Monday, June 25, 2012

Does Jesus Have Faith in Your Faith? John 2:23-3:3

In a 2008 survey conducted by the Pew Forum, a broad group of 35,000 American adults were asked questions about their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views to get a broad understanding of the religious landscape of the United States. The conclusion of their research was that only 16.1% of Americans are “religiously unafilliated” (with fewer than 2% claiming to be Atheist). Only 4.7% of Americans described themselves as Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or other. Surprisingly, 78.4% of American adults described themselves as “Christian.” Now, when we look at the moral and spiritual landscape of our nation, and even among our own friends and family, I imagine that these conclusions shock us. Can we honestly say that our nation has the “look and feel” of a place where nearly 8 out of 10 people are Christian, and where fewer than 2 in 100 are atheists?

However, when we look at the more specific questions on the Pew survey, we begin to see where confusion arises. For instance, 66% of Protestants and 57% of Evangelicals believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Only 58% of those who claim to be Evangelical Christians attend a religious service at least once a week. Among Protestants, 16% were not absolutely certain of the existence of God. Oddly, 14% of Evangelicals said that they do not believe in heaven, and 18% do not believe in hell. Seventy-four percent of all Americans defined heaven as a place where people who live good lives go when they die (which, I would like to remind you, is NOT the message of the Christian gospel). Turning to “hot button” social issues, 51% of Protestants do not believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 49% of Protestants do not believe that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle that should be discouraged.[1]

What are we to make of these statistics? First, on the surface, it may be encouraging to know that we live amidst a people who are so open about their personal faith, and so many who profess to believe in Jesus. But as we examine the personal beliefs and social positions of these, we should be alarmed that so few Christians have their views shaped by the Word of God. While many profess to “have faith,” we have to wonder, is their faith genuine? This is not a new issue. In our text today, we meet a group of people who have professed to have some kind of faith in Jesus. That’s a good thing isn’t it? No, not when we consider Jesus’ evaluation of the faith of these people. Though verse 23 tells us that there were many who believed in Him, verse 24 says that He did not entrust Himself to them. The same Greek word is used in both instances, and as G. Campbell Morgan says, “something will be gained if we rendered it so.”[2] So we could render these statements like this: “Many believed in Jesus, but He did not believe in them,” or “Many trusted in Jesus, but He did not trust them,” or “Many committed themselves to Jesus, but He did not commit Himself to them.” And it seems, by looking at the religious landscape of the United States today, that the same thing could be said of people who profess faith in Christ in our day. Though they claim to believe in Him, He does not believe in them. He does not authenticate their faith. He does not recognize it as genuine, saving faith in Him. In other words, He has no faith in their faith.

This is a startling reality – that we may have a faith that Jesus does not accept as genuine. And we can examine it here in the historical setting of this passage, or apply the concept to our society, but we really haven’t done business with the Word of God until we have brought the question to bear on our own souls. Bottom line issue: you say you have faith in Jesus, that you believe in Him; but does Jesus have faith in your faith? Is your faith genuine? Is it acceptable to Him? To answer that question, we need to delve into the text, and examine the realities about faith that are evident here.

The first of them is a reality that is unsettling and which has perhaps never crossed our minds before.

I. It is possible to have the wrong kind of faith.

On Thursday afternoon, a very popular television preacher (and I use that term “preacher” very loosely) posted on Twitter the following statement: “You don’t have to figure it all out. All you have to do is believe.”[3] Don’t say amen to that. What does it even mean? I mean, there are some things that you really DO need to figure out, and what is he even asking us to believe? Just believe! Believe what? About whom? Who or what is the object or content of that belief? You better figure that out! That kind of statement might be popular and pleasing to the ear, but it is hollow and completely without meaning. And because it is empty and meaningless, it is also dangerous. It encourages us to have faith, but faith in what? Faith in our own ability to have faith? Faith in the power of positive thinking? Faith in some unnamed, undefined spiritual reality? Frankly, this kind of faith is one example of the wrong kind of faith.

