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 3:18 ESV
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 1 John 5:10 ESV
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 ESV
Believing in Christ means that you believe what God has said about Christ (i.e. the gospel). You cannot believe in Christ without believing the gospel-that is to say, that believing in Christ is the same thing as believing the gospel. These two things are not separate. There is no meaningful, Biblically-based distinction between believing in Christ and believing the gospel. Scripture does not present believing in Christ as one thing, and believing the gospel as another thing. Some think that one can believe in Christ without believing the gospel. Or that one can believe in Christ without having any knowledge of who He is or what He did. These are those who say things like “I don’t need doctrine, I just need Jesus,” or “All you need to do is believe in Jesus, you don’t need that cold and hard doctrine,” and other such like phrases. This is falsehood.
You cannot believe in Christ (i.e. believe the gospel) if you don’t know anything about Him or His work. That is to say, there is no such thing as a content-less gospel. In like manner, you cannot be wrong about His Person and work and also believe in Christ, because to believe in Christ means that you agree with what God has said concerning Him and His work, not falsehood about who He is and what He did. To rightly be called a “believer,” or to “believe” as contemplated by the verses cited at the beginning means to agree with the very specific, very simple, and very clear propositions that God has put forward concerning Christ and His work. The gospel is a simple message…but it is a hated message by those who have not yet been converted.
To believe means to agree with or to assent. Believing a proposition does not make the proposition actually true or false. The veracity or falsehood of the proposition is independent from one’s assent to it. To believe a proposition simply means that we, in our minds, agree with the proposition. If I believe that the proposition 2+2=4 is true, then I agree with a proposition that is, in fact, a true proposition. The proposition that 2+2=4 is actually true, whether or not I agree with it. My believing it or not believing it in no way affects the veracity of the proposition. However, my agreement with the proposition does determine whether my belief is correct-that is to say, whether my belief agrees with objective reality or the truth. If I agree with propositions that are actually true, then my belief matches ( i.e. I agree with) the objective reality-the truth.
Likewise, if I believe that the proposition 2+2=5672 is true, then I agree with a proposition that is a false proposition. This proposition is false, no matter how many people agree with it. My believing that proposition in no way affects that it is false-that is to say, that my believing that proposition does not make it true or false by merit of believing of it. However, my agreement with the proposition does determine whether my belief is correct/incorrect-that is to say, whether my belief does, or in this case, does not agree with the objective reality. A false proposition will never be or become true, no matter how many people decide that they agree with it.
If what you believe is incorrect, then by definition, you do not believe the truth. Instead, you believe a falsehood. It doesn’t matter how popular that falsehood is, it is and always will be a falsehood. Contrarily, if what you believe is correct, then by definition, you believe the truth. It also doesn’t matter how popular the truth is, it is and always will be a truth.
The gospel is a definite and limited set of propositions concerning the Person and work of the sinless God-man Jesus Christ. These propositions describe both who He is and what He did when He took on flesh, dwelt among men, died on a Roman cross and was raised. The gospel also describes the meaning of His work-what His death actually accomplished from a theological standpoint. There is only ONE gospel that is true.
The gospel is a complete set of propositions. Leave out one or more of these propositions and you have an incomplete gospel. Change one or more of these propositions and you have a false gospel. Both of these are useless. We know this because Paul says in Romans 1:16 that “THE gospel is THE POWER of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” When Paul uses the phrase “the gospel” he is intending to communicate that the complete and accurate set of propositions concerning the Person and work of Jesus Christ are THE POWER of God for salvation. He leaves no room for the conclusion that one can do with an incomplete or false version of this gospel. He states that the gospel is THE POWER of God for salvation. It is the means that God uses to save His people. False and incomplete gospels are not the power of God, and therefore cannot save.
You either believe these gospel propositions and are RIGHTLY called a “believer,” or you do not believe these gospel propositions, and calling yourself a “believer” is presumptuous and incorrect. You don’t get to believe falsehood and still get to be called a “believer.”
