News flash: Eating two pounds of Awful Tasting Vegetable X every day may reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 40 percent. Isn’t that exciting? You’re changing your family’s dietary regimen even as you read, right?
Probably not. And for the same reasons I am not. One, we’ve heard this before and had more research debunk the findings a year later. Two, reducing the risk of a future condition is, at best, a nebulous prospect. You are 40 percent less likely to have a heart attack now? That’s hardly a guarantee, especially when Awful Tasting Vegetable X is on the menu. And that leads into the main point, point three: This blessing to our health “may” happen. Covering our bases much?
I am thankful every day that the assurances God offers us through Jesus Christ are of a very different nature. We read in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Not think. Not hope. Know. When we have a proper knowledge of what John and the other inspired New Testament writers have given us, and we “receive the word implanted” (James 1:21), we can have utter confidence in our salvation.
When we read John 3:16 in the King James version, we may think that believers “should not perish” in the sense that they ought not (given that they have enough faith to come to Him in the first place) but that they may anyway (if they do not act on their faith through obedience, including and particularly baptism). But that is not how the text is supposed to be read. The New American Standard Bible reads “shall not perish,” which is not necessarily a better translation but at least removes the confusion.
If you have questions, look at verse 36 in the same chapter. The KJV reads, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Why go through all the contortions to make faith conditional in verse 16 when it is proclaimed without conditions just 20 verses later?
Let me be clear: Salvation is only assured to those who are truly committing themselves to the gospel. It can be missed (2 Thessalonians 1:9), and it can be lost (Galatians 5:4). And it is absolutely dependent on deliberate submission to the requirements placed on us in the gospel — including baptism (Galatians 3:27; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21; etc.). But the true believer is already committed to obedience. The idea of trying to be saved in the absence of obedience is unthinkable for such a one.
Therefore “believe” in John 3:15-16 must necessarily involve obedience. Belief in the absence of obedience is “dead” (John 2:17) and cannot possibly be the result of eating the “living bread” (John 6:51) and drinking the “living water” (John 4:10). We need not even leave the context of John 3 to determine that this is the case. Jesus is comparing His own death on the cross to the story of the serpent in the wilderness. Numbers 21:6-9 records how God sent “fiery serpents” to chasten the people when they complained, and how Moses constructed a serpent of bronze in response. Afflicted ones had only to look upon Moses’ serpent to live — but they had to look! The command was simple, but it had to be obeyed. And when believers look to Jesus on the cross for salvation, they hear Him say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Even earlier than that, Jesus told Nicodemus that being “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) was necessary for one to access the kingdom. What could “born of water” possibly mean other than being baptized — especially given the “new birth” imagery consistently attached to baptism (Colossians 2:12-13; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 1:3)?
Jesus was not trying to tell Nicodemus that “simply believing” was all that would be necessary, any more than Paul meant that when talking to the jailer (Acts 16:31). His point, and Paul’s, was much simpler and more beautiful than that. It is the message of the gospel: Faith in Jesus will save you from your sins. If you truly believe, you will be truly saved. And there is nothing that anyone or anything can do about it (Romans 8:38-39).
Truly, this is “blessed assurance.” Truly, this is “a foretaste of glory divine.”