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What is Faith Unto Salvation? A Bible Study from John 4:46

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“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). A person is saved by God’s grace, through having faith in Christ Jesus. But what is faith? For, the word, “faith,” is widely misunderstood or misused today. Therefore, it is imperative to understand what it means to have faith in Christ. 

For some, their “faith” is defined by their religion, or by which denomination they identify with. For example, you hear people say, “I am of the . . . faith” (Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, etc.) Yet, identifying with a particular “faith,” is not the same as having faith.

Others claim to have faith, or mistakenly call themselves Christians, because they believe there is a God and believe Jesus is the Son of God. Yet, even demons know there is a God and Jesus is the Son of God.

Understand, there is a difference between knowing about Jesus, and knowing Jesus personally. Faith is not in having a familiarity, or “head belief,” about Jesus. Rather, faith comes from a “heart belief” in Jesus. Paul writes, “If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, emphasis added).

The difference between having a belief about Jesus and a belief in Jesus, is the difference between eternal life and death! For, it is heart-belief in Jesus that Peter describes as “faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5, KJV).

What does “saving faith” look like? Let’s study an example in Scripture of a man who progressed from having a belief about Jesus, and who came to believe in Jesus.

Once more [Jesus] visited Cana in Galilee where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. (John 4:46-47)

This royal officer from Capernaum evidently held a position in King Herod’s court. He was undoubtedly a man of affluence and power.

Peter, Jesus’ disciple, also had a house in Capernaum, where Jesus stayed many times. Actually, Jesus had previously taught there in the town’s synagogue. And, He had cast out demons from of some of the townspeople and had healed others from sicknesses.

The officer had heard these accounts about Jesus’ miracles, and he was amazed by what he heard! Still, even though Jesus would’ve often been nearby, the officer seemed to have been reluctant to seek out Jesus.

What sort of things, or excuses, may have hindered him from seeking Jesus sooner?

  • Pride

He was an official in Herod’s court; a man of authority, affluence, and well-connected. He was of Roman heritage and considered among nobility. Jesus, so he thought, was a commoner—and a Jew.

  • Misdirected Priorities

Allures of the world can keep people from what is most important. This man enjoyed the pedestal of his position. If he were to become a follower of Jesus, that could put him in a position of sacrificing his prestige and worldly luxuries.

  • Fear of what others may think

What would others say about him? He had a reputation to uphold among his subordinates, his superiors, his peers, and his relatives.

  • Heritage and culture

He was Gentile and likely a citizen of Rome, perhaps of royal lineage. He might have seen Jesus as a someone who was a teacher of the Jews—but not someone for himself or “his people.”

  • Busyness of life

His position carried many time-consuming responsibilities. He could’ve easily developed a mindset of putting it off to “another time,” or “later on.”

  • A perception that he may not be welcomed by others who followed Jesus

This perception was likely a reality in large part. It’s doubtful the Jewish community would have welcomed him at their synagogue. Even outside the synagogue, he was likely shunned by many Jews.

Any number of these things could have kept him back.

So, what was it that led this official to put these aside and go after Jesus?

Looking at verse 47, we can glean at least two things.

  • Desperation

This officer was facing a crisis of life. His son was dying. Only then did he seek that One person who he thought could help—a man named Jesus, a miracle-worker whom the entire country was talking about

His son’s prognosis of death, caused the father to seek Jesus. All that stuff, those excuses, he thought were so important or intimidating before, he realized were of lesser importance or shallow now. His status as a royal officer was secondary. What others would think of him was given little consideration. His pride gave way to humility.

Sadly, it sometimes takes a desperate need or a seemingly desolate place before people seek Jesus. Many virtually ignore Jesus until they feel broken or buckled by illness, death, suffering, financial losses, marital problems, loneliness, depression, addictions, etc.

In times of darkness and grief, life’s truest priorities can sometimes cause us to focus on what is most important—as it did for this father. The realization that his son could die, redirected the father’s priorities.

Yet, before seeking Jesus in this crisis, how did this man first come to that believe in Jesus’ abilities? It was through the testimony of others!

  • Testimony

 It was the testimony of others that first piqued the official’s interest in Jesus. Others told him about Jesus’ miracles, His message, and of the parables He spoke. And when they talked about Jesus, they spoke with extraordinary excitement! It was obvious in their testimony that Jesus was the most impression man they had ever encountered. 

Hearing such testimony, this officer often wondered about Jesus and wanted to know more. Yet, he held back until he was broken by a crisis.

Those excuses he had made before, became secondary or meaningless.

And many of those same type of obstacles, or excuses, that kept the royal official away from Jesus, are comparable to what keeps many people today away from Jesus! Admittedly, some of these concerns are legitimate to an extent (and we need to address those as we are able); but most are more so only excuses.

