I want to talk about something I feel God has been challenging me with lately. Before I begin, I first want to let you know a little bit about me. I am not a theologian. I don’t have any credentials to be talking on my subject other than my observations and opinions. I have not even taken more than the required Bible courses at JBU. I am human just like you; I have been wrong about many things in my life, and undoubtedly my imperfection will reveal itself in the future.
Knowing that I am imperfect, my convictions and beliefs could be wrong. So don’t assume anything I say is correct. Rather, think it over and pray that God will help us all understand the meaning of tough biblical passages and his will for us.
Of all verses in the Bible, few have stuck out like John 3:16. It is concise, easy to remember, comforting, summarizes the Gospel and critical Christian beliefs, and it’s non-condemning. As Christians who believe that Jesus is God, we are compelled to believe that Jesus’ words are truth and that God cannot lie.
John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV).
I believe that simple factual belief that Jesus is the Son of God and came down to die on the cross for our sins is not enough to receive eternal life. Why do I make what sounds like a heretical statement that opposes Jesus’ own words? Well, I would argue that the basis for this conviction lies in the meaning of the word “believe” in the verse. Could it be that “believe” in John 3:16 refers to more than a factual belief? Could it refer to believing from the heart as evident by one’s actions? I think it does. After all, if John 3:16 were making the claim that factual belief in Jesus is enough to be saved, how do we reconcile this verse with James 2:19?
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (NIV).
In fact the whole passage in James 2 says that factual belief in God is not enough to please God. Because it could be easy to associate John 3:16 with factual belief in God as enough to be saved, I would think that perhaps Mark 12:30 might be a better phrase to use in evangelism these days.
Now I am not suggesting that we delete John 3:16 from the Bible. To me, this would be heresy. Doing this would seem to be an easy way to get one’s name blotted out from the Book of Life. But maybe you have confused “believe” in John 3:16 with just believing in God factually (that God does exist) rather than believing in him through your actions and life. I know I sure have. In hoping to have eternal life and making the least sacrifices as possible, I was definitely guilty of making this confusion.
What about you? Do you see how John 3:16 could be misleading? Do you think there are other verses that do a better job of capturing the Gospel’s message?