Irregular heartbeat, inconsistent breathing, and intermittent sleep behaviors are generally considered health problems. What about irregular, inconsistent, or intermittent faith, should it be considered a spiritual health problem? What kind of faith does Christ expect his disciples to possess? What does it mean to believe in Christ? What are the privileges of having true saving faith?
In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “28 When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me. 29 He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, because I always do what pleases Him.” 30 As Jesus spoke these things, many believed in Him. 31 So He said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:28-32).
Our Lord, on this occasion, was surrounded by cavaliers. We must not be astonished if the like should happen to us when declaring the gospel. Our Lord went on preaching all the same, and he did not conceal objectionable truth because of opposition; say, rather, that he set it forth with greater boldness and decision when surrounded by his enemies. The more they opposed, the more he testified.
The Lord Jesus also told the contradicting sinners that the day would come when cavaliers would be convinced. Observe how he put it: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own.” Cavaliers may have a fine time of it just now; but they will one day be convinced either to their conversion or their confusion. Let us pray that many will see the truth early enough to seek and find a Saviour.
Cavaliers ought to be convinced even now; the Saviour implies this when he adds, “He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, because I always do what pleases Him.” The character of Jesus should have convinced the Jews of his mission. His evident obedience to God, and the equally evident witness of God to him, would have led them to see his Messiahship if they had not been blinded by prejudice and pride. Any candid man at the present day studying the life of Christ, and observing his unique character, should be convinced that he is the Son of God, and should come to believe in him.
Albeit we may be surrounded with general and virulent opposition, yet there will be fruit from the preaching of the truth. The Word of the Lord shall not return unto him void: it shall prosper in the thing whereto God has sent it. We may hope that not only a few, but many will accept the sacred testimony, since we see that, even in the midst of an exceedingly hot dispute, it happened that “As Jesus spoke these things, many believed in Him.”
There were two sorts of believers evidently, who may be set forth to us by the differing expressions used in the above Bible verses. We read in verse 30, “Many believed in him”; and then in the thirty-first verse we read of “the Jews which had believed him.” Mark the distinction between “believed in him” and “had believed him.” They were Jews still as to their traditional belief and connection—Jews first of all, whatever they might be in connection with their Judaism. The omission of the word “in” is a happy one, because it is exactly accurate; and it helps to bring out an important distinction, while it also accounts for what seems so strange, that those who had believed him should, almost immediately after, charge him with being a Samaritan and having a devil (v48), and should even take up stones to stone him (v59).
The first “believed in him”: these are the right kind. What is it to believe in Christ? It means not only to accept what he says as true, and to believe that he is the Messiah and the Son of God, but trustfully to rest in him. To believe in him is to take him as the ground of our hopes, as our Saviour, upon whom we depend for salvation. When we believe in him, we accept him as God sets him forth; and we make use of him by trusting in him to do for us what God has appointed him to do. This trusting on Jesus is saving faith. “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” To believe him may be a very different thing from believing in him. Such belief may fall far short of saving faith. To believe in him means heartily to give yourself up to him, and to follow him as the way, the truth, and the life to you. Rejecting all rival confidences, the heart leans on Jesus all its weight, and leaves with him all its burdens. Believing in him, we repose all our concerns, for time and for eternity, in his hands. To believe in him is also to believe implicitly. We believe all that he may yet say. We accept not only what he says which we can fully understand, but that which as yet is dark to us. We so believe in him that we go with him in all his teachings, be they what they may. We not only go as far as he has hitherto revealed himself to us, but we are prepared to go as much farther as he pleases. What he says is truth to us, on the sole evidence that he says it. We believe in Jesus, not because we judge that what he says can be endorsed by our understanding (though that is, indeed, the case), but because he says it. Our Lord’s word is reason enough for us. The ipse dixit of the Son of God suffices us, even if all men deny his assertions. He has said it, and he is the truth itself. We believe in him; Son of God and Son of man, living, dying, risen again, ascended into heaven, we trust him. He is our infallible prophet, and our omniscient teacher. We rest ourselves wholly on him. That is saving faith.
But there is another kind of faith which was produced by the Saviour’s testimony, and had much of hope in it, and yet it never came to anything. There is a temporary faith which believes Jesus in a sense, and after its own way of understanding him, or rather of misunderstanding him. This faith believes about him; believes that he was undoubtedly sent of God; that he was a great prophet; that what he says is, to a high degree, reasonable and right, and so forth. This faith believes what he has just now said; but it is not prepared to believe on him so as to accept everything that he may say at another time. This faith believes everything that commands itself to its own judgment: it does not, in fact, believe in Jesus, but believes in itself, and in him so far as he agrees with its own opinions. This faith is not prepared to obey Christ, and accept him as its Master and Lord. This was the kind of faith these Jews possessed: it was a faith which was so crowded up with a mass of favourite prejudices that before long it was smothered by them. They might accept Jesus as the Messiah, but then he must be the kind of Messiah they had always pictured in their own minds—a leader who would defeat the Romans, who would deliver Palestine from the foreign yoke, rebuild the temple, and glorify the Jewish race. They half hoped that he might turn out to be a great leader for their own purposes; but they did not believe in him as he revealed himself as the light of the world, as the Son of God, and as one with the Father.
