What it means to “step out on faith”

One common area of concern for believers is finding the “will of God.” Usually, this means that we don’t know exactly which course to take or which decision to make, and would like God to tell us clearly which is the “right one” in order for us to avoid as much discomfort as possible. Some decisions are clear, and don’t require such searching for God’s will: a career in prostitution, for example, is not an option for a believer, nor is life as a master thief. We don’t need to “find God’s will” when faced with such options.

When faced with decisions for which the Bible doesn’t clearly provide answers, however, we sometimes speak of “stepping out on faith” that the course we take or decision we make is the “right one” that God will bless for us. The Bible certainly seems to use such language: we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7); “the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). Additionally, in the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11, we are told that several of the faith heroes “stepped out in faith,” as it were, such as Abraham when he left Ur at God’s command and later offered Isaac as a sacrifice, and Noah when he built an ark for an ocean that did not yet exist.

Yet we should take care when we characterize certain of life’s decisions or options as the same sort of walking by faith that Abraham and Noah did, especially when there is, in fact, a different  way in which we actually do step out in faith in like fashion. Let me explain.

When we talk about “stepping out on faith,” it is usually in a situation such as beginning a new career, starting a new business, or even proposing marriage (or accepting a proposal). The one who has lost his job of many years and is faced with selecting a new and different income opportunity is said to “step out on faith” that God will bless his choice. The one who has decided to go into business for himself is said to “step out on faith” that God will make this new business fruitful for supporting his family. The one who buys the ring and pops the question is said to “step out on faith” that she is “the one” that God has for him.

The difficulty is that these situations – as significant and potentially life-altering as they are for us – are nothing like what the Bible describes as walking by faith.

Abraham, for instance, was given a specific command by God to leave Ur. He “stepped out in faith” that God knew the destination, even though Abraham didn’t, and that God could fulfill his promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations, though the circumstances didn’t look that way at all. And Abraham was given a specific command by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham “stepped out in faith” that God could, potentially, raise Isaac from the dead, and that even if he did not, God could somehow, someway, nevertheless do what he had promised to do, even though Abraham could not see the solution himself.

Noah was given a specific command by God to build an ark. He “stepped out in faith” that God could forecast the weather even though there had never been the sort of water on earth that would require a boat.

Both men were prepared to face the consequences of obedience to God’s explicit command, even though they could not anticipate what those consequences would be, and whether or not those consequences would be pleasant or miserable for them. For us, the equivalent would be if God tells someone in as clear and as simple terms that he is to quit his job and move to Africa. In that situation, he would be “stepping out on faith” to turn in his resignation, sell his house, and purchase passage across the ocean without knowing what his task would be, where he would live, and how he would support himself.

This sounds romantic and all very “spiritual.” The problem is that we can’t count on God talking to men this way any longer. We believe that God has revealed himself and his will for man in the Scriptures, the Bible. Of course, the Bible does not contain specific answers for every decision we face, though in it God reveals a few specific aspects of his will for us that shape and guide how we live our live on a day-to-day basis. For instance, God wills that men be saved (2 Peter 3:9); that his people be wise (Ephesians 5:17-18); that believers be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4); that Christians be submitting  (1 Peter 2:13-15); and that we be rejoicing/suffering (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Does God want you to start a business? If it doesn’t violate salvation, wisdom, sanctification, submission or suffering, go for it!

Outside specific commands that we not sin, and outside these general expressions of God’s will for us, we are to choose among the many options that face us daily according to wisdom granted to us through the study of his Word and the operation of the Holy Spirit, and obey where there are explicit commands. Therefore, undertaking a new career path is not so much “stepping out on faith” as it is attempting to “walk in wisdom” in an area that God has given us a range of viable options.

Is there any sense, then, in which modern-day believers “step out on faith”? Absolutely.

The businessman who is asked to cook the company’s books must honor the biblical admonitions against theft and false witness. He “steps out on faith” that obeying God is in his best interest, despite the potential of losing his job and standard of living.

The parents who are tempted to give in to “the terrible two’s” (or “they’re just boys,” or the pre-teen syndrome, or the teen years) must consider God’s command for them to “bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.” They “step out on faith” that the long hours, hard work, and sacrifice (yes, parents…sacrifice!) is God’s best and in their children’s best interest.

The believer who is introverted, shy and has trouble speaking in public must nevertheless obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” through personal evangelism and witnessing. He “steps out on faith” that any persecution he receives, or discomfort he experiences is worth being faithful to his Lord and participating in God’s call of his people for salvation.

Obeying the commands of Jesus Christ, therefore, require us to “step out on faith.” Let’s exercise faith in that respect before we speak of “stepping out” in what amount to matters of wisdom.

Copyright 2013 Rob Faircloth

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