Bob (not his real name) was stubborn. I witnessed to him over a period of several months. My approach was to invite him to my home and ply him with pizza and coke. His price was to listen to my explanation of why he should accept Christ as his savior. But he resisted.
I met Bob through his parents. We sang in the choir together and they shared their concern for their sons. One was in prison and Bob was well on his way to going the way of the world. I attended Wednesday night prayer meetings and each week requested prayer for Bob as I felt he was getting closer and I was excited at the prospect of seeing him come to Christ.
After one particular dinner when Bob was especially stubborn in his rejection, I gave up. It was not going to be me who would lead him to the Lord. But a few weeks later, Bob showed up on my front porch. I had not invited him nor planned the usual pizza and coke menu. Bob was there for one purpose and one purpose only. He wanted to receive Christ as his savior. He prayed the prayer.
The next time I saw Bob was in his home where he lived with his parents. During that time, I was reading through the gospel of John for my devotions and I wanted to encourage them with a blessing I received from John 6:
"All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out..."No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day”[i].
I expressed my joy in knowing that I did not choose God. He chose me. Bob jumped to his feet shouting, “No! That’s not true. I reasoned it out. I chose God.” Bob’s parents, ever protective, said, Oh Jerry! How could you say such a thing.?”
I had not been to seminary yet and did not know all of the argumentation surrounding the issue of what part faith plays in salvation. I simply believed what the Bible said. Now, after years of researching the subject and seeing the continued misleading teaching on the subject, it is time to set the record straight. We are not saved by believing. Salvation is an act of God’s grace in the human heart whereby He causes us to be born from above.[ii]
But what about John 3:16? Note the full context:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. "But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."[iii]
In each of the three occurrences of the term, believes, in this context, believes (ho pisteuon) is a Present Active Participle. So is the term, practices. This means that the term, believes (pisteuon), is a verbal adjective describing the nature of the subject by what he/she does, i.e., his/her nature is to believe.
For example, if you knew me and saw me running down the street, you would not say, “there goes a runner.” Surely not. But if you saw Usain St Leo Bolt, considered to be one of the fastest men alive, running down the street, and you said, “There goes a runner,” this would be an accurate description of him. I probably would be running because I was scared. Bolt would be running because he is, by nature, a runner.
The final Present Active Participle, practices, has the same connotation of the nature of the individual. The one who practices the truth more correctly might read, the truth-doer.
Jesus then explains why the individual believes by nature and practices the truth by nature and comes to the light by nature: (In order) that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."[iv]
This last phrase incorporates two additional Participles, one (“manifested”), Aorist Subjunctive, looking at the entire concept of manifesting as a single action, and this action (“wrought”) by God. The term, wrought, is Perfect Passive Participle. This means that it is action that occurred in the past with continuing results and was performed upon the subject, the one whose nature is believing, coming, and practicing. Salvation does not need our help by believing nor coming nor practicing. We believe, we come, and we practice because of what God and God alone has done.
Recall that John is writing his gospel toward the end of the first century, sixty years following the death of our Lord. By this time, Gnosticism was rampant. Many who claimed to follow Christ were teaching that only individuals who had a special knowledge and believed that knowledge were true believes. To them, it was the act of believing that saved. They were the repository and dispensary of this esoteric knowledge which only the initiated had.
John makes it clear that Jesus was not a Gnostic and that Gnosticism was not going to get anyone to heaven. This was why he relates the account of Nicodemus and his mid-night visit to Jesus. He heard Jesus teaching and questioned his own understanding regarding salvation.
Paul stated it another way. To paraphrase, dead men do not all of a sudden start believing.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.[v]
[i] John 6:37, 44.
[ii] John 3:3-8.
[iii] John 3:14-21.
[iv] John 3:21
[v] Eph 2:1-9.