Elements In A Mature Faith -- By: Malcolm O. Tolbert

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 06:1 (Fall 1988)
Article: Elements In A Mature Faith
Author: Malcolm O. Tolbert


Elements In A Mature Faith

Mark 8:27–35

Malcolm O. Tolbert

Professor of New Testament,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

The Great Confession (Mark 8:27–35 and parallels) is a critical event in the gospel of Mark, dividing the ministry of Jesus into two distinct parts. Indeed, it may be called the watershed of that ministry. Prior to that time the emphasis is primarily on the public ministry of Jesus and after that time the focus of his teaching is on the meaning of discipleship. The confession also serves as the beginning point for Jesus’ clear teaching that he is destined to die on the cross.

Great debate has raged in the Christian community over the meaning of the event, especially as it is recorded in the Matthean parallel. The Roman Catholic Church in particular has made the passage a central one in its ecclesiology and given it an interpretation with which few interpreters outside that communion would agree completely.

One matter is clear in the passage, however. Peter, probably understood as the spokesman for the group of disciples, openly confesses Jesus as the Christ, which in the context of Jesus’ ministry would mean that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the long-awaited figure who was to be the instrument of God’s redemption and judgment.

What is expressed in that confession is, at best, the beginning point of faith—the first step. But it is important in that it makes possible a life of faith, which, one can hope, will lead to mature and strong trust as it is lived out in the multiple experiences and challenges of life. In that encounter between Jesus and his disciples in which Peter, however immaturely, confesses Jesus as the Christ, it seems to me that we can detect some of those elements that must be incorporated into life if faith is ever to be full-grown.

I. Mature faith is aware of the options.

“Who do men say that the Son of man is?” Most people probably think of that opening question as unimportant, at best serving as an introduction to the significant one that follows. However, the question with which Jesus begins the encounter serves to focus attention on a matter indispensable to a strong faith. It reminds the disciples at the very beginning of the environment in which they live, of the varied, often conflicting, reactions to the ministry of Jesus.

If the disciples were to be genuine followers of Jesus they had to recognize that they were to live out their commitment in a society that did not agree with them. They needed to be aware of the fact that the posture of faith would lead t...

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