How do we explain the sudden reversals of life found in the New Testament?
As Jesus spoke, or Paul or Philip or any of the other presenters in the early days of Christianity, scores of people believed. It’s the suddenness of belief that shocks you. In a moment, before a day was over, or before a few days had elapsed, so many turned from paganism or centuries-old religious traditions to Christ. The New Testament says that they “believed.” Or it may say, they “repented.” Or perhaps both words were used.
This believing and repenting seemed to happen for the most part as the presenters were speaking. For some it was after. But in all cases it seemed that it was a sudden experience which turned them from unbelief to belief.
At times the issue of the works of the Law came up, for Jewish listeners. These presenters argued that this Old Covenant system was now obsolete and could not provide deliverance. No one could be saved by the works of the Law such as circumcision, food restrictions, animal sacrifices, separation from Gentiles, and participation in feast days. Rather, they pleaded, “Believe in Christ.” For Gentiles, there was no hope to be found in their pagan ideas either. Their idol worship, or religious strictures, would come to nothing. The only hope offered was the same, “Believe in Christ.”
But what did they mean when they said, “Believe in Christ”?
They meant something that isn’t mysterious, but it is costly. Suppose someone attempted to persuade you to believe in Karl Marx. This person, as you know, represents a system of thought. You are to ”buy in” or fully endorse and embrace the utopian vision of Marxism, the language and behavior of Marxism, the revolutionary ideas and class struggle of Marxism. Allegiance to Marxism is the same as belief in Marx. If you do not conform to the ideals of Marxism it would be appropriate for someone to say, “You aren’t a follower of Marx. If you were, you would conform to the teachings of Marx. You may be a student of Marx but not a disciple of him.” Becoming a believer in Marx is a full leap into an entire philosophy and way of living.
This is the simple idea Jesus and his followers are presenting. Believing is buying in fully to the way of Christ, his vision for the world and for your life, his words and promises, his unveiling of his amazing kingdom, his future return for his own, and especially the seminal fact that something has been done for you that you could not do for yourself through his dying and rising again on your behalf. This is believing. You step into a life that is brand new, endorsing and loving all things that come from him, confident that you have the found the truth in Christ.
Frankly, you will not do that unless you see. The blindness that dead religiosity and our human depravity brings to us all has to be removed. That’s an act of God. Seeing then becomes believing. Seeing the beauty and power and excellence of Christ, his sacrificial life, death and resurrection, and his way of life, yields both repentance (turning from sin and the wrong philosophy of life), and belief in him as the result.