by John MacArthur
Many people mistakenly think of faith as inherently noble. A once-popular song extols the virtue of faith, or believing: “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.”
No one really believes that, of course, but that is not the point. The song is a paean to faith—without regard to the content of that faith. The object of faith was of no concern to the songwriter. The sentiment that song expresses is by no means biblical. It is an echo of one of the worst lies of our age—the notion that it isn’t important what you believe as long as you believe passionately enough.
Did you know that faith can be seriously harmful? Some varieties of faith actually lead away from the true God—they substitute superstition, falsehood, or faith itself in place of truth. Such faith inevitably leads to spiritual disaster. It is reckless faith.
Reckless faith goes to two extremes. At one end of the spectrum it looks within—relying on feelings, inner voices, fantasy, or subjective sensations. At the other extreme it fixes its hope on some external human authority—the teachings of a supreme leader, religious tradition, magisterial dogma, or some other arbitrary canon.
An obvious non-Christian example of the first extreme is New Age mysticism. A similar example of the second is Islam. But even among groups that profess Christianity, both varieties of reckless faith are clearly seen. The charismatic movement, for example, tends toward the first extreme; Roman Catholicism epitomizes the second.
(Interestingly, there have been recent developments of a strong convergence occurring between the charismatic movement and Roman Catholicism. Such a bizarre unity reminds us that the vast spectrum of theological errors all flow out of one satanic origin. More on that in the coming weeks.)
Note that at both poles, reckless faith seeks spiritual truth apart from Scripture—and that is the very point at which it becomes reckless. Both kinds of reckless faith also have this in common: they are irrational and anti-intellectual. “Anti-intellectual” doesn’t mean they oppose intellectual snobbery. It means they spurn the intellect and encourage blind, uncritical trust. Anti-intellectuals often set faith against reason, as if the two were opposites. That kind of faith is gullibility. It is foolishness, and not biblical faith. Biblical faith is never irrational.
Authentic faith, in contrast, can never bypass the mind. It cannot be irrational. Faith, after all, deals with truth. Truth is objective data to be known, studied, contemplated, and understood. All those are activities that engage the intellect.
That means genuine Christianity cannot be anti-intellectual. The body of truth on which our faith is based has depths that are mysterious—unfathomable to the merely human mind, or inscrutable—but truth is never irrational. The difference is all-important. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore what God says is true—and the antithesis of what He says must be false. Truth cannot be self-contradictory. Truth makes sense; nonsense cannot be true.
Moreover, the doctrine on which we base our faith must be sound—which is to say it must be biblical (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:2–3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3–4, emphasis added). Sound, biblical doctrine therefore underlies all true wisdom and authentic faith. The attitude that scorns doctrine while elevating feelings or blind trust cannot legitimately be called faith, even if it masquerades as Christianity. It is actually an irrational form of unbelief.
God holds us accountable for what we believe as well as how we think about the truth He has revealed. All Scripture testifies to the fact that God wants us to know and understand the truth. He wants us to be wise. His will is that we use our minds. We are supposed to think, to meditate—to be discerning. And that is what we will continue to pursue as this series unfolds over the coming weeks.
Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:2–6)
(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)
#1 Posted by
Manuel Jr. Reyes | Tuesday, April 1, 2014at
If divine revelations (irregardless of infallible or fallible) are on regular basis and ubiquitous to many recipients (not to mention 500 million believers), then its practitioners no longer operate as prescribed by Hebrews 11's faith; but instead as a whole presumes on par with OT prophets. By and large it will lead to all kinds and sorts of "mormonisms"-- the church's Pandora’s gate is wide open for severe and serious errors.
#4 Posted by
Ben Hogan | Tuesday, April 1, 2014at
Oh man, this is such a good post. I have often used the same term "reckless faith" when distinguishing that from biblical faith based on what we know to be true.
Simply enough, faith is the *assurance* of things hoped for, the *conviction* of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). And as Paul wrote to the wonderful church in Thessalonica, he knew that they were saved because the Gospel came to them not only in word, but in power, the Holy Spirit and full conviction (1 Thess. 1:5).
It always comes around to a legitimate work of the Holy Spirit, where true conviction and true faith are established.
Thanks for such clear and helpful post, John. Looking forward to seeing you at the USNA this weekend!
#7 Posted by
John Cox | Tuesday, April 1, 2014at
Absolutely spot on!
The best part is that more and more of the Bible is being independently proven true every day... and frequently by people who set out to DISPROVE it. But do you hear Pastors preaching this?
Look into Biology, Physics, Archaeology, etc..
