Some people claim that you cannot be saved until you are first convicted of your sin. They deny that anyone can believe in Jesus without that conviction. To them, the law must always come before preaching grace—without exception. Otherwise, believing in Jesus for salvation does not count.
There are many reasons why someone might believe in Jesus for eternal life. Being convicted of your sin is just one of them. It’s a good one, but there are others.
In his book Existential Reasons for Belief in God, Clifford Williams argues: “Most people of faith acquire their faith partly because they feel that it meets what I am going to call existential needs and partly because they think that it makes sense or is true” (p. 17).
What are existential needs?
Williams gives examples such as needs for “cosmic security,” “a longing for heaven,” a desire for “goodness,” a desire for “a larger life,” and to be unconditionally loved (pp. 23-24). If someone thinks that God can meet one or more of those needs, it is reasonable to believe in Him for them.
To apply Williams’ insight to Jesus’ promise of eternal life—couldn’t someone hear that promise and believe it for several different reasons? Here are four possibilities.
First, someone might come to faith because he feels his sin and guilt and knows that death is looming. So Jesus’ promise of life everlasting comes as a fantastic answer to that need.
Second, someone else might just as easily believe the promise because she has not known much affection in this world and longs to be unconditionally loved. So when Jesus reveals that God loves the world, including her, it answers her desire for love, and she believes.
Third, someone else might think his present life is insignificant, unaccomplished, and unfulfilling, and he finds it hard to believe that he was put on this earth only to suffer, die, and be forgotten. He longs for more time, more meaning, and a better future. And Jesus’ promise of everlasting life makes sense of those longings. So he eagerly hears the promise and believes it.
And fourth, I can imagine someone else feeling desperately insecure. Nothing in life seems certain. Not our health, jobs, finances, or relationships. It’s all falling apart or could fall apart at any moment. So when she hears the promise that believers are secure forever and will never perish, no matter what, that promise of security rings true, leading her to faith in Christ.
Do you see how any of those “existential” reasons might lead someone to believe in Jesus for eternal life? Those are just four examples. I’m sure you can think of many more. God can use them all to bring someone to faith in Christ.
Yes, there is only one saving message, but there are many reasons for believing it.