Faith and faithfulness: two sides of the same coin
The incredibly humble character of John the Baptist (whom Christ called the greatest of men) leads him to contrast his own ministry with our Saviour’s, easily recognising his own poverty in contrast with our Saviour’s greatness. John uses the contrast between heaven and earth. John is from earth, he says, whereas Christ is from heaven. For John the priority is clear; we must have faith in the One whom God has sent from above, namely, our Saviour Jesus Christ. For Christ does not speak earthly words, but the word of God. And John says, the Father has given the Son the Holy Spirit without measure (Is 11:2), and the fullness of the Spirit’s graces (see Jn 1:16).
So John the Baptist establishes that we should be centred on Christ; it is from Him alone that we can receive grace upon grace, which is what we need to be saved. This we call Christocentrism – to be Christ-centred.
We ‘connect’ with Christ not just by listening to Him, but by having faith in Him. Now we need to be clear that from a Catholic point of view this is not merely an assent of the mind. It is not merely being able to say “I believe in Him”, and really feeling a sense of trust, or really thinking Christ has the answer to our problems. From the Catholic point of view saying or feeling that I have given my heart to Jesus is not enough! Faith is exercised when we trust God and entrust ourselves to Him. Faith involves both the assent of the mind and consent of the will. Faith can never be just an intellectual decision that exists independently of our behaviour (see James 2:14-16). Or to put it another way: faith and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin. That is why the prophet John says, “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests on him.” (v36b)
It can be helpful to think of sinful deeds as effectively professing the opposite of faith: “I do not believe in God.” We can then begin to see the great significance of even the smallest sin, and that we need to battle against these as well as the big sins, for they are all effectively witnessing the same thing: “I do not believe in God.” When we sacrifice ourselves to grow in virtue then we effectively declare, “I truly believe in God.”
The battle against sin, and the promotion of virtue in our lives, is about conforming our will to that which we say we believe. We may say we believe in Jesus Christ our Saviour, but do our lives reflect this? The prophet John is clear we need to have faith and to be faithful in order to come to eternal life.