The people described in verse 23 of this text don’t have a nebulous and vague kind of faith like this, but it is still the wrong kind of faith. You ask, “How many wrong kinds of faith are there?” Well, lets put it this way, there’s only one right kind, so anything that is NOT that is wrong. But what’s wrong with this faith that we see in verse 23? After all, it plainly says that they “believed in His name,” that is, in the name of Jesus. And according to John 1:12, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” These “many” believed in His name, but according to the estimation of Jesus Himself, they had not become children of God. He had no faith in their faith. Where did this faith go wrong? 

First, notice the basis of this faith. Verse 23 says that they “believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” They believed in Him because of the miracles He was doing. Well, what’s wrong with that? After all, didn’t we just read in a previous passage that Jesus was demonstrating His glory through these signs, and that the signs were the basis of His disciples’ faith? Notice verse 11: “This beginning of His signs (the changing of water into wine) Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” While seeing the signs of Jesus is a good beginning point, a point that arrests our attention and directs us toward Him, faith in miraculous signs alone is not sufficient. For these, it seems that they were interested in the signs, but not interested enough to press beyond the signs to the realities to which they pointed. One biblical scholar suggests that we should translate this as, “they believed in His name, so long as they were beholding the signs which He was doing.”[4]

Jesus encountered people like this throughout His earthly ministry. In Chapter 6, John records the occasion when Jesus miraculously fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish. We call this the “feeding of the 5,000,” but the Bible says that there were 5,000 men there, not counting the women and children (Matthew 14:21). Maybe there were upwards of 20,000 people who participated in this amazing meal. And, not surprisingly, many of them believed in Him and were ready to crown Him as their King (John 6:14-15). But Jesus did not receive this kind of faith. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (6:26). In other words, “You do not believe in Me because you understand the significance of what I have done, but because you were hungry, and I gave you food.” And then Jesus began to teach them that He was the Bread of Life, and that people must trust in Him in a way that was compared to “eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood,” in other words, believing in Him in such a way as if their very lives depended upon it, and as if He alone could satisfy the greatest need of their existence – the salvation of their souls, the redemption from sin, and eternal life beyond death. And when He said this, the Bible says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (6:66). They acknowledged by their turning away that they were only interested in the spectacular demonstrations of His power; they were not interested in Him for any reason other than their own personal gains and comforts.

As John 3 begins, we meet a man who was among those who had this kind of spurious faith in Jesus because of His signs. His name is Nicodemus. He readily admits that it is because of the signs that Jesus has done that he is interested in Him (3:2). That was the basis of his faith. But notice the beliefs that this kind of faith engenders. He says to Jesus, that because of His signs, he is convinced that Jesus is a “Rabbi,” that He has “come from God as a teacher,” and that “God is with Him.” Now, that’s good, isn’t it? Well, it is a good place to start, but we must proceed past these elementary understandings of who He is. You see, there isn’t a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Jew in the world today who would deny that Jesus was a good teacher, that He did some remarkably powerful things, that He came from God, and that God was with Him. You can find these very things said about Jesus in the Quran. But these things are not enough. James tells us that even demons have this kind of faith, and it causes them to tremble (James 2:19). But by this kind of faith, the demons are not redeemed; they are not made acceptable to Jesus by this kind of belief. Faith that sees Jesus only as a real historical figure, a good moral example, a wise teacher of spiritual truths, or a messenger from God, is the wrong kind of faith. Jesus tells Nicodemus in 3:3 that if this is all the content of his faith, that he will not even see the Kingdom of God. He believes, but he has the wrong kind of faith.
We might compare this kind of wrong faith to the experience of many people who mystically profess faith in Christ today. They are hungry for the feeling of a “spiritual high,” and an emotional kick in the pants. These kinds of folks never seem content to stay in one church for a long time; they are constantly bouncing from place to place seeking who has the better music, the more powerful programs, or the more exciting presentations. But in between these spiritual highs, when their goosebumps die down, they begin to feel discouraged and dissatisfied, as if God has abandoned them. While we would want to affirm that your Christian faith should encompass the entire realm of human emotions, it does not consist entirely of emotional experiences. In fact, most of the time, we will find that the Spirit is at work transforming us through the “little things,” the ordinary and normal times of the Christian life. People caught in the trap of emotional mysticism are like those in this text. They are not pursuing Christ Himself, but rather they are pursuing an experience, a feeling, a sensation. And this is the wrong kind of faith. Jesus has no faith in that kind of faith.