What similar obstacles or barriers can be seen between this father and those today who are apprehension or reluctant to seek out Christ?

  • Life’s busyness
  • Misdirected priorities or misguided values
  • Procrastination (having a “not enough time,” or a “someday” mindset)
  • Fear of facing prejudices (rather real or perceived)
  • Fear of criticism (what will others say about them)
  • Shame (how will people look at them or treat them)
  • They may not feel welcomed (Regrettably, many times churches do a poor job of welcoming visitors.)

We ought to maintain an awareness of reasons/excuses that may hold back people from seeking after Christ.

And, just as importantly, we should have an awareness of circumstances and curiosities that may draw people to Christ! Studying this account, we find examples of several things:

  •  Desperation, Darkness, Emptiness, or Fear

In times of despair and darkness, people are often drawn to Jesus because of brokenness. They are looking for hope.

  • Spoken testimony of others

“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” (Romans 10:14).

Positive testimonies from Believers draw people to Jesus. As followers of Christ, we ought to speak about Jesus with such excitement that it piques the interest of others. Too, as people share with us things that worry them, or are wrong in thier life; we ought to be ready to point them to the One who is the author of life, and an ever-present in time of trouble.

  • Living testimony of others

As followers of Christ, we ought to live in authenticity and show enthusiasm as we represent Christ. Our spoken testimony is made more effective when combined with the way we exemplify Christ in our life.

  • A welcoming culture in church gatherings

Visitors who come into a church gathering will rarely return unless they are made to feel welcome. People are made to feel welcome when there is an intentional and genuine effort within a church congregation.

  • Christians must display value in their relationship with Christ.

What you say may not be impactful as what you display. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a living example to others. How you live your life is the ultimate display of how much you truly value Christ.

  • Christians must exemplify the priorities that say they hold.

Your lifestyle reflects your real priorities. If people see life choices in you that demonstrate Christ is a priority to you, it intrigues them so they what to know more about Christ.

Again, it was the testimony of others that first piqued that royal officer’s interest in Jesus. Not only was he amazed by the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, he was impressed by the noticeable impact Jesus made on the lives of His followers.

How could these townspeople people not act ecstatic and become energized after what they saw and heard from Jesus?

Although, a more personal question we ought to ask is, “how could I not speak about Jesus with less than awe and wonder, when I know what my Savior has done for me?” For, Jesus is wonderful, gracious, and glorious beyond words!

Because of the testimony of others, this official had a degree of belief of Jesus’ abilities—enough that he sought Jesus in a time of desperation. But a belief about Jesus isn’t the same as a belief in Jesus.

Jesus “came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The father had come to seek Jesus in hopes to save the boy—but it was really Jesus who was seeking the father for eternal salvation!

The father approached Jesus and pleaded for Jesus “to come and heal” his son. He wanted Jesus to return to Capernaum with him. But was it necessary for Jesus to go with him for the boy to be healed? No.

Jesus’ word was enough! For, His Word will never fail.

So Jesus said:

“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48).

Think about how the father must’ve felt in hearing that? It wasn’t the response the man had hoped for. His son was dying, and Jesus is talking about believing. Actually, out of context, it could seem insensible or even cold.

Why did Jesus say this? Because the purpose of His ministry wasn’t about the miracles He performed. His miracles were given to point to Him as Lord of creation and The Way of Salvation. His words were always purposed for people to come to Him for eternal life!

Yet there were people then—and there are people today—whose primary interest in following Jesus was to being amazed by the unexplainable; or to feel an “emotional high.” (There are groups today whose primary focus is more on seeking visible miracles or having a “feel good” experience, rather than focusing on the person and presence of Jesus.)

Although Jesus was looking at the official, He said, “you people,” which is plural. So, He was talking to all those who were there—and it is written for people today as well.

Jesus never wasted words. There is a both powerful message and a powerful warning in these words.

The Warning:

Some there were fixated only on the miracles, rather than the Man who performed the miracles.

Some today look only for what they can get out of Jesus, rather than looking for Jesus himself. Or, what He can do for them in this life, rather than what they can do for Him.

A true believer seeks Christ not for what He can do for them, but because of Who He is.

For example, some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law demanded of Jesus, ‘“Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah’” (Matt.1:39).

When people are only looking for signs, they can either miss the purpose of the signs, or be misled by deceiving signs.

Actually, the Bible warns us against this, “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22).

The Message:

Jesus’ miracles were meant for direction—not for distraction. Jesus’ miracles point to who He is; and to Life in Him through faith in Him.

