13 “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who trusts him will have eternal life.
16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who trusts him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 There is no judgment against anyone who trusts him. But anyone who does not trust him has already been judged for not trusting God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”
This is where we begin to see the difference between “believing” – what typically means ‘mental assent’ for us and “trusting” which encompasses a good deal more and better conveys (imo) what John means by the Greek verb piseteuo, which literally means “to faith” – except faith can’t be used as a verb in English. If we stuck with believe/mental assent here, what Jesus says in v. 19-21 would represent a shift in message and one contradicting what he had just said. If all we need for eternal life is to think the right things (v.15: everyone who believes in him will have eternal life), then what does what we do, our actions (good or evil), have to do with our eternal state? To put the matter in evangelical/Pauline terms, if we are saved by grace apart from works, then how is it that our works have eternal significance?
In practice, the answer is often that our actions don’t have eternal significance. We are offered a reading of v.15-16 that is so over-determined by a faith as mental assent reading, that v. 19-21 are rendered meaningless. Our focus on trust helps us see the continuity in Jesus’ message here, since trust necessarily entails an active expression. To give an analogy, I can express a belief in parachutes, but I only demonstrate trust in a parachute (and the person who packed it!) by strapping one on and jumping out of a plane. Belief is a mental expression, trust encompasses mental belief, but also includes a full person engagement, putting what is believed into action. In this case, trusting in the love God has for us as God’s creation to put aside our evil, self-serving deeds and do what God wants, trusting that as our loving Creator, what God wants for us is best for us.
This requires trust on our part because we live in a world that is hostile to God despite God’s love for it. Understanding God’s love helps us to see that God does not default to a stance of judgment. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to communicate God’s real and persistent love for the world. Those who first and foremost communicate a message of judgment are not communicating the good news of Jesus. Instead, they are communicating, in religious terms no less, the world’s hostility to God and God’s love. That’s right, some who claim to preach the Gospel are doing exactly the opposite.
Let’s not be among those. Trust God’s love. Communicate God’s love. The world already knows enough about its hostility to God. What it needs to hear is that God still loves us enough to create a bridge to us. If we can only let God’s Spirit give us the courage to trust enough to walk out onto the bridge.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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