The heading in the hymnal for this Sunday says, “Jesus Creates Faith.” There are plenty enough who ponder the expression. Is he the one who creates faith in my heart? Aren’t I the one who believes? How does one receive an essentially true faith? We shall take up this question today:
How can we receive a true faith?
First we must know what true faith is.
We can find a good definition of this in the Bible itself. There is a chapter in Hebrews called the chapter of faith. It begins by talking about what faith is. It says that faith is a certainty about things we cannot see. Notice there is an issue about certainty. In Christianity, it is as great a thing as this: that we meet God in Christ. He has sought us out. God Himself has come to us. This is where we can find him, hear him, and receive a friend in life—the best a man can have.
Faith, then, is certainty concerning he who one cannot see but can still meet. He who is there and can play a completely decisive role in my life. And he that a Christian knows he can meet and has met, it is Christ himself, God who became man.
Now we can go to our text. The story plays out in Samaria, just outside a little city called Sychar. There was a well there. And it was there Jesus met the woman and received her with his love and concern. Then something happened to her. She went among her compatriots and said, “Can you believe that I have met someone who could tell me everything I have done. Can this be the Christ?” And then they themselves began to go out to him and became so engrossed that they asked him to stay. He stayed there two whole days before he continued his wandering. He left a deep impression, and they could say to the woman, Yes, at first we believed because of your word, but now we ourselves have heard him, and now we know that he really is the Savior of the world.
This is also the first thing about faith. Faith is a certainty about something one has encountered, something factual, an experience— just as certain as any experience in the external world. Now we move on to the second. What did they say to the woman? Upon your word, because you said it, we believed.
Because you said it, we believed.
It is really so that faith can be established upon that which we have heard from others and has been seen by others. One is helped to believe by seeing faith in other people. It often begins that way. This faith can seat itself quite firmly. And it is probably the most usual way, at least in lands where Christendom still plays a role, where there are plenty of Christian homes and Christians practice their faith. One encounters it among their parents or their comrades. One can learn to pray. And one can constantly hear talk about this Jesus and learn to know him. At times, this has been called fostered Christianity, and it is said that it belongs to the church. In other places there is conversion Christianity. But there is no great difference between the two. In both cases, it is a manner of being led to Jesus and meeting him and receiving that which he gives. Fostered Christianity isn’t something to be despised. But it is perhaps vulnerable. One has received faith by seeing it in his parents and looking around in his country. But then one goes out in life. It is this which often happens in our time with people who came from Christian homes: One leaves and sees something completely different. One meets men who do not believe and are not convinced that there is a God. Perhaps they are gifted and talented, successful and decent, and they seem to get along well like this. When this becomes something one encounters almost everywhere, then a person can easily begin to no longer believe in the same manner as they learned at home. And this is a great tragedy.
Faith is a certainty about something one has encountered, something factual, an experience— just as certain as any experience in the external world.
Now we look at the text about Sychar again. They could say that they now heard him themselves: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” Now we have the third thing to talk about today: how one receives a true faith.
True faith establishes itself in what we have heard and seen of he himself.
It is such a lively encounter when one meets Jesus and knows exactly what He has said to him. I have seen him as he truly is. But how? Yes, well, how does one learn to know people? Naturally by socializing with them, listening to them, and seeing what they do. It is just as important with Jesus. This is the great tragedy that man so often encounters in our day. I have heard so many people who swear that they would like to believe, and yet they say that faith does not come to them. And then one finds that they expect to have some mystical experience. That something should happen. One or another believes it happened because they dreamed about Jesus, that he came and stood by their bed and said something. It can happen that he is pleased to come that way. But this isn’t the way that he has designated. “If you remain in my word,” he says to his disciples, “then you are truly disciples. Then you shall understand the truth about me and about yourselves. And the truth shall set you free.”
Thus it is not so that one will receive some remarkable experience that perhaps others have had, some sort of epiphany, without getting to know Jesus as one gets to know a person: when one listens to him. That is, you sit down and figure out what he is all about. So one may also sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Because instruction is needed. This is precisely what the church is for, and so we pastors, according to our poor abilities, try to teach about the Lord Jesus and make Him known.