First Hand Faith

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 4:39-42

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 4:39-42 rsv

Listen to these words from the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. They express what I call first-hand faith: “They said to the woman, `It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” There you have it: “We have heard for ourselves, and we know. . . .” That is first-hand faith.

Now to believe in that way is so significant, so life-transforming, that everyone who experiences it wants others to share it, too. My aim in speaking to you now, my prayer for you who listen, is that you will somehow hear in the words I speak, the Lord Himself speaking, and will put your trust unreservedly in Him.


All right, then, it’s first-hand faith we’re thinking about. What does that mean and how do people come to it? For these in Samaria, it began with the witness of a woman they knew. She was not a lady of reputation and influence. In fact, she was rather notorious in her community – married five times and presently living with a man who was not her husband. She was apparently a kind of social outcast, who went out to Jacob’s well for water at an odd time, when none of the other villagers were present. But she met Jesus there and came to believe that He was a prophet or perhaps the promised Messiah. She went running back into the town and said to everyone she met, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

This was probably the first time anyone in Sychar had even heard of Jesus. In spite of the fact that this woman was viewed by most of the town’s people with scorn and contempt, she was a convincing witness. She was evidently excited about the One she had met. She talked of Jesus’ amazing insight into her past and invited everyone to come and meet Him.

This is how faith gets started for most of us, isn’t it? We hear about the Lord from someone else. With me it was a high school friend, witnessing to me on a summer evening under a street light. With my wife Helen, it was a teacher in Daily Vacation Bible School. With one of my sons, it was the recorded witness of a famous believer on tape. Most of us are attracted to Jesus Christ through what someone else says. We listen to their words. We see a change in their lives. We respond to their invitation, “Come and see.” If you’re a Christian today, think about who it was for you. From whom did you first hear the gospel? Who invited you to consider Christ?

We learn from the experience of this Samaritan woman that anyone who has met Jesus and come to believe in Him can do this. You don’t have to have a great deal of Bible knowledge. You don’t have to be an outstanding citizen in your community. You don’t need eloquence or genius. This woman had none of those things. She was in most people’s eyes a nobody. But what a witness she became! The whole village turned out to hear Jesus because of her testimony. If she could do that, anyone could – anyone who believes.


The second thing we notice about real faith as it develops in the lives of people is that it makes them willing and ready to hear. Notice what these Samaritans did. After hearing what the woman had to say, they went out of the city to where Jesus was. They didn’t just stay where they were; they got moving in Jesus’ direction. They sought Him out. And when they had found Him, they asked Him to stay for awhile. Apparently His original plan had been simply to pass through that area. But they were so insistent about His tarrying there, so eager to hear what He had to say, that they prevailed on Him to stay for two whole days.

John Calvin once called this openness to hear Jesus’ word “the beginning of faith.” It’s not faith fully formed, obviously, but it’s a start. Anyone who is willing to give the Bible a serious reading, anyone who will venture into an evangelistic service or attend church or listen to a radio preacher, is showing something of this initial faith. If you keep listening right now, don’t turn the dial or switch the radio off; there must already be some response in you to the Lord, some openness to receive His Word.

That may not seem like much, but it’s a tremendously encouraging sign. Jesus said, “To him that has will more be given.” If you give your attention to His Word, you qualify for further light. If you attend to it, welcome it, give the Word careful consideration, you’ll become more and more open and responsive. That’s the Lord’s promise. I was reading today about Lydia, one of the women Paul met in the Macedonian city of Philippi. She came to the place where Paul was preaching; she kept on listening, and we read that the Lord “opened her heart.”

This is an encouraging reminder for all of us who preach and teach the gospel. Wherever people are willing to give us a hearing, we ought to be sharing the gospel because the very fact that they’re open is a sign that God is already at work in their hearts. Remember when the apostle Paul was preaching in Corinth, perhaps battling there with discouragement? The Lord said to him one night in a vision: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9,10). He tells His servant to go on speaking because He has “many people” there. These aren’t people who already believe or who are already church members. At the present, they are simply those who will be willing to listen to what Paul has to say. If he will keep on bringing the Word, these on whom the Lord has set His love will eventually come to Him. They will become believers.

Let’s miss no opportunity to bring the message of Christ to all who are willing to listen. There come times when those who hear us stubbornly rebel. They want nothing to do with the gospel. They shut their ears against it. In those situations, we may need to shake the dust off our feet, as it were, and turn to those who are more responsive. But wherever people are willing to learn of Christ, let’s see that they have the opportunity, because that willingness is already the sign that God is working in them. Faith is beginning.


