John 3:16 – More Than Simple Agreement

by Bryant Evans on August 7, 2012

Belief that Jesus is the Son of God is essential for salvation. Would anyone question that? How can you be saved by something or someone that you do not believe in? Unquestionably we must believe in Jesus (1 John 3:23). But as we have said before on John 3:16, belief is more than a simple acknowledgement of some fact. Biblically, belief in Jesus was always accompanied by some action on the part of the believer.

What I wish to show in this article, is that saving belief includes certain actions on the part of the believer. Several examples will help including some from the Old Testament.

John 3:16, Adam & Eve

Adam and Eve both believed in Jehovah God. They enjoyed a relationship with him which was, at first, uncluttered by sin. They had been instructed by God as to how they should live; they could not even touch, let alone eat, of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first couple clearly understood (Genesis 3:2-3). Nevertheless, they were disobedient and were thus punished with expulsion from the Garden, immediate spiritual death and the immediate beginning of physical death.

Clearly, for these two, more than simple belief in God was necessary. They must be obedient to God to avoid his wrath. They were not. Likewise, the present day reader must also be obedient to God. He must surely believe, but he must also obey.

John 3:16 and Noah

Noah was a preacher of righteousness as well as a boat builder.  He was the recipient of grace from God (Genesis 6:8). Noah was obviously a believer in God. He was also obedient to the Lord. repeatedly, the text notes that Noah was obedient (c.f. Genesis 6:22; Genesis 7:5; Genesis 7:9; Genesis 7:16).

Noah was blessed by God for his faithfulness (Genesis 9:1). Does anyone really think that Noah would have been saved from the Flood and blessed by God apart from his careful obedience? Would Noah, or anyone else, be saved in rank disobedience? It was necessary for him to both believe and to be obedient.

John 3:16 and Pentecost

Peter preached the first Gospel sermon in Acts 2. It was a great day as the church began with power. The people who listened to his message already believed in God. They were devout Jews (Acts 2:5) who had come to Jerusalem for  to celebrate Pentecost. What did they now lack? They lacked a belief in Jesus. It is likely that some of the people in the crowd had witnessed the crucifixion. Perhaps some had even been among those hurling insults at the Lord. Peter delivered a masterful sermon which reached back into the Old Testament. His message convinced his hearers that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God.

When they heard Peter, they cried, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). At this point, they believed that Jesus was the Son of God and that he was both Lord and Christ. But their belief was not sufficient. There was more. Thus Peter responded to their simple question with a simple answer. Peter told them to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). The purpose was included. Repentance and baptism brought remission or forgiveness of sins.

The people of Acts 2 believed but they also obeyed. Acts 2:41 is clear that those who were baptized were added to the church. Again, belief must be coupled with obedience.

John 3:16 and Paul

Like the people on Pentecost, Paul was already a believer in God when he met Jesus on the Damascus road. Also like the people of Pentecost, he sought to be obedient upon his belief in Jesus. Paul asked the Lord, “What shall I do, Lord?”  (Acts 22:10). Jesus only told him to go into Damascus where he would be told what to do (Acts 9:6, Acts 22:10). At this point, Paul has yet to be told what to do. The text is in the future tense. What he must do is still coming.

Clearly believing in Jesus now Paul makes his way into Damascus. Ananias comes to him and delivers what Jesus told him to expect; Ananias tells Paul was to do.

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

While Paul’s actual baptism is not recorded, it is not questioned by any student of the Bible that I am aware of. Indeed Paul would argue forcefully that one must show deeds worthy of his repentance (Acts 26:20) and that baptism is the way in which we are united with Christ (Romans 6:3-8). Paul was a believer. But just like Adam & Eve, Noah, and the people of Pentecost, he was also obedient.

John 3:16 and Today

John 3:16 is just as true today as it was when Jesus spoke those beautiful words. God has always expected obedience of his people and today is no different. It is a comfortable doctrine indeed to assert that we need do absolutely nothing towards our own salvation. Such removes the tiniest speck of responsibility from me for the conduct of my life. But such is an incomplete Gospel. Obedience is essential. To be sure, we will stumble and our obedience will sometimes fail but God still delivers those who walk in the light (1 John 1:5-10).

Why would we not do all that the Lord has commanded? Baptism alone does not save but it is a piece of the obedience God requires.

