"Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'
Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'"
Why would Jesus, the Obedient Son, speak of believing instead of obeying when it came time to answer a question about work, especially the work of God? Because if work is anything at all, it is a thing that must be done--like obeying. But simply believing seems a thing not so much done as...what?...said?... thought?...felt?
A man could rightly ask of Jesus, "How am I to work on believing in the One? Either I believe in Him, or I don't. Am I to work on saying 'I believe in the One'? OK. I said it. Again I said it. Out loud and more earnestly! I said it in my heart! I thought it in my brain! I felt it in my toes! I believe! Am I to believe more by saying it more? By believing it more? Can this be the only work of God!?"
Suddenly it seems either impossibly easy or impossibly hard to believe in the one he has sent.
So why would the Master say believing rather than obeying is the answer to it all?
Maybe because if Our Lord simply said to obey--that obedience is the answer to God, then a man might work for God with little or no work of God being done in him. Like the Pharisee, he might obey, not out of trust, but out of a desire for something else. Something greater. Something he thinks is higher and more golden than the pure gold of trust. Something he calls Eternal Life. But of what a man calls things and what they are, I can only say with George MacDonald, “A man may know the thing he is talking about, but he doesn't know the thing he thinks he is talking about.”
The man who hears poorly, will obey poorly. When his Master walks away, because the man has not love for his Master which transcends time and space, he will forget and begin obeying himself again, which is simply to obey a slave of a dozen other masters. Or the man will obey only because he heard it may bring him nearer the fulfillment of his lack of an Eternal something. Instead of obeying because his obedience is itself the fulfillment of everything he lacks. The one thing he lacks, is the only thing he needs.
It is at least unquestionably so that Christ spoke of believing rather than obeying because He knows His little ones. He knows the children outside of Eden must discover a great truth for themselves. They must learn to see the shape of things as Christ sees them.
Christ, who formed and shaped the world, knows that obedience is a form and has a shape. And that belief is a form and has a shape. And He does not misapprehend them, like man, as unrelated, or in dissimilar categories. As if obedience is a stack of bricks and belief is green. Nay! Christ, who formed life in Himself, knows one is but the perfected form of the other; that belief is but the perfection in shape and form of obedience; that belief is obedience, only and uniquely generated by love and generating love, working its way through the warm chambers and burning machinery of the heart. Whereas obedience generated by any other force but love is something sterile, less, vague, hungry, tiring, smaller, cold, corrupt and dead. It is unbelief. It is obedience that generates any and everything but love.
Obedience becomes perfect in belief. And in its perfected form, obedience is finally free. But obedience in freedom is not shapeless. It has a shape that is singular and finally known.
As when water is truly free, when it has utterly escaped its constraints, it doesn’t take any shape it pleases, but only its most perfect one: the shape of a sphere. Like the perfect shape of any and everything stretching in its freedom, obedience relaxes into the shape of belief.
The men of the world must work to reeducate themselves into the children of God. They must forget that faith is other things and remember again that it is obedience. That "faith in" is almost utterly and completely and alone, "obedience to."
Only by retracing their steps through the garden; only by the will to sacrifice their own beneath the great trees of “Thy Will” and “Mine;” only by the purifying act of love itself may the brothers and sisters filling the void from the first Adam to the last discover the work of God is to believe in the one He has sent.