The life of faith is an evolving and maturing life, and it has stages. There’s a lot of room for variation, but the general direction is always the same. First comes the new birth from above, then newness in Christ, followed by an endless process of growth and maturation. It is an exact parallel to the natural life: every human being begins as a single cell; every majestic oak was once a simple acorn; the universe itself has grown from a simple point of energy. And this is as it should be, since the natural life is merely a reflection of the divine.
Scripture teaches us that the rebirth is a gift of grace, given by God and delivered by the Holy Spirit, and that the newness in spirit is belief in the good news communicated to us by the Gospel writers, belief in the facts about Jesus Christ, about His birth, His ministry, His death and His resurrection, belief in the indwelling of Christ’s own Holy Spirit.
There’s nothing complicated about this. Christ’s Spirit needs a base of operation in the life of the potential follower, a beachhead, if you will, from which to expand, and that base of operation is conscious belief.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus was never hesitant to insist that, just as the first steps of a baby are the feeblest, so the first step towards a life of mature faith – the life that is the goal and destiny of every Christian – that the first step be taken by the feeblest of human faculties, the intellect. He was never embarrassed that it might not seem “spiritual” enough. Even in His first encounter with His disciples after the resurrection, He ate fish, and offered physical evidence for Thomas. His miracles were always signs, that you might believe…
That’s why Jesus says, speaking of all future generations, speaking of you and me, that’s why Jesus says, Blessed are those who haven’t seen me, and yet believe.
The simple belief that Jesus is the living God is the necessary foundation for Christian growth. Whether, like the new birth, it is a gift of pure grace, or whether it is a reward that responds to one’s reception of that gift, is a mystery, at least to me. But it is most certainly the treasure hidden in the field for which the man sells everything he has; it is the pearl of great price which outweighs the value of everything else.
It is the first step of the life of faith, a step that must be taken, or there is no life at all.