Faith is harder than we think. Skeptics are, well, skeptical: “How can there be just one true religion?” “How can you take the Bible literally?” Young adults struggle to believe like their parents. Mountain top spiritual experiences never last, twenty-four hours is even asking a lot. Heartache and hardship scream, “God is gone! I’m on my own…” Human approval seems to exercise more power over our well-being than God’s approval. Then there is the power of money, shame, sex, boredom, fear, and self-reliance to force faith out of our hearts. Faith is harder than we think, but the Apostle John wants us to believe anyway.
Look at verse 12: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, he gave the right to become children of God…” The most recorded word in the Gospel of John is “Jesus” (237 times), followed by God as “Father” (136 times), and then in third place “believe” (98 times). When compared to the other Gospel writers, it is even more startling: Matthew (14 times), Mark (11 times), and Luke (9 times). John invites us to “believe” ninety-eight times. It is the most important human verb or action in John. So, how do we believe?
John’s first answer is, understand the darkness (verse 6): “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is almost identical to verse 5: “The light shines in the darkness…” The world and the darkness are the same thing. What does John want us to learn about the darkness? The answer is the darkness is not something we do. It is something we are in. Faith is harder than we think because we are in the darkness (v.5), in the world (v.9). In other words, we are in faithless places, unbelieving places. Faith simply does not exist there.
How do we believe? John’s second answer is, do not overlook preaching (verse 6): “There once was a man…whose name was John.” John just unpacked the mystery of meaning in verses 1-5 (the deepest truths on the planet), and now in verse 6 he abruptly introduces us to a weird guy named John the Baptist and his preaching ministry. Has John lost his mind? Most scholars, Bible teachers, and Bible readers skip over this “John part.” Why? Whatever the reason, when we do we overlook preaching’s power to produce faith on-the-spot (verse 7): “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” In other words, preaching has the power to shine the light into the darkness, messy lives and relationships, all kinds of unbelieving places. Notice, however, it is not any kind of preaching (verse 7): “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light…” It is Jesus-preaching, preaching Jesus and his salvation kind of preaching, that produces faith.
How do we believe? John’s third answer is, by Jesus showing up. Everything in verses 6-18 is about Jesus showing up. He shows up: in the darkness (v.5), by becoming a human being in human history (v.9 and v.14), in the glory of his person and work being seen (v.14), in and with the Bible (v.16), and in personal experience by faith (v.18).