C. C. sent me this captivating question:
Hello there; thank you for all the work you do! I was reading the first article of the 2013 spring issue of JOTGES.i I am writing to see if you would answer in greater depth this objection.
[You cite another writer who said that] “Niemelä says that eternal life becomes the possession of ‘everyone who believes in Jesus for that free gift’ (italics added).”ii [That writer countered] “However eternal life is the result of faith, not part of the object of faith. Nowhere does Scripture claim that one must believe in eternal life to get eternal life, or in the eternality of the gift before the Lord gives the gift” (italics added).
I actually agree with GES about what one must believe in order to have everlasting life because of passages which you later refer to in a footnote (John 4:10-14; John 5:39-40; 6:35; 11:25-27; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:16). But I want to be able to communicate the gospel as simply as possible.
How can it be clearly shown that you must specifically believe in Jesus for everlasting life in a verse as simple as John 6:47 (including “in Me”)?
The idea that everlasting life is merely the result of believing in Jesus, but not the object of faith in Him, is one that has become increasingly prevalent among people who profess to believe in Free Grace Theology (FGT). It is, however, a major inconsistency. In fact, it is so inconsistent with FGT that I do not consider it FGT. Those who claim that people are born again without believing that they receive everlasting life (or an irrevocable salvation, permanent justification, guaranteed home in heaven, etc.) as a result of faith in Jesus are agreeing with Reformed and Arminian theology on this point.
The reason I titled this blog “Is Salvation Merely the Result of Believing in Jesus?” rather than “Is Everlasting Life Merely the Result of Believing in Jesus?” is because some people like to suggest the everlasting life in verses like John 3:16 is merely the result of believing in Jesus and not the object of faith. Yet many of these same people imply that a person must believe that he receives at least temporary salvation as a result of believing in Jesus.iii But they do not come out and say whether or not a person must believe that they receive something as a result of believing in Jesus.
But does it make sense that we can substitute everlasting life in John 3:16 with temporary life or probationary life and still have the same message? Obviously not. That is why I understand some people to be saying that if a person believes in Jesus (which they understand to mean that we believe in Jesus’ deity, substitutionary death on the cross, and His bodily resurrectioniv), then we are eternally secure even if we do not believe we receive anything from Jesus as a result of believing in Him. If the result of believing in Jesus is not part of what it means to believe in Him, then a person who did not believe in life after death would be born again if he believed in Jesus’ deity, death, and resurrection.
C.C. asked what verses specifically say that we must believe in Jesus for what He promises? There are scores. John 6:47, which C. C. cites, is one. “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” If I don’t know that I have everlasting life by believing in Jesus, then I certainly don’t believe what Jesus says about everlasting life in John 6:47.
Paul said that he was an example for those who were going to believe in Jesus “for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16). We must believe in Him for what He promises.
The Lord told the woman at the well that there were two things she needed to believe in order to have everlasting life: “the gift of God” and “who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink’” (John 4:10). The gift of God is explained in John 4:14 as being everlasting life. The Giver of the gift, the one who asked her for a drink, is none other than the Messiah Himself (John 4:25-26). Of course, this fits perfectly with John’s purpose statement in John 20:31. To have everlasting life, one must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in the sense that John means that expression. When we compare its other use in John 11:25-27, we see that it means that Jesus is the Christ who guarantees resurrection and everlasting life that can never be lost to all who believe in Him for it.
Did you ever notice Jesus’ question to Martha in John 11:26: “Do you believe this?” The word this refers to the fact that Jesus promises resurrection and everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it. Her answer was yes, and then she explained why. She knew His promise is true because she believed that He is the Christ, the Son of God.
If Martha had answered, “No, Lord, I do not believe that,” would you conclude that she was born again? No. Why not? Because she did not believe the saving message.
John Piper, himself not a Free Grace advocate, made it clear that it is not enough to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again. He said that we must believe in Him for something. He identified that which we must believe in Jesus for as our justification (see the entire quote here).v While Piper was not clear that we must believe that our justification is sure, since he is one of the Calvinists who suggests we can’t be sure that we believe (we must persevere to prove it and to gain what he calls final salvation), he nonetheless recognizes that we must believe in Jesus for what He promises in order to be saved.
i Bob Wilkin, “Another Look at the Deserted Island Illustration,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Spring 2013): pp. 3-20.
ii Ibid., p. 17.
iii Some who identify as Free Grace say that one must also believe that Jesus is the Savior. Of course, one could believe that Jesus is the Savior without believing that He has saved me. So, it is unclear whether such people believe that one must believe that he himself has been saved by Jesus, at least temporarily. But a few people who identify as Free Grace occasionally say that one must believe that Jesus is his Savior. This implies that the person believes that Jesus has in some sense saved him. However, even that is not certain. A person could believe that Jesus is his Savior in the sense that He died on the cross for his sins to make him savable and yet not believe that Jesus has given him anything.
iv Nowhere in Scripture is belief in any or all of these truths equated with “believing in Him.” It is possible to believe many correct truths concerning Jesus’ person and work and yet not believe His promise of everlasting life.
v John Piper, The Future of Justification (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), pp. 85-86.