Hear, See, Believe, Know, Belong

Hear, See, Believe, Know, Belong
(from Wisdom's Friend)

“What? Are we blind too?”

That is the question which some unbelievers once asked Jesus. But the question applies to us and our time as well. And just as this question has applications to both times, so too does it apply in two senses to all who do not yet believe in Jesus.

The first and plain sense is just a simple question of state of being. Jesus had just healed a man in their midst (Jn. 9:1-15). He had been blind. Were they blind too? When the Pharisees asked this, they obviously referred to spiritual blindness, since they could see physically. There is an undercurrent of resentment in their asking, since Jesus constantly upbraided them for their spiritual darkness and hypocrisy.

The second and less obvious sense has to do with the earlier works and words of Jesus (John, chapter five), when Jesus had told them, “You have never heard his (the Father’s) voice nor seen his form” (Jn. 5:37 NIV). Thus the “too” in their question refers to the fact that Jesus had earlier said that they were deaf to God’s voice and words (Jn. 8:47). They were deaf–and blind “too”. They could neither hear nor see.

There is a progression that normally takes place for one to come to know God and believe in him and his Son. That progression can be summarized thus:

hear — see — believe — know — belong

This progression, however, is not set in stone. Sometimes all the “steps” take place all at once; other times, they may be somewhat mixed up in order. We must also be careful not to set down a person’s coming to faith as necessarily a procedure at all. We must not put God in a box (Jn. 3:8). Nevertheless, there is benefit to considering these aspects of how a person comes to faith; they may be helpful for understanding and witnessing or evangelizing. Therefore, they are here considered in more detail.

These steps or aspects of coming to faith in Christ are either mentioned or alluded to in the following passage from Romans:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:13-17 NIV).

This passage works backwards, from having faith in Jesus to showing how a person comes to have that faith. And the passage says that “faith comes from hearing the message.” Hearing comes first. Well, sort of. Because before hearing can take place, there must be someone speaking. No one is going to hear anything unless someone is there to speak the message to those who would hear. And no one will do that unless he is sent for that purpose, whether of his own will or another’s.

Jesus spoke the message of God to this world. He did this not of his own plan but in faithfulness to God’s eternal plan for him. He was sent.

“I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38 NIV).

“These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (Jn. 14:24 NIV).

So, before a person can come to faith in Christ, that person must first hear the message of salvation. But before he can hear that message, that message must be spoken by a messenger of the gospel. And before that messenger speaks, he must be sent. God has done his part; he has sent his messengers, Jesus and those who believe in him and follow him, to whom he has said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation'” (Mk. 16:15 NIV).

The messengers have been sent. The gospel has been preached and heard (Ps. 19:4). The seed has been sown. But for that seed to bear fruit, it must fall on good soil (Mk. 4:8). There is more to this vital transaction than simply preaching the word. Those to whom it is spoken must be willing to hear that word, and more than that, to accept it. And not everyone does this (2 Ths. 3:2).

“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. ‘When I called, they did not listen'” (Zech. 7:11-13 NIV).

“They covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him (Stephen)” (Acts 7:57 NIV).

But God has more than one way to reach people. If they refuse to listen, perhaps they will believe if they see a sign from him (Jn. 10:38). Moses was one of those whom God sent to preach his message of salvation so that the people could hear and believe and be saved. But he did not send him only to speak, but also enabled him to perform miraculous signs to confirm the message. God does not depend upon hearing only (2 Cor. 12:12). Nor does he depend upon only one sign.

“Then the Lord said, ‘If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second'” (Ex. 4:8 NIV).

Nevertheless, many people will refuse to believe what they hear from God’s mouth:

“‘If you are the Christ,’ they said, ‘tell us.’ Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me'” (Lk. 22:67 NIV)

Nor will they believe what they see from his hand:

“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'” (Jn. 20:25 NIV).

“Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mk. 15:32 NIV).

In fact, many will not believe no matter how astonishing the miracle God works to bring them to faith–even if he raises someone from the dead.

“If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:31 NIV).

Here we see a strong indication that if a person will not believe simply from hearing God speak to him, through his word and through the messenger of that word, he will not believe at all. There is something about a person’s spirit or attitude that predisposes that person to respond unfavorably to that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit (1 Kg. 19:12). And if that predisposition of openness to God is not there, then there will be no response.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion” (Heb. 3:15 NIV).

God prefers to speak in a gentle, beckoning voice to woo the lost to himself, as Moses proclaimed to the people:

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distil as the dew, as the gentle rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb. For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Ascribe greatness to our God!” (Dt. 32:3 RSV).

But if this gentle way does not work, he will hem their way in in all manner of ways to force them to confront the crucial issue of their relationship with him. He does this out of love. But many in this world do not see it that way. Instead, when things go wrong and get hard, they harden their hearts and blame God for being a hard and overly demanding God, instead of seeing their trials as the loving tools of a loving God. As Eliphaz told Job after Job began resisting God’s dealing with him:

“Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? Why has your heart carried you away, and why do your eyes flash, so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth?” (Job 15:11-13 NIV).

