Following a recent sermon I was questioned about John 3:16 by a very kind lady. She held that baptism was not necessary for salvation. Her reasoning was that John 3:16 said all who believed would be saved. Our discussion seemed to turn on the meaning of “believes” in the Golden Text.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
There are really only two options. “Believe” can mean nothing more than a simple mental assent or agreement; it can also speak to something broader and more inclusive. I hold to the latter. Biblical belief is far deeper. It is a faith which drives one to obey his Lord.
For example, in the very same chapter Jesus says this:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36).
Notice in verse 36 a contrast between the one who believes and has eternal life and the one who does not obey and is lost. We do no damage to the text when we say that obedience is necessary to avoid eternal condemnation. Indeed, obedience is a necessary outcome of the one who loves Jesus:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21).
Then, in response to a question from Judas, Jesus answered:
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” (John 14:23-24)
I think we agree that the belief of John 3:16 involves more than simple mental agreement. If there remains any question we would ask for some clear, Biblical example of a person saved by simple assent or agreement. The kind of belief that saves in John 3:16 is an obedient belief or faith. As James wrote:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Indeed, the saving belief or faith of the Christian involves action. The only real question that remains is how much action. We will answer that question next.