The unfortunate part is that SO many Christians have been "taught" that the bible is a bunch of quaint stories without any historical or truthful basis.... and so they stick their heads in the sand.... How often do you hear Pastors teaching Astrophysics or Biology from the pulpit?
You never hear of how many Scientists come to know Christ because of Science - not in spite of science!
but really... In all honesty... Why would you want to believe in something that isn't true? If you went through the Bible - and it was OBVIOUSLY, Testably false.... Why would you still hang on? Some would say - Well... Just to cover the bases... Those are the "Idol Shepherds" out there... The ones who believe that All religion is equally true (Which means they are all Equally FALSE)... and so they worship all of them.... Just to make sure...
When Jesus was asked "What is the First commandment" - what did he say? Worship God with all your Heart, Mind, and Strength... That clearly includes our REASON as well as our Emotion! If we refuse to worship God with our Reason as well as our Heart - then we are not worshiping him in truth!
#8 Posted by
Rodmer Anduyan | Tuesday, April 1, 2014at
Faith is Substance . its good for us Christian back to the very basic our Faith in Christ Jesus Alone. we forgot the very foundation of our faith it is Christ in Him All the Glory and Honor Always Belongs To Him Amen.
#9 Posted by
John Deckert | Tuesday, April 1, 2014at
I don't know how many times I have had someone base truth on a feeling. Even when I interject biblical truth into the equation it is treated with suspect simply because it goes against the feeling that they have. These people will often agree with the truth but will reject it with their lives because it goes against the "feeling" that they follow.
This feeling they will call "the Spirit" but it has nothing to do with holiness or honoring Christ. It in contrast separates them from Christ and honors their flesh while aligning with the world. At it's very best it is spiritual immaturity.
#10 Posted by
Bj Ayinde | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
What then is reckless faith and what is rational faith? Examples of both would have made this write up more informative.
When Moses commanded the Israelites to march towards the sea and when Joshua commanded them to go into river Jordan, is that foolishness or reckless faith on both occasions?
What about Peter at the beautiful gate with the lame man. Faith is nothing more than absolute believe and trust in God and His word. Is it rational to believe that the death of a Jewish man executed by the Roman government over 2000 years ago is the means by which a God we can not see, smell, touch , feel or taste has chosen to deliver people from a hell which we don't know exists.
What is rational in the belief that the God who created the universe, the one who is meant to be the all powerful became a child and by the way he was conceived without sex! The all knowing did not know a thing, and had to be taught by the people he created?
Faith operates in the realm of God, we can not see, smell, touch , feel or taste God, that in itself makes the concept that there is a God an irrational belief to the mind. That is why spiritual things can only be FULLY understood by faith. While there may be such a thing as reckless faith, foolish faith and presumptuous faith, there is hardly anything like irrational faith because faith deals with hope as substance and accepts what can not be seen as reality!
#12 Posted by
Ryan Rosene | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
I have often been told during difficult times to simply have faith. If I wasn't a Christian I would be wondering 'have faith in what?' I know of so many people who have faith in irrational things. Thanks John for your clear cutting words of wisdom and insight.
#13 Posted by
Ben Hogan | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
Response t0 #10:
BJ, I think the harmony you're looking for starts with, as you already mentioned, that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). When the Bible speaks, God speaks.
God has spoken about Himself in Scripture - who He is, what He has done, etc. If we have faith that this is true and He is as sovereign as He claims, then it is indeed a rational and reasonable faith to step into, say, the Jordan when the water is still flowing because you know who God is. It may be reckless from the perspective of a bystander who doesn't know God, but not for the one taking that step who has full confidence in God and His omnipotence.
I like your point that, from the world's perspective, the supernatural work of God is foolishness and unreasonable (The Apostle Paul met all kinds of these people), but it is this very "foolishness" that God uses to shame the wisdom of the so-called wise of the world and save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:18).
As Pastor John mentioned, faith that is not founded and grounded in Christ, is indeed a reckless faith, for it has no power. Faith that is based on the clear words of Scripture is a true faith when we believe it because, indeed, we haven't seen the things that are written about, but we believe the author of the words written.
As the Lord said so well Himself to the woman at the well when speaking of true worshipers (true Christians!), "We worship what we *know*" (Jn. 4:22).
An interesting parallel is when Paul ordered the Corinthian church to be orderly and not reckless in their gatherings. One of the things he said was: "I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also" (1 Cor. 14:15). Cognizant, intellectual understanding of what your faith is in, is paramount. It affects everything else.
