What is the difference between faith and positive thinking?
The book of Jeremiah is a great book to read to see what is going on in our world and in our churches today.
The book starts off with Jeremiah being called to be a prophet.
A prophet was different than a priest. The priests, scribes, pharisees, etc… ran the religious institutions and practices while the king was responsible for the governmental institutions.
But a prophet was someone who was called specifically by God usually to correct these institutions and get them back on track. They did this by confronting issues of the religious establishments and sometimes that involved foretelling the future. But the role of prophet was not only to foretell the future like a fortune teller. John the Baptist was a prophet according to Jesus in Luke 7:26.
In Jeremiah the people have been brought into the land that God had promised them. As is so often the case with our sinful nature, the people started to rebel. God had blessed them with the comforts of this world and the people began to seek those comforts over God.
Babylon begins to move against Israel and the leaders of the religious and governmental establishments turn to the prophets for answers. The prophets responded with:
Jeremiah 14:13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’”
The prophets here are stating that no harm will come to them. Israel will be saved! Just trust God! Have faith! Sounds pretty good huh?
Jeremiah 14:14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
The difference between faith and positive thinking is truth. Both are called prophets but only one is speaking truth.
Do you think the false prophets knew they were false prophets? Probably not. They relied on religious statements from their past. God will save us, have faith, trust in the Lord! But, notice that last statement.
They are prophesying from the deceit of their own minds.
The power of self-deception is real and powerful and it’s based on one key concept. My will vs Thy will.
Other passages in the New Testament refer to this inward struggle as the battle between the flesh (my will) and the Spirit (thy will).
Let’s go on and see what happens to those who embrace this self-deception.
Jeremiah 14:15-16 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.
Notice here who’s evil is poured out on them… Does God pour out His evil? No. It is their evil. The very thing that they sought after (their own will) is what God gives them over to.
But this is Old Testament, the New Testament is all about grace, right? We are in the age of Grace and therefore its all about love and Jesus… But God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Romans 1:21-25 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
They knew God, that is to say they knew of Him. They were familiar with His works, but they didn’t honor Him as God. That is to say they knew His word, intellectually, but didn’t surrender to it, It had no impact in their lives. But why? Because, what I want, what I feel, what I desire, trumps what God says. My will vs Thy will.
God is the same yesterday (Jeremiah), today (Romans) and tomorrow (2 Thessalonians).
2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
But if the power of self-deception is so real how do we combat it? How do we know the truth from error?
John 8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But my emotions are powerful, how can I tell whether they are coming from me or the Spirit of God?
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
As a practical exercise lets look back at Jeremiah to a passage that often get used generically to justify our will and even to embolden it.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
This speaks of God’s heart. God absolutely has plans for good for His people. But now lets look at the mechanism through which this is accomplished.
Jeremiah 29:10-14 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
The mechanism God used was discipline. How we receive discipline demonstrates the condition of our heart.
Grace cannot exist without truth.
Love cannot exist without truth
Love is the seeking for another’s highest good, even if that good comes through discipline. This is a concept every parent understands.
We disobey when we place our will over His will and begin to fall into self-deception, justifying our fleshly desires, walking in darkness, in willful blindness, in hard heartedness, even using scripture out of context to make ourselves feel better about our rebellion.
Jesus speaks of this in the sermon on the mount. Probably one of the scariest verses in all the Bible is:
Matthew 7:21-23 ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Once again we see this pattern emerge. They declare him Lord Lord, so they know who he is. But in the last verse he describes them as workers of lawlessness. Self-willed, self-seeking, self-indulgent. Sure they indulged in religiousity, but their heart never desired Him.
So God gives them over to it and they see Jesus and he tells them, “I never knew you… we never had a relationship. You did your own thing.”You tried to sprinkle a little Jesus on it to call it holy but it was always your will. Your hearts desire was always, “My will versus Thy will.”
This is not the new birth. This is not saving faith. According to Paul in Galatians ‘faith is a fruit of the Spirit’ and the Spirit is the evidence of our adoption. But the proof of the Spirit, the proof of saving faith, is exactly what Jeremiah prophesied would come:
Jeremiah 31:33 “For this is the covenant [the New Covenant] that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Ezekiel prophesied of it this way:
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Saving faith is not seeking after the comforts and desires of the world and trying to obtain them through Jesus. That’s positive thinking, and every unregenerate person on the planet, still in their sin, subscribes to this.
Saving faith is being given a new heart, with new desires, that trusts in His will and His outcome, in discipline, in accountability, in repentance, in suffering, when I don’t want to and can’t understand. I’m trusting Him, because He is good, that is who He is, and He is more determined to get me across the finish line than I am sometimes. That is faith.
Matthew 26:39 “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.””
Jesus embodied this idea of surrender to the will of the Father and having faith in His will and His outcome best.