It would make sense for Person A, a non-Christian, to say that Person B, a Christian, is quite naive for being a believer. Far from being mutually exclusive, it can also make sense for Person C, another Christian, to characterize Person B as being childlike in his faith rather than being naive. Where the intersection of secular and Christian perspectives is concerned, this dichotomy is commonplace. However, whenever this dichotomy persists within the church, things become complicated, to say the least.
In Luke 18:17, Jesus rebuked his disciples and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”. I believe a major component of possessing this necessary childlike faith is believing that God, our heavenly father, has nothing but the best in mind for us – not adding any qualifiers, but going all in, not blindly, but by faith. Cultivating this trust in God sometimes requires a greater exercise of our faith (Hebrews 11:1), while at other times it requires a simple recollection of concrete, past events from our own lives (Psalm 77:10-15). In any case, with the Holy Spirit’s loving supervision and guidance, we are not left to our own devices to “figure out” the particulars of God’s promises and Christ’s call of discipleship in our everyday lives. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves unable to simply trust God and accept the various seasons of our lives.
An unenviable spiritual predicament is one in which we strive hard and yet find ourselves clueless as things don’t seem to get any better. In such a case, the last thing we should be doing is grumbling about the situation, but this is precisely our reaction 9 out of 10 times! I believe the root of this problem is that we overfocus on the externals (our feelings, other people, specific circumstances) to the neglect of the internals (our heart, our faith, …and God). In fact, even if we change the externals, we’ll almost always return to that feeling of internal discontentment or apathy. Indeed, as one person said it, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.
This leads us to Apostle Paul’s exhortation in the book of Romans (certain parts bolded for emphasis):
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
This exhortation takes us back to the gospel or, at the very least, an important implication of the gospel. Notice how Paul begins by saying “by the mercies of God” or, as it’s rendered in the NIV, “in view of God’s mercy“. This sequence of events is an important one. Transformation of our minds and hearts occur when we 1) first receive the gospel through a God-gifted faith, 2) continually preach the gospel to ourselves and, 3) trust in the Father’s love for us by daily appealing to the works he has done and is doing in our lives. I believe returning to the gospel and meditating on its many implications will help cultivate and foster a greater childlike faith in our hearts. The bottom line is this: if God gladly sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to graciously reconcile us to himself, what do we have to fear or doubt?
That said, having childlike faithfulness does not mean being naive. At the same time, it’s almost like we have this tendency to over-complicate the gospel by overthinking things. When trials come, it seems as though we completely forget that difficulties are meant for our sanctification and that God is faithful in his promises. Why can’t we lean on that childlike faith, take our self-sufficient God at his word, and constructively proceed onward? Or, if that seems too “ethereal” and “above our heads”, why not look at concrete examples of God’s providence in our own lives and in the lives of others and take heart in that way?
Obviously, there are those whose hard lives have made it harder for them to “trust” and “rejoice” in God’s providence – and this post isn’t meant to minimize that. At the same time, when we let our predicaments dictate our faith (rather than the other way around), I fear that we may be engaging in a sort of reverse-pridefulness in which we feel that our circumstances and we ourselves are “too far gone” for God to redeem. As we chisel away at such pride, I think we will still say “I can’t deal with this” in the face of future trials, except NOW it will now be uttered as a HUMBLE ADMISSION (which leads to dependence on God and recognition that He has specific purposes for our benefit) rather than as a HOPELESS RESIGNATION (which leads to a vicious cycle of heart-hardening and seeing the worst in everything).
When we are cultivating childlike faithfulness in our hearts, we are able to relish, trust in, and act upon God’s promises. And when we relish, trust in, and act upon God’s promises, we are able to grow into mature people of God. And as we grow into mature people of God, we will be able to fight the good fight of faith in the war for our souls. Cultivating this childlike faithfulness through the daily meditating on the gospel will enable us to answer JC Ryle’s question: “Are you fighting?” (highly recommended read).
As the cultivation of childlike faithfulness enables us to increase in our relishing, trusting of and responsiveness to God’s promises, this in turn will increase our ability to fight like soldiers against internal and external forces to the glory of God. To conclude this post, here are some of Ryle’s words, which I believe reflect the fruit of childlike faithfulness, regarding the Christian fight :
1. True Christianity is a fight.
Reader, take comfort about your soul, if you know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is not everything, I am well aware, but it is something. Do you find in your heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Do you feel anything of the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, so that you cannot do the things you would? (Gal. v. 17). Are you conscious of two principles within you, contending for the mastery? Do you see anything of war in your inward man? Well, thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is evidence not to be despised. Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness, and indifference. You are in a better state than many. The most part of so-called Christians have no feeling at all. You are evidently no friend of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects. The very fact that he assaults you, should fill your mind with hope. Reader, I say again, take comfort, the child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two you have (at least) one. HE MAY BE KNOWN BY HIS INWARD WARFARE, AS WELL AS BY HIS INWARD PEACE.
2. True Christianity is the fight of faith.
A special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work, and office, is the life, heart and mainspring of the Christian soldier’s character.
Would you fight the fight of a Christian soldier successfully and prosperously? Pray for a continual growth of faith. Let your dally prayer be that of the disciples—“Lord, increase my faith.” Watch jealously over your faith, if you have any. It is the citadel of the Christian character, on which the safety of the whole fortress depends. It is the point which Satan loves to assail. All lies at His mercy if faith is overthrown. Here, if you love life, you must especially stand on your guard.
3. True Christianity is a good fight
Reader, settle it in your mind that the Christian fight is a good fight, really good, truly good, emphatically good. You see only part of it yet. You see the struggle, but not the end; you see the campaign, but not the reward; you see the cross, but not the crown. You see a few humble, broken-spirited, penitent, praying people, enduring hardships and despised by the world; but you see not the hand of God over them, the face of God smiling on them, the kingdom of glory prepared for them. These things are yet to be revealed. Judge not by appearances. There are more good things about the Christian warfare than you see.