In this article, we are looking at some basic principles of faith. These are not necessarily anything new, but it is good to review the basics. If we do not understand the basics, as we get farther down the line and start running into bigger problems, we will not have the skill to conquer them.
Ellen White wrote: “Faith is trusting in God—believing that He loves us, and knows what is for our best good.” Gospel Workers (1915), 259. The foundation of faith begins with these two basic principles—believing that God “loves us and knows what is for our best good.”
We hear about character perfection, and we hear about obedience, which we should. We know that we must have character perfection to enter into heaven, but it seems that we can get into a self-centered attitude of character perfection. We focus on ourselves and take our eyes off Christ. We see the things that we need to change, and we focus on trying to change those things on our own; we end up trying to work out our own salvation instead of letting Christ do it.
A Bible verse that may help us to stay focused and not to get off on different things is John 17:3. It says, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
We can spend our whole lives focusing on different reforms and making sure that everything that we do is just so, but that is what the Pharisees did. We must go beyond that. We must keep our eyes focused on Christ and His character.
Our goal is to know Christ and the Father, and as we focus on this, everything else will come into perspective—we will not be seeking to save ourselves by works or to overcome sins for selfish reasons.
Satan is the accuser of the brethren, and he will do anything he can to keep us from coming to Christ, because he knows when we do, then his power will be broken, so he will throw everything he can at us to discourage us, to make us feel unworthy, or to keep us from coming to Christ.
Consider Joshua: “‘Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments.’ [Zechariah 3:3.] Thus sinners appear before the enemy who by his masterly, deceptive power has led them away from allegiance to God. With garments of sin and shame the enemy clothes those who have been overpowered by his temptations, and then he declares that it is unfair for Christ to be their Light, their Defender.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4, 1178.
“The enemy works with all his energy to lead persons into sin. Then he pleads that on account of their past sins, he should be allowed to exercise his hellish cruelty on them as his own subjects.” Ibid.
When the devil comes to us, what has to be our response? We cannot plead anything on our own behalf; we have to claim the blood of Jesus, right? We must put our faith and trust in Christ. Satan first tries to snare us, and when that is unsuccessful, he presents our case before Christ. The good news is that Christ does not enter into a controversy with him. He just answers with, “The Lord rebuke you.” Jude 1:9.
Christ has paid the price for us, and if we come to Him, we have the assurance that our sins will be forgiven, and that is the answer for the devil. We cannot claim anything for ourselves, but Christ has died for us; therefore, we can put our confidence in that.
Promises to Claim
There are several promises that I have memorized and claimed as I have been struggling with discouragement or have felt unworthy to come to the Lord. I would like to share a few of them with you.
“Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 28:29–31. What a wonderful invitation this is that Christ gives to us.
John 6:37 says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
Another promise we may claim is given in 1 John 2:1, 2: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.”
Surely we all know 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is a good Scripture to memorize and to put into our hearts and minds. Then, when the devil does come to discourage us, to try to keep us away from Christ, we have these words with which to fight against him.
As Little Children
Jesus told His disciples, unless you “become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3. Think through what we can learn from a little child.
In Genesis 18, when the angel came to Abraham and told him that Sarah, his wife, was going to have a son, and Sarah overheard it, the Scripture says that she laughed. She said, “Shall I have a son when I am old, when I am beyond the childbearing age?” (Verse 13.)
Now, if an angel had come to a five-year-old child and told him or her that Sarah was going to have a child, would that have been a big stretch of the imagination to the five-year-old? No. Why was it so hard for Sarah to believe? It was hard for Sarah to believe because she was old. She was old enough to understand that a woman her age did not have children, so it went against what her experience told her. We are products of our environment; we are influenced by our surroundings.
If we are fortunate enough to grow up in a Christian home, we are surrounded with right influences. There are teachings that influence us. “Faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17. We filter any new information through all the things we know to be true, through the word of God, and then we choose whether or not we are going to accept the new information.
