“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 3:14-18 ESV
To “believe in Him” means to believe what God says about His Son. It means to agree with the testimony that God has given about His Son. This testimony is both singular (there is only ONE gospel that saves) and objective (it is not subject to personal preferences or interpretation).
Frankly, I am flabbergasted by just how many people who profess to be “believers” that do not agree that there is only one set of claims that God makes concerning Christ. Some will even say that certain things that God says about Christ do not matter, or are essentially negotiable, or can simply be ignored.
One either believes what God says about Christ, or one does not. It’s that simple. Believing God is the ONLY way one can rightly be called a “believer.” It’s amazing how many people claim to be “believers” who do not believe what God says about Christ, or do not agree that one must agree with God in order to be a “believer.” But isn’t agreement with God inextricably tied up in the concept of being a “believer?”
Brief example-if you don’t agree with the claims regarding climate change, then you are saying that you don’t believe in climate change. If you do agree with the claims regarding climate change, then you are saying you believe in climate change. You either believe in climate change or you don’t, but you can’t deny the claims of proponents of climate change and also be said to believe in climate change. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Many want to use the John 3 text in a perverted fashion, placing the emphasis of their reading on the verb “believes” without discussing or explaining what exactly it means to believe. Most assume that it means that you assent to the bare facts regarding what happened to a man named Jesus in Jerusalem a little over 2000 years ago.
The problem with this bare minimum factual view is that plenty of cults also assent to these facts. Some of these groups even assent to some of the theology regarding these facts. The Mormons believe that Jesus died on a cross (fact) to pay for sin (theology). So do the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So do the Catholics. So do the Arminians. So do the tolerant 5-pointers. So do the Charismatics. So does the Church of Christ. So do the Seventh Day Adventists. Muslims believe that Jesus died on a cross. On and on the list goes of people who assent to the bare facts of what happened to a man named Jesus in Jerusalem.
Are these people “believers” according to what Christ meant when He said that “whoever BELIEVES IN HIM,” has everlasting life? The answer to that question is no, but why not? I mean, after all, they assent to the bare facts, even if some of the details they ascribe to the facts are a little off (or very off).
The reason that they are not “believers” in the sense that Christ is speaking about is because the testimony of God concerning Christ is not merely the facts. It is the theology concerning those facts, in addition to the facts themselves. If it was only the facts, then all of those groups would also rightly be called “believers,” which according to Jesus Himself, means that they all have eternal life.
Some (Arminians and Tolerant Calvinists specifically) will try to make a distinction by saying that these groups either also believe that one must work to achieve salvation, or that they are talking about a different christ. Both of these statements are true, but the irony of making this claim is that the same can be said about their beliefs as well.
Arminians do in fact believe that salvation is attained by works and kept by works. They believe that there is a condition that one must meet in order to effectuate the cross for them, and they also believe in a false christ who did not save anyone but merely made salvation possible. Tolerant Calvinists (who are really just closet Arminians) also believe that one must meet a condition in order to be saved, and they also accept multiple gospels as viable, which means that they do not believe God. If God says x and only x, and one says y will do, then one is an unbeliever. Not simply that, they call God a liar by not agreeing with Him regarding His claims and the exclusivity of those claims.
So now the question becomes, what does God say about Christ, and do I believe that?
Well, God says that Christ came to the earth to save His chosen people from their sins. He says that those certain persons were chosen before creation so that their works, good or bad, would not be considered and that salvation would be all of His grace. He says that Christ obeyed perfectly unto death, bearing the sins of His people by imputation on the cross and forever satisfied the demands of God’s law against them by one perfect sacrifice. He says that because His law and justice was satisfied against those people, He is just in forgiving the sins of that chosen people and subsequently imputing to them the only acceptable righteousness-that of Christ Himself. He says that He agreed with Christ’s statement on the cross (“It is finished”) and because of that, He resurrected Christ from the grave. He says that because of the work of Christ, all of those whose sins were placed on Christ and paid for shall be saved because He is just and cannot deny Himself.
Now for the real test-do you believe this declaration? It’s not an invitation. It’s not an offer. It is news of an accomplished redemption. There’s nothing for you do concerning it. You either believe it, or you don’t. If you do believe it, it is because 1) you are one of God’s elect for whom that perfect sacrifice was given, and 2) you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and given life to believe this news.
If you don’t believe it, it is because you have not been regenerated, and if you die without ever being brought to believe this declaration, it will be because you were not of the chosen people for whom Christ died, your sins have not been forgiven, and one day you will be resurrected to eternal death.
The John 3 text is not an offer for anyone who wants to believe. It is a declaration which states that those who do believe possess eternal life. Do you believe God concerning Christ? Then you possess eternal life. It also states that those who do not believe are condemned ALREADY. Do you not believe what God says about Christ? Then you are condemned already. Repent and believe the truth concerning Christ.