John 3:16 is probably the most popular and well known Bible verse there is. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The message that all one must do is believe sounds incredibly simple and easy. Is this really all there is to it? We know that God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), so that must be all there is to it right? But if all believers did throughout human history was believe in Jesus, would the Gospel of Jesus Christ be spread? Even demons believe in Jesus but they certainly don’t spread the Gospel, obey His teachings, and inherit salvation (James 2:19).
I am not a theologian but after a strong tugging by the Holy Spirit I knew I needed to write this difficult blog. As I began to write, the Holy Spirit led me to do some research on John 3:16. It turns out that there are many, many people that believe the verse is actually mistranslated or misinterpreted. I found that the ancient greek meaning of pisteo, the word used for believe in John 3:16 can actually mean to obey. If we use this meaning in John 3:16 we get, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever obeys him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Doesn’t this translation fit with the rest of John’s writings?
Let’s look at some of Jesus’s words that John recorded:
John 8:51 “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
Revelation 22:13-14 “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands.”
John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,”
John 15:10 “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love,”
John 15:13-14 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”
If all it took was belief in Jesus why would Jesus be seemingly astonished in Luke 6:46 and say, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
The first words recorded in the Bible of Jesus speaking to us are about believing in the Gospel but He didn’t just say to believe. Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” What does repent mean? The merriam-webster dictionary says :to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life. Repenting is not just about an apology. There should be a change of heart that changes our actions. Acts 26:20 “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” While it’s true that deeds don’t save us, if our heart is right, we will have deeds. Faith or belief without deeds is useless (James 2:17).
When we are born again we become the new creation. God’s laws are written in our hearts. When God lives in us we can’t help but look and think differently than the world. If we try to be of this world after we have been changed we will be very uncomfortable because it goes against our new nature. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” The old creation was controlled by our desire for pleasure and was self-seeking. The new creation is controlled by God’s spirit and desires what God wants.
How do we know if we are born of the spirit? Romans 8:5-6 “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
In part two we will look at the renewing of the mind and what it looks like to have your mind set on what the spirit desires.