“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should   but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

*This is a continuation of a earlier post entitled, John 3:16: What Does “Believe” Mean?

In our Life Group we were studying this verse – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons have stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

Earlier we had defined “believe in Him” as a surrendered trust in Jesus as our only hope for salvation (eternal life) and a “faith” that suggests following after Christ with a transformed life that includes the desire to be obedient to Him as Lord. In our time together the question was raised: “This verse says that we have everlasting life if we “believe in Him. If so, does it make any difference what we believe as long as who we believe in Jesus?” In other words, is believing in Jesus all there is to saving faith or does what we believe about Him really matter? Or, for clarification: is the most important thing “who” or “what” we believe in? Good question! What do you think?

Karolyn spoke first and quickly said, “You can’t separate the two.” Exactly! History has been filled with those who claim to trust in Christ for salvation (or a form of it) but denied the essence of who He is. Early in the church, the Gnostics come to mind. Today, there many cults, sects, and religions which suggest that faith in Jesus can be central to redemption but cast Him in a lesser light than Scripture itself does. Pluralism does this by saying, Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.” This, of course, discounts Christ’s own claim that He was the only way, truth, and life by which one can know God (John 14:6).

What about believing in a Jesus who wasn’t sinless, really didn’t perform miracles, or was never physically raised from the dead? The latter of these was the constant drumbeat of the early church’s preaching and foundational to true faith. What about a Jesus that wasn’t really God and isn’t the only hope for fallen humanity? Or what about a Messiah who never will return again to rule and reign as He promised?

The core Christian belief is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the
promise of eternal life. Essential beliefs held by Christ-followers include his divinity, humanity, and earthly life as depicted in Scripture. Adhering to authentic Christian faith requires a belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. As one theologian has said, “The whole of Christian teaching would fall to the ground if it were the case that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not events in real history, but stories told to illustrate truths which are valid apart from these happenings.” Also, true disciples of Christ believe that Jesus was both human and the Son of God: God in human form—sharing human frailties and temptations but never acting on them, only seeking to do the will of His father in heaven, never once seeking to make Himself happy in any way but willfully submitting to God as a man, never doing what He wanted to do but what He saw His Father in heaven doing.

Beyond this, believing in Jesus means that He, as God, spoke for God. He was both the message and messenger of the way God expects us to live. The Sermon on the Mount is but one example that Jesus claimed His teachings had the very authority of God. What we believe is that His words are truth and life: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

So, just as Karolyn said (and the group concurred), the answer to the question, “who or what?” is, “Yes!” To “believe in Him” is part and parcel of trusting in what the Word of God reveals about Him. “Who” we believe in and “what” we believe about Him are two sides of the same coin. To believe the “what” of Jesus to be something other than what Scripture reveals and He claimed to be is, in essence, a failure to “believe in Him” with the kind of faith that, as Jesus said, allows us to “not perish but have eternal life.”

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