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{ 6 comments }

Colin Lambert August 18, 2012 at 12:45 am

Hi Bryant,

I’d like to put this to your forum and I’d also really appreciate your own thoughts. The contention is this: a person is on their death bed. A person leads them in a saving and heart felt confession of Christ as Saviour and Lord of their life. They don’t have time for baptism and die before being baptised. Do you think they will enter into paradise, or hell because they didn’t have time to be baptised?

Many thanks,

Colin Lambert

Bryant Evans August 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Colin,
Thank you for your thoughts and questions. I’m afraid I cannot can you an answer to this question. So far as I know, the Bible never discusses such a deathbed conversion as you describe. Therefore, since the Bible is silent, I must also remain silent. I will make three observations.
First, God does grant me the privilege of declaring anyone righteous and thus admitting them to heaven. Conversely, I am not to bear the burden of sending anyone to hell. I am perfectly happy to leave those judgments in the hands of our Lord.
Second, I would not know where to turn to offer any assurance that God had set aside his oft stated plan in order to make an exception. I will stand where the Bible speaks but where it does not, I must remain quiet.
Third, I would caution anyone to avoid building doctrine on some supposed exceptional case. It is a dangerous errand indeed and can lead to all kind of problems, not the least of which is substituting our thinking for God’s. We are much better off to simply heed his ancient, yet simple teachings.

Colin Lambert August 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Hi Bryant,

Thanks for your reply. In my opinion the doctrine of salvation covers all situations and is quite clear. The bible isn’t silent on the issue of death bed conversions it is covered in the doctrine of salvation. In my opinion a death bed conversion isn’t an exceptional case. If the bible is the word of God (and it is), I would expect it to cover all scenarios and in particular in relation to such a key doctrine as salvation.

As a moral God our God is bound by what He has said. If you are saying that the bible is silent on such a key issue, how can you personally trust it? What parts of it are certain and what aren’t? Under what scenarios is a person justified in the sight of God and what ones do they fall short?

I’m not building a doctrine on an exceptional case as this is clearly covered in how God saves a person within the doctrine of salvation. Your theology should be able to answer the question. You need to ask yourself the hard questions about your theology in this case rather than have a ‘best fit’ theology. In my opinion with due respect you have avoided the question. Your theology should be able to give an unequivocal reply based on the word of God.

I have in no way substituted my thinking for God’s as the bible means what it says and is explicit in how a person is to be saved.

All my love and if my words seem harsh please forgive me. Remember this is a forum for robust discussion in the formulation of sound doctinal principlies so it isn’t my heart to be harsh.

Colin Lambert.

Bryant Evans August 21, 2012 at 7:00 am

Allow me to re-phrase what I said. It was not as clear as it should have been.
I reiterate that there is no similar case in Scripture. Therefore, no exception from anything I have said can be formulated.
The Bible teaches that baptism is required for salvation. Such is the plain language of many passages such as Matthew 28:28-20; Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38-41; 1 Peter 3:21; et al. Baptism is also the example of the New Testament such as Matthew 3:6, 13-17; John 3:22; Acts 2:41, 47; Acts 8:12-16; Acts 8:36; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47, 48; Acts 16:15, 33; Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13; et al.
Jesus himself also teaches that words alone are not enough. Carefully note the entire context of Matthew 7:21-23. These people were doing good works in the name of Jesus but did not do the will of the Father and were lost. They were doing some things but not all.
Logically, I must conclude that if baptism is required for salvation, and it is, then those not baptized will be lost. Since there is no exception given in Scripture, I must further conclude that the person you speak of is lost. I am not his judge but based upon the Scriptures that is the case.
I think we all agree that there is a point beyond which a person cannot be saved, i.e. death, loss of sanity or ability and even through hardness of heart (Romans 1:24,26, 28). Regardless, those of us who are healthy and blessed have an imperative to preach the Gospel. The need is extreme, the time is decreasing and souls are imperiled.
As always, I appreciate your kind thoughts and challenging questions and comments.

Colin Lambert August 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Hi Bryant,

Thanks for your thoughts.

Love you,

Colin

R.E. Clark August 23, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Understanding and obedience are certainly traits to instill in your flock. As children, we are open to these lessons, but we also test the limits. As adults, we can be less of the former and do more of the latter. Let us love, trust, and honor God as little children!

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