“A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3 NIV).

Let such a one rage. God still loves him and will not let him go. Instead, if those in defiance of God will not listen to the first message or warning from the Lord, then he will follow it with yet a more severe one.

“It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him” (Amos 5:19 NIV).

If a person will not listen to the many ways in which God sends his word, then that same word will quit being an invitation to salvation and become a sentence of condemnation and destruction.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29 NIV).

“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Lk. 20:18 NIV).

There is no escaping the Word of God and the Spirit therein. He searches the whole world over, from the highest heights to the deepest depths.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Ps. 139:7-8 NIV).

There is no deeper place in our human existence than the inner being of a man (Prov. 14:10). And even there–especially there–God searches.

“The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being” (Prov. 20:27 NIV).

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (Ps. 139:1 NIV).

God has been called “the Hound of Heaven.” For he is like a bloodhound, scenting the trail of those whom he loves enough to not let them go to destruction unless they absolutely refuse to come to him for salvation. That is why he even lets them be afflicted by various disasters in their lives, even one after another if necessary, to wake them up to their great peril, that they are in great danger of losing their souls unless they listen to him.

“The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.

“What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.

“Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips” (Joel 1:1-5 NIV).

It is one thing to lose the pleasures of this life because one refuses to come to God for salvation, to have a series of “bad” events happen in a person’s life. It is altogether another thing to lose life itself–forever. Those “bad” experiences are actually good for the wayward individual. They are placed in a person’s life to show him that life here is temporary and not fulfilling, and that he needs to wake up to where his life is headed for all eternity.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71 NIV).

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Ps. 119:67 NIV).

Thus affliction, though normally viewed as something to avoid by us in our lives here on earth, can serve a very useful purpose in God’s larger vision for our lives, though he prefers not to have to use that way. “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lam. 3:33 NIV).

Nevertheless, if affliction or sorrow or any other “bad” thing is required to bring a rebellious soul to the arms of the Father, then sorrow will be used by him.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10 NIV).

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Ptr. 4:1-2 NIV)

Notice that the latter passage mentions one’s attitude. Many people in this world have a skewed view of what life is all about. Pleasure and ease and absence of conflict are often the main goals in the lives of many people. Yet, as Eliphaz rightly told Job (though he also told him many wrong things), “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7 NIV). Or as Scripture says elsewhere, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 RSV).

But who wants to hear such a message? No wonder the gospel is rejected by many, for it is a natural human trait to want no tribulation at all in one’s life (Mk. 4:17). Therefore, the gospel, and Jesus, is rejected (Jn. 6:60). But all who can see beyond the surface appeal of an easy life know that it is not the way to true life, that our existence is far too profound to be defined or satisfied with that which has no depth to it.

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14 RSV).

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Mt. 7:26-27 NIV).

Once again, the matter of hearing comes into play. And once again we see that that there is more to the matter than simply hearing: What is heard must be put into practice to take effect, to achieve the purpose for which that word that was heard was spoken. And that purpose is for the hearer to enter into a living relationship with the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14) — to know God personally.

Knowing God is what life is all about. But this knowing is more than the kind of knowing sometimes called book learning. It is more than knowing facts about life and reality and God; it is knowing them as a way of life, as lived out in one’s life. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (Jn. 13:17 NIV).

“But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord” (Jer. 9:24 NIV).

“I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12 NIV).

Hearing . . . believing . . . knowing, and the rest–they follow one another. If a person stops at any of the steps before proceeding all the way to the end, it all comes to nothing. We must persevere to the final state God desires for us, to belong to him, body, soul and spirit, or else the loss will be immeasurable to us (2 Jn. 1:8).

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Js. 1:4 NIV).

The finished work is when a believer is so totally consumed by his faith relationship in the Son of God that it can be said that he belongs to him and the Father (Gal. 2:20). He is owned. His life is no longer his own to do with as he pleases but is relinquished to God to do with as he pleases.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Prov. 21:1 NIV).

Jesus is our perfect example of such total submission to the Father. He said of himself, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (Jn. 8:28 NIV). His life was not his own to live but totally submitted to the Father’s will. He belonged to God, and when we surrender by faith to him, so do we.

“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (Jn. 17:9 NIV).

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Ptr. 2:9 NIV).

” . . . that you may declare . . .” We are sent. We are sent because we belong to Him who sends us. We belong to him who sends us because we have been united with him through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. We are one with him (Jn. 17:11, 1 Cor. 6:17). We are one with him because we have heard and accepted the word of God, Jesus Christ. We believe the word of God and believe him whom he sent.

“For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (Jn. 17:8).

And now we too are sent so that the world may see and hear.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1 NIV).

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