II. There is only one kind of faith that Jesus accepts.

Occasionally, I will pull my keys out and twirl them around my finger when I am bored. If other people are around, they will sometimes comment on how many keys I carry. I have 15 keys in my pocket! And when I go home in the dark at night, I sometimes have to fumble around to find the right one to unlock the front door. Because no matter how many keys I have, only one unlocks that door, and unless I find that one, I will be locked out all night! Friends, the same can be said of faith. There are many kinds of faith. Only one unlocks the gate of heaven. Only one kind of faith will be accepted by Jesus. He only has faith in one expression of our faith.

Notice His outright rejection of the spurious kind of faith that is based solely on His ability to perform miraculous signs. Verse 24 says emphatically that Jesus was not entrusting Himself to these who had professed faith in Him. He had no faith in their faith. They were attracted to Him by the spectacular, and they could be easily led astray to follow others if they were to come along and do similar deeds. And in fact, Jesus said that there would come others who could and would do this. In Matthew 24:24, He says that false Christs and false prophets would arise and show great signs and wonders that would be so convincing that even the elect would be deceived (if that were possible, but the context seems to indicate that it is not). In 2 Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the coming of a lawless one at the end of the age, the one whom we refer to as “the Antichrist,” whose coming “is in accord with the activity of Satan,” and he will have the power to perform “signs and false wonders” (2 Thes 2:9). You remember that even the Egyptian magicians in the days prior to the Exodus were able to replicate some of the signs and wonders that Moses performed. The Bible tells us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and these texts indicate that he is able to deceive multitudes with counterfeit miracles. It has happened repeatedly in the past. It is happening in the present day, and it will happen in the future. Faith like these people have is affixed only to the spectacular nature of His signs, rather than the glorious nature of Jesus Himself. And so Jesus emphatically refuses to commit Himself to that kind of faith.

But how does He know that their faith is not genuine? On what basis does He reject their faith? Verses 24-25 tell us. It is because “He knew all men.” He is not impressed with the flattering words of Nicodemus as he comes showering Jesus with compliments and commendations. He can see into Nicodemus’ heart and the hearts of all these who believed based on the signs. Like those who were fed at the feeding of the multitude, He knows that they are only interested in Him because of the personal benefits and the spectacular demonstration. John says, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man.” Jesus never has to ask anyone for inside information about any human being. “He Himself knew what was in man.” He doesn’t need anyone to plead to Him about the genuineness of our faith. He sees through to the very core of our being and He knows what kind of faith we have. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

Sometimes people are frustrated and discouraged because they feel like no one understands them or really knows them. I tell you something more disturbing than that. We don’t even know ourselves that well. In Jeremiah 17:9, the Lord says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” If you cannot know yourself, then who can know you? In the very next verse, Jeremiah 17:10, the Lord says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind.” First Kings 8:39 tells us that God alone knows the hearts of all men. First Samuel 16:7 says that God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance. We look at the appearance of these people in Jerusalem during the Passover and we say, “See they are true believers.” We say the same of so many we know. But God says He does not see people the way we see them. We look at the outward appearance, “but the Lord looks at the heart.” We are told in 1 Chronicles 28:9 that the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. So, it is the Lord God and Him alone who truly knows what is going on inside of every man, including you and me. Now John says that Jesus has that kind of knowledge. What then are we to conclude? Faith in Jesus is not a faith that is impressed by His signs and wonders and therefore believes Him to be a great teacher, a godly example, an enlightened Rabbi. The faith that Jesus commits Himself to is the faith that recognizes Him for who He is: God in the flesh, the Messiah who has come to deliver humanity from sin. The reason He rejects the faith of these and so many others is that it has not arrived at that point, and He knows it because He is the all-knowing God who can see every thought in the heart and mind of man.

