Doesn’t that seem a little bit arbitrary? That’s the question I asked in my talk this past Sunday. Like, why should believing in this or that person be the condition for receiving eternal life? How is requiring one to believe in a person any less arbitrary, than, say, requiring one to dig a hole exactly 3 feet deep, then to place four peacock eggs inside of the hole, fill it in again, and dance backwards around it exactly 5 times? How would that be any less arbitrary than requiring belief in this or that person?
First of all, we need to understand what is meant by “believe.” You see, in popular culture, faith is about convincing yourself of some abstract thing for which you have no reason to believe. Right? That’s what most people mean when they talk about religious faith. But here’s the thing. According to the New Testament, that isn’t Christian faith. No, according to the New Testament, Christian faith isn’t about convincing yourself of some abstract thing for which you have no reason to believe, but rather, is trusting in a person in whom you do have reason to believe. You see the difference? On the one hand, the object of belief is an airy fairy abstract lacking reasonable grounds, and on the other hand, the Christian hand, the object of belief is a person, something concrete, for whom you have reasonable grounds to believe. This is why Jesus performed the miraculous signs that he did, and it’s why he appeared to his disciples in physical form after he’d been raised from the dead. Christian belief is a personal trust that’s based in good reason. That’s the first reason why believing in Jesus for eternal life is not something arbitrary: because of the nature of Christian belief.
And the second reason is this: the nature of the person believed in. As the one and only Son of God, Jesus isn’t just one more among all the billions of people that have lived on the earth; he is unique. He is goodness itself come down in a person. In the verse that comes after the one up above, John says this. He says, “This is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light.”
When you’re walking through the darkness and then suddenly encounter a light up ahead, you don’t need some kind of argument to convince you of it’s value. You just see it and know it in an immediate, experiential way: this is light, and this is good. Which is why Jesus so often is likened to light. As goodness incarnate, the person of Jesus creates a reaction. When you really encounter him, you don’t need any other argument than the experience of his person. Which is why personal trust in Jesus makes perfect sense as the door to eternal life, the door to knowing God.
Because just as with light, when you encounter him, what you will do is try to get closer. Unless, that is, you have something to hide. Just listen to John in the very next verse…
Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
It’s like a story D.A. Carson tells, about a guy in an art gallery, which I’ll put in my own words…
So this guy is in Paris, visiting the Louvre. And he’s walking from masterpiece to masterpiece, pronouncing his judgements, most of them negative. So just picture this guy, standing in front of the Mona Lisa, saying, “I don’t like it.” Finally, one of the guards approaches him, taps him on the shoulder, and says, “Sir, in this gallery, it is no longer the paintings which are being judged. Their worth is proven. In this gallery, what is being judged is the viewer.”
As post-modern day people in a pluralistic culture, it feels pretty natural to stand in judgement over Christian beliefs that strike us as arbitrary. But as we do that, we should remember that in this particular gallery, in this goodness-as-a-person-Jesus-gallery, what is being judged is the viewer.
And yet, as we’ll discover this Sunday, Jesus was sent not to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Come and see how that played out one day when Jesus met his bride.
Pastor Daren Redekopp