I find the fact that most Christians believe in Jesus to be incredibly unsettling.
There is an assumption today that belief in Christ is a good thing. It says something about you. Many even think it makes you a Christian. They say things like “I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins” or “I believe he rose from the dead.” They take much of this language from what they assume to be the Bible, and they encourage other “believers” to do the same thing. But I’ll be honest…when someone says they believe in Jesus, it usually just makes me uncomfortable.
Stretch with me for a minute here. Think for a second about the implications of the statement “I believe in Jesus Christ,” or “I believe Jesus is alive today.” Have you ever heard a scientist say “I believe in gravity?” How about “I believe the earth is round?” Why not?
Because no one believes these things.
They know them.
I know that some Christians do mean “I know Christ is God” when they say “I believe He is,” but I also know many do not. If you think you are one of the ones who does mean the former, you still might be wrong. I thought I knew Jesus was God, and that I knew he was alive today, (it turns out that to a large degree I did know these things) but a careful reading of Dallas Willard’s Knowing Christ Today helped me to realize that I had hints of destructive postmodernity within my theology.
The fundamental error of the age we live in is to assume that everything is relative. While all things are subjectively experienced from our limited perspectives, that doesn’t mean nothing is fact. While gravity is relative, it’s a fact that it exists. While perceptions and beliefs about God are relative, it is a fact that He exists. Yet, many Christians have assumed a relativistic language and mentality about their connection to Him.
I do not believe in Jesus. I do not believe He is God. And neither should any professing Christian today.
He IS God. He IS real. My belief is irrelevant.
When someone says to me “I do not believe in God,” I respond with “that’s ok, He believes in you.” If you are genuine, you won’t offend most people; you’ll be surprised. The fact of the matter is that we can’t change reality. Truth is true whether we believe it or not. We can however, and often do, concede to the worlds standards of “belief” and treat God like he can be disproven, ignored, or “disbelieved.”
Let’s face it. Right now I’ve probably made at least half of you angry, or gotten you thinking “What an idiot. He’s arguing over semantics!” Maybe I am, but hear me out, because semantics are important. There is something even deeper, and more profound taking place here than just defining terms wrong.
The hardest reality to face is that most Christians really do only “believe” in God.
This isn’t an inherently bad thing. There are many things we believe before we know them. That is perfectly alright. For example, a child believes that he will one day grow up long before he knows it. He cannot know it until he has experienced it. My neighbor Haylynn is seven. (Her mom lives there too) Today she knows the stove is hot, and not to be touched with her bare hands, but there was a time when she was not so sure. Her mommy told her not to touch it, because she would burn herself, and perhaps she believed her mom and didn’t touch it. However, as time went on, she may have doubted enough to touch that hot burner, and I assure you that she knew her mom had told her the truth in that moment. Haylynn believed before she knew, but with maturity and time she came to knowledge.
Many Christians are like Haylynn. They believe Jesus is real and alive, and they believe they have some sort of relationship with him, but they really do not know it. They try to convince themselves that what Mommy Church told them is true, but part of them still remains unconvinced. Many have yet to test their beliefs. Few have reached out yet to experience the blazing inferno of Glory that is God. Their belief hasn’t yet been experienced to the point where it has matured into knowledge.
There is nothing to be ashamed about in rightly acknowledging how mature you truly are. I for one, am immature in certain arenas of self discipline. Where it becomes dangerous is when we assume that we are meant to stay there. There is nothing wrong with being five. There is something seriously wrong if somehow you stay five. I believe (see, belief can be ok) that we are meant to all at some point transition from belief to knowledge when it comes to God. To me, knowledge should be the foundation of our faith.
For many who were not raised in Christian homes, it would be ideal for the journey into Christ to start with knowledge. I have a good friend who began to know Christ months before he even became a Christian. However, for those of you like me who were raised Christian, we often have to go through a season of doubt before we can arrive at knowledge. Let’s look to one of our elder brothers to bring a bit more clarity:
Thomas believed he would never deny Jesus, just like all the other disciples. He believed Jesus was the Messiah and that His plan would work perfectly. He believed he could trust Jesus with his life, and that Jesus would never let him down.
Except one day, Jesus died.
Everything within Thomas was shattered that day. What he thought he believed was wrong. It would take years to deal with such a catastrophic blow, and those years seemed worthless now. His Messiah was killed, but so was his friend. He heard screams still echoing in his head. You can imagine Thomas after only three days. Sitting there, alone, ashamed, and hopeless, Thomas probably made a vow something like this “I’m never falling for that crap again. My best friend was killed, but he obviously wasn’t the Messiah. The messiah can’t die, he’s supposed to save us! I’m only going with what I can prove to be true. Screw the rest of this garbage.” Of course, Thomas was forgetting about all of the miracles he had seen that proved Jesus was God. He was forgetting about the thousands of diseases he saw cured before his very eyes, the hundreds of demoniacs he saw instantly set free and the walking on water and the storm he calmed and the list goes on and on. It’s easy to forget what we know when God feels so unknowable.
Suddenly three people burst through his door! Peter, John, James. “Thomas, He’s alive! He’s alive! Thomas we saw him! I can’t believe it Thomas, He rose from the dead! Just like Lazarus did a few weeks ago! He’s back and He really is the Messiah!”