When our experiences go in opposition to what God’s word says, that tells us that God wants to give us another experience, and the only way He can give that to us is if we believe, if we put our trust in Him, and believe what He says. Sometimes we have to fight against our own natures; God seldom does things the way we expect Him to do them. Sometimes He leads us in ways we do not understand, but “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
A child does not have any regrets, does not have a history of mistakes with which to deal. One of the hardest things with which Christians must deal is their past. But our past should not dictate what our faith is. God says that if we come to Him, He will receive us. If we confess our sins, He will forgive us, and we must focus upon that and let go of the past.
Paul said, “This one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, … I press toward the mark.” Philippians 3:13, 14. So, through faith in Christ, we can let go of the past and trust in Him—that He has forgiven us—and we can move forward.
Quite often we take this passage in a negative context—“forgetting those things which are behind.” It is good that we can come to Christ; we can be forgiven, and we can put those things of the past behind us and move forward. But when Paul speaks about forgetting those things which are behind, he is not talking about his sins. He lists a number of good things. The devil will get us into one ditch or another. If he cannot get us discouraged, he will get us to look to ourselves in a way that we should not, thinking that we are better than we are.
Not only are we supposed to forget the things which are past—maybe our past sins, our past mistakes—but we are not to focus on our good works either. We need to put those behind us and keep focused on the mark, because we are easily led into self-righteousness. We must guard ourselves against that.
Our Best Good
We have concentrated mostly on the first principle of faith, “believing that God loves us.” The most fundamental thing we can do in our Christian experience is to have faith that works by love. “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19. If we do not understand that God loves us, then we cannot really love Him as we should, and we will not accept the fact that He “knows what is for our best good.”
Do we really believe that God is able to control our lives, that He is able to do things that are for our good? Do we really believe that? This may be a struggle. We have to lay aside our own plans, desires, and ambitions and trust the Lord that He is able to work things out for our best good.
Speaking of this unwilling spirit, Ellen White wrote: “Though their present needs are supplied, many are unwilling to trust God for the future, and they are in constant anxiety lest poverty shall come upon them, and their children shall be left to suffer. Some are always anticipating evil or magnifying the difficulties that really exist, so that their eyes are blinded to the many blessings which demand their gratitude. The obstacles they encounter, instead of leading them to seek help from God, the only Source of strength, separate them from Him, because they awaken unrest and repining.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 293, 294.
The apostle Paul said: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Philippians 4:11, 12.
How could he be content in all those things? Because he trusted in the Lord that He would do and was able to do that which was for his best good. This is the kind of faith the Lord wants to give to us—that we have perfect confidence and trust in His keeping and that we be content with whatever is our lot in life, whatever challenge we are called to experience.
“Faith in God’s love and overruling providence lightens the burdens of anxiety and care. It fills the heart with joy and contentment in the highest or the lowliest lot. Religion tends directly to promote health, to lengthen life, and to heighten our enjoyment of all its blessings. It opens to the soul a never-failing fountain of happiness. Would that all who have not chosen Christ might realize that He has something vastly better to offer them than they are seeking for themselves. Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him who knows what is best, and who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression leads to misery and destruction; but wisdom’s ‘ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.’ Proverbs 3:17.” Ibid., 600.
“Our plans are not always God’s plans. …. In His loving care and interest for us, often He who understands us better than we understand ourselves refuses to permit us selfishly to seek the gratification of our own ambition. … Many things He asks us to yield to Him, but in doing this we are but giving up that which hinders us in the heavenward way. …
“In the future life the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings.” Conflict and Courage, 228.
The Lord has a blessing for each one of us. He has promised that if we put our faith and trust in Him and if we commit our way to Him, He will direct our paths, and He will lead us on that path that takes us to peace. We may be confident that if we are faithful, He who has begun a good work in you is faithful to finish it. (Philippians 1:6.) In that we can put our faith and trust.
Jim Stoeckert is a Steps to Life staff member. He lives in Wichita, Kansas, with his two sons.