I recently heard a message by R. C. Sproul on John 8:30-32. The following so caught my attention that I transcribed it: “The Bible knows nothing of a salvation that is so cheap that all one has to do is embrace the idea that Jesus has died on the cross for them without having any demand placed upon that person to repent and to submit in obedience to Christ.” Dr. Sproul made it very clear that a person can believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior, his Sinbearer, and yet not get into heaven. He said that only those who endure in a life of discipleship will actually be eternally saved.
Is salvation “so cheap” that all a person needs to do is put his faith in Christ alone to save him from hell? Yes. Better yet, it is that FREE. Salvation from hell is not cheap. It is absolutely free. Grace is not grace if I must pay some price. Cheap suggests something which we purchase at a great discount relative to its value. Free suggests something which we don’t purchase at all– rather, something which we receive as a gift.
How, then, is John 8:30-32ff. to be understood?
It is quite common to suggest that those mentioned in verse 30 who believed in Jesus did not “really” believe. Often it is said that they only had a superficial or temporary sort of faith. Jesus’ words and the crowd’s responses in verses 33 through 59 are given as proof of this conclusion.
I would suggest that such a conclusion is completely unwarranted. It fully misses the point of the verses in question. Four points should make this clear.
First, saving faith is clearly in view since John uses the expression “believe in”–pisteuo eis in Greek–in verses 31-32. In John 3:16 he used the same two words to say that whoever believes in Him has eternal life. The people referred to in John 8:31-32 certainly fall within the category of “whoever.” John 3:16 doesn’t qualify “whoever.” I love the old hymn of the faith, “Whosoever Surely Meaneth Me.” It is an error of the greatest magnitude to suggest that by pisteuo eis here John means a sort of faith which is impotent to save.
Second, the context clearly distinguishes between being a believer (v 30) and being a disciple (v 31-32). The former occurs at a point in time and is conditioned only upon believing in Christ. The latter occurs over time and is conditioned upon ongoing obedience and good works.
Third, the people referred to in verses 33 and following were clearly unsaved at the time Jesus was speaking with them (cf. v 37-41, 44-47). On three occasions Jesus told them that they did not believe Him (vv 45-47).
Fourth, it necessarily follows from points one through three above that the people being referred to in verses 30-32 are different from those being referred to in verses 33 and following. Notice how in the entire chapter Jesus was speaking to a large crowd made up primarily of Jews who heartily rejected Him and His message (see John 8:3,13,21-22,37, 40,44-47,48,52,59). Verses 30-32 form a sort of digression. In the midst of a sea of people who rejected Jesus there were some who believed in Him.
Therefore, there is no such thing as a faith in Jesus Christ alone as one’s Savior which will not save from eternal condemnation. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but has everlasting life. That is a promise that makes my day over and over again.1