The natural man hates the gospel. He also hates the claim that believing the truth (i.e. believing the gospel) is the EVIDENCE that one has been saved by Christ. He would rather assume that something he has DONE is what makes the difference between eternity with God or eternal death. He does not actually care much for the content of the gospel, as long as one remains within a wide universe of what he considers acceptable belief.
Let’s be clear, it is the work of Christ on the cross that saves His elect. Nothing in the elect sinner, or nothing that the elect sinner does, including believing the gospel, can save them. It is Christ’s work and His imputed righteousness alone that will cause one to stand guiltless before God. But HOW do YOU KNOW that Christ saved YOU? The Bible teaches that one KNOWS that Christ saved them by BELIEVING the GOSPEL, or BELIEVING IN CHRIST. The issue is one of assurance of salvation. Every religious person ASSUMES (most incorrectly and without justification) that they will be saved, but on what are they basing their assurance? Usually, it’s something they have done.
Let’s look at the first text I cited-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 3:18 ESV. This text instructs us that those who BELIEVE in Him are not condemned, and those who do not believe in Him are condemned already, BECAUSE they have not believed in Him. The BELIEVING is what IDENTIFIES or distinguishes those who possess eternal life from those who are condemned. As stated earlier, this phrase “believes in Him” refers to believing the testimony that GOD has given concerning Christ, not believing a lie from the devil and hoping that will do.
The devil lies about Christ. He lies about His person and His work. These lies that he puts forward about Christ amount to false gospels-they do not describe the truth concerning Christ and His work, two things which are completely inextricable. His Person and work cannot be separated. You cannot be talking about the true Christ while ascribing to Him a work which He did not do. In doing so, you have merely described a false christ. In lying about Christ, the devil actually invents false christs and false works to deceive those who belong to him. The closer these lies resemble the truth, the more deceptive they are.
Make no mistake, the devil will never tell the truth about Christ, and where one is hearing about a christ whose person and work does not match up with the testimony given by God, no matter how slight or seemingly insignificant the deviation may be, one has encountered a false christ and an invention of the devil designed to deceive and keep one ensnared to do the devil’s will. The most sophisticated form of deception is found in false religion-in those things that man assumes please God. The sin that deceives men naturally is not immorality, but rather self-righteousness brought to fruition through false religion.
It is the gospel that reveals the self-righteousness of men as utterly disgusting and deplorable to a Holy God and points the converted sinner to the only acceptable righteousness before Him-that established by Jesus Christ.
So, the issue comes back to assurance and the gospel. Which gospel do you believe? Do you believe the testimony of God? Or do you believe a lie of the devil? The lie of the devil cannot provide you a biblically supported ground of assurance of salvation, but you can be deceived into thinking that it will suffice, and that God will save you in spite of disagreeing with Him, which really means that you call God a liar. This is not a good place to be, and many who are here ASSUME incorrectly that they have right standing with God.
Look at what 1 John 5:10 says- “Whoever BELIEVES in the SON (that is, whoever believes the gospel) HAS THE TESTIMONY in himself.” What John is saying is that the sinner who believes in the Son of God has the gospel as the evidence of their salvation. It is the BELIEVING of the gospel that communicates ASSURANCE of salvation to the one who believes it. Why? Because the gospel is the testimony of God, and the Bible tells those who believe the testimony of God that they have eternal life. What is the gospel? The promise of God to save sinners based on the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you believe in Christ (i.e. agree with God concerning the Person and work of Christ), then you possess the promise of God to save sinners based on the Person and work of Christ. Believing the gospel is the evidence that God has promised to save you because of the Person and Work of Christ. Want to know if Christ and His work saved you? Repent and believe the gospel. That is the only thing that can give you true assurance of salvation. Everything else is sinking sand.
The natural man despises this idea. The natural man believes that any sinner can believe whatever they want about Jesus Christ (with some of their own personal caveats about what they think is and is not acceptable) and be saved in spite of not believing the truth. They deny that the gospel is the power of God for salvation.
