Yesterday I was reading an author who identifies himself as a Free Grace proponent. He was talking about what saving faith is. He said that some Free Grace people say that faith is simply being persuaded. His view is that saving faith must include believing facts. The words must include bothered me. After saying that mental agreement is a part of saving faith, he then went on to explain that some passages say that saving faith includes an act of the will. You must not only be persuaded, but you must also respond with your will.
He did not say what this willful response is. But that makes certainty of everlasting life impossible.
If saving faith is more than simply being convinced that Jesus guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him, then what is it?
The words believe and faith have become mystery words in Christianity. That is a problem since God only gives everlasting life to those who believe in Jesus.
In WW2, the Germans had a code that was nicknamed the enigma code. Alan Turing and other math geniuses in England finally cracked the code. The cracking of the enigma code likely reduced the length of the war by a few years.
The words whoever believes in Him as found in John 3:16 are not an enigma code. They are straightforward words. A child can understand what Jesus is saying. He promises that whoever believes in Him will not be eternally condemned but has everlasting life.
If the President said, “Believe me, I’m going to sign an executive order shutting down the Keystone Pipeline,” you would know that whether he does that or not does not depend on whether you believe it or not.
But, unlike John 3:16, that illustration lacks a stated benefit from believing the promise.
Imagine a world (in the not too distant future) in which the government can read the minds of its citizens. The leader of the government made this promise: he who believes in me and my leadership of the freedom party will never be homeless but has guaranteed lifetime housing in a mansion. If you believed him, and that means, of course, that you believed the promise he makes, then you would immediately find yourself in a beautiful mansion. There would be no decision of the will on your part. You either believed the leader or you did not. If you believed him, then you got the lifetime mansion.
Now it would be possible for someone who did not believe that to come to believe it. But that would not happen by him simply deciding to believe. No one can believe something that he is convinced is not true. He could come to believe that by looking again at the evidence. If many of his friends who indicated that they believed that suddenly had one of those great homes, he would likely quickly be convinced that the promise is true.
Of course, in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life, the promised outcome is not something that you can see. You can see a friend living in a new home. But you cannot see everlasting life in your friend.
A person who hears from many of his friends that they now have everlasting life by faith in Christ may be interested. He might want to believe that is true. He might be willing to believe it. But he must be convinced. That is what belief is.
How can someone who does not believe Jesus’ promise of life come to believe it? He can not only look carefully at the evidence (e.g., the Gospel of John), he can also pray and ask God to open His eyes.
I know I said above that belief is not an act of the will, and here I am saying that a willingness to believe can result in a person seeking God and then coming to faith. Those statements are not contradictory. If a person does not believe something, he can study the evidence carefully, and by doing so he might be persuaded.
Jesus proclaimed the faith-alone message to Jewish people who were hostile to it. They were steeped in works-salvation thinking. On one occasion He said, “you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Being willing to come to Jesus, that is, being willing to believe in Him (John 6:35), is different from saying, “I want to believe, and so I do.” Being willing to believe something is not the same as believing it.
I am willing to believe that universalism is true. But I do not believe that because the Scriptures clearly contradict that idea.
Being willing to believe in Jesus may result in a person believing in Him. In fact, it will if the person is diligently seeking the truth (John 7:17; Acts 17:27; Heb 11:6). However, if a person is willing to believe in Jesus but does not do anything about that willingness, he likely will not come to faith. (I say likely because God can confront the person again and then he might actually start diligently seeking.)
Jesus promises everlasting life to whoever believes in Him. It really is that simple. You do not need to be a math genius or a theologian to believe in Him. You just need to be convinced that He is telling the truth.