Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Faith is a Choice
Pastor Steve Schell
John 4:43-53
Faith is a choice, not a feeling. It’s not the ability to talk myself into believing that something has already happened. It’s choosing to believe something will happen because God said it would. There are certain people with very energetic personalities for whom faith seems to come easily, but I don’t think a person needs such a personality to please God. Because faith is a choice, not a feeling. It’s a decision, not an emotion, which means it’s possible for anyone to have faith. We need only to listen to Him and then do what we would do if what He said were true.

That sounds simple and it is, but being simple doesn’t make it easy. Choosing to believe can be much harder than it sounds because His voice isn’t the only one we hear. There are other voices that press us to do what they tell us to do. And to add to the confusion, in such moments the emotions inside us swirl like a storm. What God says may actually produce painful emotions, and in the middle of the storm we look for choices that will relieve that pain. The danger is that relief can be found in some situations by choosing to believe that God won’t do what He said He would do. Sometimes our will and our emotions seem to have minds of their own. Even though our will chooses to believe that God will do what He said He would do, our emotions still seem to believe He won’t.

John records an event in which a family in crisis was faced with this kind of decision. A desperate father had walked over 20 miles to Cana to beg Jesus to return with him to pray for his dying son. But Jesus refused to go. Instead He forced the man into a corner in which his only option was to believe that what Jesus said had come true, or believe that it hadn’t. At the time the Lord’s response seemed cruel, but it wasn’t. He wanted to give this man more than a miracle. He wanted to deepen and enlarge his faith until he had a faith that would save him… and his whole family. So He made him participate in the miracle. Does Jesus still do that today?

Encounter in Cana
• DBS (Fri-Sat)

This worried father did not defend himself. What Jesus said was true. He wouldn’t really believe until he saw it. He had come to Cana more out of desperation than faith. He’d heard reports about the miracles Jesus did in Jerusalem, and rumors may have reached him about what had been happening in Judea for the past eight or nine months (Jn 4:1). And since his son was dying, what did he have to lose? This miracle-worker might be able to help when every other remedy had failed.

A severe Jesus
But here as we watch the encounter between these two men, we learn a great lesson about Jesus: He’s not always nice. And this is not the only example in the gospels of the Lord responding this way. Instead of encouragement, there were times when He confronted the unbelief in the heart of the one asking for help. A Syrophoenician mother pleading for her daughter’s deliverance received the same treatment (Mt 15:21-28), as did the father of a terribly tormented boy (Mk 9:14-29). Each encountered a rebuff, not pity, but as a result each received the gift they sought.

The obvious question these passages raise is, why was Jesus severe with someone in such pain? Why wasn’t He nice? In each case, instead of rushing to help, He exposed their doubt and pressed them to push through it. He clearly wanted them to make a deliberate effort to believe more. He reminded the Syrophoenician woman of the cultural barrier that stood between them and made her push aside an insult to pursue Him. He told the father of the tormented boy, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23) leaving him to cry out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” He drew all of these parents into the miracle they sought, demanding that they become part of the process, that they move from being a spectator to a participant. He wanted them to believe with Him, not stand back and watch Him. So He refused to do what they asked, at least initially, and made them choose to believe more. And that’s what we’re watching in Cana. No, He would not go down to Capernaum and lay hands on the boy… but He would declare him well… and 20 miles away a little boy on his death-bed was healed instantly. He didn’t give this father the option of believing after he saw this miracle; He dared him to believe before he saw it. He dared him to believe that the miracle He announced was done, and the man did. John says, “He believed the word which Jesus spoke to Him, and he left” (literal).

Making the choice
The Lord won’t allow us to stand on the sidelines and watch with our arms crossed. He pulls us into the game. He won’t let us remain passive and safe. He still forces people to choose. The Syrophoenician woman had to brush aside an insult and humbly insist that He help her daughter. The father of the tormented boy had to cry out, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” Even though he was making the choice to believe he still had to readily confess that he was full of fear and weariness from the years of helplessly watching his son’s misery. But the choice to believe was all Jesus required of him. He didn’t insist that he or the others first conquer their emotions and exude confident mental energy. He simply asked them to choose, and they did, and that was enough.

A different response (Mt 8:5-13)
To really understand what took place that day we need to compare Jesus’ response to this royal official with the way He reacted to another man from Capernaum. The difference is stunning: Matthew 8:5-13.

Did you see it? Jesus offered to come to the centurion’s home but refused to go to the royal official’s home. The centurion actually stopped Him from coming by saying, “I am not worthy, but just say the word…” (v8) while the royal official begged Him to “come down before my little child dies.” The difference in the two men is obvious. One came to Jesus full of faith; the other came full of fear. And notice: Jesus dealt with the two men very differently. He celebrated the humility and faith of one but challenged the fear in the other in order to help his faith grow. He didn’t assess the sorry condition of his faith and then abandon him. He made him “stretch” his faith until it grew bigger. He still does. He knows our hearts and deals with each of us according to our need.

Saving faith
It was about 20 miles, most of it downhill, from Cana to Capernaum which made it about a ten-hour walk. The man didn’t reach home that day. He probably spent the night along the trail and was still walking the next day when his servants met him. They were coming up to find him while he was coming down, and they brought with them joyful news: “The boy lives!” Then he asked them the critical question: “When? At what time did he start to get better?” The answer would confirm or deny his faith. Had the boy recovered naturally because his body finally overcame the disease, or was the power of the disease broken when Jesus spoke those words? The servant’s answer was precise and definite: “Yesterday, at the seventh hour (1:00pm) the fever left him” (literal). And that was the exact moment when Jesus had said, “Your son lives!” When he heard their answer, his faith that Jesus could do a miracle turned into faith that Jesus was their Savior. So when he arrived home he didn’t merely rejoice in his son’s healing, he immediately began to proclaim his new faith in Jesus. He must have listened to Jesus in Cana while he was waiting for an opportunity to speak to Him and then on the way back to Capernaum reflected on what he’d heard, because now He had faith in something much greater: He knew Jesus was more than a miracle-worker; He was the promised Savior. And John says his whole household believed with him.

Painful faith
For those Christians who have decided that God doesn’t do miracles anymore, this kind of passage in the Bible doesn’t present a problem. They simply view it as history. But for those who believe God still does such things, the subject of faith can become very painful because there have been times when we chose to believe, but the miracle didn’t appear like it did in this account. Which leaves us with terrible questions: “What did we do wrong?” Or, “What did someone else do wrong?” Or the usually unspoken question, “Did God fail to do what He said He would do?” And as we engage another passage where Jesus presses someone to believe more, these old wounds can start to hurt again. Something inside wants to avoid the subject altogether, yet Jesus won’t let us. Without answering those old questions, He dares us to chose again today to believe His word. And what we learn from this encounter in Cana is that each of us can do it if we want to. It’s a choice.

The first step
This father’s decision required an action, a first step. If he really believed, what would he do? He would stop begging for help and start walking home. And that’s what he did, and that’s all the Lord required of him. That was what faith looked like for him. It will look different for each of us. But just like that father, our first step will be to believe enough to do what we would do if what He said to us were true.

1) Point to an area of your life where you live differently because of something Jesus said. How did you hear Him? Was it through a statement in the Bible or something He spoke to you in the Spirit?
2) Have you ever had to take a “first step?” What did you have to do? Was it hard or easy? 

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