Lesson 1- What Is This Thing Called "Faith"?

Lesson 1- What Is This Thing Called "Faith"?



  1. Text: Jn. 3:36.
  2. Jesus claimed to be the Christ, and this affirmation has always been at the center of the gospel.
  3. The “faith” spoken of in the gospel is the conviction that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He came into the world to bring salvation from sin – Jn. 11:27. Cf. 6:69.
  4. This belief — that Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee, was God in the flesh — is the central tenet of Christianity – Mt. 16:16. Cf. Rom. 10:8-10;Phil. 2:9-11; etc.
  5. Nothing, then, is more important for Christians to understand than the nature of “belief.”
  6. And if we wish to understand how belief works and why it is so important, the writings of John the Apostle must claim our attention — in none of the New Testament documents do we have a better discussion of faith.


  1. The Gospel of John tells us that by taking upon Himself fleshly form in the person of Jesus Christ, God “declared” or “interpreted” Himself to mankind in the clearest way possible – Jn. 1:14,18.
  2. Jesus is the “image” of God, the visible representation of the invisible God – Heb. 1:1-3. Cf. 2 Cor. 4:4Col. 1:15. (This should not be taken to mean that Jesus looked like God, but rather that He was a perfect demonstration of God’s character – Jn. 8:19.)
  3. When Philip asked Jesus to show the Father to the disciples, Jesus answered, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn. 14:7-11). Cf. Jn. 12:44-45.


  1. But Jesus did far more than simply live as an example of the character of God. He went so far as to claim that His words were the testimony that God wanted given concerning Himself to the human race – Jn. 7:16. Cf. Mt. 11:27Jn. 3:125:386:29,4611:4214:10-11;16:27,3018:37.
  2. The Gospel of John begins by identifying Jesus Christ as the “Word” of God – Jn. 1:1,14.
  3. Jesus is the ultimate means of communication through which God speaks of Himself to mankind – Jn. 3:31-36. Cf. Jn. 1:6-7.
    1. To a world cut off by sin from direct contact with God, Jesus came to bear witness to the truth about God, truth that He had direct, personal, and even intimate, knowledge of – Jn. 8:25-27,38. Cf. 6:467:16,28-29.
    2. His claim concerning His teaching was very bold – Jn. 12:44-50.
  4. In the writings of John, then, this is what “faith” is: knowledge of truths about God that we are not able to verify personally, but which we are asked to accept on the basis of testimony from a credible Witness, Jesus Christ, who has personally seen and heard the things of which He speaks.
  5. Jesus’ claim concerning His direct knowledge of God is the most astonishing thing anyone has ever been asked to believe. He claimed nothing less than equality with God: “I and My Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).
  6. Obviously, it would have been unreasonable to expect His hearers to take what He said on blind faith, without any evidence or authentication. So several lines of evidence were provided to support His claim to be speaking from God:
    1. The witness of John the Baptist – Jn. 1:29-34. Cf. Jn. 1:6-8,19-285:33-35.
    2. The audible testimony of God Himself that Jesus was His Son – Mt. 3:16-17. Cf. Mt. 17:5Jn. 5:37.
    3. Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures – Jn. 5:39,45-47. Cf. Jn. 1:452:19-227:4213:18-19.
    4. The signs and miracles, or “works,” that Jesus performed, culminating in the great miracle of His resurrection – Jn.20:30-31. Cf. Jn. 2:11,18-193:25:20,367:319:1610:25,37-3811:4712:3714:11-1215:24.
  7. Thus Jesus’ claim of identity with God is not only the most radical claim in history, it is also the most well-supported. Hard-to-believe testimony concerning worldly matters is frequently accepted on far less evidence than was provided for the claims of Jesus – 1 Jn. 5:9-11.
  8. But Jesus more than once emphasized that even without the other lines of evidence, His own testimony concerning Himself and God was true and credible – Jn. 3:118:18.
    1. To the Pharisees, for whom no amount of evidence would have been convincing, He said, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going” (Jn. 8:13-14).
    2. The signs and other evidence were only provided as a concession to our weakness and our failure to recognize truth when it confronts us.
    3. On one occasion He said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe” (Jn. 4:48).
    4. However, those with honest “ears” had little difficulty figuring out whether to trust Jesus, and “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mk. 12:37).
    5. When Jesus spoke, His words simply had the ring of truth — even officers sent to arrest Him came back and reported, “No man ever spoke like this Man” (Jn. 7:46).


