This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
What is faith? We claim that it’s what saves us, that it’s central to our lives, but what is it? If you told somebody today that they should have faith in Jesus Christ and they asked what that means, what would you tell them? Last night, we sought to answer that question as we continued our study of the Gospel of John in John 20:19-31. As Jesus appears to his disciples for the first time after his resurrection, we see firsthand the effects that a true faith should have on us, and we have an object lesson on the nature of faith itself.
First up, we see the results of faith. The disciples are sitting in a locked house, confused about the day’s events (the empty tomb) and fearful of the religious leaders who had Jesus crucified little more than 48 hours earlier. Suddenly, Jesus appears in the room, showing them his hands, feet, and side – that he was more than just a ghost, but that he had been raised from the dead. At this point, all the disciples in the room believe in his resurrection as they see him standing before their very eyes. Let’s focus, though, on what Jesus has to say to them. What should their newfound faith cause to happen? First, he says, “Peace be with you.” He’s calming their fears. Why can we have peace in our lives? Because Christ is risen. Sin loses its power, death and suffering lose their sting. If we have placed our full confidence in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, then what have we to fear? Our future is secure. We like that, but immediately after Jesus says something more difficult. “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Our faith must produce work. It must cause us to actually do something. I can talk all I want about my faith in a certain chair to hold my weight, but if I won’t actually sit in it, I have no faith in it at all. Faith necessitates action. Jesus tells us that he is sending us out just like the Father sent him into the world. He expounds on that, saying that we have authority to forgive sins. His statement sounds strange. In what sense do we have the authority to forgive sins? We offer forgiveness when we offer the gospel. We are sent into the world not with an authority that is inherent to us, but with an authority derived from the Word of God.
However, one disciple is absent from this meeting, and it is through him that we get a glimpse into the nature of faith. Thomas is told of what has happened, and he doesn’t believe it. He promises that he will never believe it until he can see for himself. Now, at this point, we might half expect to hear God say, “Tough luck, Thomas. That’s not how this whole ‘faith’ thing works!” But what does Christ do? He appears to Thomas. He invites him to see for himself. Despite the constant accusations of the New Atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and their loyal cyberspace followers who repeat their arguments ad infinitum, faith is not blind. God has not left us to guess, but he presents to us evidence to understand. Our faith is not a blind mysticism but a faith grounded in a historical claim – that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. However, before we trade in our idea of faith for an encyclopedia, Jesus delivers a stinging rebuke to Thomas. He points out that the faith God calls us to is often one that requires belief without absolute material certainty. Faith is not blind, but it is also not proof. I can’t empirically prove that Christ was raised from the dead. Becoming a Christian is not about assembling the correct tidbits of knowledge to build the perfect case. It is about trust. It is, at the end of the day, faith. But this faith has its reasons, as Pascal said. That’s what John points to in verses 30 and 31. He says that he is writing these things down – things he himself has seen – so that we might believe. He is giving us the story of Christ, reasons to have faith in him, but he also calls us to believe. Faith can be a tricky thing. Perhaps you’re seeking to follow Christ, but feel like you’re constantly overcome with doubts about how it can all be true. Perhaps you’re on the flip side – you have all the intellectual answers, but find it difficult to put those ideas into action and live a life of faith. Either way, seek God in his word, and pray for a stronger faith. Ask for the advice of those who have walked the journey of faith before you. At the end of the day, our task can be incredibly complex, but it’s also painfully simple. Trust Christ.