Jesus Won Their Confidence

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Published:
September 1, 2016

Do you remember the 2008 financial crisis? I heard an interview back then with Joe Nocera, business columnist for the New York Times and author of Good Guys and Bad Guys. When asked what gets credit moving again, his answer was, "It's confidence."[1]

Do we sense how fundamental this is? It appears to me that nothing runs without confidence. Even ask a con man. After all, where does he get his dubious title? The freezing of credit then was an excellent lesson on what Stephen M. R. Covey had written two years earlier in his book The Speed of Trust.[2] The freezing of confidence brought the speed of trust to a screeching halt. Who would do business with someone they do not trust?

Could this fruit of the Spirit called faith be a divinely-mediated dynamic that is so vital that God has to give to "every man the measure of faith" just to keep things functioning?[3] And could it be that Jesus, in working to win the confidence of those His life touched, was the prime heavenly Agent in demonstrating its importance?

I would submit that there is nothing that instills genuine confidence more than persuading someone that you are genuinely unselfish in your dealings with them. From patients who need "a sense of security" to heal as they should, to students who need "a belief in our belief in, and appreciation of, them," those we wish to help in an insecure and selfish world must see that we have learned from Jesus how to manifest "disinterested benevolence."[4]

There is a puzzling text in John's gospel that helps us to understand the dynamic better. "Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because He knew all men."[5] The word translated "commit" is the verb form of "faith." How can you win someone's confidence if you refuse to commit yourself? The negative picture John gives here of Jesus simply excludes a method some use to attempt to win confidence, a method that can only backfire.

Jesus' primary commitment as the Son of man (the human Jesus) was not to another human, but to His Father. So in winning another human's confidence, putting them where God should be, is a sure way to develop relational instability. The first and great commandment must remain just that--the first and the greatest.[6]

On the other hand, Jesus as the Son of God (His primary identity) related to His fellow human beings with the relational dynamic of "giving." The Father "gave His only begotten Son" and the Son "gave Himself."[7] There can be no commitment greater than that! And that is how God has given everyone faith, how confidence is engendered.

This "giving" is a dynamic of the unselfish love the New Testament calls agape. In relating to others, in seeking how to bless them according to their need, it does not seek its own advantage but actually believes all things.[8] In other words, this love sees a person not as they are but as they can be in God's plan. This perspective comes from how God Himself, who in His character is agape, functions. The Bible calls this "the faith of God" which was revealed to us in "the faith of Jesus."[9]

So to "win love," Jesus loved people. And to "win confidence," He believed in them. John captured this reciprocal nature of unselfish love in his simple statement, "We love Him, because He first loved us."[10] Abraham Heschel, immersed as he was in the Hebrew we call the Old Testament which is the foundation of New Testament thought, addressed this dynamic in these powerful observations:

Faith is real only when it is not one-sided but reciprocal. Man can rely on God, if God can rely on man. We may trust in Him because He trusts in us [footnote 35]. To have faith means to justify God's faith in man. It is as essential that God believe in man as that man should believe in God. Thus faith is awareness of divine mutuality and companionship, a form of communion between God and man.[11]

To understand how and why Jesus won people's confidence, we must, therefore, understand God's character of faith, a "faith which worketh by love."[12] Jesus acutely sensed others lack of love and faith which we describe in words such as narcissism (lovers of self), infidelity (no faith), and skepticism (doubt, needing to see, lacking the eye of faith). His effectiveness at winning confidence was due to His enormous love and faith. "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."[13]

Just as we do not want to place our ultimate confidence in others but in God, so as we win the confidence of others, we must gently and firmly give God credit as being the source of all faith and love. We must readily confess that in ourselves we have nothing that God has not given us in His amazing grace. We are simply beggars telling other beggars where the bread is. Jesus reminded His disciples of this reality when He first sent them out. "Freely ye have received, freely give."[14]

In my study of Adventist history, I've been fascinated in how this dynamic appeared in occasional blazes of light during the decade from 1888 to 1898. I believe this is the essence of the climax of the third angel's message, where those who endure the end-times are said to "keep ... the faith of Jesus."[15] I find it highly significant that this seems to be the most neglected and misunderstood part of our message and mission. Here is how Ellen White described the need:

The faith of Jesus has been overlooked and treated in an indifferent, careless manner. It has not occupied the prominent position in which it was revealed to John.[16]

... The faith of Jesus ... comprehends more than is generally supposed. And it will be well for the third angel's message to be proclaimed in all its parts, for the people need every jot and tittle of it. If we proclaim the commandments of God and leave the other half scarcely touched, the message is marred in our hands.[17]

