The Path to Belief
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" Matthew 16:16
Recently a university student who had begun to question the contradictions of his Islamic faith asked me, "How does a Christian come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" This is not a new or unusual question. Every believer follows the same path in arriving at a declaration of "Jesus is the Son of God!" The journey took nearly three years for Jesus' disciples. Their trek led them to miracles, teaching and illumination.
Once Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee with the disciples when a major storm engulfed them. It appeared their boat would sink, but Jesus arose and calmed the storm. The disciples were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this?" (Mark 4:41). Each display of Jesus' power raises this question.
Miracles generate a sense of awe. Notice other responses to God's awesome power. In Mark 5:42, the disciples were "completely astonished" when Jesus raised the dead, and in Mark 6:51 they were "completely amazed" when He walked on water. Miracles are supernatural and show that Jesus is no ordinary man. This is the first step down the path toward believing that He is the Son of God.
Several Islamic youth in Malawi accepted Jesus as their Savior and were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Their village church began holding services every night. A girl who had just been Spirit-baptized began laying hands on believers and praying for them. Many were baptized in the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. This phenomenon was identified by the Muslim community as being supernatural and captured their attention. While it did not produce new converts, it was a step toward recognizing the divinity of Christ.
Usually it takes time for a Muslim to grasp the basic truth of the gospel given in John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son." Demonstrations of the miraculous open their minds to teaching and a presentation of theological truth. Yet it takes time for them to absorb it and readjust what they have been taught all their lives.
Jesus’ disciples had been taught a messianic theology from childhood that built expectations of a political ruler who would establish an earthly kingdom. Consequently, they tried to fit Jesus into their theological box, but He didn't fit. They watched Him perform miracles, but they could not grasp the fact that He was truly the Messiah.
Mark 6:52 sheds light on the disciples' struggle: "They had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened." They had participated in the miracle as Jesus fed the 5,000 and watched Him walk on water, but their theology blocked the revelation that Jesus was God. So Jesus duplicated the miracle of producing bread and fish in feeding the 4,000–and they still did not get the point. Jesus said to them, "Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?" (Mark 8:17).
Shortly before Jesus' arrest, He explained once more that He had come from God. The disciples exclaimed, "Now we can see that you know all things...This makes us believe that you came from God” (John 16:30). Three years of miracles coupled with three years of teaching made believers out of the disciples. It took time to reformat their theology. It takes time for a Muslim to retool his understanding of Christ too.
A Muslim man in Eritrea observed a church service in progress. He stood at the doorway and watched the people worship. The pastor and evangelist noticed him and went out to meet him. They discovered that one of his arms was deformed and asked for permission to pray for his healing. The Muslim agreed.
Following prayer, he returned to his village. The next morning he arose to discover that his arm was normal. He returned to the church to show the pastor. But due to pressure from his relatives, he never returned to the church or placed his faith in Jesus. Miracles get a person's attention, but teaching produces a believer.
An individual may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and yet not fully understand the Scriptures. Sometimes a truth that is taught will go right by him. For instance, Jesus clearly stated on numerous occasions that he would die but be resurrected on the third day. Yet when it happened, His disciples' response gave no indication that they remembered His teaching on the subject. Why?
More than "believing" is needed to grasp a truth to the point that it motivates a person to action. Procuring a full understanding of who Jesus Christ is and His purpose in the world today requires the Holy Spirit's illumination. Luke recorded that shortly before Jesus' ascension, "He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45).
A Muslim man in Malawi was dying. I stepped into the hut, knelt beside his mat and shared with him a brief presentation of the gospel. "Old man, would you like to accept Jesus as your Savior?" I asked.
He waited about a minute and responded, "If Jesus can help me, I need His help."
It was my privilege to lead him in the sinner's prayer. Then I explained that Jesus could also heal his body, and together we asked for a miracle.
The next morning I returned to the village and found the old man sitting under a mango tree. God had graciously touched his body. Every day I visited his village for about a week as I sought to disciple him.
One day I asked him, "Have you prayed to Jesus today?"
With a twinkle in his eyes, he said, "Allah is my God, Jesus is my Savior and I pray to Muhammad." He was on the right path, but it would take the Holy Spirit's illumination to rearrange his theology and help him understand the gospel and walk in biblical truth.
From a human perspective, bringing a Muslim with his distorted theology of Jesus to the point of faith in Christ seems impossible. However, Jesus' words in Mark 10:27 remind us: "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
The path to belief leads a person through miracles, teaching and illumination into the life of a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.