We rarely talk about Jesus' faith. One reason for this is that we’ve not considered how serious the embodiment of Jesus is. We’re so aware he’s God that we think: what on Earth does he have to believe?
In our A Praying Church Seminar we talk about two historic and orthodox ways of understanding the Trinity. One focuses on what the Father, Son, and Spirit are in their essence or their being. In his essence, Jesus is fully God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are completely equal in power and glory and honor; they are one. This doctrine goes back to the great councils of the church at Chalcedon, and it is sometimes called the “Ontological Trinity.” The second way of talking about the Trinity is in terms of “the working Trinity,” or “economic Trinity.” The economic Trinity looks at the Trinity in motion, at work together, so the emphasis is more on the “threeness” than the “oneness.”
Historic Christianity believes the “Ontological Trinity” and “Economic Trinity” are true at the same time. But, at times, the church has been more aware of the ontology of the Trinity than we have of the working Trinity. As a result, we’re weak on thinking of Jesus as a fully embodied man who exercises faith.
The Gospel of John, however, gives us many windows into Jesus’ faith. One of the clearest is in John 5:41. Jesus is talking with some of his recalcitrant disciples, who were pharisees. He says to them, “I do not receive glory from people.” In other words, ‘Who I am as a person is not influenced by what you think about me.’ Then he goes on, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.” So, like all of us, these disciples need to get glory from somewhere. You'll notice the equivalence he makes there. They don't have any awareness of the love of God in them, so the core of who they are needs to be filled by other people's approval.
They don't have any awareness of the love of God in them, so the core of who they are needs to be filled by other people's approval.
Jesus then asks them, “How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Essentially: how can you believe in me when what you're believing in is other people's opinion of you? Jesus is cleaning out the basement of their souls. It’s like they are hoarders of people’s good opinions.
As a contrast, think about Jesus’ baptism. When Jesus gets out of the water, Luke tells us he's praying and then he hears this voice from heaven: “This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased.” This is what Jesus has heard from his Father from all eternity. That he, Jesus, is his Father’s beloved Son. Jesus’s faith is pristine. He’s absolutely confident in his Father’s love for him. Why would he need other people to praise him, when his “basement” is already overflowing with faith!
To explain how this “you are my beloved son” faith functions at our core, I have people imagine a scenario where they have an overly critical spouse or family member who chips away at them all the time over things that don’t matter. What the person who is receiving that is essentially hearing is: “You are my unworthy [spouse or family member], with you I am not well pleased.” That constant criticism says you're unworthy, I find you unacceptable. That’s so painful! Our flesh recoils and the only way you can avoid recoiling in anger or wrongly absorbing that message is to hear the stronger voice from your Heavenly Father: you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.
If you hear the voice of your heavenly Father saying “I am completely satisfied with you in Christ Jesus, there's no better place to be,” then that anchors your soul; his love for you is unending. All of Romans builds to that climax in Romans 8: Nothing can separate you from the immensity of God's love for you.
Having that love in your core is Faith. So yes, Faith is a gift, and yes, Faith is something you need to feed. You feed your faith by what you pay attention to, by how you respond to the Spirit’s promptings in your life, by worship and prayer and reading your Bible.
The answer to our question, "What on earth does Jesus have to believe?" is simply "in the love of God for him."
At the end of the day, Faith is everything. If you don't have faith, if your basement is filled with other people’s voices, then love becomes supremely difficult. You end up recoiling and constantly measuring how people treat you. Your spirit gets all tied up in knots because who you are as a person is shaped by all the voices around you. So the answer to our original question, "What on earth does Jesus have to believe?" is simply "in the love of God for him."
Faith, on the other hand, produces freedom. That’s one of the master themes of the book of Galatians, which is the Apostle Paul’s letter on faith. F. F. Bruce captures that “freedom” in the title of his biography on the Apostle Paul: The Apostle of the Heart Set Free. You see that same freedom in Jesus. It’s not just freedom from fear and other people’s opinions, but is freedom to wash feet, to hear criticism, to have the courage to speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences.
Jesus prays for us to have “the love of God in our hearts” in his high priestly prayer in John 17. After he talks about his relationship with his Father and prays for his disciples, he broadens his prayer to pray for the church over the ages. In verse 26 he says, “I've made known to them [the church-us!] your name. And I will continue to make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.” Jesus is praying that we too would be filled with that “you are my beloved, with you I am well-pleased” core of love, so that our lives could overflow with God’s love, like his.