The faith of Jesus is not comprehended. We must talk it, we must live it, we must pray it, and educate the people to bring this part of the message into their home life.[18]

The reciprocal nature of this faith was addressed in this description of the motivation of Jesus, and the desired response, which in turn, allows the process to continue:

Each word, each action is a work for God. Here is faith in God, and faith in men. Christ would never have given His life for the human race if He had not faith in the souls for whom He died. He knew that a large number would respond to the love He had expressed for humanity. It is not every heart that responds, but every heart may and can, if it will, respond to that love that is without a parallel. "My sheep hear My voice," Christ said. A heart yearning for God will recognize the voice of God. God cannot respond to one soul that does not respond to His grace offered, His love bestowed.[19]

Consider this simple but profound description of the beauty of God's winning our confidence through Jesus:

You have been, and you are, thankful that you have confidence in God. This is well; for it is a great thing to have doubt and uncertainty removed, and confidence in God established in the mind and heart. It is, therefore, a thing really to be thankful for, that you have confidence in God.

Yet there is a greater thing than this to be thankful for, and that is that God has confidence in you.

Indeed, it is God's confidence in us that is all the ground of our confidence in him.

Considered solely upon the merit of the question, it is indeed a very little thing that we should have confidence in him; while it is a thing great beyond all comparison that he should have confidence in us.

Just think what we were—a people laden with iniquity, alienated from God, and enemies in our minds, by wicked works. Yet when we were all this, God deliberately invested in us all that he had—the great "price" of his dear Son, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of God. This is a marvelous display of confidence.

He had such confidence in us that he would invest in us—aliens and enemies—all that he had, and all that he is—even himself—expecting that his confidence in us would destroy the alienation, break down the enmity, and win us to confidence in him.

And this fairly reckless confidence in us did actually win us from alienation and enmity to confidence in him. This is the only thing that ever did or that ever could so win us. Thus his confidence in us is all the ground of our confidence in him.[20]

Since actions speak louder than words, we can see the necessity of the cross. God had to demonstrate that His love, believing all things, and His faith, working by love, were not mere words. Likewise, Jesus tells us each to take up our cross and follow Him. We can enter into the joy He had set before Him as He embraced the cross—not all, but some will reciprocate.[21]

Do we hear the call?  Don't just preach unselfish love—live it for the joy of winning others to it for eternity!


[1] On Bill Moyer’s Journal, November 21, 2008. (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11212008/transcript1.html, accessed August 28, 2016)

[2] Simon and Schuster, 2006; see also his later book, Smart Trust, Simon and Schuster, 2012.

[3] Romans 12:3; Galatians 5:22

[4] Ellen White, The Kress Collection, 58; Fundamentals of Christian Education, Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1923, 281; The Desire of Ages, Oakland: Pacific Press, 1898, 541.

[5] John 2:24

[6] Matthew 22:37, 38; see also the danger expressed in Romans 1:25.

[7] John 3:16; Galatians 2:20

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:5, 7

[9] For the "faith of God," check out Mark 11:22 and Romans 3:3 in the Greek. For an excellent article on the "faith of Jesus," see Sigve Tonstad, "pistiV Cristou: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm," Andrews University Seminary Studies, Spring 2002, Vol. 40, No. 1, 37-59.

[10] 1 John 4:19; for passages addressing the scandal of lack of reciprocity, see Romans 3:1-4 and 2 Timothy 2:13. Examine Ellen White's writings where she wrote of Jesus' "unrequited love."

[11] Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone, A Philosophy of Religion, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951, p. 190. The section is entitled "Faith is Reciprocity," and the footnote states, "Faith is ascribed to God in Deuteronomy 32:4."

[12] Galatians 5:6

[13] 1 Timothy 1:14

[14] Matthew 10:8

[15] Revelation 14:12

[16] Ellen White, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987, p. 212 (December 1888)

[17] Ibid., p. 367 (June 1889)

[18] Ibid., p. 430 (September 13, 1889)

[19] Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Volume 21, Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987, p. 370 (August 24, 1897). When this was edited and published in The Signs of the Times, March 17, 1898, the first sentence of the article "Sufficiency in Christ" was worded, "Christ would never have given his life for the human race if He had not had confidence in the souls for whom He died."

[20] A. T. Jones, "Editorial," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Volume 75, Number 1 (1898), 8.

[21] Hebrews 12:2

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