This coming Sunday’s readings assigned through the Revised Common Lectionary will have us reading the first 17 verses of John chapter 3. That passage includes what is perhaps the most well known verse, John 3:16 which reads in the English Standard Version as “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (I do wish the publishers of the Bible would return to the practice of capitalizing the pronouns used to refer to God, in all references to any of the members of the Triune God.)
So the important question becomes, “What does it mean to ‘believe’?”
The word “believe” comes from a word that can (and perhaps should) be translated as “trust.” So the phrase containing the word “believe” in John 3:16 could read, “whoever trusts in Him…”
Many, in my humble opinion, have an understanding of the word “believe” that is not very Biblical. The word “trust” in many if not most cases will likely convey the truth seeking to be shared more accurately. An example I’ve used in sermons & teachings, especially if folks are sitting in chairs, is that they have faith in the chair which is evidenced by them placing the full weigh of their body on the chair. If they did not have faith in that chair, they would not sit in it. Their faith, or their trust, is evidenced in their actions.
It is my belief that many Christians today understand “believe” as merely some kind of knowledge that they claim they accept as true. But do they actually adjust their lives to show a trust in that truth? Do they run their lives in such a way that the trust in the truth of the believed precept is manifest? Do they do the equivalent of “sitting in the chair”?
We are currently in the season of Lent in some denominations. Lent is a season when we are asked by the Church to slow down in life and to do some serious self-examination, asking God to reveal truth about us to us as to our life of faith, our life of believing. Are we living in faith? Or have we been lulled into some kind of spiritual lethargy, sort of like beginning to fall asleep while driving. We don’t mean to do that, but it happens, and sometimes with very catastrophic results if we don’t “wake up.”
Or, by slowing down and engaging in that heart-felt self examination, have we discovered we have misunderstood some key truth about living in faith – Biblical faith? What then? Well… we get to repent, and enter into much deeper, more true, more honest fellowship with God, through which He will manifest Himself in the world a bit more. People will, hopefully, begin to see in us more of the person of Jesus – which is what God wants, and we want too. That will in turn help the culture to become more God-like — more loving, more forgiving and more truthful.
One quick example…
Let’s say in your self examination you realize you are holding a grudge against someone who hurt you. You realize you are supposed to forgive that person. But the pain is still strong and you find it virtually impossible to forgive. What do you do? Well, you can choose to forgive and not wait for the feeling to arise from within you that you now want to forgive. If you read Luke 17:1-6 and ignore any section divisions or headings that may be in the Bible you are reading you may see a relationship between the request of vs. 5 by the apostles and Jesus’ reply and the first 4 verses of the passage. Vs. 1-4 talks about sins, and our forgiving those who sin against us a lot. THAT is when the apostles ask for more faith, but Jesus says if we have faith as large as the proverbial mustard seed, we will be able to do even miraculous things – which obviously would include forgiving a fellow servant of God. So Jesus is saying, if you have ANY faith at all, you will be able to forgive. So do it!
So having faith in a situation like that – trusting God – would lead us to manifest that faith by doing what is called for – in this example, issuing forth forgiveness. (And remember, to forgive someone does not mean you are saying what they did was OK. It’s not OK – it’s sinful. Otherwise forgiveness would not be needed.)
What is your gut reaction to the term “Lent”? I pray we will embrace the opportunity that God has given us and is continuing to give us to grow in our relationship with God through the observance of a Holy Lent.