In what has become the most well-known summary statement of the gospel, John the disciple wrote, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
This is an astounding description of God’s love for man and a beautiful promise to those who love Him back. This is perhaps one of the most awesome sentences in all of Scripture. However, I often fear that this summary statement made by Jesus has been hijacked at times to promote a distorted gospel message – one that highlights the act of believing with no mention of entrusting, surrender, or commitment.
Is 'hijacked' an overstatement?
I remember once during batting practice not being able to get the ball out of the air. After several weak fly balls in a row, my hitting coach instructed me to try and hit the next ball directly into the ground in front of me. I did as he said and ended up lining the next ball through the gap in left-center. Sometimes an overstatement is just what we need to correct the hole in our swing and get us back on track.
So back to the real issue.
Mere intellectual assent of proper knowledge concerning Christ (aka. Christology) does not make us right with God. Even the demons possess sound Christology! This ought to be obvious to us, but I fear there might be many in the church today who rest falsely assured of their salvation simply because they believe certain Biblical stories to be true.
Imagine you are out in the middle of the ocean being tossed around by the waves and fighting to stay afloat in order to survive. Then out of nowhere a rescue boat pulls up and tosses you a rescue ring so they can pull you in. Believing that rescue ring can save you from drowning is not enough to actually be saved from drowning. Salvation will not be experienced until you grab a hold of that ring and cling to it with everything you got all the way back to the boat.
Is it much different with Jesus?
A lesson in the original Greek would have my back here. To believe means to place full confidence in or to entrust your life to. It signifies a reliance upon something or someone; not a mere belief or acceptance of something as true. Therefore, perhaps it would help us to say, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever embraces Him and entrusts their lives to Him should not perish but have eternal life."
Following Jesus is more than believing He should be followed.
We must recognize that we need to be rescued from the sin curse and our sinful condition, and we must cling to Christ (His life, His teaching, His example, etc.) as our rescue ring and our only Way back to the safe shores of eternal life.