Dick read my recent blog entitled “How to Share Our Faith Clearly and Comfortably by Evangelizing the Way Jesus Evangelized” (see here). That led him to ask this question:
Thank you for your ministry, which I have found helpful and encouraging. I do have a question for you, however, centering around the word believe in the Gospel of John. You write that “Jesus Christ guarantees ETERNAL life to all who simply believe in Him. No strings attached.” Wouldn’t it also follow that to believe in Jesus also means that you believe in Him as the savior who takes away our sins? I have never heard of anyone who believes in Jesus and yet denies that they are sinners. Have you? It just does not make sense to me that you can evangelize someone without raising the issue of our being sinners in need of a Savior, and that to believe in Him means you acknowledge Jesus as that savior.
No. I have never met anyone who believed in Jesus for everlasting life and yet who did not believe in his own sinfulness. I certainly have not heard of the more extreme case Dick asks about of someone denying that he is a sinner who believed in Him for everlasting life.
Why would anyone believe in Jesus for eternal salvation if he did not believe that he needed that salvation? That would not make sense.
However, it is a totally separate question as to whether we must tell the people we are evangelizing that they are sinners in order to evangelize clearly. If that is the case, then the Lord Jesus did not evangelize Nicodemus clearly, for He did not bring up the sinfulness of Nicodemus (see John 3:1-18).
Of course, Nicodemus knew that he was a sinner. The Lord Jesus had no need to bring up that issue since it was already believed. In fact, when we study the way Jesus evangelized as reported in John’s Gospel, we do not find Him ever trying to convince people that they are sinners. On occasion He did try to convince them that they were slaves of sin (John 8:34–59). His listeners did not believe that. However, that was not part of His normal evangelistic message. When He spoke to the woman at the well, He did tell her that she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man to whom she was not married. But He did not do that to convince her she was a sinner. She was well aware of that. He told her about her marital status to prove to her that He is the Messiah (compare John 4:16-18 with verses 19, 25, 28, and 29).
I have only met a handful of people in my lifetime who claimed to be sinless. And I have my doubts that even those people believe that. They were being argumentative. But if a person actually believes that he is sinless, then he most assuredly does not believe he needs salvation.
In my understanding of John 16:7-11, the Holy Spirit convicts every single person on earth that he is a sinner, that God is righteous (i.e., He is not a sinner), and that judgment is coming. So, I believe that unless people are extremely hardened, they continue to know what the Spirit has shown them—that they are sinners, that God is righteous, and judgment is coming.
I have no problem with someone quoting Rom 3:23 and saying, Everyone on earth, myself included, has sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God. But I do have a problem if the person then feels the need to get the person to admit that he has lied, lusted, cheated, stolen, or committed sexual immorality. I do not see that example in Scripture, and I think that tends to bruise the fruit (as we used to say in Campus Crusade for Christ, Cru).
But I also have no problem leading with the message of John 3:16 and having a dialogue with someone rather than presenting them with a 10 minute or longer memorized speech. If I quote John 3:16 and say that Jesus guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it, then they may well ask questions. But people need to turn from their sins, right? Bad people cannot go to heaven. You are not telling me that crazy once saved, always saved message, are you?
I have been asked those sorts of questions and I bet you have as well. That leads to a great discussion. I respond with the broken record approach: The Lord Jesus actually promises everlasting life to whoever believes in Him. That is exactly what He says in John 3:16. And since every human being is a sinner and only God is good, that means that bad people can go to heaven and that once saved, always saved is indeed what He promises. That is the point of the cross. He took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), which means that He removed the sin barrier. Because of the cross, our sins are not the issue in terms of salvation. The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the issue. If we believe in Him, then we have everlasting life that cannot be lost.
I think the reason why many people think that they cannot evangelize clearly without trying to convince someone that he is a sinner is because that is part of our modern Evangelical tradition. But it was not the way that the Master evangelized. Nor is it the way that His apostles evangelized (cf. Acts 15:7-11; 16:30-31; see also Eph 2:8-9; 1 Pet 1:23; Jas 1:18; 1 John 5:9-13; Rev 22:17).