There can only be three main varieties of responses to Christ: disinterest, disbelief, and faith. Each of these responses need to be evaluated. But, before we do that, let’s point out some similarities between these responses.
1. Mode of Relating. Each of these responses is a mode of relating to Christ.
2. Personal. Each response is personal, not just in the sense that it’s a personal, subjective decision, but also that it’s a response to a Person, Jesus Christ and not just to some commodity or concept.
3. Decisive. The response is voluntary and decisive. It involves a choice that determines the direction in which one’s faith will progress.
Now, let’s examine each of these one by one.
Disinterest is a value-judgment. The reason why people find the topic of Christ, or Christ Himself, quite uninteresting is either because they have very less information about Him or because they have enough mis-information about Him or because they cannot regard the information they have under their set of values or important things. They do not think it needs any serious consideration. It is also possible that the disinterest gradually develops, in the same manner that couples may get disinterested in each other due to inability to cope with the disagreements. It may be that the disinterest developed after finding out that one’s agenda or objective was not being met in this relationship. It is probable that Judas Iscariot was attracted by the prospect of a political position in the Kingdom of Christ, but when He saw His Master moving in a different direction, he was frustrated. The disinterest, in such cases, is a remorse over having misunderstood that Christ could serve their original interest; in other words, it is repentance from a false faith in Christ.
However, in the case of those who have very less information, desire for or against salvation can play an important role in evaluating whether time and energy should be expended to consider the Person of Christ.
Evidently, we understand faith to be a voluntary, volitional, and interest-related commitment.
It is important to understand that one cannot have distrust in Christ; one can only entertain a disbelief about Him. Distrust means to regard Christ Himself as not trustworthy. It can only be produced through experience; and, it is not possible for anyone to have had an experience with Christ and still have found Him untrustworthy. Disbelief, on the other hand, is an attitude against Christ. It is not merely an agnostic stance (“I don’t know, and so don’t know if I can believe”), but a skeptical commitment (“I don’t want to believe”). The former may be illustrated as a lost man meeting a stranger in the forest. He doesn’t know him and so is unable to decide whether he can or cannot believe this person. The latter may be illustrated as a woman who finds out that a certain marriage is going to cost her many things, and so rejects it. It is possible that if the other party looks persuasive or too compelling or unavoidable, this woman may develop hatred and disgust.
Evidently, we also understand faith to be a cost-considered, risk-involved, and pre-figured decision. Faith develops through experience and involves a lot of consideration and understanding. The swift to believe are swift to lose faith, unless that faith has taken time, pain, and patience to take root.
The third form of response is faith.With regard to faith in Christ, one can either have blind-faith or rational faith. Blind-faith is either traditional belief and world-sense or the response of knave credulity. Blind-faith has, at least, two possibilities:
a. It either is so open and credulous that it can change as swiftly as “children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine”
b. Or, it is so closed that it is no longer open to evaluation. In most cases, this closed-condition is just an attitude of prejudice formed through intense commitment to a form of belief, to a community, or to a person; in which case, it is also against someone.
Evidently, faith and affection are related; and, in most cases, affections decide the decision to believe or not believe. However, essentially, faith is knowledge; even as to believe is to know, to have a wrong-belief is to be deceived, and to have no belief is to be ignorant.
Now, we turn to the question, “What does it mean to believe in Christ”, which we’ll examine below through the following categories of knowledge [I borrow the Sanskrit terms from Indian philosophy]:
1. Pratyaksha (Direct Perception). Faith is a personal and direct spiritual perception of Christ as He reveals Himself to us. In his Second Epistle, Peter writes: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Luke records in Acts that when the rulers, elders, and scribes forbade Peter and John to preach about Christ, they replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Act 4:19-20). Now, the Scripture records a number of such eye-witnesses who saw the glory of Christ and also had His vision after His resurrection from the dead. We also have heard in modern times about people like Sadhu Sundar Singh, Dr. D.G.S. Dhinakaran, and Pastor Karamchand Hans who had the direct visitation (pratyaksha darshana) of Christ. But, this is not the case with many others who believe in Him. Could it be that their faith is different? Of course not, because faith and physical sight are things very different from each other. So, the Scripture says “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Peter even once wrote regarding the believers saying “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith–the salvation of your souls” (1Pet. 1:8-9). So, this faith is not dependent on physical sight or senses. For, if it were, all the world of people that had seen Christ during His earthly ministry would have had faith.