When Jesus spoke these words before the crowd, it’s as if He is saying, take your eye off this crisis’ in life, and look rather to the Creator of Life.

Jesus’ miracles were given as proof that He is the One to whom all the prophets point, and “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Even more important than the healing of the boy, was the father’s believing in Jesus and receiving His word in faith.

The father had a depth of belief about Jesus—enough to travel 20 miles to find Jesus while his son was close to death. But that was based on what others told him.

Jesus wanted the father to have a personal belief and a personal testimony.

“The royal official said ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed” (John 4:49-50).

Although the official had begged Jesus to come with him, Jesus didn’t go. Why? Jesus was teaching the man that His Word alone is enough. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17, NKJV).

Jesus’ Word is sufficient! His Word is life, because Jesus is Life!

Jesus sent the father home, telling him the boy would live. The official “took Jesus at his word and departed.” In this, he demonstrated faith. For it was in faith that he began traveling home, even though he had no tangible assurance that his son was recovered.

He didn’t need to see a sign because he had substance to his faith! For, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But some may ask, “What was the substance of his faith?” The substance of his faith wasn’t a “what,” it’s a “Who.”

A belief in Jesus is the substance of our faith unto salvation! As the father had, we have assurance in Jesus himself. And Jesus’ Word is evidence of things seen and unseen. For, His Word is true and unchanging!

After being in the presence of Jesus, without having to see the healing of his son, the father made an internal choice to believe in Jesus. He left for home in the assurance of Jesus’ word, before seeing the manifestation of Jesus’ word.

This man also demonstrated obedience in his faith. He did what Jesus told him to do. He did as James reminds us to do, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

The father believed, in faith, Jesus’ word even though he didn’t yet see its fruition. Next, He was obedient to Jesus’ word (He was a doer of the word.) Further, he rested in faith, upon the assurance of Jesus word.

The Bible tells us he came across the servants the next day, which means he stopped for the night to rest, instead of traveling directly back. (And this was a wealthy man so he was probably on horseback.) If he had doubted Jesus’ word, he likely would not have stopped anywhere that night. Instead, he was able to rest because he had an internal reality to his faith.

The Word of God, the Bible, is sufficient and true. Yet, in your personal walk with Christ, would you say you live like the Word of God is sufficient and true? Do you tend to rest on Jesus’ word, or do you tend to lean towards doubt?

The Word of God is powerful. The Word of God gives life. The Word of God is infallible.

If God said it, it is true! When God said it, it was done! Just as God spoke all Creation into existence, whatever promises and provisions God has said in His Word, exist! This includes things seen or unseen. This includes those things present and those things future.

Still, it isn’t enough to simply say you believe God’s Word. As the father did, you need to act as if you believe it. Hold fast to what God says in His Word and act as if God’s Word is already a done certainty. For, it is!

While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. (John 4:51-53)

The father was “still on the way,” meaning he was “still” following in obedience, when he received word from his servants that the boy was well. The father wasn’t surprised because he already believed his son would live. Yet, he asked when the boy recovered. 

Why did the father ask about the time? It wasn’t because he doubted. Rather, he wanted others to know that his son’s getting well wasn’t coincidental, but through supernatural healing by Jesus!

The boy became well at the “exact time” Jesus said the boy would live. This was miraculous—and this miracle pointed to the revelation that Jesus’ Word is Life.

This man no longer simply held a belief about Jesus based on what others had told him. He believed in Jesus based on what he found out for himself. He had “faith unto salvation.”

And, his faith gave way to a powerful testimony, which he readily shared. He witnessed to his entire household, including his family and the servants. He told them about his life-changing, life-giving experience with Jesus and the surety of Jesus’ word. His life was so changed, and his testimony so magnetic and convincing, that his “whole household” became Believers. (That included the boy who had been physically healed at Jesus’ word!)

This royal officer who once shied away from Jesus, using a spectrum of excuses, became “a new man in Christ” and was compelled to share his testimony about the majesty of Jesus. He became a powerful witness for Jesus Christ! He was exceedingly grateful for what Jesus had done for him and wanted others to know Jesus’ glorious salvation.

Well, some today say they, too, would like to become more of a witness for Jesus but it’s hard.

Witnessing for Jesus couldn’t have been easy for this official. For him to become an outspoken witness for Christ, he likely would’ve faced harsh backlash and ridicule. Too, it would’ve jeopardized his royal position within a Roman court.

Yet, after being in the presence of Jesus, he was filled with such confidence, he could say as the Psalmist did: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (Ps. 46:1-4).

This official once rested on the surety of Jesus’ word for the healing of his son. Afterwards, he grew to rest on the surety of Jesus’ Word for everlasting life! “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).

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