Is Being Faith Filled an Excuse to be Foolish and Irresponsible?
Let me begin by acknowledging that having faith and being foolish are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A person could be doing something in complete faith that certainly looks like foolishness to the average person. Paul confirms this fact in 1 Corinthians 1:27 when he said that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. My goal here is to look critically at a particular scripture that has been used to lull Christians into inactivity; that is Romans 4:17. I can almost quote it from memory:
“…call those things which be not as though they were.”
But, as we’ve talked about in previous blog posts, context is so important when studying the scriptures. And this line has been taken out of context a lot. Here’s the full verse:
(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
Reading Romans 4:17 Contextually
As you can see, there is a lot more to this verse than just “name it and claim it”. Context is so important. Textual context is what the verses and chapters immediately before and after the main verse say. The literary context is who the speaker/author is and who they were speaking/writing to. Historical context is what events were going on in history when the words were being written. As we discussed in the article “Should Christians Tithe?”, to take a verse and consider it out of context is called eisegesis.
*By the way, if anyone is interested in more proper reading and interpretation of the Bible, I would recommend Kelly Kapic’s “A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology.” If you use this link, I get a portion of the sale.*
Power Belongs to God
Contextually, Romans 4 is not about the power of words, it is about salvation by faith. And 4:17 gives the power to create something out of nothing to God, and not to us. What is the “dead thing” that God was calling to, the thing that “was not” that God was calling into being? The answer is in verse 19:
[Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
The “dead thing” was Abraham’s body and Sarah’s womb that God quickened (or gave life to). The things that “were not” that God called as though they were were Abraham’s descendants. You know, the ones that didn’t exist but that God called forth? God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) while Sarah was still childless. God spoke of Abraham’s descendants when as yet there were none. God truly has the ability to speak of impossible things and, in speaking, make them possible.
Abraham’s (and our) Responsibility
We know that his passage of scripture is not about “name it and claim it” theology because of Abraham’s responsibility in the whole matter. Abraham did not receive his promise, Isaac, because of his positive confession. He received because of his response to God’s promise. Let’s look at Romans 4:18:
In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abraham’s responsibility was not to confess, or “speak those things.” His responsibility was to believe in the promise of God in spite of the way the situation around him looked.
So Words Don’t Matter?
“So, Torrey. Are you saying that words don’t matter?”
Actually, no. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus said this:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.
Jesus here is saying, among other things, that words are important. All throughout the New Testament, we are bombarded with examples of how what we say matters. However, I believe there are two distinctions that are important.
First, we see words are a manifestation of the conditions of our hearts. In the words of Jesus is Matthew 12:34, “…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” So positive confession isn’t even really about the mouth, it is about the heart. If we want our confessions to change, we need to seek a change of heart.
Second, nowhere in the New Testament do we see humans given the ability to speak to manipulate situations. Not as a means to avoid hardship and certainly not as a means of selfish material gain.
The words that flow from our heart should be words of compassion, restoration, forgiveness, and community. Not for any other reason than these are the things that should already be in our hearts as Christians.
So What Does it All Mean?
This entire article was birthed out of a conversation that I had with someone. This individual was attempting a business venture and willing to leverage their (and their family’s) entire financial future on it.
As a critical thinker, I started to ask some questions. My questions were not out-of-line, nor were they outside of the scope of the project. However, this person took my questions as a sign that I didn’t believe in their vision. Their ultimate response to my questions was, “Well, Torrey, you just have to have faith.”
It sounded as though “faith” as a replacement for due diligence is the way forward. As if, simply because of your confession, everything would all work out. However, even Jesus teaches that “faith” does not replace proper planning, budgeting, and careful examination. Let’s look at what Jesus says.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”
Notice what Jesus didn’t say: “Suppose you want to build a tower, but find out that you don’t have enough money to complete the project. Just believe and have faith and it will all work out.”
No! As faith-filled people, we have an obligation to be as detailed and intentional as possible. This is the very definition of “faith without works is dead.”
So What Do You Think?
Does having faith shield you from failure?
Is a positive confession a replacement for hard work?
Can you use Romans 4:17 as an argument for positive confessions?
At what point does “speak those things” become lying to yourself and others?
Sound off in the comments below.