Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
In the original language, the ‘word’ is ‘rhema’ rather than the more common ‘logos’ also translated ‘word.’ Rhema is “a word spoken to the need of the moment’ which goes beyond a simple hearing someone read the Bible to ‘hearing God’s Word spoken to me.’
Most of the ‘rhema’ instances in the New Testament are in John’s gospel. Even though it isn’t in this passage, it seems the intent of this conversation:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:1–18)
This describes my salvation. The instant Jesus came into my life, I knew is God in human flesh. At that moment, I became born again, a new creature who not only believed in God and in Jesus Christ, but understood why He came and what He had done. I do not recall ever hearing the gospel, but I understood it when Jesus changed my life by speaking His ‘rhema’ to me.
Others have different experiences, yet all need that new birth. Jesus said we must because without new life, no one can see or perceive God’s kingdom. The realm of God is foreign to the natural person.
This is not a boast or a human idea. Jesus said it to a very religious man, equating it with believing in Him. From this and other passages, becoming a Christian happens when God presents truth and new life at the right time (rhema). The natural person, a sinner by default, cannot believe without being reborn, something God does and that new life changes everything. The gospel is effective because new life changes the way I hear it, and changes my heart to KNOW it. God grants the ability to truly hear it and genuinely believe it.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)
In the longer passage, Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Without faith, my sin condemned me, particularly the sin of unbelief. Yet I am like the desperate father who pleaded to Jesus regarding the healing of his child. Jesus said to him, “If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23–24)
Lord Jesus Christ, You knew when I was in that place of desperately needing You, yet oblivious to Your saving power. You knew my heart, spoke a word that opened my eyes and gave me new life. That was nearly fifty years ago and I’m still amazed!