Finding the Fine Line (Psalm 91:11-13)
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. ¹²On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. ¹³You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. –Psalm 91:11-13
There is a fine line between faith and presumption. Sometimes we need help to discern the difference. The promise of security and safety to the one who has made the Lord his dwelling place (Psalm 91:9) presents just such a need. God’s Word promises the dweller that “he will command his angels...to guard you in all your ways,” “they will bear you up,” and “the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (Psalm 91:11-13).
I have known people in days past who take this promise as literally and certain as death and taxes. I have known folks for whom a Sunday morning worship service is not complete without someone walking among live rattlesnakes as an act of faith. After all, they reason, God said He would protect and God never lies.
True, God does not lie nor does He make promises He has no intention of keeping. Paul makes no exaggeration when he declares in the Spirit, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4, NIV.) So what do we do when we encounter promises that appear too good to be true?
Jesus Himself gives us the answer. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days right after He was baptized and began His public ministry. There the devil tempted Jesus to betray His mission and His Father and His own integrity. One of those temptations took the form of these very words, this very promise in Psalm 91. You can find the whole story in Matthew 4. Taking Jesus up to the highest point of the temple, Satan tempted Jesus to jump off and trust God to rescue Him, quoting portions of verses 11-13. There is much to say about how the devil uses the Word of God against the people of God, but we must save that for another time. It is Jesus’ response that is most helpful for our immediate concern.
Jesus said, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus went to the heart of the matter by going to what is the matter with the heart. Motive, the condition and position of a person’s heart toward God, is a major factor in discerning the difference between faith and presumption. Presumption whispers, “God loves me. I can do what I want, how I want, for any reason I want, with any outcome I want, and God will accept it and keep me safe because He loves me. He is always about me.”
Faith, on the other hand, is not only the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), it is all about God. Faith doesn’t test God. Faith loves God’s glory and trusts God’s will to always act for His glory in every providence. Faith exalts God and lives so that the Truth may be known in each believer's life.
It would not be faith but foolishness to put oneself in danger just to see if God will act in a particular way. It would not be faith but presumption to attempt to bind God with words (and His own Word at that) so that we, not He, might be glorified.
Faith trusts God with the whole heart to act for His glory in every circumstance we experience. Presumption thinks God will act for our glory just because we say so. Presumption is of the devil and serves the flesh in sinful pride. Faith is of God and serves His glory in the Spirit. Presumption jumps from the heights to serve self and falls to the depths of hell. Faith stands on the Word and is exalted with Christ to highest heavens (cf. Col 3:1-3).
We do not like to think of ourselves as presumptuous–going beyond the limits God has set for us. But such is the nature of sin. Where are you tempted to presume God will act how you want Him to, rather than trusting Him in faith to do what He deems best?
David boldly pleads with God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139). Have you made such a heart-felt request of God? What do you think He would find?
Thank God that discerning the difference between faith and presumption is His work on our behalf (Philippians 2:13). Ask Him to give you grace to know the difference and praise Him for His ongoing work that He has promised to finish (Philippians 1:6).
Dale McIntire (D.Min, Bethel Theological Seminary) has pastored Cornerstone Community Church for 28 years and is the author of Catching the Wind: A Guide for Interpreting Ecclesiastes. He is married to the originator of the Fighter Verses concept, Linda Fregeau McIntire, who also authors and co-authors Truth78 resources. They share a like zeal for infusing the next generation with love for God’s Word.