For God so loved the world
That he gave his only begotten Son
that whoever believes in him
should not perish
but have everlasting life.
I've tried to structure these messages in a way that will give you a way of remembering what's in this verse and a way of sharing it with others.
Suppose someone at work says, "You're one of those born again Christians, aren't you?" You can say, "I don't know if I fit your category of them or not, why don't we trade viewpoints at lunch today?" And at lunch you can say, "One way to summarize my faith is with the words of Jesus from the gospel of John: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.'
"So Jesus tells us the danger we are in—the danger of perishing. He tells us the design of God to send his Son to rescue us from perishing. He tells us the duty we have to believe in his Son. And he tells us the destiny we have if we believe, namely, eternal life instead of perishing."
I hope all the believers who come regularly to Bethlehem will be able to share that by the time this series is over.
The Duty: Faith
Today we focus on the third "D"—the duty that we have to believe. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish." Let me focus our attention on this act of believing from several different angles.
1. The Vital Link Between Your Soul and God's Love
Believing is the vital link between your soul and God's rescuing love.
If we don't believe, we forfeit the love of God and remain under the wrath of God. John 3:36 says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Believing is our link with the love of God. Notice how Jesus speaks of God's love-rescue: God so loved the world so that believers will not perish. One of the ways to express this is that the love of God is sufficient to save the world, but efficient to save those who believe. Efficient means his love actually saves believers. It is effective in saving them from perishing. The love of God does not have this effect in the lives of those who do not believe. They perish.
So believing is absolutely essential. The world divides into two groups as the gospel moves through it. Those who believe and those who don't. Those who believe are vitally linked to the love of God and are rescued from perishing. Those who don't believe remain under the wrath of God.
Believing is the vital link with the rescuing love of God. It isn't your race; it isn't your IQ; it isn't your church attendance or religious background or how many mortal sins you've avoided. It is whether you believe on the Son of God. So what is that? Believing links you savingly to the love of God.
2. An Ongoing Condition of Heart and Mind
Believing is an ongoing condition of the heart and mind, not a one-time act.
The tense of the verbs all through John's gospel makes this plain. " . . . that whoever believes [not believed] on him might not perish." The present tense in Greek is an ongoing, continuous action. John 20:31 tells us why this whole gospel was written and makes the continuousness of believing plain. It says, "These have been written that you may believe [aorist tense: come to believe, or some manuscripts have present tense] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [present tense: ongoing believing] you may have life in His name."
Believing is a vital link with the rescuing love of God when that believing is the ongoing condition of the heart. It is very dangerous and unwise to orient on a past decision when pondering if you are a Christian. The issue is: are you believing in Jesus Christ the Son of God? Is this the ongoing condition of your heart?
3. Jesus Christ as the Object and Focus
The object or focus of faith is Jesus Christ the Son of God as given by the Father.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him . . . "—the Son of God sent by the Father.
So sometimes Jesus says that believing on the Father who sent him gives life: John 5:24, "He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life." And sometimes Jesus says that believing on the Son gives life: John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life." And John 12:44 gives the reason why both are true: "Jesus cried out and said, 'He who believes in me, does not believe in me but in him who sent me.'"
For Jesus all genuine believing in him was also a believing in God—that God is his Father and that he was sent by the Father as a revelation of the Father and that to know Jesus is to know God. So the ongoing believing that links us to the love of God is believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God sent by God.
4. Agreeing with the Objective Truth About Christ
Believing includes agreeing in the mind with objective truth about Christ.
Believing is not a merely subjective or emotional thing. It has specific truth content—that is true whether you believe it or not. Christianity stands in diametric opposition to the relativism of our day that says, "It's true for me, but I won't make any claims that it should be true for you." Christ is who he is whether we believe him or not. As C.S. Lewis said, I think, "An insane man in a padded cell screaming that there is no sun, has no effect whatever on whether the sun rises and sets on time."
Truth is truth whether we believe it or not. And genuine believing in Jesus agrees with the objective truth about Jesus. For example, in John 17:8 Jesus prays, "The words which you gave Me I have given to them; and they received them, and truly understood that I came forth from you, and they believed that you did send Me."
They understood objective facts about Jesus—he came forth from God the Father. And they believed in those facts. Believing includes agreeing in the mind with objective truth about Christ. Therefore we need know and teach concrete truths about Christ.
5. Satisfaction with All That God Is for You in Christ
Believing includes a satisfaction in your heart with all that God is for you in Christ.
In other words if your believing is only an agreement in the head with facts about Jesus, your faith is no different that the faith of devils—who believe and tremble (James 2:19). Knowing and agreeing with truths is necessary, but it is not enough. It doesn't make you a Christian. Believing means being satisfied with what God is for you in Jesus.
Consider John 6:35, "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'" Believing in Jesus is a coming to him in a way that satisfies you soul-hunger and your soul-thirst. Believing is a very powerful thing. It renovates the heart with new affections. What once satisfied, is now distasteful. Believing is based on new taste buds in the soul. Once the soul was satisfied—or so it thought—with what the world could offer. Now Christ is so satisfying to the soul that the world is losing its power.
Or consider John 14:1, "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me." In other words, believing in what God is for us in Jesus brings relief to our troubled soul. Believing is not merely an intellectual thing, solving philosophical problems. It is that. And some of you should devote yourselves to spelling that out. But believing is also an emotional experience of being relieved of a troubled heart and a hungry soul.
It is coming to Christ and finding him true and satisfying to the deepest longings of the soul.
- Believing is our link with God's rescuing love. There's no rescue without it.
- Believing is an ongoing condition of the heart not merely a one-time act.
- The object or focus of believing is Jesus Christ as he is given by the Father.
- Believing includes mental agreement with objective truths about Christ.
- Believing includes heartfelt satisfaction with all that God is for us in Jesus.
6. A Work of God, Not Mere Human Initiative
Finally, believing is a work of God, not mere human initiative.
This does not nullify what we have said already—that believing is a human act of the mind agreeing with truth and a human act of the heart being satisfied with Christ. That is true. But the Bible teaches that the human mind is blind to spiritual truth; and the human heart is hard to spiritual pleasures. So how shall anyone be saved?
The answer of Jesus is given in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." In John 6:37 he says, "All the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out." In John 6:65 he says, "No one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (Cf. 1:12–13; 8:47; 10:26; 18:37.)
In other words Jesus' answer to the spiritual blindness of the human mind and the spiritual hardness of the human heart is that the Father draws them. He takes away the blindness of the mind and replaces the heart of stone. He grants us to see the truth of Christ's self-evidencing glory and he gives us a taste for the all-satisfying beauty of the Lord.
And he does this very simply through the words of truth—like John 3:16 and like this sermon (John 17:20). God is at work right now lifting the veil of the mind and softening hearts. My plea to you is: don't harden your heart. Don't stiffen your neck. Yield to the to the word of the Lord this morning. Believe on Jesus and you shall not perish but have eternal life.