John 3:16 is often referred to as a wonderful summary of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in many ways this is true. However, many allow themselves to be misled or become complacent in reading this popular verse.
16“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
For those who read this at a surface level given the common English translations, a lot hinges on the meaning of “believe in”. This is not simply to acknowledge the historical nature that God became man and walked among us thousands of years ago and then go about doing anything we want, rejecting and rebelling against God, but still expecting God to give us eternal life.
Even Satan and the demons “believe” in Jesus. In fact, they recognize Him instantly… much more readily than people seem to.
11Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!”
27And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. 28Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.”
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
5Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
6and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;
‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
Are we to conclude that just by acknowledging in our minds that the historical figure of Jesus is God we will be saved from the punishment we are due for our sin? The simple answer is … absolutely not. Satan and demons acknowledge and know Jesus.
Let us expand beyond John 3:16 to get better definition of context for the application of the words “believe in”.
16“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21“But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
Note in the broader context we get a much clearer perspective. There is a very big difference between “believing about” Jesus and “believing in” Him. To believe in Jesus is much deeper than just acknowledging a historical reality, but rather it is reflected in our actions. To acknowledge that aerodynamics work and planes can fly is interesting, but may not affect my life at all. Many may acknowledge planes as a means of travel but be deeply fearful and choose never to use them. If I believe in aerodynamics and planes, I will likely use them as a means of transportation.
The broader context of the scripture shows us that truly believing “in” Jesus as God, or not believing, will be reflected in our actions. Truly believing that He died for our sins and rose from the dead means we will practice the truth and come to the Light. Not believing will be reflected by a life filled with evil and ungodly living. Believing “in” Jesus It is so much more than just believing “about” Him.
Sometimes a lot hangs on proper understanding of context of even small words. Pray that God would help you to grow in your faith and believe deeply “in” Jesus as Messiah and not grow complacent just acknowledging the historical reality of Jesus. Believing in Him should be reflected in our behaviors and attitudes. It should affect everything we do and how we do it.
Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? If you die today, do you know for sure that you would be with God in heaven? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.