This is the fourth of five posts about the use of “believe” in John’s gospel. Jesus, before his crucifixion, called on his eleven disciples to be braced for what was coming. “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” [John 14:1]. To believe in one is to believe in both.
Yet what this meant wasn’t clear to Philip as he asked Jesus to show him the Father. Jesus answered, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” This certainly added a new layer to “believe.” It now stands as one of the Son’s strongest statements of his triune unity with the Father. It also raises the problem of using numbers—one and three—in speaking of God as triune. The two digits are distinct. We have one or three, but never an overlay of the two. So, the idea of God as three-in-one seems nonsensical.
Unitarians and the Jehovah Witnesses capitalize on this, as do many who reject Christianity for the same reason. The JW’s also leap on a later feature in the chapter to prove their view. When Jesus said, “the Father is greater than I” (v.28). They claim, as did the Arians—forefathers of unitarianism—that God first created Jesus as a semi-divine figure and then sent him out to accomplish the rest of creation. So, the Father was “un-originate” while the Son had an origin. Problem solved. And with that the Father is greater than the Son by chronological priority.
Let’s take a new look at this. We recall Genesis three, when Satan first foisted this numerical problem on humans by telling Eve, “You can be like God…” History shows us that he presumed a version of God aligned with his own aspiration to be autonomous: to presume a monadic form of deity rather than a relational God. This made Individualism an absolute starting point. And by this new starting point he usurped the Creator with a lie about true being.
The true One had already made his relational being apparent when he said, “Let us make man in our image…” The “us” and “our” spoke of the relational distinctions of the Godhead. Not of three Gods, but of one God whom we later meet as the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Spirit was already named in Genesis 1:2. The Father called for the creation, and the Son—as revealed in Colossians and Hebrews—did the work. This was broadly outlined by Genesis one as God’s collective work.
Then, in Genesis two, the male-and-female “man” displayed God’s one-in-plurality profile. God created Adam, enlivened him with spirit from the Spirit, and then formed his female distinction, Eve, from “out of” Adam. Then by coming back together they could accomplish procreation. The single first human was called husband and wife— “Ish” (masculine) and “Ishah”(feminine)—as one, alive to God by their spirit-to-Spirit union, who were thus united in eternal communion with God.
All this was shattered by Satan’s ploy in Eden of inviting the first couple to adopt autonomous identities—as individuals. While the first man was originally other-oriented as a male-and-female being, his newly fallen identity was now curved inward into two self-concerned souls. The bonding Spirit was aggrieved and gone, leaving Adam naked and ashamed, ready to blame God for “the woman whom you gave to be with me.”
In John fourteen Jesus called his disciples back to God’s creation ambition. Both to perceive God as he truly exists, and to have a new human identity. God’s purpose in Eden was for the first couple to commune with him—to be in a selfless bond, by the Spirit, with each other and with God. Jesus explained this. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” [vs.15-17].
In verse 23 Jesus said more. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The key is for the Spirit to restore the male-and-female-and-spirit “man” to their originating Father, Son, and Spirit God. A bond by which the Father has a priority of initiative but not of being. Greater in role and leadership but not in kind.
What does it mean to believe, then, given what Jesus told his eleven? It moves from a purely propositional calling to a new embrace in matters of identity and relationship. So, God’s restoration of his Image in humanity starts with the Spirit who, alone, reunites humans as humans and lets us see God as One who exists eternally as the Father, Son, and Spirit. As the God who, “is love”—in 1 John 4:8&16.
Once we have that we’re assured of his coming to “make our home with him.” It’s what we’re made for! And the world begins to see our unity with God through our love for him and for each other.