To Believe

For the Ninth Day of Lent we encounter the unbreakable connection between belief and action. John 3:25-36:

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 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.

Two streams of thought seem to flow out of this passage. The first has to do with the place of the witness relative to the real Christ; the second has to do with the nature of belief. In the first of these we have a timeless reminder, a paradigm for anyone who preaches Christ: it’s never about the one who proclaims but about Christ. And once Christ comes to receptive hearts and minds, it is time to bow out of the way.

The second has to do with what occurs in those who have responded in faith to that Christ. Few of us would say that we ever, even momentarily, do not believe in God. Though we may falter in our obedience on occasion, fall under certain temptations, and maybe entertain doubts regarding specific aspects of the biblical witness, we still unhesitatingly think of ourselves as believers. And so we are. Yet the final phrase of the text lays out a recurring theme from John’s gospel, one which also follows in the Epistles of John: the opposite of belief is disobedience. We expect a nice parallel of belief/unbelief; instead we have belief/disobedience. It indicates that when we fall in our daily living we act, even if momentarily, out a belief that something or someone else is Lord.

This also has important ramifications for those who proclaim. We must announce a Jesus who is Lord, to whom obedience is the measure of belief. Announcing a lesser Christ, such as one who saves only for future insurance, is proclaiming something other than the gospel. Today, as obedient believers and faithful proclaimers, let us reflect on our lives and our message.

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