six impossible things before breakfast: what is faith?

15 04 2010

Preached by ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ in St Andrews, April 2010

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life

John 3:36

John 3v31-36 are taken in the NIV as testimony of John the Baptist, but it probably makes better sense him finishing with the climax of v30 (“He must become greater; I must become less”), and that then John the Evangelist (who wrote this gospel) is reflecting in v31-36.

What is faith?  5 things about faith that sum up the New Testament teaching on it.  New Testament faith is:

1. Faith with content

The New Testament tells us what to believe.  Often Christian faith is considered a leap in the dark.  Lewis Carroll suggests that faith is believing in the impossible with no evidence at all:

“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

– Lewis Carroll, ‘Through the Looking Glass’

This is NOT the New Testament view of faith!  New Testament faith is reasonable; it means believing things that are true and are given with reasons for believing them.

Also, faith is often considered to be a kind of optimistic hoping-for-the-best, like when faced with illness or suffering people sometimes say “Oh well, you’ve got to have faith.”  But what does that mean?!  There is no ground for this, and no content to this faith.  But New Testament faith has content.  Information is given, knowledge is imparted, arguments are laid out.  Consider John’s gospel and his definition of faith: no-one reading John can suggest that he’s arguing for faith without content.  It is one of the deepest books ever penned, and it’s as if he’s saying that this faith is worthy of intellectual discipleship; far from being content-less, you’ll always be finding out more!

2. Faith in Jesus

We believe things about him, but we also commit our lives to him.  But what does this involve?  Consider John’s picture:

John 1:12 – Having faith in Jesus means accepting/receiving him in some way for myself

John 3:14-15 uses an Old Testament picture of the Israelites looking/gazing at the snake for salvation; John uses this to say that having faith in Jesus means looking at him.

John 5:40- Having faith in Jesus means coming to Jesus for life

John 6:51 Having faith in Jesus is like eating

John 7: 37-38 Having faith in Jesus is like drinking

Cumulatively throughout John, faith means doing something with Jesus, not just intellectual assent to him.  All these are pictures/facets of having faith in Jesus – a very dynamic concept in John.  Nowhere does he actually use the word ‘faith’, but describes it as an active concept.

3. Faith from God

People can’t ever enter the kingdom unless God does something- unless the Spirit illuminates.  Faith isn’t a human achievement that God rewards us for having, but a gift that only God can give (see Ephesians 2:8).  So ask for it!  And when you have it, thank God for it.

4. Faith for anyone

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

The gospel offer is open to all!  Come as you are – he is ready to receive you as you are, you can’t wait until you somehow make yourself ready for him.

5. Faith for life

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life

John 3:36

Believing now in Jesus means you have life now as a present reality.  John doesn’t say ‘you might’ or ‘one day you will’ but ‘you have’.  You’ve moved into a new world and you are in Jesus (lit: “whoever believes into the Son” – referring to union with Jesus).  Life that goes through death into the world beyond and lasting forever.



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