Q&A: What’s the difference between faith and presumption?

What’s the difference between faith and presumption?

Question

What’s the difference between faith and presumption?

Answer

God initiates the desire for change and the believer responds with obedience to what God has initiated. This is called biblical faith. Presumption is when we initiate the desire for change while attempting to force our desire(s) upon God.

This chart may help to compare and contrast the two:

Faith
Presumption
Begins with God’s promise Begins with a personal desire
God desires to bring glory to himself Man desires God to do something for him
God-centered Man-centered
Is humble Is demanding
Waits and surrenders to God Impatient

Faith begins with God’s promise, is humble, and is God-centered. Consider Abraham in Genesis 22:1-19. He obediently responded to God's instructions concerning taking Isaac up to the mount to sacrifice him, believing if God could bring life to a barren womb, then he could certainly raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:19). God’s expectation of Abraham's obedient faith was interrupted by God's divine provision. A ram was sacrificed instead of the son born of that barren womb. Abraham believed the promise God had made to him and ultimately became the father of many nations. Such faith understands and rejoices that God does fulfill the promises he makes.

With presumption, man wants God to do something for him. It is man-centered, demanding and glorifies man instead of God. In 1 Samuel 13:8-14 King Saul was guilty of presumption. He became impatient and didn’t wait on Samuel to make the sacrifice before going into battle with the Philistines. Saul presumed that he could do the sacrifice; he was the king after all, and he was simply doing the same thing Samuel would have done. What difference could it make? Well, Saul's presumption that God would approve ultimately caused the kingdom to be torn away from him.

We shouldn’t test God with presumptive acts (cf. Luke 4:9-12). For example, modern-day Christians should trust God for safety while they are driving their car, but common sense says don't run red lights. We can't assume doing such a thing is okay because we're in a hurry and can’t wait. This is expecting God to bail us out of foolish, sinful things that go wrong. This isn't faith, it's presumption.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).