold. Don’t move on or assume you will have the proper response. Pause and plead with the Spirit: “Lord, forgive me for my lack of desire, and create fresh, new desire in me to respond to you.” Then, wait and respond.
In order to cultivate fresh faith in the gospel, I first recommend Spirit-led Bible reading. Make a habit of asking the Spirit to give you: Insight into his promises, an experience of your need, and to create desire to respond to God. Approach God’s Word with God’s Spirit. Plead for the lightning of the Spirit while carrying the rod of his Word. Ask the Spirit for these three things to revive an indifferent heart.
DO GOSPEL HOMEWORK
As you read God’s Word, take confidence that the Spirit longs to give you fresh faith in God’s promises. Now, take that faith in a particular promise and consider how the gospel promises something better than whatever the temptation is promising. Prepare for moments of temptation by doing gospel homework. Gospel homework is a lot more fun than it sounds! When reading the Bible, look for promises of grace to rebuff the promises of sin you find so enticing. Look for the Lord’s instruction regarding a particular temptation. Develop a practice of identifying the promises of sin and line them up against the promises of Christ. Here are few examples:
SEXUAL LUST: THE FIGHT FOR TRUE INTIMACY
Instead of trusting sexual lust for intimacy, trust God for true intimacy: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). When you are tempted to lust, turn to God’s promise for true intimacy, to see God and be enamored with him in Jesus.
- Lust says: “Long for what you cannot have and you will be happy.”
- The gospel says: “Rejoice in what you do have, in Jesus, and you will be truly happy.”
VANITY: THE FIGHT FOR TRUE WORTH
Instead of relying on vanity for worth, consider the beauty of God: “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). When you are tempted to find your worth in your appearance, turn to God’s beauty and rest in the beauty you have in him.
- Vanity says: “Perform beautifully and you will have worth.”
- The gospel says: “Jesus performed beautifully for you; therefore, you have never-ending worth.”
PRIDE: THE FIGHT FOR TRUE CONFIDENCE
Instead of trusting in compliments for confidence, believe that your sufficiency comes from God: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient” (2 Cor. 3:4–6a).
- Pride says: “Find and cherish compliments and then you will be confident.”
- The gospel says: “Your confidence comes, not from your sufficiency, but from God who has made you sufficient in Jesus.”
Get in the habit of comparing the “promises” of sin to the promises of the gospel. I have found it incredibly helpful to write down what sin promises (but never delivers) next to a gospel promise in order to see the staggering difference between the two. When you identify what sin is being unlawfully promised, it forces you to search the Scriptures for how the gospel offers a true promise.There’s something about seeing the futility of sin next to the beauty of Christ. Make a habit of doing gospel homework and looking for grace in God’s promises. Memorize the answers. Quote them to temptation. Write them on your heart. Most importantly, plead with the Spirit for fresh faith in gospel promises.
This was originally posted on Jonathan’s blog Gospel-Centered Discipleship and is also adapted from his newly revised Re:Lit book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship. There are also discussion questions for the book now available as a free download from Crossway.