by Josh Hughes
At the end of Daniel 2, there is a situation that invites us into a little reflection on our theological categories.
After Daniel reveals Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation (which, by the way, is an oracle foretelling the passing away of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom), we’re told that the king:
fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, “truly your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery. (Daniel 2:46)
What are we to make of this? Has Nebuchadnezzar had a conversion experience? Is he now a follower of Daniel’s God?
The answer is no. And we know this because of what happens in chapter 3. Nebuchadnezzar builds a 90 foot statue made entirely of gold before which all people in his kingdom are commanded to bow down in worship.
This narrative illustrates something important about the nature of saving faith. Of what exactly does saving faith consist?
The reformers taught that saving faith consists of three elements: knowledge, assent, and trust.
- Knowledge deals with the content of our belief, the facts and propositions we must believe in order to be saved. Our faith is in something (more specifically, someone).
- Assent deals with our conviction concerning that knowledge. You must not only know the facts of the gospel to be saved, but you must believe it to be truth.
Nebuchadnezzar has both of these. But James 2:19 tells us that even the demons have knowledge and assent, and they shudder. So there is something he still lacks.
It’s the third element, which is trust. We must cast ourselves upon these truths in reliance, dependence, and humble confidence. We must entrust ourselves wholly to the message we have heard and believed in repentance and obedience. This is the critical component Nebuchadnezzar lacked, as demonstrated by his subsequent behavior, or what we could call the fruit of his confession. He did not entrust himself to this God.
For believers, trust is the aspect of our faith that tends to be tested most frequently. For me, I rarely struggle to believe the gospel is true, but there are times when I wonder how true the gospel is for me. Is God really a rewarder of those who seek him? Do I really believe with my whole heart that he’s good and does good? Sometimes I struggle simply because I stop believing what I believe. Can you relate?
There’s a story I love about the missionary John G. Paton. He was a missionary to a people in the New Hebrides, a people who did not possess a written language. And thus he labored for years to develop a vocabulary for their spoken language so that he might begin translating the Bible for them.
But he found himself in a jam, as Bible translators often do, by a limitation he found in the native language. The islanders had no word that communicated the idea of faith, trust, or belief. And you can’t communicate the gospel if you can’t articulate the third component of saving faith!
He struggled over this challenge until one day, two islanders came back from a long, hot day of hunting, carrying a large deer they had felled. The two men struggled under the weight of the burden until they reached their destination, at which point they fell down in exhaustion on mats. One islander said to the other, “My, but it is good to stretch yourself out here.”
In hearing this, Paton knew he had it. When his translation was complete, he used this word for “stretch yourself out” for “belief” and “trust.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever stretches himself out on him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
That’s a beautiful picture. I’m praying that you would stretch yourself out on the person and work of Jesus Christ afresh today. He is a good and gracious Savior, and his kingdom is forever. Rest in his lavish mercy!