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What is faith and what is foolish?

Weekly Q&A

What is faith and what is foolish?
Posted on March 2, 2021  - By George Mattackal

At what point is faith foolishness? There are many things we do or are told to do ‘with faith’ that really make no logical sense.

People (I’m talking about believers) often pressure you to make decisions “trusting God” even though, to you, those things don’t seem wise at all. Things like getting married to someone you’re not 100% sure of, or starting a family because time is ticking (even though you’re not ready). These are examples of what I’m seeing around me from friends in my community.

Many times, things work out in the end; but many times, they also don’t. And then all those people who gave you advice are nowhere to be seen. So, how can you tell what is faith and what is foolish?

This question relates to situations where a person is pressured by other believers to make decisions and take actions that the person is not too sure about. When the person expresses doubts, the response is that they should set the doubts aside and move forward “by faith” or by just “trusting God”. The questioner appears to be in a quandary, especially when decisions taken supposedly in “faith” end up “not working out”.

As I read this question, I see many problems that need to be addressed: how to handle advice and counsel, our understanding of Biblical faith, how to discern God’s will in life decisions, and how to deal with decisions “not working out”. 

There are two different threads in this question. One is dealing with pressures from other believers on important decisions. The other thread is about how believers should apply the concept of faith in our lives with respect to discerning God’s will when making important decisions, such as whom to marry.

Seeking counsel

On the matter of pressure from other believers on various life decisions, I would advise a lot of caution. In my experience, sadly, many believers tend to be guided not by a scriptural worldview, but by worldly and cultural norms. This is often the case when it comes to decisions like choosing an educational programme, a job, a marriage partner or how to invest your money. 

Sadly, many believers tend to be guided not by a scriptural worldview, but by worldly and cultural norms

More often than not, one is encouraged to: 

  • Choose an educational programme that has good job prospects, rather than consider your interests and aptitudes and what God’s calling for your life may be. 
  • Choose a job that has good prospects of income and career advancement, rather than considering its impact on your spiritual life. 
  • Choose a marriage partner who has a certain level of education, can earn a good income and is good-looking, rather than someone who has a maturing spiritual walk with the Lord and seeks to serve Him with their life. 
  • Put as much of your money into financial investments so that you can secure your retirement rather than invest it for the kingdom now. 

This is because, while someone may be saved, they have not made much progress on the transformation journey that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1-2, whereby their minds are being renewed and they become less conformed to the world. In many cases, following such advice does not represent true Biblical faith.

This is not to suggest that you should not seek counsel from others in important life decisions. Rather, seek advice from truly spiritual, mature believers. Those whose life provides evidence that they are truly guided by Biblical principles. 

When you receive advice, evaluate it through the lens of a Biblical worldview. Under the guise of “trusting God”, are you in fact being advised to take matters into your own hands rather than wait on the Lord? You should always follow the principles of discerning God’s will, which I have presented below, and not be pressured into decisions and timelines.

Discerning His will

On the matter of going forward with a decision by faith or trust in the Lord, it is important for us to properly understand Biblical faith. God does not call us to blind faith. 

It is important for us to properly understand Biblical faith. God does not call us to blind faith

Our faith has to be grounded in key truths that God has revealed in His Word — His nature of faithfulness, His sovereignty, and His work of making us who are saved conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Yet, faith, by definition, means taking a step trusting in God while not knowing exactly what will follow. 

Let me go a bit deeper into the matter of knowing God’s will for our life. We can divide God’s will into three categories:

1. God’s proclaimed will — These are things that God has clearly made known to us in Scripture and commanded that we should do or not do. For example: 

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says it is the will of God for us to give thanks in everything. 
  • 1 Peter 2:15 says it is the will of God that we should do good (in the context of our relationship with government and society).  
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14 commands that we should not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. 
  • Ephesians 5:11 says we should have no fellowship with the works of darkness. 
  • Galatians 5:16-19 commands us to not fulfill the lust of the flesh and goes on to list specific works of the flesh we are to not indulge. 

As believers, it is important that we establish a discipline of studying God’s Word so that we are aware of His proclaimed will.

2. God’s providential will — These are areas where God has not specifically revealed what we should do. In fact, these are areas where we may even have multiple paths we can take and still be within the providential will of God. God has not revealed in His Word whether we should attend College A or B, purchase Car X or Y, or even marry person C or D. These fall within the arena of God’s providential will. 

In making decisions in these matters, we must evaluate our thinking against God’s proclaimed will to ensure we are not doing something contrary to it, we must pray and commit our plans and desires to God, we must seek advice from older, mature believers (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15), and we must ask God for wisdom (James 1:5-8). We should also apply a measure of common sense in our decision process. 

When we are in the will of God, we will experience a measure of peace regarding our decisions. However, we may never be “100% sure” and, therefore, it requires faith and trust in God to go forward with a decision. 

When we are in the will of God, we will experience a measure of peace regarding our decisions

If you are walking with the Lord, if your mind is being transformed, if you are guided by these principles, then your decisions will be aligned with God’s providential will. Once the decision is made, no matter the results, we need to regard anything that happens as being part of God’s work of conforming us to the image of Christ. Even if they don’t “work out” based on whatever expectations we may have had, we need to see it as part of God’s working out His perfect will in our lives.

3. God’s permissive will — God in His sovereignty allows things to happen that are not necessarily according to His desired will, including permitting people to sin. It is not God that causes the person to sin, but He merely permits people to go forward with the impulses that arise from their sinful natures. However, because God is sovereign, in some mysterious way, we can be assured that He uses even these decisions to fulfill His ultimate purpose. 

A good example is the life of Joseph. What Joseph’s brothers did was evil that came out of the jealousy and sin in their hearts. God permitted it. But, ultimately, God used even their sinful actions to fulfil His ultimate purpose of preserving the people of Israel and thus the Messianic line. Joseph could thus tell his brothers, “…You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). 

To give another example, God may permit someone (permissive will) to get into a marriage relationship that violates His proclaimed will (e.g., marry a non-believer, thus creating an unequal yoke). Yet, He will still use this situation to fulfill His ultimate greater purpose.

The appearance of foolishness 

A final point I will make is in response to the question “At what point is faith foolishness?” This really depends on your perspective. If you are looking at it from a worldly perspective, a decision taken in true faith and trust in God may well appear “foolish.” All the Biblical exemplars of faith in Hebrews 11 are so recognised because they did things that were very “foolish” from a worldly perspective. 

Abraham leaving his land and family to depart to a place he did not know, seeking a promise of land and blessing, was “foolish” from a worldly perspective. As would Noah building a boat based on expectations of a flood, when such a thing had never occurred in history. Moses giving up the riches of Egypt to lead God’s people out of captivity was “foolish”.

In more modern times, we have numerous examples of believers answering the call of the Lord by faith to serve the Lord in dangerous places, doing things that would be considered “foolish”. 

True faith that discerns the will of God, based on the principles laid out above, is never “foolish”.

George Mattackal

About George Mattackal

George Mattackal currently serves as an elder at Calvary Bible Fellowship in Bangalore, India. He previously served on the board of Gospel Missions of India, USA for more than 20 years. He has a keen interest in supporting ministry work in India, which he does through teaching and financial support.



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