So, how can we develop the kind of faith that Jesus entrusts Himself to? How can we attain to a faith that Jesus has faith in and acknowledges as genuine. There is good news and bad news about that. First, the bad news is that we cannot. We are spiritually dead, blind and deaf to spiritual truth because of the sin that has so radically corrupted each of us. Spiritually deaf, spiritually blind, and even worse, spiritually dead. We cannot bring ourselves to this kind of acceptable faith. So what hope do we have? Ah, now comes the good news. Our hope is in the reality of the Gospel that promises us that God will impart to us this kind of faith. In that great salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says that it is by grace we are saved (that is, we don’t deserve it and cannot earn it). It is by grace that we are saved through faith (that is, through faith that commits ourselves to Him for who He is in His glorious nature – the incarnate God who has come to save us through His life, death and resurrection). It is by grace that we are saved through faith, and Paul says that this faith is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God. God has to impart this kind of faith to us if we would be saved. We cannot learn it in a classroom or develop it in our own power. In that great text when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is saying that Peter’s faith in the Lord Jesus has been imparted to him by God Himself.

This is the requirement of genuine saving faith. And that is why, as Nicodemus comes to Jesus to let Him know how impressed he is by the signs that Jesus has done, Jesus says to him in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” In verse 7, He says, “Do not be surprised that I said to you, Nicodemus, you, the one who has imperfect and incomplete faith in Me, that you must be born again.” Nicodemus was a religious man, a righteous man in the eyes of all Israel, a spiritual leader of the people, and as Jesus Himself says, “the teacher of Israel” (3:9). He believes some truths about Jesus, but He is not born again, and has no access to the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has no faith in his faith. Just as every human being received physical life through birth, so every human being must receive spiritual life through the new birth. And this is accomplished as the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul, makes us alive unto God, and imparts to us faith to believe in Christ for who He is.

If you do not have that kind of faith, the kind that has been imparted to you supernaturally through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, then Jesus has no faith in your faith. And He knows whether you have that kind of faith or not. He knows you inside and out, every thought and every intention, and what measure and manner of faith you possess. But here is the wonder of it all: the One who knows you better than you know yourself has dared to love you more than anyone in the universe. This Christ, who knows your sin and your unbelief, has demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us, to bear our sins. He has sent His Spirit to regenerate us in the new birth and awaken us to life abundant and eternal in Him. And awakening from the slumber and stupor of spiritual death in sin, we behold the glory of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, living His life for us in perfect righteousness, dying our death for us to bear the penalty of our sins, and rising for our justification that we might participate in His righteousness and in the abundant and eternal life that He offers us, by grace, through faith that is not of ourselves but is the gift of God. This is what it means to be born again. And if we would have part in His Kingdom, we must move beyond the shallow and superficial fa├žade of faith that is merely impressed by His power, and experience this regenerating power of the Spirit that imparts to us a faith in the glorious person and saving work of Jesus through His life, death and resurrection.

Does Jesus have faith in your faith? That depends on what kind of faith you have. If you are like Nicodemus, and the others in this text, who are merely impressed with Jesus and willing to recognize Him as a great man who does amazing things, then the answer is no; Jesus has no faith in that kind of faith. He sees what is in every man, and He knows better than you do what kind of faith you have. But if you have faith that sees Him as the Lord God, who has come to live, die, and rise for your sins and your salvation, and you have trusted in Him personally to save you and reconcile you to God through His cross, this kind of faith He entrusts Himself to. A great biblical scholar wrote, “[Jesus] regarded all belief in Him as superficial which does not have as its most essential elements the consciousness of the need for forgiveness and the conviction that He alone is the mediator of that forgiveness.” But where that kind of faith is found, that sees Him as the mediator of the forgiveness that we all so desperately need, Jesus entrusts Himself to the believer. Because this kind of faith does not arise naturally out of the human experience. It is imparted to us through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. It does not despise signs and wonders, but it neither depends upon them. It sees the miracle of redemption as the greatest miracle of all, and leads one to surrender completely to Jesus as Lord and Savior. You wouldn’t have that kind of faith unless the Spirit granted it to you. And if He has, you can rest in the assurance that “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19), and He entrusts Himself to you as you commit yourself to Him in genuine, saving faith. He has faith in that kind of faith. 

[1] Accessed June 14, 2012.
[2] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1992), 55.
[3] Accessed June 14, 2012.
[4] R. H. Strachan, quoted in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 206. 

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