In John 6, Jesus fed the five thousand, gaining himself an even larger following than he had previously. Any human leader would think of this as success – and yet, our Lord lovingly chided the crowd, saying that they were only following him because they were after physical food; instead, they ought to “work for the food that […] endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).
“What must we do to do the works God requires?” They asked. And Jesus replied: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29).
In these strange and uncertain times – times that test our faith – I am more and more reminded that something as seemingly simple as ‘belief’ is actually a form of ‘work’. I often think of belief as an on/off thing – I either believe or I don’t. But the Bible tells us different.
Firstly, it tells us that belief is like a muscle given by God but exercised by us. There is a tension between God’s sovereignty in calling us to salvation, and our responsibility in turning to and following Him. Paul captures this by telling us that we work out our faith in fear and trembling even as He works in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Again, Peter tells us to labour to make something as certain as our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Faith is a divine intertwinement of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.
Secondly, God uses hard circumstances to stretch and grow these muscles of faith. Over last term’s bible studies, we were repeatedly reminded that it is through trials that our faith is refined to become of greater worth than gold (1 Peter 1:7). Similarly, the author of Hebrews encourages us to see hardships as the confirmation of our sonship – because He uses trials to discipline us (Hebrews 12: 7). With God in the picture, difficult situations become places of transformation and grace.
Lastly, the proof of the muscle’s strength is in what it can do. Paul says that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6). In other words, we can measure the depth of our belief by looking at how freely, honestly, and earnestly we love those around us. Are we secure enough in His love to humble ourselves in front of others? Are we confident enough of His provision to give freely? Are we changed enough by His mercy to also forgive those who hurt us?
Biblical belief is so much more than an epistemic commitment – it requires divine initiative and human response, it is borne out of flames and trials, and it bears fruit in tangible and physical action. While this may seem to be a gargantuan thing to labour on, how amazing it is that this ‘work’ of God actually leads to the “food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27)! It is the only work in this world that doesn’t start with the doing but rather with the trusting. It satisfies instead of tiring out, grants rest and replenishment instead of making weary, and fills us up even as we empty ourselves out for Him. While the crowd was fixated on food that would spoil, Jesus loved them enough to tell them of an eternal sustenance in Him. Will we feast on Him today?