John Part Two: Deep Dive PT.2
Throughout the book of John, we see this contrast between belief and unbelief, between a saving faith and a faith that abandons Jesus when his teaching or his demands become too costly or inconvenient. Here I want to uncover the nature of saving faith that will serve as a litmus test for introspection and dispel some common myths around the nature of faith. The objective here is introspection and growth in Christ personally rather than becoming the judge and jury as to whether someone has a genuine faith.
One of the common myths around the nature of faith is that it is ‘belief in the absence of evidence’. Acclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins asserts that “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”. I find that this is due to our very simplistic understanding and definitions here. Due to this contemporary understanding of the words faith and belief, we have attributed meanings that are contrary to the biblical sense.
The sense in which these words are used in scripture does not imply a ‘blind faith’ but rather it calls attention to our cognitive reasoning. What Wayne Grudem points out is that the word trust has implications that are closer to the biblical idea of faith and belief.
In Grudems’ Systematic Theology he unpacks the nature of faith as:
1. Knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done (this implies knowledge of our need for salvation).
2. Approval and acknowledgement of those facts.
3. The personal decision to follow and trust in Jesus to save us.
He emphasizes the point that neither of these independently constitute saving faith, but rather that it is a combination of all. A common objection here is that Christian belief cannot be considered as true knowledge because it arises from a ‘wish fulfillment’ and is therefore an improper belief due to the malfunctioning of cognitive faculties. However, I do not believe this is the case, what Alvin Plantinga successfully argues in Knowledge and Christian Belief is that for a belief to be constituted as knowledge, it must be produced by cognitive faculties that are working in proper function and must be aimed towards truth. Thus, to argue that Christian belief is the result of improper reasoning, one must first dis-prove Christian belief, not the other way around, thus nullifying the common misconception due to its circular reasoning.
Moving on to the scriptures, what we see in John 6 is that a large crowd starts to follow Christ after they saw the signs he was doing on the sick. Shortly after, most of them abandon Jesus and no longer followed him (John 6:66). What we are left to deduce from John’s reasoning is that they abandon Jesus because their decision to follow him was not based on a firm grasp of the knowledge and approval of Christ as the bread of life. They were more concerned about what their flesh could accomplish, hoping to find some grounds for eternal life in and of themselves and the moment his teaching became hard, their lack of belief (saving faith) was exposed.
What is abundantly clear from this passage (6:63-71) is that it is the Spirit who illuminates and gives life rather than the flesh (6:63) which is useless in securing that which is the work of God (6:29). It is not because of the works of the flesh, nor is it due to the obedience of the will to the demands of the law that we are granted eternal life, but rather it is because Christ lives that we too shall live (6:57; 14:19).
The words of the disciples at the end of John 6 are convicting to say the least, ‘’to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (6:68-69). What resonates so deeply here is that when one comes to Christ and beholds the fullness of his Glory, one has nowhere else to turn but measly pleasures that will fail to satisfy the longings of the soul. C.S. Lewis had it right when he said that we are “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”. What we lack is the knowledge and acceptance of this fact, only then can we desire that which is far greater than any worldly pleasure and decisively trust and be fulfilled by the bread of life.
For further study on this topic I recommend reading the following:
Alvin Plantinga - Knowledge and Christian Belief
Wayne Grudem - Systematic Theology, Chapter 35(Conversion)
John M. Frame – Systematic Theology, Chapter 41 (Regeneration and Conversion) & Chapters29-32 (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God)