It is wrong and unloving to ever think that John 3.16 teaches that all you have to have is the right doctrine in your head and you will be saved. “Whoever believes” actually has a very different meaning depending on whether you think the Bible is God-centered or man-centered. “Whoever” does not mean “anyone”; in this verse it means “every one.” In fact it is literally “every believing one.” “God loved the world in such a way that he gave his only Son, that every [single] one who believes in him, will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3.16 is a promise, not an invitation.
And “believes” does not mean “thinks rightly.” It means “trusts”. Lots of people think rightly about Jesus. Just as many will say “Lord, Lord,” many will also say “I believed in you.” Let us not be so quick to pronounce salvation on those who say they believe if they show little evidence of the new birth. And the best evidence of the new birth is that they always change whenever the truth is presented in love to them. Always.
If we cannot even get John 3.16 right, what hope have we for a lost and dying world?
Pray for me as I take Kailua Baptist Church through a three to four month Sunday School class on Baptist polity, which I entitled “What is a Southern Baptist Church?”. The goal is to revise the church by-laws! Yes, you read that right. My prayer is that we change our by-laws. I believe God can keep us on the same page as we go through the Scriptures together. But I do ask for your prayer. Right now, the by-laws describe a church with a single pastor, multiple deacons, and a church council. I would like us to change to an elder-led, congregationally governed church. Please pray that God’s Word remain our authority no matter what.
I have to give a shout out to Kevin Deyoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, MI. I follow his blog regularly, and recommend it highly, but two recent posts have solidified in my mind that he is one that God has particularly gifted as a communicator and leader among evangelicals.
One is on parenting.
The other is on being better Bereans.
Praise the Lord for this brother.
John 16.23-24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
The key seems to be “until now” you have not asked in my name. It is because only now is the gospel being fulfilled. But now, Jesus has purchased EVERYTHING necessary for the joy of the believer. That means if we pray for something and do not get, it was not necessary for our joy.
John 16.26: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
Prayer is also our opportunity to have direct access to the Father through Christ and experience his Fatherly love for us in His responses.
My point from John 14, 15, and 16 is that these “whatever you ask in my name” passages are not for us to think that we must be doing something wrong if we are living godly lives, and yet God will not take the cancer away, or bring a spouse, or prevent tragedy. If I put all the passages together, prayer according to Jesus is ‘asking the Father for help in bearing fruits of obedience, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father, and so that we might have our joy complete and experience the direct love of the Father.’ And it seems if that is one of the main ways we pray, our prayers will be ultra successful (John 15.16)!