Thoughts from Doug Knox.
True Discipleship, True Relationship
Background reading: John 9 & 10
One of the most interesting aspects regarding Jesus’ encounter with the blind man is that Jesus proves the man before he confirms him. Jesus offers the man no prayer for salvation, no date and signature on a document to mark his first spiritual birthday, and no assurance that regardless of what happens in the future all he has to do is remember this decision day and he can know that he is saved. Instead, he sends the man into battle, and the battle is brutal. His acquaintances objectify him, his family abandons him, and his religious leaders pronounce him unfit to belong to the synagogue. The whole series of events began with a kind word by Jesus and a command for the man to go to the pool to wash mud from his eyes. The man had no way of knowing what would happen. He just obeyed Jesus’ word, and then learned how to fight for the reality he experienced. Only a man who believes already would do such a thing.
Knowing the Truth and the Person
It is at this point that Jesus establishes contact with the man. Here is the Bible’s word on what happened.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”
He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Why does Jesus ask this strange question? After all, knows the man believes. Further, we as readers know the man believes. What more proof do we need?
I believe the purpose for the question is to allow the man to confess his belief out loud to the one who has earned his trust. Jesus goes through the back door to introduce himself, but his backdoor approach accomplishes two tasks. First, it allows the man to complete his search for Jesus on his own. Then, when he finds Jesus, his worship grows out of a grateful heart. The man’s declaration, “Lord, I believe,” is one of the most affirmative statements in Scripture. Notice that the word believe occurs three times in these four verses. Obviously, they are significant to John as a writer. Ultimately, the word points to the summary verses in John 20:30-31. “Many other works [miracles] did Jesus do among his disciples. But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life through his name.” When the man declares, “Lord, I believe,” he acknowledges who Jesus is. Believing is more than just intellectual assent. It involves a commitment to a whole new way of thinking and perceiving the world. Ultimately, belief involves a 180-degree change in our perspective of Jesus. Those who believe see the truth and benefit from it. Like the blind man, they are granted a form of sight that comes from the heart. Second, the man’s freely given statement stands as the permanent testimony to his salvation. Everything the man has said to defend Jesus prior to this point contains a small kernel of ignorance. Earlier, for example, the man told the Jewish leaders, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Jesus’ question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man,” completes the loop to salvation. This is the last that we see of the man. From this point on, John concentrates on Jesus’s discussion about the man’s belief.
Unknowing the Truth
At this point in the narrative, those who refuse to believe reject the truth and become blind. John writes,
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
Disbelief is never neutral. It involves rejection of Jesus and everything he stands for. It involves deliberate blindness toward the truth. One evangelist coined the term, “unknowing the truth.” Blindness from a spiritual perspective means that a person will not see. The religious leaders who denied what they had seen with their eyes proved the fact. When Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt,” he means that a person who claims to have spiritual insight without Jesus’ benefit is actually lost. He has made himself blind to the truth. The man born blind demonstrates what true discipleship means. He has received both physical and spiritual sight from Jesus, and he shows the truth irrefutably.
The marks of a True Relationship with Jesus
John continues Jesus teaching through chapter 10, where Jesus pronounces himself to be the Good Shepherd. Here are some of the identifying marks of a genuine relationship between Jesus and his disciples.
- The shepherd enters by the door, and the sheep know him. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:2-3).
- The sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice (John 10:4).
- Whoever enters the sheepfold by Jesus will be saved. He will go out and find pasture (John 10:9).
- The good shepherd comes to give his sheep abundant life (John 10:10).
- The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, because they belong to him and he cares for them (John 10:11-12).
- The good shepherd knows his sheep and they in turn know him, just as he and the Father know each other (John 10:14-15).
- The good Shepherd voluntarily gives up his life for the sheep (John 10:17-18).
Did you notice how little requirement appears in this list? It has nothing to say about, “If you do this, then I will do that.” It involves an intimate and supernatural relationship with Jesus. It is about being rather than doing. Discipleship is far more than signing a card or reciting a prayer of belief. It is not even about our relationship with Jesus, because that emphasis places the burden on us. True discipleship is about his relationship with us
God and the Work Ethic
Background reading: Ephesians 1
My Father’s Work Ethic
My father taught me my work ethic. He never said a word. Instead, he taught by example. During my grade school years in the 1950’s and early 60’s, Dad worked. In the mornings, he was awake before I was, and usually out the door by the time I came down from my bedroom. When the days shortened, he would come home in the dark.