  1. When any witness gives testimony about matters that he has personal knowledge of, it is always important for the witness to accurately represent what he knows to be true. A faithful witness will never say anything that is not a “faithful saying” (1 Tim. 1:15; etc.), that is, something that can be counted on as being true.
  2. In Revelation, John describes Jesus as “the Faithful and True Witness” (Rev. 3:14). Cf. Rev. 1:519:1121:522:6.
    1. Jesus was willing to die rather than alter even the slightest detail of the truth.
    2. On trial for His life, He was given an opportunity to change His testimony, but He refused to do so, for that would have been a betrayal of His very mission, which was to bear witness to the truth – Jn. 18:37.
  3. When Jesus bears witness to the truth, telling us what He knows about God, we must take seriously the fact that He claimed to be faithfully reporting God’s message to us.
    1. He said on one occasion, “Whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (Jn. 12:49-50). Cf. Jn. 17:8.
    2. Jesus accurately represents everything about which He gives testimony — He truthfully relays God’s word to us without alteration.
  4. On our part, faith means that we acknowledge the “faithfulness” and “truth” of this Witness: we are willing to take Jesus Christ at His word in everything He says about the Father.
  5. It should be noted that we, as Jesus’ followers, are commanded to pass along His testimony to others.
    1. When we do, we must be careful to faithfully represent what Jesus said He knew about God — we must not change the message for any reason at all.
    2. Paul charged Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
  6. There are obviously times when we are tempted, for the sake of “safety,” to conceal, alter, or renounce what we know to be true.
    1. But if we are to be faithful to the Lord, who faithfully conveyed the truth to us at the cost of His own life, we must be willing to die rather than deviate from the truth.
    2. There must be great “fidelity” between what Jesus said and what we say that He said.
  7. Faithfulness to the testimony of Jesus, at all costs, is the message of Revelation.
    1. As he began to write that book, John indicated that he himself was in dire straits on the island of Patmos “for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9).
    2. The visions he recorded and sent to the churches in Asia were to encourage them as they faced their own trials.
    3. The church in Pergamos, for example, was commended by Christ because “you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13).
      1. The word “martyr” means “a witness,” and it refers to someone who is put to death for the testimony he has given.
      2. Antipas was one of many in those days who accepted death rather than back down on what they knew, and had confessed, to be true – Rev. 6:9; Cf. 12:11,1719:1020:4.
  8. The truths about God that Jesus brought to us must be kept faithfully and faithfully represented to others, no matter what temporal consequences may threaten to silence us.