Instead, they claim (indirectly) that satanic lies (i.e. false gospels) have the exact same ability to save as the true gospel, and that there is no meaningful distinction between the truth and a lie. That it doesn’t matter if you believe that Christ died for everyone and that one’s choice is what makes the atonement effective, or if you believe Christ only died for the elect and that the cross is the sole ground of their salvation. That it doesn’t matter if you believe that you can lose your salvation or that you can’t. That it doesn’t matter if you believe that God chooses who to save based on His own purpose or on what He sees inside a sinner. That what you about Christ specifically doesn’t matter, as long as you believe He did something for you. What did He do? Doesn’t matter, as long as you believe He did something for you.
The disgusting irony of all of this is that they will tell you that if you don’t believe that those who fail to make the right choice and “choose” Christ will suffer for all of eternity regretting their failure, that you are a heretic. Eternal torture, in their estimation, is non-negotiable. The work of Christ? Ahhh, who cares? You can think what you want about that, after all, no one has a perfect theology. What happens to the reprobate? You better be right about that, or you’re going to hell with them. Doesn’t matter what you believe about Christ, but if you believe that people will be annihilated, you’re a heretic. Doesn’t matter what you believe about Christ, but if you don’t believe in progressive sanctification/increasing holiness, then you’re a heretic. Doesn’t matter what you believe about Christ, but if you don’t stand with Israel, then you’re a heretic. This is the self-righteous hypocrisy and spiritual blindness of the natural man. The one thing that matters (the Person and Work of Christ) is the one thing they could not care less about in terms of precision. Everything else? Non-negotiable. Could it be that they feel so strongly about these other things because they cannot see Christ and the glory of His work? More on that some other time…
The natural man will give all sorts of reassurance to those who believe false gospels, piously claiming that “it is Christ’s work that saves” all the while denying/distorting what that work actually is and what it actually accomplished. They chide anyone who claims that the biblical evidence of salvation is believing the gospel, and essentially claim that God saves apart from the gospel (which is a denial of Romans 1) or that God saves using false gospels, which is to claim that God is a liar, or is ok using lies to save His people. This is blasphemy, and this is what spiritual warfare looks like.
Let’s look at the third text I cited-And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 ESV
Prior to believing the gospel, we did not have an understanding of the truth. We did not know God. We believed lies about God and Christ. Any assurance of salvation that we had at that time was based on false religion and was not biblically supported-it was deception.
It is Christ who comes and gives the elect sinner UNDERSTANDING of the truth SO THAT they may KNOW HIM who is true. This is a running theme through the New Testament. Christ says in John 8 that it is the Son who sets one free by means of the truth. Paul writes that Godly repentance leads one to a knowledge of the truth. John writes that it is God who teaches the truth to His people, and because they have been taught the truth, they come to Christ. Jesus Himself says that eternal life is KNOWING the one true God.
God ENSURES and CAUSES His chosen people to KNOW WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM THROUGH THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS CHRIST. IF God teaches you something, you will know it. He gives understanding. He created the human mind. No person that He teaches will fail to grasp what He teaches them because it is not their own capacity which causes them to grasp it, but rather a capacity given by God. The capacity to understand spiritual truth comes from God-He gives it to those He regenerates. Paul makes this very point in 1 Corinthians 2-those who have been made spiritual people understand spiritual truths-natural men cannot understand spiritual truths. That is HOW the elect sinner KNOWS that they are elect and therefore saved-because they KNOW and BELIEVE the gospel-God’s testimony of what He has done in Christ.
The issue keeps coming back to assurance. How do YOU KNOW that you are saved? If you don’t believe the gospel, then you don’t have biblically-based support for assuming that you are saved. Claiming to be saved in spite of failing to believe the gospel is just deception. Check this text out-“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23-ESV. How can you have assurance of salvation when you don’t believe what God says about His Son? Does God not love you enough to teach you the truth? If God doesn’t teach you the truth, then you don’t belong to Him, and believing lies only means you’re still captured by the devil, and have not been set free by the Son through the means of the truth. Repent and believe the testimony of God. That is the only way the assurance you have of salvation will be BACKED UP by the Word of God.