Quite often, our secular media will drag into public attention a couple whose child had died because they believed that their faith required them to reject modern medicine.
I certainly believe in faith healing. We serve a miracle-working God. However, faith is not opposed human efforts to address problems. Rather than faith in God vs. our human responsibility, our walk with God should embody both!
If our son tells us, “I’m just going to trust God. Therefore, I will not seek a job. I’ll just wait for God to present one to me,” we’d think that he’s going mad. Knowledgeable parents would respond:
Well, if you trust God, you’ll do as He tells you to do – work hard! He rewards diligence not sloth!
This is because trusting also means doing. If we trust our Lord, we will do what He tells us to do! Somehow, faith and obedience go together, as the Apostle Paul indicated:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philip. 2:12-13)
Paul’s teaching is puzzling as is the rest of Scripture. On the one hand, he claims that we are responsible for “working out our salvation,” but then He adds that God is even more responsible. He works within us to accomplish His good purposes! Although God is in charge, this does not detract from our responsibility to do and to obey. Somehow these two truths go together! We call this the “doctrine of compatibalism” – human responsibility is compatible with God’s sovereignty or governance.
How do we get our minds around this bewildering truth? I don’t think that we can – not entirely, at least. However, if we don’t accept both truths, we will get ourselves into trouble, like faith healing parents who allow their child to die because they mistakenly rejected one side of the equation – human responsibility.
We cannot and should not separate God’s plan for our lives from our efforts to please Him, as Paul confessed:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)
Paul gave God the credit for his spiritual growth and fruitfulness. Yes, he worked hard and made the rights choices, but, at the end of the day, it was God’s work (James 1:17). Paul’s efforts and freewill choices worked in conjunction with God’s sovereignty over Paul’s life. We may not understand how they both go together, but, scripturally, it is clear that they do.
Peter recognized this same dual truth. On a number of occasions, he pointed his finger at the religious leadership, accusing them of crucifying Christ. However, he also acknowledged that they did this according to the plan of God:
This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23)
Both parties are responsible! We have to affirm both truths – human responsibility and God’s sovereignty – even though we might not be able to put them together. While we believe in prayer and God’s healing powers, we must not put God to the test by ignoring our responsibility or by acting foolishly. The devil challenged Jesus to jump off the cliff if He really is the Son of God, the Messiah. After all, God has a plan for His life and wouldn’t allow anything to disrupt it, right? However, Jesus answered:
"It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:6-8)
If we act irresponsibly by trusting that God will compensate for our lack of wisdom, we are acting presumptuously of the grace of God. When we ignore medical matters, presuming that God will step in, our trust is misplaced.
Instead, Paul counseled Timothy:
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Tim. 5:23)
Timothy had to take responsibility for his health! This advice doesn’t negate the fact that God is the healer and that He has even ordained the length of our lives (Psalm 139). However, it does acknowledge that we too have a responsibility!
We certainly shouldn’t rush our child to the hospital whenever she has a cough. However, wisdom affirms that we, who are trusting God, also have our responsibility!
Instructor at New York School of the Bible, New York .
Teach classes of OT, Theology and Apologetics.
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