Faith, then, is spiritual perception of Christ when He encounters us through His Self-revelation.
2. Anumana (Inference). Faith is rational understanding based on facts that validate revelation. True faith is knowledge that is open to reason (James 3:17, RSV). Faith is not reasoning, though all reasoning involves faith of some kind (you must, at least, believe in the rules of reasoning). Inferences have starting points: the starting points must be facts. Like the Star that guided the Magi to the house of Jesus, so inference can guide one to Christ, if it is free of false premises and fallacious reasoning; however, faith precedes all this as becoming the primal point of the journey. To note is the fact that it is impossible for blank reason to arrive at any synthetic (informative) conclusion (Cf. Epistemics of Divine Reality). Only reasoning from facts can assist knowledge; reasoning from reason leads to itself; that’s one reason why the pure rationalists end up in a monist and attributeless conception of all reality.
Inference is a tool that can be employed to relate both facts of experience and truths of revelation, like the conclusion of the blind man about Christ that if He was not from God, He could not heal a man born blind (see the argument in John 9:25-33). A number of Scriptural truths like the goodness of God, the omnipotence of God are related with the fact of the experience he had just had to drive the conclusion that Jesus was a man of God. It would, later, only take the self-revelation of Christ to assist this reasoning into solid faith. Reasoning devoid of Christ’s self-revelation would have its limits.
3. Upamana (Comparison). In Matthew 8, we have the story of centurion at Capernaum who came and requested Christ to heal his servant who was lying at home paralyzed. Jesus said that He would come and heal him, but the centurion humbly answered saying “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, “Go,’ and he goes; and to another, “Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:8-9). Jesus replied that He had not found such great faith in Israel. This faith of the centurion was formed through an analogical reasoning of Christ’s authority over sickness with his authority over soldiers. The point of marvel, however, is the edge that this comparative reasoning takes. The centurion has faith that his servant lying far away in his home will be healed when Jesus spoke the word here. It was certainly not at all like the centurion commanding his soldiers. That is why, his faith was called “great”. Thus, faith, here involves an understanding that goes beyond empirical logic. We are informed by the Scripture that this understanding is given through the Spirit Who imparts wisdom as we compare “spiritual things with spiritual” (1Cor.2:13). Thus, analogy does play a role (e.g. metaphors and similes used for God); however, the analogy of faith is only understood by those who share in that faith.
4. Sabda (Word). Faith is ultimately founded on the Word of God. The Scriptures tell us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Jesus told to the religious leaders of His day “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). The pre-understanding of Scripture as God’s Word was important in earlier preaching where Jesus showed to His disciples how the prophecies were fulfilled in Him and where the apostles testified in the Synagogues that the Messiah of prophecy was none but Jesus of Nazareth.
We are told that when Paul preached in Berea “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:11-12). Clearly, a three-fold step is involved in the Berean approach:
a. Reception with all readiness of mind. Truth is only open to those who are open to it. Faith is the open door to truth.
b. Searching the Scriptures daily. Personal investigation and judgment of the truth-claim is a noble duty. Also, important to understand is the fact that it is impossible to severe the Faith of Christ from the Revelation of the Old and the New Testament.
c. Believing. This is faith that is based on a spiritual understanding of God’s revelation. What did they believe? They believed the Gospel.
To believe Christ is to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to believe that salvation is only of, by, through, and in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Source of our salvation, the Author of our salvation, the Means of our salvation, and the Limit of our salvation. To be living in any way that stands contradictory to this faith is to be wading on the pathway of disinterest and disbelief. To stand in faith and to grow in faith requires that we take root in the experience of the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Explorations of Faith (Studies in Hebrews 11), Introduction and Chapter 1.
Epistemics of Divine Reality, Chs.2 & 4
© Domenic Marbaniang, 2010