I have had the privilege and pleasure of teaching the Gospel of John this quarter at Southeast. Though there are a host of things I could discuss in connection with this magnificent book of the Bible, I would like to provide some thoughts on faith that arise from a careful study of John’s Gospel. It is often helpful to discuss what something is not in order to clarify our thinking about what something is. Our understanding of faith can be enriched by considering the following four things that faith is not.
Faith is not indefensible. The stated purpose of John’s Gospel is to engender faith in Jesus Christ (John 20:30–31). John’s means of encouraging such faith among people was selecting and recording certain “signs.” In other words, the “signs” that John recorded were intended to serve as the basis or grounds for a person’s belief in Jesus. John did not expect people to believe in Jesus without any reason for doing so. Upon coming to faith in Jesus, people could likewise point to the “signs” as a way of defending their faith in Jesus.
Faith is not invariable. In John 2:23–24, John makes an interesting observation: “Now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people.” In other words, the people believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe in them. Why? Evidently, the people possessed a superficial faith. While their faith was better than no faith at all, it fell short of what Jesus desired. John’s observation forces us to view faith as something that exists along a continuum between shallow and deep.
Faith is not insubordinate. Though a textual variant does exist in John 3:36 (see NKJV), the ESV arguably reflects the better reading: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Faith and obedience belong together. To believe in Jesus is to obey Jesus; to obey Jesus is to believe in Jesus. To be disobedient is to be unbelieving so as to incur the wrath of God. John’s Gospel destroys the notion that faith is exclusively cognitive (cf. John 12:44–50).
Faith is not indestructible. In John 6:66, we read, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” While we may question the level of faith that these “disciples” had, the fact remains that they abandoned whatever measure of faith they did have. The same could be said of the Jews in John 8. They went from believing in Jesus (vs. 31) to picking up stones to throw at Jesus (vs. 59). According to John’s Gospel, faith can regress and even die.
How might the foregoing thoughts about faith or believing in Jesus inform one’s interpretation of John 3:16?
Jacob Evans is the Dean of Academics for Southeast. He is also the preacher for the Greenback Church of Christ, in Greenback, TN.