But faith becomes full blown and first hand when it focuses on Jesus Himself. Remember how the Samaritans said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves”? First their interest in Jesus had been based on what they heard from the woman, and that had been a very limited message. All she said was that this man had told her everything she ever did. No one could come to a settled and mature faith in Jesus just from hearing that. But her witness, though limited and even somewhat exaggerated, was on the right track because it directed people to Jesus Himself. She didn’t expect them to believe just because she talked about Jesus. She gave the simple, the beautiful invitation, “Come and see.”

This is tremendously important. Real faith looks beyond the human witness to the divine Lord. When it becomes focused on a human intermediary, faith can’t become first hand. I know a man who for a considerable period in his life felt confident about his salvation because he had been baptized by a certain famous bishop. For him at that time, it was not Jesus Christ, His word of promise, His saving work, but the church official who had administered baptism.

I have known people who only wanted to hear the gospel when it was proclaimed by a certain preacher or evangelist. No one else was eloquent enough or orthodox enough or spiritual enough. It had to be this person. It had to be the gospel according to Dr. So and So. That always made me uncomfortable, even if – especially if – the favored preacher happened to be myself. Because if faith gets focused on the preacher it meets a short circuit; the saving current doesn’t flow. Putting our faith in human witnesses, except as they point us to Christ, is a disappointing business. That minister, that T.V. preacher, that zealous lay witness is no savior. He or she is a weak, fumbling, vulnerable sinner just like you are, just like I am.

It’s Jesus that people need to see. It’s His word that they need to hear. It’s in Him that faith is meant to rest if it’s to be genuine, if it’s to be first hand. Remember the Samaritans. At first they had been under some influence stemming from the woman and her testimony. Now, they said, it is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves. Now it was first-hand faith. Now it was a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that’s what is required for authentic Christian experience. We need not only to hear of Jesus and to learn something about Him, but we need so to hear His voice that we come to know Him. And blessed are those witnesses, those preachers, who seek to stand out of the way so that their hearers can get to Christ. The best witnesses are those like John the Baptist who, instead of creating a personal following, are always pointing toward the Lord Jesus Christ and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God. There He is. Look at Him. Listen to Him.”


And this faith, this first-hand faith to which the Samaritans came, finds in Jesus more than a prophet. Listen to what they say: “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” They began by accepting the woman’s witness that this person had penetrating knowledge, prophetic insight. They found her suggestion to be true that this was indeed the Christ, God’s promised Messiah. Then they learned from Jesus Himself even more.

Don’t you wish you could have heard what the Lord taught those Samaritans during those two days? He must have explained the gospel to them in depth. He showed them not only that God’s purposes for Israel were being fulfilled in His life and ministry but He opened up for them also His world mission. The Lord had other sheep to gather in that were not of Israel’s fold. They would come from the East and the West and the North and the South. Those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation would gather about the throne. His word was for the whole world. His gospel was good news for all the peoples.

This must have been especially thrilling for the people of Samaria. They knew how the Jews regarded them, despised them. To the Israelites of that time, the Samaritans were a half-breed race, corrupt in their religion and practice. No self-respecting Jew would have any dealings with a Samaritan. But these people in Sychar learned from Jesus Himself that He had come for them, that they were precious in God’s sight, that God had so loved the world that He gave this His Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The people in Samaria came to believe that Jesus was indeed a Savior for the whole world and a Savior for them. That is full-blown, first-hand Christian faith. We come to see that Jesus is God’s Messiah, the Lord of the universe and the Savior whom everyone on the earth needs. But these Samaritans also came to know for themselves that He was their Savior, their Master, their Shepherd, their friend.

That’s the faith I long to see formed in you. That’s what all of us who are Christians want to see created in those who hear our words. And far more importantly, that’s the faith the Lord is looking for from you. You take seriously the witnesses of others, yes. You open yourself to the hearing and receiving of His word. You know that He is the One who is speaking to you. Then acknowledging Him to be the Lord of everything and the Savior of the world, you submit your life to His lordship. You say, “Lord, I commit myself to You.” You welcome Him as your Savior. You invite Him into your life. And that, friends, is saving confidence. That is first-hand faith. May it be yours today.