  1. But this brings us to an important question: at this date, how can we be sure that we have the testimony of Christ concerning God?
    1. Not only are we, as sinful, earthbound creatures, removed from any direct knowledge of God ourselves, but living today, we are removed by two thousand years from Jesus’ witness to God.
    2. Since we were not present to hear Jesus, we have to rely on witnesses who did hear Him to tell us what He taught.
    3. The chain of testimony between God and us can appear to be somewhat complicated: if those who lived in Jesus’ day had to base their faith in God on what Jesus said He knew, then we have to base our faith on what those same individuals said they knew . . . concerning what Jesus said He knew!
  2. Fortunately, it is just this difficulty that is met by the work of the “apostles” commissioned by Jesus.
  3. It would be impossible to understand the nature of our faith today without an understanding of the role of these apostles, and the writings of John make up one of our prime sources of information on this aspect of our faith.
  4. The apostles serve, for all time to come, as the appointed, authoritative witnesses to the witness of Jesus – Acts 1:8,21-222:32; etc.
    1. The role of the apostles was to testify to the world concerning the testimony that Jesus had given to them – Jn. 15:27. Cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-4;4:14.
      1. They were endowed with the very authority of Christ Himself – Mt. 16:1918:18.
      2. The absolute accuracy of their testimony was guaranteed by the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit – Jn. 15:26,27. Cf. 14:16-17,25-2616:12-15.
      3. They were given miraculous powers to confirm their authority: the “signs of an apostle” (Mk. 16:19-202 Cor. 12:12).
    2. Having done what they were commissioned to do as the authoritative witnesses of Christ, and their testimony having been recorded in the documents of the New Testament, the testimony of Jesus concerning God is now available to all the world for all time to come, and not just to those who personally saw and heard Him – Mt. 28:18-20.
    3. Today, when one accepts the apostolic testimony contained in the New Testament, he is doing precisely the same thing as those who accepted Jesus’ words when they heard Him firsthand. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20).
  5. It is important to know the chain of events by which faith comes to us.
    1. It does not come in some mystical, better-felt-than-told way — it comes by our accepting the truth of the apostles’ testimony concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    2. Faith consists of the conviction that Jesus was telling the truth when He claimed to have come from God, and it arises through the straightforward process of evaluating, first, the testimony of the apostles to Jesus, and second, the testimony of Jesus to God.
    3. If we believe the apostles concerning Jesus, and we believe Jesus concerning God, then we believe the gospel.
      1. The question then becomes whether we are going to obey the gospel which we believe – 2 Thess. 1:8. Cf. Rom. 1:5.
      2. If, for whatever reason, we do not find either Jesus’ or the apostles’ testimonies credible, then we do not believe and we do not obey – Mk. 16:15-16Jn. 3:36.
    4. Faith in Christ, like every other kind of faith in the world, is based on testimony — testimony which one either finds believable or not.
  6. On the night of His betrayal Jesus prayed concerning the apostles to whom He had given the words of God – Jn. 17:6-8.
    1. Then He prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21).
    2. Thus Jesus had in mind:
      1. The apostles, to whom He had directly given His testimony concerning God.
      2. Those who would hear and believe that testimony indirectly, as the apostles faithfully relayed it to the world.
  7. It was to one of the apostles, Thomas, that Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). Cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-201 Jn. 1:1-4.
  8. John himself, as one of the apostles, claimed to be giving believable testimony concerning the words and deeds of Jesus. He said, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe” (Jn. 19:35).
  9. “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30-31). Cf. Jn. 20:1-8.
  10. The Gospel of John ends with these words: “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (Jn. 21:24-25).
  11. So the chain of testimony goes like this:
    1. Jesus bore witness to God (accompanied with miraculous signs).
    2. The apostles bore witness to Jesus (accompanied with miraculous signs).
    3. We today either accept or reject the apostolic witness. Cf. Heb. 2:1-4.


  1. Contrary to the popular opinion which distinguishes between “faith” and “knowledge,” faith should be considered as a particular kind of knowledge.
  2. Faith is knowledge based upon testimony, but if the testimony is strong enough, faith can be sure and certain. Cf. Jn. 4:39-42.
  3. Even in regard to temporal realities, most of what any of us “know,” we know because we have accepted the testimony of someone who had direct knowledge of the facts.
  4. In the case of Jesus Christ, the apostolic testimony is so strong that we need have no hesitation in using the word “knowledge” to describe convictions about God that are based on that evidence.
  5. We can have trustworthy knowledge of God because of the credibility of the testimony upon which our faith rests.


  1. Concerning the apostles, Jesus prayed to God, “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:8).
  2. Many years later, one of these apostles would write: “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:11-13).
  3. We can know that the gospel is true!

Courtesy of Gary Henry – AreYouaChristian.com. If you have any questions or wish to study further please contact us.

Next lesson: Faith in Jesus Christ: the Only Path to Eternal Life.