“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.”
Belief: what a simple word and unencumbered condition. Nevertheless, it is impossible without the work of God in the heart of a sinner. It is unacceptable to the pride of man as it may be perceived too shallow while all too easy to complicate with further stipulations. Still, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, period. If the evangelical, gospel-preaching church has any discernment within its own message, it must learn to discern between faith in one’s sincerity and faith in Christ. It wasn’t praying a prayer, walking an aisle, signing a card, being baptized, or being morally reformed that saved you if you’re saved; it was resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
If you want to “test” where you’ve placed your faith, consider this question: where do you find your assurance of salvation? I’ve worked with folks of different backgrounds that have embraced a message of denying eternal security; that message actually leaves a breadcrumb trail going back to trusting in one’s performance. If you did something to gain salvation, certainly you can do something to lose it, if that’s how it works. Really, we did nothing to gain salvation, as Christ did the work to gain it for us; believing is a response of faith, but we can’t trust in the act of believing. Either we trust Him based upon His word or we somehow trust in something we’ve done.
Jesus speaks to Nicodemus on the grounds of belief following his conversation on being born of the Spirit. “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” This is following along with v. 2 (no one can teach like this unless He’s come from God) and vv. 11 (“We speak what We know and testify what We have seen”). He is progressing with that concept to say that He, the Son of Man, is the only one who can speak from being from there. No one can speak about the truths of heaven or the heart of God to men except the God-Man Jesus Christ.
In v. 14, Jesus refers back to the passage of Numbers 21:4-9:
Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
My theology teacher in seminary would playfully remind us that the typical antidote to snake bites is not to carry a small bronze casting of a snake on a pole in your pocket; God used something unorthodox to test whether the Israelites would trust Him when they were dying of snake bites. The symbol of their cause of death was the symbol they had to look to for life. It was a picture of the death that we all are dying, ever slowly, as well as the sickness of sin we carry and our hopelessness if left to ourselves. There was no hope for the Israelites if they wouldn’t believe and look upon the fiery serpent, and there is no hope of eternal life for any person if not to look upon the Savior and to trust in His sacrifice as the only means of removing God’s wrath and redeeming them from their sin. Jesus essentially was telling Nicodemus that this was a foreshadowing of the Christ to come, He who was talking to Him.
Finally we look at John 3:16, the most well-known verse in the world. “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.” It starts with the conjunction “for” (joining back to a previous thought from the former verses) and is tied by two other supporting conjunctions, “that.” “For” can also be worded as “because”; John 3:16 is fairly restating John 3:15, but the the main difference is the highlight of God’s love(absent from v. 15).
God’s great love is manifested in two ways: first, that (the result) He sent His only begotten Son. John 3:16 follows the train of thought brought on by Nicodemus in v. 2, that Jesus came from being with the Father. This earthly/heavenly theme runs throughout the conversation. John 3:16 touches upon the love being shown in God sending Him to the world, out of His rightful place in heaven. Secondly, that (the purpose) whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (non-Textus Receptus translations omit “should not perish” but hold the same intent).
Belief is a simple concept but it is founded upon the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation process. All who believe will have eternal life; equally true, all who are predestined to eternal life will believe. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in new birth. John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” Furthermore, Romans 8:30 says, “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” The calling is when the conviction and drawing take place in the Christian story; it’s when a person surrenders to God in faith, or in other words, when they believe. We could really tie both being predestined and called into the first eight verses of John 3, the work of God in bringing us to Him spiritually. Belief is visible element that we see ourselves doing (and it is us doing it), but right in line with Romans 8:30, it’s God who justifies us in our faith and not we ourselves. If you’ve been justified, according to Romans 8:30, the next thing to come is glorification. Isn’t that exciting?
Have you believed on the name of Jesus Christ?
Prayer by Pastor Sam:
God, grow us in the truths of the Gospel of John. Give us a rekindled love for You and a passion for serving You. Help us to show this love to others. We pray for our world and the pressures it is feeling right now, and pray that it might be used to move many people to call out to You for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.