He worked long hours at blue collar jobs, often piling on two or three jobs at one time. He would come home exhausted, and in the evenings fall asleep while watching television. Mom would have to wake him up to send him to bed.
I admired my father for a lot of qualities, but one of his chief sources for my admiration was his work ethic. Through his example I learned the value of work. Don’t get me wrong. I nursed a lazy streak in my younger years, but it did not come from Dad.
The Work Ethic and the Bible
Many of us have heard sermons or lessons on the work ethic. They teach—rightly—that God created work. He ordained work in the Garden of Eden at the creation. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). From the beginning, work has been a gift from God.
Even after Adam brought a curse to the ground, the work ethic survived. Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son, became a master farmer. We know him for the first murder in world history, but we need to step back to see the bigger picture.
Both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the LORD, but the LORD rejected Cain’s because it missed the redemptive aspects of the sacrifice. Cain gave his best. When the LORD rejected it, he could not understand the theological reasons behind the rejection. He saw only the spurning of his work.
Work and Satisfaction
In its purest form, work brings a sense of satisfaction through the accomplishment of difficult tasks. Men who immerse themselves in their hobbies understand this. My landlord, for example, races cars. His long project involves a Mustang that he has converted into a dragster. It has a metallic charcoal gray finish that practically brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it.
Another man I know is a master woodworker. His pride and joy is a hand-built wooden wall clock. The gears are all made from wood and are as precise as any machinist’s.
My source of pride involves fossil collecting. I have spent hours cleaning and preparing them for display, not to mention poring over books in order to identify them. Once, when I showed part of my collection to a friend at church, he said, “Wow, that looks like a lot of work.”
I said, “It is,” and let the matter be. I figured that if I had to explain that part of the process to him, he had missed the picture already.
The Deeper Origin of the Work Ethic
These examples show us what the work ethic looks like. Only recently did I discover why the work ethic is so satisfying. The insight hit me last year when I was engaged on a sermon series from Ephesians. In the first chapter, Paul writes a lengthy exposition on God the Father’s role in bringing salvation to us. We usually concentrate on Jesus’ work, but in the Scripture, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each carry on unique roles in our salvation.
Paul introduces the Father’s work in Ephesians 1:3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places….”
In the original language, verses 3-14 form a single sentence. The section that concerns us emerges out of verses 9-10, the theme verses of the book. It goes to the heart of the work ethic. Part of the Father’s blessing comes from the fact that he has been…
…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth.
Ephesians 1:9-10, emphasis added
God the Father’s Work Project
God the Father lives with a purpose, which he revealed in Christ. That purpose, according to Paul, is to bring all things in heaven and on earth into unity.
Think about the magnitude of that statement. As broken as our world is, the Father’s plan is to restore it to unity.
When God created the universe, everything was good (Genesis 1:31). He had made a perfect world and took great pleasure in his work. Almost immediately, however, the man and woman brought evil into the world and shattered the balance. For a moment, the tragedy looked irreparable.
But God would not be content to leave his work project marred. His eternal purpose was to restore all things in heaven and on earth. His history-long work project takes us through the Old Testament with the redeeming of the first couple, the calling of a people for his own possession, to Jesus and his work on the cross, to the proclamation of salvation today.
It will find its culmination in Revelation, at the end of history, when God eliminates evil from the world, and goodness reign once for all. In Revelation 21-22, the last two chapters of the Bible, John describes the new heavens and the new earth. The language rings with the language of Eden—rivers emerging from the throne, fruit for the healing of the nations, and the tree of life.
God did not give us a work ethic because he thought work would keep us occupied with our time. He gave us a work ethic as a measure of his image. He is a God who loves work and finds infinite satisfaction in it. When he created us, he instilled that satisfaction in us. Therefore, when we work, we show his imprint on our hearts.