My 5 year-old son hates it when I give him a bath. He hates it when I give him a bath, because he hates getting his face wet. He hates it when I give him a bath, because I think he should grow up and be a man already. He’ll have to leave home someday, go to college, raise a family. How can he do all that if he’s still afraid of getting water in his eyes?
Tears inevitably result when I give my son a bath.
So, I suppose it isn’t too surprising then that when I tried to teach him to swim last year, I failed. Utterly.
There was never a point in time when he trusted me enough to simply come. Because of his fear—and the fact he knew that, given the chance, I would get his face wet—he clung to the side of the pool. When he’d go out into the water with me, he’d cling to my arms. He was never free to learn to swim, because his fear overwhelmed him. He was never free, because he didn’t trust me.
The essence of faith is trust. I may know that God is good, that he is love, that he will care for me no matter what. However, there is an enormous difference between intellectual assent to a set of spiritual ideas, and the childlike trust that leads me to let go of the side of the pool and embrace the will of my Heavenly Father.
In the Old Testament, after God saved his people from slavery in Egypt, he gave them the Ten Commandments. These were like God’s instructions for jumping into his arms and letting him teach us what it meant to live in the freedom of his care.
The first commandment was the call to jump, to trust in him: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Martin Luther wrote that this was like God saying,
“[T]hou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith in me alone and in no one else.” For you do not have a god if you [just] call him God outwardly with your lips, or worship him with the knees or bodily gestures; but [only] if you trust him with your heart and look to him for all good, grace, and favor, whether in works or suffering, in life or death, in joy or sorrow…. And this faith, this trust, this confidence from the heart’s core is the true fulfilling of the first commandment.
Knowing what’s true about God—believing the truth of his gospel—leads us to trust in him. Faith is trust. A failure to trust is a failure to believe the gospel. But full-fledged trust in the Only Trustworthy One is a flying leap into the arms of Freedom Himself.