In the previous post, "Faith that Sees" the question, "Who is Jesus?" was examined in the context of a man born blind, healed by Jesus, and come to spiritual sight as he confessed his belief and worshiped Jesus. That Jesus did not deny this worship shows that Jesus understood Himself worthy of Godly praise. Before leaving John 9, it is important to look one more time at the Pharisees, and particularly, Jesus' final words to them.
After the once-blind man sees both physically and spiritually, Jesus says that he came so that those who are blind will see and those who see will become blind. To this the Pharisees question, "What? Are we blind, too?" (John 9:40). Jesus replies, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains," (John 9:41). This passage has often been misinterpreted as teaching inclusivism.
Did Jesus teach that those who have never heard of him will be saved? No, and certainly not in this passage. First, Jesus addresses the Pharisees to tell them they are guilty of sin. He does not in this quote address someone who claims to be blind, but those who think they can see fine. Second, the whole story is about a man who knew he was blind and who came to believe (the blind man is a perfect example of the conversion process - see previous post, "Faith that Sees"). Third, Jesus does not go against other places in Scripture that make it clear that all men are culpable for their sins, whether they acknowledge themselves as sinful or not, and that only belief in Christ saves (c.f. Rom 1:18-19, John 3:36). So then, what does Jesus mean?
For those who are Christians, consider your conversion process. Was there not a point, very early, in which you began to doubt that you had everything figured out and all together? Was there not doubts that nagged at you saying, "If there is a God or something more out there, I need to figure that out."? On this path, we come to what Jesus identifies as the first beatitude, a recognition of our own need. Jesus says, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven," (Matt 5:3). Though there is much debate about this passage. I believe Jesus identifies the first milestone on the road that ends in commitment to Christ and eternal citizenship in His Kingdom. Jesus came, according to John, not to condemn the world, but "to save the world" (John 3:17), and the first step in saving the world is to help them see they need to be saved. The blind man understood that he could not see, and his physical need made it easier for him to understand his spiritual need. The Pharisees, contrarily, do not think they need anything. They think they are right with God. They are so determined that they are right with God (and so blind) they tell God that He's wrong (as they deny Jesus). John demonstrates their blindness many times in John 9 (see "Faith that Sees"), but most poignantly, the passage culminates in the declaration that the Pharisees are blind to the fact that they are blind and in sin. Of Christ, the Pharisees claim, "We know this man is a sinner," (John 9:24). Later, of the once-blind man, they claim, "you were steeped in sin at birth," (John 9:34). Jesus, though, turns the table on them, "Now that you claim you can see [when you are actually blind], you guilt [or sin] remains," (John 9:41). Unlike Jesus who is sinless, and the once-blind man who has found forgiveness, it is the Pharisees whose sin remains. Thus, Jesus is teaching that if they recognized their spiritual blindness, they would begin walking the path that would take them to belief in Christ (beginning with need) which results in the great exchange of our sin for His righteousness and eternal forgiveness (c.f. 2 Cor 5:21). Previously, Jesus had attempted to show the Jews (and Jews who had begun to believe in Him no less) that they were slaves to sin (John 8:34). The Jews so adamantly objected to Jesus' claim, that the conversation concluded with them trying to stone him.
Is Jesus only picking a fight with the Pharisees? Is He being cruel? No. Jesus is leading them towards the light. For the Pharisees (and anyone today who thinks they are ok with God apart from belief in Jesus), the first step to faith is recognizing their sin, and need for forgiveness. Jesus is trying to expose their need for His forgiveness. Why would they believe in a Savior if they think they do not need One? Now, the Pharisees did not believe themselves sinless (or at least they wouldn't say they did), but in practice, they did think they were right with God (hence the claims that "Abraham is our father," and "The only Father we have is God himself," and "We are disciples of Moses," in John 8:39, 8:41, 9:28). It was this self-righteousness that prevented them from receiving Christ as the light of the world, and the Son of God.
As the once-blind man serves as an encouraging picture of the conversion process, the Pharisees serve as a warning of the kind of proud attitude that refuses forgiveness and rejects belief. Sadly, today there are many who, like the Pharisees, think they are right with God apart from Christ. Perhaps they feel they know deep down they are right with God, but when asked, the only assurance they could voice is "I just know." Jesus came to reveal (as light does) the truth about men's hearts. The truth is, apart from Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins, and without forgiveness, all men will face God's wrath for their sin (John 3:36). But, there is hope. If you do not believe in Christ, but you have doubts about your place with God, that's a good start! If the thought of standing before God's judgment seat after you die scares you, that's good, too! The first step on the road to belief and eternal life is recognizing there's a problem. Let me encourage you to receive the rebuke of Christ, and not reject it. He says, "you are a sinner," and He is in the business of saving sinners. For those who believe in Christ, be refreshed. Recall how he has and does expose your sin, not to smear it in your face, but to free you from it. How has God convicted you lately?