The Expository Files


Believe It Or Not...

John 4

Maybe you've heard something along these lines: "Christianity is for the weak-minded." Or maybe you heard it a different way: "I know the evidence is against God, but I accept God on faith," or "Oh yeah, I used to believe in God, but then I went to college." Many people perceive that an increase in knowledge leads to a decrease in faith.

Such a statement is fraught with error, yet there are reasons for this perspective:

*Certainly colleges have done a great deal to destroy faith in God, but it is not through learning accurate facts that disprove God as is implied by people. It is through the perversion of the facts by the insertion of opinion as fact.

*Accepting God against all evidence is not Biblical faith. Biblical faith is not "blind faith". Faith is built on assimilation of all the evidence and then drawing the correct conclusions (Rom. 10:17). Furthermore, the evidence supports the existence of God, it does not deny such.

* Christianity is for all men (Titus 2:11). In fact, some of the greatest minds of Bible times were converted to Christianity (Paul, Nicodemus[?], Gamaliel[?]), and the greatest minds of the ages understood that there must be a God.

John wrote...
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
(John 20:30-31 ESV)

We know that this belief is not mere mental assent, rather a trusting obedient faith in Christ.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!
(James 2:19 ESV)

But do we realize that this belief is not a one time act, but rather a constantly emerging growth of faith in Christ Jesus as Lord?
Unless our faith is growing,
and the evidence is showing;
hot air we're merely blowing
when to heaven we say we're going!

John shows throughout the gospel account that bears his name that faith comes by hearing and applying ourselves to learning from Christ. In the fourth chapter, he employs examples to prove that if a faith is not nurtured, it will fail and eventually die out.

Skepticism gives way to belief...
Though a person may be a skeptic at first, through listening to Christ he can develop a living faith. Consider the "Bad Samaritan" in John 4:6-29. She was rather skeptical as she approached the Lord. Here was this Jew traveling through Samaria, and she knew that Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. Imagine her trepidation as she made her way to the well where He was resting. She was alone, He was alone, and this was uncommon for both. Generally speaking, women went to fetch water together. For some reason, this woman was unaccompanied. Perhaps her reputation in Sychar was such that many or most of the women of the town would have nothing to do with her. On His part, for a Jew to pass through Samaria was strange enough, but for Him to stop at a Samaritan well would be analogous to a "white" man drinking from the "colored" fountain in the 1930's -- it just didn't happen. And beyond this, in a land and time marked by racism between these two groups, a Jewish man would not often be found alone in a Samaritan village. She may have come to the well rather cautiously, as one would skirt slowly around an unfamiliar dog. The setting itself was enough to make a person somewhat skeptical.

But the uneasiness did not relent when He spoke to her. Here He was, a lone Jew in a Sychar, asking a Samaritan woman for a drink from the well. How brazen this man was! From her perspective, this Jew performed in complete accordance in His role as the stereotypical bigot - have nothing to do with the "lesser class" citizens of the land until he needed something. Her reaction displays to us the frustration in her heart. How dare this man ask her for a drink when under other circumstances He would shun her? But as He continued to speak to her of living water, her first impression faded. Confused by the situation in the first place, and then aggravated by His request, the woman soon found herself intrigued by the words He was relaying to her. He claimed to be able to provide a kind of water that would forever quench one's thirst. Though strange, bold, and unbelievable, there was something remarkable about His statement - or perhaps the manner of His speaking - that piqued her interest.

And so the skeptic surfaced. She pressed this odd man to prove His claim - to lay it all on the table, so to speak. "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." (John 4:15). Like any true skeptic, she demanded proof. Skepticism is the refusal to believe something unless it has been shown to be reasonable. Skepticism pokes, prods, and questions to get to the heart of the matter. His response to her prodding was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. He revealed to her other "unbelievable" truths that convinced her, not that He had "living water", but that He had insight and knowledge beyond what a normal man (Jew or Samaritan) should have. The skeptic began to believe that this man was likely a prophet.

What made her believe? He told her of her life. She had been married five times previously, and was now living in a state of fornication. This Jew knew this. He wasn't familiar with her or the town. It was highly unlikely that anyone else could or would have told Him all these things. The only reasonable conclusion was that He was gifted by God with special knowledge.

This sparking of belief led her to investigate Him further. However, this time, she was willing to listen with ears, not only of the skeptic, but also of the infant believer. Then He told her of God. He answered her question in such a way that displayed His wisdom and put all the pieces of the puzzle into place. Her suspicions regarding this Jew needed only to be confirmed by His admission that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.

