Is It Faith, or Not?

I’ve been wrestling with Jacob’s wrestling with God, in chapter 32 of Genesis. Is that an act of faith, or is it the antithesis of faith?

Likewise Gideon’s fleece—faith, or lack of faith? Gideon had previously asked God to prove his identity (Judg. 6:17). Then in 6:36-40, Gideon requires God on two consecutive days to alternate the morning dew between a wool fleece and the ground surrounding it. Is this faith in God or is it putting God to the test? Christians today often point to that fleece as a time-honored method for discovering God’s will. Yet if you read Judges 6 carefully, God had already provided Gideon with crystal clear instructions and ample proof of his identity. Gideon already knows it is God speaking to him, already knows God’s will, and now he is stalling, hoping to avoid it.

Wrestling with God? We all do it! But, as Jacob’s experience reveals, this isn’t always a bad thing. In what sense might our own wrestling with the Lord be a genuine display of our faith?

Hebrews 11 recounts so many of the Old Testament heroes of faith. The list includes both Jacob and Gideon, although the specific events I just associated with them—the wrestling and the fleece—are not mentioned in Hebrews 11. When we read of these heroes, we usually stop and think about each one individually. But what can we learn from this heroic group as a whole, regarding our own wrestling with God?

A myriad of insights into the nature of faith is provided for us in Hebrews 11, but here are just a few:

Hebrews 11 reveals to us people who have their sights set on the bigger picture—more than what they can perceive with their physical senses. Things revealed through God’s Word, by his Spirit. Because of this, though these heroes walk through great uncertainty in this life, yet they persevere. Because God says so, they are confident in things not seen. Consider a few illustrations from Hebrews 11...

When God first calls him, Abraham doesn’t know where he is going. But he still goes.

Noah obeys God and builds an ark. This is pure foolishness, if based only on Noah’s life experience to that point. Yet he builds it because God says to.

Abraham lives in tents, though God has promised him a city and a great nation. Abraham never sees the city or the nation in his earthly life, but we see that God has been accurately faithful to his Word of promise to Abraham.

Moses turns his back on an Egyptian throne and spends 40 years in the wilderness—twice! His motivation? “He persevered because he saw him who is invisible…” (Heb. 11:27b).

And Joseph chooses slavery and imprisonment over disobeying God’s Word.

Before we put them on a pedestal, remember that our heroes of faith were far from perfect. Some of them, like Jacob, Moses, Rahab (and maybe Joseph), were rejected by their family or their culture through their own faulty choices. Many of those who seemingly made all “the right” choices also found their lives to be harder paths because they accepted the Word of God as true, and they applied it in their lives, even when it was far from easy or convenient.

Try reading through Hebrews 11 yourself. Doesn’t every faith hero wrestle with God in some way or other? And God—graciously allowing his people to do this—proves himself faithful to his Word, to his promises, and to his people—every single time.

What is your faith, if not the response of your heart, mind, and body to the faithfulness of your God?

Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel still speaks…” And so do all the rest of these heroes. The message they speak? They are telling us that our own wrestling with God certainly is true faith… when we—like Jacob—by the grace of God, refuse to let go of him.

Rev. Brent Juliot is Contributing Editor of F&F magazine and Pastor of Living Hope Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

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