Faith in the Faithful One
In the Old Testament the righteous person lives by faith, and his faith or trust in God is always shown through his obedient faith-full actions. The Old Testament therefore doesn’t say too much about faith as such, but when Jesus comes on the scene the Scriptures suddenly explode with references to faith. Time and again Jesus scolds his disciples because they do not have enough faith. He says if they have only a little faith they could move mountains. It is by faith that people are healed, and it is through faith that his disciples will do great signs and wonders. In the Old Testament faith was linked with faithful obedience to God’s law, but now faith becomes a dynamic power source in the person’s life. Suddenly Jesus’ disciples will be able to do great things through faith.
Jesus doesn’t say who or what they are to have faith in. As Jews, his disciples would have put their faith in God alone—the ultimate faithful one; and for them having faith meant obeying God’s commands. But in John 2:11 we read that the disciples put their faith in Jesus, and throughout the gospel we’re told that people put their faith in Jesus himself. In other words they transferred their faith in the law-giving God to the person of Jesus Christ. This is an astounding transition because in putting their faith in Jesus they were recognising him to be the faithful one. In other words, they were recognising that their solemn agreement to be in a covenant relationship with God was fulfilled by being in a relationship with Jesus.
Then in John 14:12 Jesus says something even more stupendous. Just before he promises the Holy Spirit he says, ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to
the Father.’ All through the gospels Jesus fulfils the Old Testament and here he fulfils the incomplete Old Testament idea of faith. In the Old Testament faith was the obedient response to believing in a God who was trustworthy and good. Now faith is linked to a real person in place and time–Jesus. Furthermore, faith now includes a personal relationship and it empowers the disciples to do what Jesus does.
In the next passage in John chapter fourteen Jesus speaks further about the person who has faith in him. He will receive the Holy Spirit, and he will also have a certain new responsibility. In verse fifteen he says, ‘If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father and he will send another Counsellor to be with you forever–the Spirit of Truth.’ Jesus promises that he will live in them and they will live in him. The evidence of this is that they will obey his teachings and do what he has done. In verse twenty he says, ‘On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who
loves me.’ This is the final and most profound dimension to faith. In John’s gospel it becomes clear that having faith in Jesus means entering into a supernatural union with him. If you like, faith makes the person a part of Jesus– a member of his body. Through this faith they think his thoughts and do his actions in the world. Faith here is not simply belief that Jesus is the Son of God, it is a personal union with Him.
The fact that this passage is intertwined with his promise of the Holy Spirit shows us that the faith and the good works that flow from faith both have their ultimate origin from God the Holy Spirit. In other words, both faith in Jesus and the actions of Jesus which we do are initiated and carried out by the working of God within us. God gives us a little bit of his power in order to become unified with Jesus Christ and then do his works in the world. This gift of God’s goodness, power and light is called Grace. Both Catholics and Evangelicals agree on this point–that we can neither have faith nor can we do faith-full good works without the gift of God’s grace which empowers us.
A person may have faith, but what does this person of faith have to do? Must they still obey the Old Testament law? Well, in one passage Jesus tells the disciples that they must actually be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees–those respectable religious people who obeyed every detail of the law. What he meant by this was not so much that they had to obey the Old Testament law, but that their new kind of righteousness was to outstrip the Old Testament obedience. It was to be a fresh kind of goodness–as different to the old legalistic way as a colour photo is to a black and white picture. Obeying Christ’s commands actually is not just an action of pure obedience as it was in the Old Testament. Instead obeying Christ’s commands is the way to enter more fully into unity with him. As the apostle John says, ‘whoever keeps his word, in him true love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.’ (I Jn, 2:5-6) Therefore, obeying his commands in faith is the method by which Jesus’ disciples will dwell in him, become like him, and be made perfect.
The book of Hebrews always shows that the Old Testament heroes of faith did certain actions by faith. Likewise in the gospels, Jesus the man of Faith, is always acting out that faith with his life, his teachings, his death and his resurrection. So
faith which is not acted out in the world is not faith at all—it is only an idea. Faith which is just a personal inner religious experience is incomplete. So in Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, ‘Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my father in heaven.’ And in Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats, in which those who act out their faith through charitable works are welcomed into heaven while those who only gave lip service to their faith are rejected. In the story of the wise and foolish builders, the story of the Good Samaritan, and the different talents the faithful ones always perform positive faith-full actions while the unfaithful do nothing–even though with their lips they say they believe. [Read More]