Her rapidly maturing faith leapt into action at that moment. Leaving her waterpot behind, she ran into the city, convincing the men of Sychar that the Messiah was in their midst. Trepidation turned into courage as her doubt melted away, and she plunged into faithful service to God, convinced by the knowledge she had gained. Her faith stemmed from an honest investigation into the personhood of Jesus.

Belief gives way to doubt...
Not all who claim to believe in Christ have such a vibrant and living faith, however. Initial belief in Jesus as the Son of God sometimes fades, not because it was unfounded in the first place, but because it was not fed and nurtured to grow. Consider Jesus' own disciples in this same chapter. Here they were, believers in Christ who had acted on their faith. They had been converting and baptizing more disciples alongside their Master (John 4:1-2). Once they had arrived at Sychar together, these followers had gone to get food for themselves and their Lord (John 4:8). But they wavered in their faith.

When they returned from fetching food for Jesus, they found Him engaged in a discussion with this Samaritan woman. This astonished them, though they had seen Him in the company of "untouchables" on several occasions. Though they were somewhat confused by this event, none of them dared to ask a question about it (John 4:27). Perhaps they thought they should know better than to address this issue. Perhaps they had seen Simon speak up too often and didn't want to be scolded in front of their peers. Possibly they were just too embarrassed to ask a question about what they did not understand. Whatever the reason, their failure to ask questions, to seek the truth, is evidence to us of the beginning of their disbelief and doubting.
Once the woman had left, the disciples broached the subject of food. "Rabbi, eat" they said (John 4:31). But He had already taken His fill of food for the moment. Again, the disciples wondered about His statement, though they didn't dare ask Jesus directly (John 4:32-33). Yet Jesus addressed their bewilderment by putting their lack of faith on display. While they were busy about finding physical food, He was busy feeding Himself on the harvest of God. His satisfaction was not governed by morsels moving from His mouth to His belly but by His fulfilling His calling from God. While their faith was faltering due to their inactivity in the things of God, others were acting on their faith and reaping a harvest in the kingdom of God (John 3:34-38).
Interest grows into true belief...

One of those "others" was the Samaritan woman the disciples had wondered about, but dared not question. Notice the response of people to her faith. The Samaritans of Sychar were coming out of the city to see Jesus because of the things she had told them. (John 4:30). They had become interested in what they heard and wanted to know more. As they listened to the words of Jesus over the next couple of days, their initial belief grew and matured into a life-giving faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world (John 4:39-42).

Another person whose interest grew into faith was the Royal Official in Cana (John 4:43-54). He had developed an interest in what he had heard about this Jesus. Quite possibly, He knew about the instance of Jesus changing the water into wine. Evidently, he had heard about Jesus' healing. For these reasons, he wanted Jesus to come with Him. His son was ill and dying and he needed a miracle to save him. His initial belief in Jesus' ability to heal grew into pure faith as he returned home to find his son alive and well - healed at the very hour Jesus had given the word. His whole family believed as well, undoubtedly convinced by the words the official related to them about his encounter with the Messiah.

Where are we in our faith?
Without continuing to hold fast to the truth we find in Scripture, ever learning and reminding ourselves of them, our faith will begin to waver, and we will eventually die. Such an end need not be the case, however. We know that the disciples learned and grew in faith after these experiences and later went out and changed the world with the word of the gospel. If we do continue to learn and apply the truth, our faith will grow more and more, resulting in the reward of eternal life.

Each of us needs to take inventory and evaluate our own faith at this moment...

Do I believe Jesus was a good man, but question His Deity? Do I believe that Christianity is one of many paths to God, but question if it is the only way? Do I believe the Bible is a good book, but question whether it is true? Each of us must search the Scriptures to find reasonable answers for ourselves. Questions are good if they lead to seeking answers. The only dangerous questions are those we refuse to address whether due to fear of embarrassment or lack of diligence (John 4:27,33).

Do I take it for granted that I am a Christian? Have I become immune to Christ by "Jesus Vaccinations", taking Jesus in such small doses that I never become infected with an enthusiastic, excited faith? Do I remember each day that I was purchased by the blood of Christ? We can prevent ourselves from falling from grace by continuing to search the Scriptures daily, renewing our faith through hearing God's Word. We must not trust that our relationship with Christ makes us impervious to falling. Dig into the Bible with interest so that we may harvest for the Master (John 4:35-38).

Unless our faith is growing,
and the evidence is showing;
hot air we're merely blowing
when to heaven we say we're going!
Let's not be guilty of blowing hot air!


By Stuart N. Tullis
From Expository Files 13.2; February 2006