Thomas took a moment to try to process everything going on. Jesus was alive? No, he had touched his body as they laid him in the tomb. He had felt the still moist blood as they wrapped him in cloth. His friends had gone mad and seen a ghost, or hallucination or something, but Jesus was dead. Thomas heart broke fresh within him. He lashed out in anger and heartache.
“Alive!? Alive?! He’s DEAD John! Our friend is DEAD! Don’t feed me this line of crap anymore! I don’t want to hear it! Unless I see him with my own eyes and touch his wounds with my own hands, I won’t believe.”
“Thomas, you have to trust us. We saw him ourselves.”
“I want to know. I won’t trust anyone.”
Of course soon Thomas did know. I wish I had been there to see Jesus’ tenderness as he gently took Thomas’ hand and placed it into the wounds in his wrists. It must have been so profound for Jesus to be restored to His friend. Thomas must have been so moved by the incredible compassion of Jesus as well. Jesus wasn’t even fazed by his doubt. Rather he gladly, wholeheartedly, answered Thomas’ request for knowledge.
We serve a God of evidence, not a God of faith. That may be strange to hear for some of you “Just have faith” folks out there, and may be even stranger for my athiest and agnostic friends reading this, so let me break it down.
Jesus tells the disciples to have faith all the time. “Oh you of little faith” is a common phrase that comes from his lips, but we have to look closer at the story to understand. Jesus does not require faith before seeing, but requires it after. In Matthew 6, he shows everyone how God is faithful to take care of his creation, then essentially says “Look at the evidence! How can you fear in light of such strong evidence? Trust what you can know based on the evidence to be true.” (Most of our Bibles read that verse as “Oh you of little faith, why are you so afraid?”) When a massive cataclysmic storm is threatening their lives, He is sleeping! They have to wake him up to even tell him about the storm! Jesus essentially says, groggy eyed and maybe a little annoyed at having his nap interrupted, “Guys, seriously? I was sleeping? Look at the evidence! If I’m sleeping, do you really think there’s anything to worry about? Do you trust me that little that you would ignore the evidence again? Ah, whatever, you’ll get it before this is all over. Storm! Chill out!”
Another one I love is when they start worrying about how they forgot the bread. Jesus is like “Seriously? Guys, I just multiplied two loaves and fed like 10,000 people. Do you really think this is about the bread? You guys really don’t trust me, and clearly you are blind to evidence.”
Jesus models the way, proves Himself, then asks us to trust afterwords. He demonstrates his power, then demands a response. Either ignore me and follow yourself, or embrace me and follow me, but you can’t ignore the facts. Paul the Apostle put it this way: “The Kingdom of heaven is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) In our evangelical Western thinking, we have reversed it.
We think “the kingdom of heaven is a matter of talking about the kingdom and Jesus long enough that everyone feels really good about making a ‘decision’ to follow some guy named Jesus whom they have never seen, heard from, or touched simply because of an inspirational speech and hope for a better life.
Then after a few years, if you ‘just have faith’ long enough, maybe you will see some sort of evidence, but only if God wills it, and only if it doesn’t hinder your ability to ‘just have faith.'” It cracks me up how I even see this in Charismatic circles. Miracles are happening everywhere, but people think that if you turn on a camera or point them out that God will stop doing them. It’s like they think God is magic that is only done in secret. Jesus said it is a wicked and perverse generation that seeks a sign, but then he said no sign would be given except the sign of Jonah. Basically:
“You guys are evil because you are ignoring all the evidence and miracles I’ve already presented and treating them like I still haven’t proven myself. You are wicked, because you seek a sign when hundreds are right in front of you! However, one more sign will be given. Remember when a dead guy was coughed up on the shore and started declaring who God is and an entire Gentile people group came to know God? You are going to see that all over again. You’re going to kill me, and you are going to see me come back from the dead. You will be able to touch my wounds and hear my voice. Then, you’ll see the Gentiles embrace me just like with Jonah. How’s that for a sign?!”
Christianity is the “show me” religion, because God built it that way. I do not believe in God on faith. I believe in him on evidence. I trust him (faith) because of that evidence but the evidence came first, not the faith. That’s why when Christians say “I believe Jesus is real” or athiests say “There is no such thing as God” It actually confuses me for a second. Then I remind myself that the Christian church has trained itself to “have faith” instead of follow Jesus’ example of evidence, and the secular world hasn’t seen any evidence because the Christian world is afraid to expect it.
I remember that most Christians still believe in Jesus much like they believe in Santa, and have no idea if He really exists. They only know the good feelings he brings them and that if they are a good boy or girl they will get presents after they die. That’s when I settle down and calmly explain to whoever I’m talking to that:
“I don’t believe in God either. I know He exists. If you would like to meet him in a tangible way right now, I’d be glad to introduce you.”
Obviously this post is long, which is why I didn’t do anything too exegetical or detailed. If you want to continue the conversation, please comment. I would love to help show you how I arrived here. Have a great day, if this touched you please tell me and your friends, and have fun asking God to show you the evidence so you can stop believing and start knowing.
For further reading on knowing Christ:
Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard
For a beautiful picture of the standard approach of reason based evidence rather than tangible evidence, read:
Is Belief in God Good, Bad, or Irrelevant? by Preston Jones
For more on discovering God:
For more on the essence of Christianity: