…the Lord Jesus tells us of a human condition that must be met: whoever believes in Him. All Jesus requires is belief in His promise. We are all free to come to Him in faith. You would think this emphasis on simple belief would be uncontroversial among Baptists, but you would be wrong because they disagree over the nature of faith.
Jesus says that faith alone is required for eternal salvation. There are plenty of Calvinist and Arminian Baptists who would agree, at least on the surface. They publicly teach that we are justified by faith apart from our works. However, when you ask them what faith is, they redefine it to include works. For example, you’ll often hear preachers say something like this:
You can’t be saved by doing good works. You have to believe in Jesus. Of course, if you truly believe then you’ll do good works. If you aren’t turning away from your sins and reforming your life, you don’t actually believe. We’re saved by faith alone but never by a faith that is alone.
Don’t be fooled. This is a form of salvation by works.
To see why, imagine if the Judaizers had tried that reasoning on Paul. They claimed that Christians couldn’t be saved without being circumcised (Acts 15:1). Paul accused them of compromising justification and abandoning the gospel. Do you think Paul would have been at all impressed if the Judaizers had replied:
Oh Paul, we absolutely agree that salvation is not by faith and circumcision. But that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that salvation is by a faith that circumcises. We are saved by faith alone, that’s true, but if you aren’t circumcising, you don’t really believe.
Paul would have rejected such sophistry and so do Free Grace Baptists. There is no difference between teaching that salvation is by faith plusworks and teaching that salvation is by a faith that works. Both make works a condition of salvation and both are contrary to the freeness of the gospel promise.
The bottom line is that faith is faith and works are works. Hence, according to John 3:16, Jesus requires belief, not behavior.
But what about works? They have an important role to play in helping our neighbors and in Christian growth, maturity, and rewards in the coming Kingdom. But eternal life and eternal rewards are two separate matters. Rewards are earned (Rev 22:12), while eternal life is a gift, received by faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9).
Fourth, the Lord presents the wonderful consequence of believing in Jesus. John 3:16 promises that believers have everlasting life. We don’t get it in the future. We don’t have to earn it or keep it. We have it. Everlasting life is a present possession.