Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Is Believing in Christ Easy?

A few days ago I received a catalogue in the mail from a Christian retailer. One of the items advertised was a parody of the Staples Easy Button. Instead of the familiar red button with logo, this button is blue with the phrase, “Heaven…it’s easy! John 3:16”. It’s catchy and quickly recognizable but is it proper theology? Is believing in Christ and receiving eternal life as easy as hitting a button?

At the risk of insulting your intelligen
ce I’ll quote the Scripture alluded to on the button:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.(Joh 3.16 ESV)
This verse is one of the most familiar of all verses in the entire Bible. Kids learn it in church at an early age. It’s a concise statement of salvation. Again, however, is it easy to believe in Christ?

First of all, the Greek phrase for “whoever believes in him” is πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον. The verb for “believes” is a present active participle. It can be translated, “whoever keeps on believing in him.” In other words, it isn’t a once-and-for-all situation. The struggle of faith is a continuous action, never over in this life.

Put another way, those who teach that a p
erson can pray for forgiveness once and become automatically and irrevocably good to go for all eternity are wrong. Salvation—a favorable relationship with God—is gained in a moment of time but this is a dynamic relationship that can continue or be severed at a future date. Salvation isn’t static.

I’ll come out and say it: I don’t believe in unconditional eternal security. I don’t believe in,
“Once in grace, always in grace.” That view is contrary to the New Testament record and makes light of the continued need to believe. Granted, there are more responsible teachers and preachers who proclaim that saving faith must be ongoing or it becomes null and void (or never existed to begin with). Sadly, though, there are others who lull people into a false sense of security by advocating that one can live far from God yet still be saved because in the past he prayed sincerely for salvation.

You may argue, "I don't know, Larry. The word 'believes' still sounds pretty simple to me." Well, it all depends on how you interpret John’s definition of faith, of believing, in the Gospel that records chapter 3 verse 16. Is belief in the apostle’s mind something that is a mere one time acceptance of facts and surrender or is belief something more?

Let’s look at a passage in his Gospel and talk about walking:
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (Joh 6.53-66 ESV)
Notice in this passage that the Lord makes a statement hard for some of his “disciples” to accept. (We’re not talking about The Twelve, as verse 67 clearly shows.) The Apostle John gives a parenthetical note that Christ knew who didn’t believe—keep on believing, present active participle—in verse 64. Notice further what happens in verse 66: “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

Do you see the parallel?

To believe = to walk [follow, obey]
To not believe = to refuse to walk [follow, obey]

Thus, in the Apostle John’s mind, the words “believe” and “obey” are compatible! If a person refuses to walk with Christ—either by refusing ever to obey him or later to decide to revoke his decision to obey—then he isn't a disciple of the Lord Jesus!

Tie this in with our discussion; faith, in John's mind, meant obedience so to believe in Christ as mentioned in John 3.16 is a faith that obeys Christ! It isn't simply praying a prayer. It's praying a prayer...and walking...walking...walking with him in obedient surrender.

Back to my question: Is believing in Christ and receiving eternal life easy?

What do you think?