The nature of God makes our faith reasonable and completely rational. Every single person that calls the Bible irrational has an extremely low view of God. That's always the root of the problem. The higher the view of God, the easier it is to believe what God has done.
#14 Posted by
George Canady | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
To believe in a God who is also Jesus, who is also the Holy Spirit and who can stop evil but will not, yet commands us to; if He lets us, is beyond human reason. Hope must be in some other kind of irrational belief; not human.
#15 Posted by
Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin) | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
Thanks for the comment! Put that way, it would seem that indeed, there are realities which are humanly irrational. Our challenge is to articulate revealed truth to so as to show is it not irrational, even if we cannot comprehend how it all fits together.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." This clearly indicates there are matters hidden in the mind of God which we, this side of heaven—and perhaps eternally—will never know or comprehend.
But there is a massive difference between comprehension and rationality. For example, the Trinity is shown to be rational when distinguishing between "nature" and "persons". There is one God in nature, but three in persons. He is one is a sense, and three in another sense. So the Trinity is not a logical contradiction (irrational). But the Trinity remains impossible to comprehend in almost any meaningful sense because there is no earthly construct to which it can be related.
Bridging the gap between rationalizing and comprehending the Trinity could only happen (if at all) with more information from God. But again, something is not irrational just because it is incomprehensible. To use simple example, quantum mechanics is incomprehensible to me because I lack a massive amount of information, but it is not irrational.
This series is taking issue with the idea that faith is the act of throwing up one's hands in refusal to engage the mind in that which the Lord has actually revealed for us (that is, for our benefit). True faith certainly trusts God in those hidden matters, but it also engages fully with that which has been revealed.
#16 Posted by
Sunny Shell | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
Thank you Pastor John MacArthur. I really needed to hear this truth today. May the Lord multiply His grace and peace to you.
#17 Posted by
Randy Johnson | Wednesday, April 2, 2014at
God is not irrational, but He is revealing. It is His testimony we are to believe. Where is this testimony found and what are the characteristics of this testimony? The following is from J.I. Packer's, "The Interpretation of Scripture". I hope this helps.
".., it is the very nature of Christian faith to believe, on the authority of God, truths which may neither be rationally demonstrated nor exhaustively understood. We must remember that God does not tell us everything about His acts and purposes, nor put us in a position to work them all out for ourselves. We shall not reach right views about the things of God by backing our independent judgment, but only by taking His word. We are wholly dependent on Him for our knowledge of His ways.
God, then, does not profess to answer in Scripture all the questions that we, in our boundless curiosity, would like to ask about Scripture. He tells us merely as much as He sees we need to know as a basis for our life of faith. And He leaves unsolved some of the problems raised by what He tells us, in order to teach us a humble trust in His veracity. The question, therefore, that we must ask ourselves when faced with these puzzles is not, is it reasonable to imagine that this is so? but, is it reasonable to accept God’s assurance that this is so? Is it reasonable to take God’s word and believe that He has spoken the truth, even though I cannot fully comprehend what He has said? The question carries its own answer. We should not abandon faith in anything that God has taught us merely because we cannot solve all the problems which it raises. Our own intellectual competence is not the test and measure of divine truth. It is not for us to stop believing because we lack understanding, or to postpone believing till we can get understanding, but to believe in order that we may understand; as Augustine said, “unless you believe, you will not understand.” Faith first, sight afterwards, is God’s order, not vice versa; and the proof of the sincerity of our faith is our willingness to have it so. Therefore, just as we should not hesitate to commit ourselves to faith in the Trinity although we do not know how one God can be three Persons, nor to faith in the incarnation, although we do not know how the divine and human natures combined in the Person of Christ, so we should not hesitate to commit ourselves to faith in Scripture as the infallible Word of the infallible God, even though we cannot solve all the puzzles, nor reconcile all the apparent contradictions, with which in our present state of knowledge it confronts us. On all these articles of faith we have God’s positive assurance; and that should be enough.
#18 Posted by
Bj Ayinde | Thursday, April 3, 2014at
Thank you for what I consider an excellent post. I agree with pastor John that there are some who would not engage their minds with scripture and thereby err in various ways. As believer, the fact that we need to engage with our minds is attested to in scriptures. For example Luke 10:27
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’[a] and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”(NKJV).
God gave as an incredible tool - the mind. However, what the mind (reason) can not fathom, faith can!
....Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?”[a]
Faith is truth and fact based. The 'fact is that the word of God is the 'truth'. Faith is required to believe that. To want to reason out everything about God is to put Him in a box. Romans 8 above says we can't.