The last article emphasized the importance of a correct diagnosis in order to find the correct cure. We noted Jesus came that we might have life (salvation), know it (assurance), and live it abundantly (revival). This installment is focused on salvation itself: How can you have eternal life?
In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers a simple answer: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47; cf. 3:15,16,36; 5:24). A single condition is followed by a simple promise, and the key to all of this is the choice of faith that obtains the promise. Man’s responsibility hinges on the verb, believeth. One must believe on Him, and to the believer, God promises eternal life. He who believes on Me has eternal life.
The Choice of Faith
The precision of Jesus’ words touches the entire soul of man. Though one does not have to consciously understand how each element in turn plays its part, all three aspects of the soul (the mind, the affections and the will) are inherently involved in the choice of faith for salvation.
The mind must understand the simple gospel—Christ died for our sins and rose again that all who believe in Him might be saved (1 Cor. 15:1,3-5,11). The message of good news involves three truths and one decision. This message parallels the Holy Spirit’s convicting work toward lost people so they will choose Jesus.
Apart from the Spirit’s convincing work, the natural man does not understand (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the Spirit reproves (convicts/convinces) the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). Herein we see the parallel. Christ (the righteousness we need) died (the judgment we deserve) for our sins (the problem of sin we all have). Along the parallel path, the Holy Spirit convinces individuals that sin is the problem, judgment is the consequence, and Jesus Christ alone is the solution. This is the simplicity of the gospel that must be understood for one to respond by believing in Jesus.
I once asked a lady if she knew her sins were forgiven and had eternal life. She responded affirmatively. When I asked what she was depending on, she said she believed in God. When I asked, “Anything else?” she replied, “Oh yes; you must be baptized too in order to make it.” Her answer revealed a split trust. To properly diagnose the woman’s condition, start as always with the first aspect of the soul, the mind. Did she understand sin is the problem, judgment is the consequence, and Christ alone is the answer? No. For her, God and baptism combined to form the object of her faith and provide a solution. Therefore, based on her words, she was not yet saved as she didn’t understand salvation through Christ alone. I showed her John 6:47, explaining that a split trust reveals a mistrust in Christ alone. She exclaimed in surprise, “I’ve never believed in Jesus!” She then trusted in Jesus alone.
You can, however, understand and not agree. The soul of man is more than the mind, it also includes the affections. That is why the Spirit re-proves. He convinces. When you are convinced of what you understand, you are affected. When you are convinced, you agree. You personalize what you understand. Sin is your problem, judgment is your deserved consequence, and Christ is the solution for you.
I remember an older man who understood the three basic truths. He admitted this is what the Bible teaches, but he did not believe Jesus is God. Let’s diagnose. He understood, but did not agree regarding Jesus. So was he saved? No, for if Jesus is not God, He cannot be the savior. Many were praying for this man, and several days later, the Spirit convicted him. When he prayed, he started by saying, “God, thank you for convincing me that Jesus is God.” He went on to trust in Jesus. I saw him four years later, and he was growing in the Lord.
You must understand the basic truths of the gospel and agree, but the soul of man culminates in the will—the choice of faith based on the mind’s understanding and the affections’ agreement. It is vital to understand the gospel and agree. However, if one stops without continuing on to the will, that person only believes about Jesus. Jesus said you must believe on (in) Him. The precision of the wording demands dependence—a transfer of trust to Jesus alone (the solution) to save from sin (the problem with its consequence). It is the simple look of faith to Jesus, trusting in Him to accomplish what He said He would do—save you. Believing in Jesus is not a matter of merely acknowledging that Jesus can save, but actually depending on Him to save you.
Faith for salvation depends on Jesus to save because of the problem of sin with its consequence. This is not merely trusting God to deliver you from a present crisis like a sickness or accident. You may exhibit such faith, and in mercy, He may address your present suffering, but faith for salvation is altogether different. It is depending solely on Jesus (the answer) to save you from sin (the problem with its penalty).
Faith is a choice, a choice made at a point in time. Some think they have always believed, but believing in Jesus has a starting point. There is a transfer of dependence.
Although faith is an exercise of your will, faith is not a work, but dependence on the worker, on Jesus (Rom. 4:5). It is not a matter of how much faith, but faith in Jesus only. If your object of faith is singular, your faith is whole.
A man once raised his hand at the invitation time of a gospel service to signify he was not saved. But speaking to him afterward, he claimed he was saved when he was sixteen. Obviously, there was confusion so I needed to diagnose. Starting with his understanding, I asked if as a teenager he understood sin was the problem with a consequence and that Jesus was the answer. He said, “Yes.” His mind had grasped the basic understanding. I asked if he agreed he was a sinner that deserved judgment and that Jesus was his only hope. Again he replied, “Yes.” With his affections, he had agreed with what he understood. But when I asked if the best he knew he had depended on Jesus to save him, he said, “No. I prayed, but I don’t know if God did anything. I hope He did, but I don’t know if He did.” This admission indicated he did not believe in Jesus. He did not depend on Jesus to do what He promised. There is nothing wrong with praying, but praying must express faith.
When I showed him Jesus’ words in John 6:47, that he who believes on Jesus has eternal life, his eyes lit up with the realization he could take (depend on) Jesus at His word. He then prayed—but this time trusted in Jesus to save him—and walked away rejoicing.
The Promise of Having Eternal Life
Man’s response to the Holy Spirit’s convincing work is the choice of faith, believing in Jesus. God’s promise to the one who believes is the immediate reception of eternal life. There is much more, but eternal life is the emphasis Jesus made in the Gospel of John. He who believes in Jesus has eternal life. It is not a future transaction. He did not say will have. Jesus spoke to immediate possession of eternal life.
And how long is eternal? Forever! Can you have eternal life for a little while? No, it’s forever. But it gets even better.
Eternal life is not something. Eternal life is someone. Jesus is called “that eternal life” (1 John 1:2; cf. 5:20). When you believe in Jesus, you have His eternal life. Jesus moves in! Salvation is not just a matter of getting you to heaven. It is a matter of getting Jesus into you!
The choice of faith accesses the promise of having eternal life. This is salvation.
John Van Gelderen