Eternal life is mentioned in each Gospel, but only the Book of John declares you must believe in Jesus to receive eternal life. In the other Gospels, Jesus said those who follow Him and put Him and the Gospel first will receive eternal life (Matthew 19:28-29, Mark 10:29-30, Luke 18:29-30). Jesus also said those who obey the commandments will receive eternal life (Matthew 19:16-17). It is only in the Book of John that Jesus said you must believe in Him to receive eternal life
Believe the Unbelievable
Eternal life . . . who can imagine such a thing? It sounds illogical, but it is a key tenet of Christianity. It is a good idea to step back occasionally and take a fresh look at this topic, like an unbeliever or skeptic looking for some tangible evidence. What evidence can be found for life after death? Other than Lazarus, Jesus, and the Bible, we have none.
Step back and approach this like Martha did when Jesus visited after the death of her brother Lazarus. In John 11:25-26, Jesus said to her, ”I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? She answered “Yes, Lord”. Later, Jesus said, ”Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). What is God’s glory?
God’s glory is His goodness, as defined by God Himself with emphasis on His mercy and compassion (Exodus 33:18-1). What did Jesus do that showed God’s glory? He prayed to the Father to raise Lazarus from the dead, and Lazarus walked out of the tomb! Yes, God’s glory is His goodness, and God is beyond good, abounding in mercy and compassion, to give eternal life.
When we think of eternal life, we typically think of Jesus raising us from the dead one day, but it actually starts before that. Eternal life begins, not at some point in the future, but the day a person is born again, for that is the day Jesus comes to live in him or her (Colossians 1:27). This is why Jesus said ”whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Obviously He did not mean a new believer would never die physically; rather, a born again Christian will never die spiritually because once in Christ, he or she begins eternal life in Christ!
Jesus Gives Eternal Life or Condemnation
Jesus came from heaven to do the Father’s will (John 6:38). What is the Father’s will? ”For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Jesus made it very clear that eternal life (everlasting life) comes from Him and no one else. He made it equally clear that, if you do not believe in Him, you will be condemned.
Even non-Christians are familiar with the well-known scripture:
”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.” (John 3:16)
Not as well known is the fact that in John 3:16-18 Jesus used the words perish/condemn/condemned as often as He used the words eternal life/save the world/not condemned. John 5:24-30 is similar in that Jesus said ”whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned,” but then went on to emphasize how He will come again, not to save, but to judge, and ”those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
If we need to believe in Jesus to receive eternal life, what does believe in really mean?
What Does it Mean to Believe in Jesus?
You may have heard that you need to receive Jesus to be saved, but that is not what Jesus said. When Jesus used the word receive, He said we need to:
- Receive the Kingdom of God like a little child (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17)
- Receive an answer to our prayers (John 16:24)
- Receive disciples, for this is the same as receiving Jesus (Matthew 10:40)
Where does the idea of receiving Jesus come from? In John 1:12, it is written: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So to receive Him is to believe in Him. This may seem like splitting hairs, but is it? I receive gifts and other things that I passively accept; but when I believe IN something, my heart and soul is actively responding and involved. It is different, just like it is different having a belief vs. having a belief in something. A belief in tangible facts is not the same as believing in the intangibles behind the facts.
Let’s use an analogy based on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (the right of citizens to bear arms). There is a big difference between owning a gun (a literal, real world fact) and believing in the right to own that gun in order to protect oneself, one’s family and one’s property from enemies and governmental tyranny (the intangibles behind the literal fact). A person who does not support the Second Amendment still acknowledges the real world fact that a person can physically own a gun (even though they don’t think they should be able to). But that is not the same as believing in the Second Amendment, believing in a person’s right to own that gun for protection. When people say they believe in the Second Amendment, they are saying they believe in something that goes way beyond a belief in the physical act of owning a gun.
It is the same with believing in Jesus. Jesus said we must know and believe in Him to receive the gift of eternal life, but this is not the same as simply believing the fact that He is the Son of God who came to save the world. Even the demons believe there is a God and acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son, but they are not saved (James 2:19, Luke 8:27-28)! Believing in is much more than that. To be saved, you do not just believe the facts, that Jesus came to earth, died to atone for the sins of mankind, and will come again. You also believe in Jesus, meaning all He was, all He taught, and all He stood for, including His claim as Savior (John 14:6). When you believe in anything, including Jesus, there follows a response.
When you believe in Jesus, you have embraced Him with your whole heart. When you believe in Jesus, you believe all He is and all He stands for. You stand with Him, live for Him, and are willing to die for Him. You deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him, dying to self so that Christ can live in and through you (Luke 9:23-24, Galatians 2:20).
It is not enough to just passively receive facts about Jesus and who He was; you must actively believe in Him. Follow Him (Matthew 4:19). Feed on His words (John 6:57-64). Lose your life by giving it to Him (Matthew 16:24-25). Do not just believe the facts. Believe in Jesus to receive the gift He offers: Eternal life.