The popular British definition of a “Christian” is “a good person.” Obviously, Christians are called to be good people. But what is often forgotten is the statement of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6).
Loving your neighbour is very important but it is not enough.
Being decent and respectable is very important but it is not enough.
If you were to say to me: “Tony, I like you but I don’t trust you,” how do you think I would feel? Trust is fundamental to good relationships. If I don’t think you trust me that will undermine our relationship. Whatever you do for me, whatever compliment you pay me, our relationship will be ruined.
This is a simple illustration of the important of trust (faith) in our relationship with God. He is looking for trust (or faith). Christianity is a relationship of trust in God.
We need faith right at the beginning. We need to:
Recognise Jesus by faith
Luke writes: “Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’” (Luke 9:18-20).
The disciples had to take a step of faith, and there was a risk involved. The religious authorities of the time did not accept Jesus. In fact they sometime disciplined people who followed him. But the disciples were so impressed with him that they put their faith in him despite the religious authorities’ negative opinion.
But there is another interesting fact in this passage. The disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah but “Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.” (verse 21). This is sometimes called The Messianic Secret. Why did Jesus say such an odd thing? It seems as if he was trying to discourage people from following him.
In one sense, that is true. Jesus didn’t want people following him on a superficial basis – just to experience miracles. He wanted disciples who had thought through the issue of following him seriously. So he didn’t put it on a plate for them. He said enough to intrigue those who were really interested. He wanted them to go away, think seriously, then make a considered decision to follow him, i.e. to take an intelligent step of faith.
Having started in faith we then need to:
Follow Jesus by faith
Jesus was quite honest with people. He didn’t paint a rosy picture of what following him would mean. He told them: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (verse 22).
He was to be a suffering Messiah and this was not an acceptable idea to Jewish people. Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations of the Messiah. Similarly, Jesus sometimes does not act as we would like him to. Christian discipleship is no guarantee that all our prayers will be answered in the way we like. Far from it: sometimes he appears to let us down. But that is only because we don’t fully understand God’s purposes.
“Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (verses 23-25)
Jesus calls us all to a life of self-denial. We like popularity, comfort, affluence, autonomy. He may well lead us into unpopularity, discomfort, financial challenge and to having to go his way rather than ours. He makes that clear at the outset and when it happens we can’t go back and say that he has broken contract with us.
Finally, we need to:
Confess Jesus by faith
Jesus challenges us deeply: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (verse 26) . What a prospect – Jesus being ashamed of us!
We can find many excuses for not speaking about our faith in Christ sensitively but boldly:
- British reserve and embarrassment (but we’d be embarrassed if Jesus were ashamed of us on his return!).
- Fear of being thought extreme (but we are talking about the most important good news in the world).
- Fear of criticism (but that’s just ungrateful cowardice: Jesus went through a terrible death for us).
- Fear of rejection (but we should value acceptance by God much higher than rejection by people).
- We don’t want to interfere in other people’s lives (but we’re not interfering, we are telling people good news which is essential to their enjoying eternal salvation).
Are you really trusting in Christ? If not why not put your trust in him today – and tell him about it in a simply prayer.
What excuses are you making for not speaking about your faith in Christ to others, and what are you going to do about it?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction