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Believers in John’s Gospel – Part I

February 8, 2010
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Those who follow Jesus have always understood themselves to be marked out as those who “believe.” However, there seems to be substantial confusion about what this means, both among Christians and non-Christians. For example, most people that I have met don’t realize that the New Testament authors don’t use separate words for “faith” and “belief” and “faithfulness”, like we do in English. Furthermore, many Christians get their concepts of “faith” straight from Hebrews 11:1 instead looking at the importance of faith/belief in God in the Old Testament as well. I fear that that, because of this Christians can be confused about how to live, and non-Christians can be confused about what it would mean to follow Jesus.  Partly for these kind of reasons, I have been seeking to better understand better how the concept of faith is used in the Hebrew scriptures, and by Jesus, and Paul and the other New Testament authors.

My idea in this post is to begin to look at “believers” in the Gospel of John. Note that I’m not going to look at the words “belief”, “believe”, “unbelief”, etc. Instead, I’m going to look at those who believe. Also note that my primary goal here is not to figure out what we have to do to be accepted by God — how to be in the “believers” group — but to understand the picture that John gives of the relationship of God with his people – those who “believe” in him.

I don’t feel like I really understand the big picture that John is getting at yet, but perhaps it is OK to start out with a few things that I think will end up being patterns. Take a look at the following three verses.

John 1:11-13  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (ESV).

Here we see that there are two alternative ways, and two groups of people. Perhaps it might make sense to call them the “yes” group and the “no” group. One group “receives him” and “believe[s] in his name;” the other group “did not receive him”. The group that “believes” then receives from Jesus the right to be children of God, to be born of God; what happens to the other group isn’t specified here. I am going to speculate that we can understand this pattern in terms of two groups with two contrasting “identities”: believing, and not believing. They then receive two contrasting situations (inheritances) from God.

Now, my primary concern here is how we can grow in faith.   So, what can we learn about what it means to “believe” from this passage? First, perhaps “believing” and “receiving” are two different ways of marking out the same group identity, and that they are therefore two different angles on the same thing.  Contemporary Christians often refer to the “yes” group as “believers” (as do other New Testament authors).  Does it also make sense to talk about the “yes” group as “receivers”? What does it look like to grow into our identity as those who “receive” Jesus?

-BenRI

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Eric permalink
    February 8, 2010 9:19 pm

    I’m interested, too, in how this might draw larger connections, like, as you suggest, to the Old Testament. The Old Testament community of Israel is defined in strong receiving terms – as those who receive the Law. The Law, like Jesus, is a thing that is continuously received and submitted to, creating a new sort of being (Israel, a corporate being amongst the nations). I’ve not developed this thought much further, but it seems worth following.

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