By Mike Lii
During this time of year, children are often asked, “Do you believe in Santa?” It is interesting to note that when it comes to answering this question, people have nowhere near the level of confusion or over-analysis that they have about answering the question: “Do you believe in Jesus?”
Most interpret the question, “Do you believe in Santa?” to mean, “Do you believe Santa exists?” or, “Do you believe Santa will bring gifts to children who have been good?” Most are simply satisfied that a child’s answer of “Yes” or “No” accurately reflects what the child believes about Santa. There are no follow-up questions, such as:
- “Do you really believe in Santa?”
- “Is this a heart-faith in Santa versus a head-faith or mere intellectual-assent to Santa?”
- “Have you decided for Santa?”
- “Have you surrendered your life to Santa?”
- “Have you given your life to Santa?”
It is unfortunate that patently nonsensical questions about a children’s fantasy are thought to reveal theological insight when applied to the question, “Do you believe in Jesus?” The nature of the faith or belief in Santa is the same as the nature of the faith or belief in Jesus. In both instances, the faith or belief is a conviction that some proposition or promise is true. The key difference isn’t in the nature of the faith or belief, but in the person in whom one has faith or belief. One person is pure fiction and fantasy; the other Person is a true historical figure who proved His promises and the truth of His guarantees by dying on the cross and rising from the grave.
Everyone understands that the question, “Do you believe in Santa?” must be a shortened form of a question involving a proposition about Santa. The expression, “I believe in Santa,” makes no sense devoid of something about Santa that is believed. The expression “believe in Santa” must be an abbreviated version of some larger proposition that is believed about Santa, such as his existence or his promise to bring presents to good children.
Similarly, one cannot believe in Jesus absent a specific proposition to believe about Jesus. A question that clearly addresses this is: “According to the Gospel of John, what is the proposition to be believed concerning Jesus?”
The Apostle John uses the verb believe almost 100 times in his Gospel. The most common use (thirty-one times) explicitly references believing in Jesus for eternal life or the concept of everlasting life–a life that can never be lost; a life with Jesus in a wonderful place forever.1 For example, John 3:16 explicitly references eternal life:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Although the term everlasting life is not used in John 14:1-2, the concept of everlasting life is present in the passage:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
Less than ten occurrences of believe in John’s Gospel explicitly refer to something other than believing in Jesus for eternal life.2 For example, the nobleman in John 4:50 believed Jesus’ word that his son would recover from his sickness:
Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way.
Another example is the Jews in John 9:18, who did not believe that Jesus healed a man born blind:
But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight.
Sixty-four uses of the term believe in the Gospel of John are not explicit about the content of the belief. These occurrences are most commonly expressed as “believe in Him,”3 “believe in His name,”4 “believe in Me,”5 and “believe Me.”6 It is important to ask, “In these occurrences, what is the content or proposition that is being believed?”
Among those who diminish the stated purpose of John’s Gospel—evangelism—these statements about believing in Jesus are frequently taken out of context in order to advance the position that eternal life is the result of believing some truth about Jesus that is not specifically related to eternal life. According to this view, eternal life is not part of the content or focus of belief. However, each use of the word believe in John’s Gospel, whether specifically related to eternal life or not, must be understood not only in its immediate context but also within the context of the entire Gospel, especially regarding John’s stated purpose. If the proposed content does not fit both the immediate context and the overall purpose of the Gospel of John, then such proposed content must be rejected.
The purpose of John’s Gospel is stated in 20:30-31:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.
The purpose of John’s book is that the reader or listener “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” What does “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” mean? We are given its meaning in John 11:25-27. Jesus says to Martha:
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Notice that Jesus tells Martha that He is the Resurrection and the Life, that every believer in Him will live even if he dies, and that every believer who lives will never die spiritually.7 In other words, Jesus tells Martha that He guarantees and gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Him for eternal life. Jesus then asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” He is asking, “Do you believe what I just stated?”
Notice Martha’s response in John 11:27:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Martha responds affirmatively to Jesus’ question and instead of repeating what Jesus has just stated, Martha responds that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God.” Martha has just equated the title “the Christ, the Son of God” with Jesus’ statement about eternal life. Martha’s response can, therefore, be understood to mean:
“Yes, Lord, I believe that You (the Christ, the Son of God) guarantee and give eternal life to everyone who believes in You for eternal life.”
Since the purpose of the Gospel of John is to direct the reader to believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God,” this is the same as directing the reader to believe that Jesus is the One who gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Him for eternal life. Whenever John uses the word believe without specifying the content of such belief, it makes no sense to pick something from the immediate context as the content to be believed and then state that eternal life results from believing that content.
For example, one may argue that “His disciples believed in Him” in John 2:11 refers to their belief that Jesus changed water into wine and that anyone who believes Jesus changed water into wine receives eternal life as a byproduct, whether they know it or not. But the only interpretation of 2:11’s “His disciples believed in Him,” which is consistent with John 3:16 and John 20:30-31, is that because they had just seen Jesus change water into wine, His disciples believed that He gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.
In the same way, when John’s Gospel does not specifically state the content of belief, we can understand the expressions “believe in Him,” “believe in His name,” “believe in Me,” and “believe Me,” as shorthand for believing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” the One who gives eternal life to every believer in Him.
The nature and quality of believing in Santa and believing in Jesus are similar. Both terms reflect a belief in some proposition regarding the object of belief. In both instances, belief is understood as a persuasion or conviction that some proposition is true. It makes no sense to believe in Santa or to believe in Jesus without specifying the content of what is believed.
However, the difference between believing in Santa versus believing in Jesus is vast—not because of a difference in the level of belief, but because of the difference between the objects of belief. Believing in Santa for gifts at Christmas is futile because Santa is fictitious and therefore powerless.
On the other hand, believing in Jesus for eternal life is believing in the One who created the heavens and the earth, who willingly sacrificed Himself on the cross for every single human being, and who triumphantly rose from the grave.
Faith in Jesus for eternal life never fails because we have Jesus’ own word on it. Jesus has promised:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Mike Lii is a finance attorney. He and his wife, Letitia, a member of the GES board, and their son, Payton, live in Dallas and serve at several Free Grace churches. Mike and Letitia also run the Zane Hodges Library online (zanehodges.org).
1 See John 3:15-16, 18, 36; 4:42; 5:24, 38-40; 6:35-36, 40, 47, 69; 7:31; 9:35-38; 10:24-28, 36-38; 11:25-27; 12:47; 14:1-2; 20:31.
2 See John 2:22, 23; 4:21, 50; 5:46-47; 9:18.
3 See John 2:11; 4:39; 6:29; 7:5, 39, 48; 8:30; 10:42; 11:45, 48; 12:37, 42.
4 See John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 20:31.
5 See John 7:38; 12:44, 46; 14:12; 16:9; 17:20.
6 See John 5:46; 8:46; 10:38.
7 We know He is not talking about physical death because, in the previous verse, He referred to believers who die physically. In v 25, the Lord explains that at “the resurrection,” He will resurrect believers into His kingdom. In v 26, He explains that as “the life,” He gives everlasting life that cannot be lost to living people who believe in Him for that life.