Belief in Jesus Christ is hard for many people to find – even for those who go to church! There are a few simple things that can help people to encounter the living God found in Jesus Christ.
“If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be; if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Our bible fellowship on Thursday nights at the local cafe asks a different person each week to come up with a bible passage or topic for the next week’s discussion. This rotation of service and leadership helps us to keep things fresh, and helps people to become more confident Christian leaders. This week, our leader took a different approach than our usual topics. He decided to ask everyone in our group what it was that allowed them to believe in Jesus Christ, be it in the Bible or elsewhere.
What brings us to belief? Lots of things.
It is a simple question to ask, but the answers are not always easy. Faith comes to people in many different ways through many different channels. To be a believer means different things at different times in our lives. As a child, I had a belief in Jesus Christ through a number of experiences. In my adult life, though, I had many other experiences that shaped my belief.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was the son of an Anglican priest. His household was steeped in faith; he had been ordained an Anglican priest himself. However, it wasn’t until many years after being ordained that Wesley felt that heart was “strangely warmed” by God and discovered a truly personal belief in Jesus Christ. So if you’re thinking that you’re a “slow poke” in finding faith in Jesus Christ, don’t worry – you’re in good company!
C.S. Lewis, a great English scholar who wrote many books, including “The Chronicles of Narnia” series of books for children, was not a Christian for much of his life – in fact, he was an avowed Atheist. Then, one day in 1929, during a bus ride, he came to feel that there was a God – and that he had to acknowledge God’s existence personally.
Two years later, he became a Christian. He described himself as a most “dejected and reluctant convert” – someone who had to surrender a lifetime of personal defenses against the notion of a loving God. Through speaking and writing about his experiences, Lewis became a popular Christian “apologist” – someone who seeks to defend the notion of Christian faith to non-believers.
Three keys to belief in Christ
So there are lots of paths that can bring us to a belief in Jesus Christ. However, our discussion group surfaced a few familiar themes that describe how a deep belief in Christ comes into our lives. There were three key elements that kept on coming up in our discussions: faith-filled people, personal scripture encounters, and direct experience.
These three elements could come separately or together in any order, and they could be repeated again and again based on our life experiences. No matter what our personal experiences, though, they all seemed to be key elements in how we come to belief in Jesus.
The body of Christ: bringing faith for 2000 years
The first thing that was clear from our discussions is that since the time of Jesus, people have come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God not just because of what they read or what they experience personally, but because other people who have been touched by Christ have come into their lives. If we look at the gospel stories, one of the first things that Jesus does as an adult in all four of these stories is to call disciples to follow him.
The world has never really known Jesus without those who Jesus knew and led personally – first in the flesh, then in the Holy Spirit. As those first followers of Christ brought his story to others, new generations of believers were touched by God in Christ, and became disciples dedicated to the way of Jesus. An old hymn goes, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!” Belief in Jesus Christ is not just an intellectual assertion: it is becoming someone who has been invited to be a part of Jesus’ ongoing presence in the world.
The family members, pastors, teachers, church leaders, and fellow Christians who have been touched by Jesus are not just repeating things about Christ – they have been bringing Jesus to life in the world as part of a global presence of Christ. Many of these people played an essential part in building my belief. So, if you see a Christian and they have what you want, get to know them – through them, Jesus just might get to know you, too.
Belief through the Bible: the story of belief changing lives
Of course, the story of Jesus found in the Bible is a very important way to find belief in Christ. You may or may not be moved by this story – or, like many modern people, you may doubt the “factualness” of some of the gospel story.
What repeated research by historians shows us, though, is that the gospel stories relate back to a common story about people who knew a man named Jesus, people who became what we know today as Christians because of that man. They experienced a different kind of life for themselves because of their experience of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
It wasn’t just that Jesus came back to life – their lives were never the same. This is the real “fact” of Jesus Christ found in the Bible – not just that he lived, but that his life changed what people believed about themselves, about God, and about the world. Jesus didn’t just exist – he changed what it means to exist!
The gospel stories that we find in the Bible about Jesus are all different in many ways, yet all part of telling how people came to believe in Jesus. In our discussion group, we shared a number of Bible verses that helped us to come to believe in Jesus. However, for me I think that it’s the complete gospel that brings me to belief. For me, it is truly the most perfect story in the world – each part of it revealing an important part of the story of God’s love for us, each part telling me something about how to be a person who can begin to live that story and share that story.
As I live my life, I see the gospel coming alive before my eyes, sometimes in my own life, sometimes in the lives of others. The gospel is not just words about God, or from God: for me, the gospel is the story of how we live in God. So, each day that I read the Bible, I find new ways to believe in today as being part of God’s living story. The Bible is the starting point for us helping to write Christ’s story today in our own lives – that is belief, I suppose.
Belief through direct experience: learning to pay attention to what’s there
Sometimes, other people aren’t enough for us to establish and maintain our belief in Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we need to have a more direct experience of God. Now, I am not suggesting that everyone needs to have a “bolt of lightning” strike them to have a belief in Jesus.
Often, as with C.S. Lewis or John Wesley, a personal encounter with God is just that – a very quiet, personal experience. And for some people, even very devoted Christians, the notion of an experience that they might call “mystical” is hard to imagine having, much less seeking. Probably the biggest mistake we could make in seeking a belief in Jesus Christ is to believe that there was one right way to experience God. There isn’t – we are all different, and at different times in our lives, we may or may not be open to a particular kind of experience.
What our discussion group seemed to agree on, though, is that God touches us every day in many ways. It’s not that we have to become gurus with long beards on mountaintops to experience God – it’s more that God is always there, waiting for us to pay attention to God’s eternal presence. What we may experience as a “revelation” moment is really just a moment when we’re paying attention to what God reveals every day.
If God’s love for the world has been expressed to us most clearly through Jesus Christ, then when we have these moments when we believe that God is present in Christ, be they small or large by our measurement, we are simply paying attention to what God is trying to communicate to us always. Prayer helps us to find these moments of paying attention, but God is always paying attention to us, waiting for us to become aware.
This is not a checklist!
These are just three important ideas about how people come to believe in Jesus Christ. There is no one right way, one right order, or, for that matter, one experience. As with John Wesley and C.S. Lewis, it may take a great number of experiences for you to reach a point in your life where you feel that you really have a deep and personal belief in Christ.
Please don’t mistake one flash of light for an invitation to live a life in the light – you may be growing in faith much more deeply than you think, and your progress in faith can’t be compared to what you think is another person’s progress. I think of growing in faith a little bit like the floors in a building – we can visit as many floors as it takes for us to find what God wants us to find.
The important thing is to keep on looking for belief, because even if we believe that we have a belief in Jesus Christ, we may not have encountered who Christ wants us to be today. We grow, we change – and so our need to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” will always challenge our beliefs, because we will always be learning about who we are and who God is.
So, if you’re looking to understand how to believe in Jesus Christ, hopefully this is as good a starting point as any. Happy seeking!