Developing Christian Confidence
Some people treasure things; others value ideas or concepts. The former are temporal; the latter are forever.
A very precious quality, rarely addressed, is that of confidence. The English word embodies the ideas of reliance on, or trust in, another. A different aspect is that of self-assurance or boldness. In the sacred scriptures several words stand behind the English counterparts.
In the Hebrew Old Testament, the verb batah (118 times), and its kindred grammatical forms, carry the sense of “putting one’s trust in” something or someone; then to be “full of confidence” or to “feel safe” (VanGemeren, 1.644ff).
A common term in the New Testament that expresses a similar idea is paressia (31 times). This word can suggest the idea of plainness, openness, or clarity of speech. Further, it can convey the notion of confidence, courage, or boldness (Danker, 781). Other terms, e.g., peitho, hupostasis, tharreo,etc., also express the idea of confidence (see W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Confidence”).
A study of these terms can be extremely helpful in a time when many Christians are oppressed with fears and restrained by a spirit of timidity. Let us approach the subject from both negative and positive vantage points.
It is natural for human beings to focus confidence in something. Unfortunately, for many, the object of their trust is misdirected.
Objects of False Confidence
Confidence is not to be found ultimately in human strength. As a prophet of the Lord proclaimed:
“Thus says Jehovah: Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from Jehovah. For he shall be like the shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, an uninhabited salt land” (Jeremiah 17:5-6).
The one who grounds his confidence solely in his own resources will be sorely disappointed.
Human wisdom must not be the primary reservoir of confidence. Solomon declared: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). All too often we ignore this sacred counsel, and attempt to ascertain the solutions to our problems independent of instruction from the Lord, which comes by means of his inspired word.
For many, wealth is a source of consolation. The number of zeros in one’s bank balance becomes a substitute for trusting him who takes note even of the sparrow that falls to the earth (Matthew 10:29). Again, the wise man challenges: “He who trusts in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf” (Proverbs 11:28). The rich man, in Jesus’ parable addressing covetousness, is ample illustration of the futility of trusting in materialism (Luke 12:16ff).
There is always talk of how certain political leaders are the solutions to our anxiety problems. But politicians come and go and things change but little when the populous is self-centered rather than God-centered. Hence the admonition: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3). Unfortunately, government officials frequently are self-serving, though their campaign pledges boast otherwise.
Many labor under the illusion that military might is the remedy for national security. If we but have sufficient armament, surely we shall dwell in safety. But Jehovah solemnly warned his people that if they turned away from him, refusing to obey the whole of his commandments (Deuteronomy 28:15), he would bring a punitive power against them, and their fortifications would avail them nothing (vv. 49-52). The Old Testament is filled with examples of those who thought they could thwart the will of the Lord with self-defense tactics; their remains have rotted in earth’s bosom.
Finally, while we are to place confidence in those worthy of such in our interpersonal relationships, one must ever be reminded of the reality that “confidence in an unfaithful man [person] in a time of trouble is like a broken tooth and a foot out of joint” (Proverbs 25:19). Some have demonstrated repeatedly that they are unworthy of the confidence of noble people.
Legitimate Objects of Confidence
Unless one learns to sort out appropriate objects of trust, from those that are not, he will be hopelessly tossed to and fro upon a murky sea of confusion and disappointment. Let us therefore direct out attention to the more appropriate objects of our confidence.
The ultimate object of reliable confidence is Almighty God (i.e., the entire Godhead — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). One must offer up a life of “righteousness,” and “put [his] trust in Jehovah” (Psalm 4:5). Again and again the nation of Israel was charged to “trust in Jehovah” (cf. Psalm 115:8-11). Jeremiah instructed:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in Jehovah, and whose trust Jehovah is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not fear when the heat comes, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not worry in the year of drought, neither shall [he] cease from bearing fruit” (17:7-8).
Fellow travelers in time may disappoint us; God never will. We ought to say with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust [hope in] him” (13:15).
Good people, even though weak and flawed on occasion, are worthy of Christian confidence as well. To demonstrate to a person that you have confidence in him or her can be a great source of encouragement. Consider the following:
- A good marriage mate generates the confidence of his or her partner (Proverbs 31:11).
- Even though the church at Corinth was plagued with problems, Paul encouraged them by expressing confidence in them (2 Corinthians 1:15; cf. also Galatians 5:10).
- When Paul dispatched Onesimus back to his owner (Philemon), he expressed confidence in the character of the latter to do the right thing by his runaway servant (Philemon 21).
Demonstrating confidence in others is a wonderful boost to their spirits.
When Paul taught the gospel of Christ, involving matters pertaining to the Lord Jesus and his kingdom, he did so with consummate “boldness” (confidence), as reflected in Luke’s account of the apostle’s ministry while imprisoned at Rome (Acts 28:31). The Christian system is grounded upon such solid historical evidence that those who invest the time to study the claims of the message come away with a confidence that cannot be shaken by the dull barbs of its critics.
An inspired writer affirmed that we are a “house” belonging to Christ, “if we hold fast our boldness [confidence, ESV] and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6; 4:16). This sacred document warns of difficulties that will befall the child of God. But no matter what happens, the Christian must maintain courage and confidence in his hope. There is no need for the faithful to fret about life’s vicissitudes, wringing his hands and wondering whether or not he is saved. We must go forth in faithful confidence, ever aware, however, that it is possible to fall back and be lost if one is not diligent.
Scripture teaches us to be confident in our prayers. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). The key phrase is “according to his will,” and we do not always know precisely what that is. But no petition, void of faith, will avail. As James expressed the matter like this; let us “ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he who doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8).
Finally I would suggest that the Christian is encouraged to be confident of the providential operation of God, and be open to subtle nudges of the Lord (though these are quite veiled, and never concretely expressed; see our article on Providence elsewhere on this site). When Paul was under arrest in Rome (Acts 28), he did not positively know what his fate would be. Would he be martyred, or would Christ yet spare him for a while? That had not been revealed to the apostle. Nonetheless, he felt (with a confident persuasion) that he might be permitted to linger longer for the benefit of his kinsmen in Christ (Philippians 1:25; cf. 2:24). The perfect tense form of peitho in v. 25, combined with “know,” expresses a strong conviction based upon calculated probabilities.
The study of “confidence” from the biblical standpoint is a wonderfully enlightening and profitable endeavor. Pursue it to your own benefit. And remember this, God does not want us to embrace a spirit of “fearfulness,” but one of power, love, and discipline (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7).
- Danker, F.W., et al. (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University Press).
- VanGemeren, Willem A., et al. (1997), Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 5 Vols.