Dear friends, beware of that faith which is a mere intellectual movement, which does not control the heart and the life. To come to faith through a cold argument, and to feel no spiritual life, is but a poor business. We want a faith that leads us to an entire reliance upon the person of Jesus, to the giving up of everything to him, to the reception of him as our Saviour and King, our all in all. We have not believed unto eternal life unless we have so believed in him that we make him the foundation and corner-stone of our hope. We must believe in him as taking away sin. God has set him forth to be the atonement for sin, and we must believe in him in that capacity.
Our Lord encourages believers to continue in his word with three privileges. The first was certified discipleship: “you are truly My disciples.” That is to say, if they persevered in obeying his Word, they would be disciples, not in name only, but in truth. It is a small thing to be called Christians; but it is a great matter truly to be Christians. Further, they would not be merely superficial learners, but deeply taught, and inwardly instructed disciples of Jesus. They would really and truly know what Jesus taught, and would receive it into their inmost souls. It is a great thing to be no longer a probationer, but a disciple indeed. There is more in the expression than I can readily set forth in words. A certain person says he is a disciple of Christ; but you would never know it if he did not tell you. You might live with him for years without hearing an expression or remarking an action which is distinctly Christian: this is not to be a disciple indeed. Another man loves his Lord, and treasures his words; he puts his discipleship of Christ before everything, and you cannot live with him a single day without perceiving a savor of Christ in his words and action. You say of him, “That man is indeed a Christian.” In such a case religion is not exhibited by way of pride, as with the Pharisees of old, but it is seen because it is there, and must shine forth. Faith throbs in the man’s pulse, it looks out from his eyes, it tunes his voice, and lights up his countenance, it rules his house, and controls his business. The man lives for Jesus, and if it were necessary he would die for him. Blessed is he who makes his Master’s service his pleasure; his Lord’s law his delight; his Saviour’s glory the absorbing occupation of his time; he is a disciple indeed!
The next blessing which our Lord set before believers was that of sacred knowledge. Observe: “You shall know the truth”—not a truth; but the truth; the saving, purifying, glorifying truth. Keep on believing, and Jesus will teach you that great truth which is above all other truth—essential, quickening, cleansing, divine. You shall know the truth. You no longer guess at truth, nor hit on a sliding scale of probabilities; but you know it assuredly. You will grow familiar with it; truth will be to you a well-known friend. You will know the truth when you see it, and detect it at once from the deceptive falsehood. You will know the truth, and you will not be led away by the flattering voice of error. You will so know the truth as to be influenced by it, actuated by it, filled by it, strengthened by it, comforted by it, and by its power you will yourself be made true. Surely this is a good reason for abiding Christ’s Words!
The third benefit was spiritual liberty; “the truth will set you free.” Our Saviour further on explains that he means free from sin. He that lives in sin is the slave of sin. Sincere belief in the Word of Christ leads to emancipation from the tyrannical power of the evil which dwells in our members, and from the dominating power of the sin which rules in the customs of the world. “The truth will set you free.” You shall be free from your own prejudices, prides, and lusts. You shall be free from the fear of man. If you have sunk so low as almost to ask of the great ones leave to breathe, you shall break that irksome fetter. The truth known within your spirit shall make a free man of you. Hitherto you have been the bondsman of self. You have enquired, “What will this thing profit me?” and thus the desire of self-aggrandizement has ruled everything; but when Jesus is your Lord you shall be free from this sordid motive. “The truth will set you free”; this is a noble saying. Oh, the liberty that comes into the soul through believing in Jesus, who is the truth! It makes life to be life indeed when this freedom is enjoyed. In laying hold on the truth as it is in Jesus, the soul lays hold on the Charter of her liberties, and she enters on her citizenship in heaven.
Dear friends, I hope many of us enjoy these three privileges; disciples indeed, we believe everything that is taught to us in God’s Word, be it what it may; the truth has so entered into us that we now know it and are sure; and this believed-truth has made us so free that we defy the chains which men would cast around us. Our Lord has caused us to believe in him, and we have now found the element wherein our soul may abide in life, light, and liberty. Thus our Lord dealt with those in whom he saw some hopeful signs: he set choice blessings before them to encourage them to proceed further.
Nobody can doubt that there are such things as conversions, for they are common phenomena in every living church of God; and conversions are God’s testimony to the Word of Jesus, and the proofs that the Father and the Holy Spirit are working with the Son. Think of this, and then yield up to the Son of God, since God bears witness of him to you. Come along with you, you that have had other notions; come, and take Jesus to be your light and life! You that have had other confidences, leave them all and believe in him, for he is worthy of your utmost confidence. You that have been hesitating, believe in Jesus once for all. You that have been procrastinating, come this very day, and hearken to that voice which shall at once set you free. Oh, that you would now trust Jesus, my Lord and my God! May the good Spirit help you now to believe on the Crucified One, and may this be another of those occasions concerning which it shall be written in the Book of Record, “Many believed in him”! God grant it, for our Lord Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Let us make Christ the center of lives with the song “Center of My Life”: