Born to Believe

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 20:24-29

Objection: Faith – any kind of faith – is a product of environment and conditioning. If you have been raised in a Christian home, you will become a Christian. If you were born in an Islamic country, you will grow up to be a Muslim. So how can people be held responsible for their beliefs?

The next objection I want to consider rises out of the observation of ordinary, everyday life. If you look for the source of the basic beliefs held by different people, it seems in most cases to lie in the individual’s culture and upbringing. For example, most people who are Christians were raised in Christian families, just as most Jews or Muslims or Hindus have been brought up in those faiths. Is not religious belief largely then, or perhaps entirely, due to one’s environment and early training? We are conditioned as children to believe certain things, and as a result, we rarely change those basic patterns of belief.

Yet Christianity says that everyone will be judged on the basis of their beliefs; specifically, whether they believe in Jesus Christ. The Bible says that.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

(John 3:18)

But if beliefs are conditioned, major difficulties arise with the claims of Christianity to teach the truth about God and to offer the exclusive way of salvation through Jesus Christ. Chief among them is the fact that most people do not really seem to have much choice about whether they will be Christians. What chance is there that a person who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia would ever believe in Christ? So how could God in all fairness judge him or her for not doing so?

Another side of this problem involves those of us who are Christians. So much of Christianity can be a veneer, a cultural relic, the product of habit and surroundings. Is it possible for our faith to be real, and not merely a prejudice inherited from our parents?

I do not believe that faith is merely the result of social conditioning. My response is based largely upon experience, both my own and that of others, including the experience of people in the Bible. Whatever role our upbringing and early training might play in the beliefs we eventually hold, faith is more than a product of heredity and environment. In the last analysis, genuine faith in Christ is a gift from God, offered and made available anytime, anywhere, to anyone who desires and asks for it.

It is possible for people who have been raised in a Christian family to be not merely nominal Christians but to embrace Jesus Christ for themselves and to trust him in a relationship that is real and alive. I know, because I’ve done that myself. It is also possible for people who’ve been raised in other religions, including the anti-religion of secularism, to turn in a genuine conversion to the Lord Jesus. Let me tell you about one man who did exactly that.

Doubting Thomas

His name was Thomas. He was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and his story is told toward the end of the gospel of John:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

(John 20:19-20, 24-29)

This incident took place on a Sunday evening one week after Jesus rose from the dead. Ten of Jesus’ original twelve disciples saw him alive on Easter Sunday, and the evidence of their own senses convinced them that he had risen from the dead. But Thomas was not there. Thomas had not seen Jesus, and Thomas did not believe. As far as he was concerned, seeing is believing. When the other disciples told him excitedly that they had seen the Lord, he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

The following week the disciples gathered once more, probably in the same upper room where they had spent those memorable hours with Jesus, both before and after his death and resurrection. This time Thomas was present. The story introduces him as “one of the Twelve,” that is, one of Jesus’ disciples. Now, that is an interesting description. Here is a man who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, who has rejected the testimony of all the other apostles, whose attendance record at the Sunday services of the fledgling Christian church leaves much to be desired (he has missed half of them – one out of two!). Yet he is still called one of the Twelve. He is Thomas the disciple, not Thomas the ex-disciple.

How could that be? How can someone who doubts such a basic truth of the faith not only still be considered a disciple but still keep his place as one of the twelve apostles? The fact is, you do not have to have perfect faith to be a Christian. It’s all right if you have doubts and difficulties – you can still be a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of his church. Being a believer does not mean you never question anything.

Have you ever lain awake at night wondering whether it is all true after all? Have you ever asked if there really is a God, or if Jesus Christ really is alive and the Bible is trustworthy? Have you ever cried out because secretly you doubted whether God cared about you at all, or could do anything to help you? Well, if you have, you’re in good company. Believers do all those things.

“Wait a minute!” someone says. “If a Christian can still have doubts, then what makes someone a non-Christian? How do you tell the difference between a doubting believer and an unbelieving doubter?”

The answer might be found in the nature of Thomas’s doubt. It was not head doubt. It was heart doubt. His doubt was not primarily intellectual in nature; it was deeper and more personal than that. Though he was skeptical, Thomas was not cynical. Even though he had trouble believing in Jesus, that didn’t stop Thomas from loving him.

There is a kind of doubt that exists only on the surface. It does not cause those who entertain it any deep pain or trouble, nor is it something they earnestly desire to overcome. This is the sort of doubt that characterizes the uncommitted and serves as an excuse for their non-involvement. It’s the doubt of permanent fence sitters. It’s the doubt of people who love to argue and find difficulties but who do not really want answers, people who claim they cannot believe but whose real problem is they do not want to believe. The reason they do not want to believe is that faith would require a commitment that would disrupt their lives. It would make them have to bow the knee like Thomas did.

That was not Thomas’s doubt. His doubt didn’t come from intellectual questions. It didn’t lie easily on the surface of his mind. It rose from deep out of his sorrow. The reason Thomas found it difficult to accept the testimony of his friends to Jesus’ resurrection was because Jesus’ death had so utterly devastated him. From what we learn about him elsewhere in the gospel of John, Thomas seems to have been one of those people whose basic temperament was gloomy. He may have been melancholic by nature, but he was not coolly detached. He was not neutral. Thomas’s was the doubt that is prepared to be overcome, if only it can believe that the news that seems too good to be true really is true after all.

Blessed Are Those Who Believe

Despite Thomas’s doubt, Jesus still loved him. When he came again into the midst of his gathered followers, he came especially for Thomas’s sake. His first words were “Peace be with you” – not “Peace be with you except for Thomas who doesn’t believe in me, and so has made me angry with him and I intend to punish him.” No. Jesus sought Thomas out. He went to him; he did not make Thomas come to him. He readily offered to him the proof that Thomas had demanded.

What an amazing thing! The risen Lord invites Thomas to crudely handle his glorified body. He breaks every rule in the book. Of course, Thomas was wrong in arrogantly demanding certain things before he would believe, and laying down conditions before he would have faith, and demanding specific proof. Of course the blessing that Jesus pronounces is for those who believe even though they have not seen. Of course, the Word of God alone is the resting place for our faith, not any subjective experiences we have. But in this case Jesus brushes all that aside, comes to Thomas and invites him to touch.

Thomas did not take him up on the offer. As someone commented, Thomas did not need to see the nail prints any more – he recognized Jesus by his love. Instead of examining Jesus, Thomas fell to his knees crying out, “My Lord and my God.” When he actually came face to face with Jesus, all his doubts vanished away like the morning mist under the summer sun, and he bowed down and worshiped.

So you see, it is possible to change your beliefs, whatever they are. Faith in Christ is available to whoever wants to believe in him. It does not really matter how or where you have been raised, whether you call yourself a Christian or call yourself something else altogether. The only thing that really matters is whether you have come to the point that Thomas did.

In Thomas’s action we find exactly what it is that separates Christians from non-Christians. Believe it or not, it really isn’t how much faith or doubt you have. What defines a Christian is the act of worshiping Jesus. If you fall before him as Lord and God, then you belong to him, you are one of his. If you don’t, then you are not.

Maybe you are struggling with doubts right now. Maybe you have been laying out conditions that you think have to be met before you could really believe in God. What would it take for you? To witness a miracle? Would you believe if you could see the lame walk or the dead raised? Or would you have to actually see God or hear his voice? Would you need to lay your eyes upon Jesus, touch him with your own hands? If you did, would you believe then? I wonder. You know, whenever we say, “If I could only see, I would believe,” God says, “If you would only believe, you could see.” You can prove that by trying it.