About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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The Meaning Of John 3:16


John 3:16 is a well-known Bible verse, but do we understand it as John intended?  It reads:


"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."


If you understand the word "believes" in John 3:16 to be mentally acknowledging the validity of something, as the word "believes" is commonly understood today, you will have misunderstood John 3:16.  John was not saying that whoever mentally acknowledges that Jesus is the divine Son of God will not perish but have eternal life.  That understanding imposes our twenty-first century, western-world, concept of the word "believes" onto John 3:16, a first-century, Greek text. That is problematic.    


The Greek word translated as "believes" in John 3:16, as it is throughout the New Testament, is "pisteuo."  This word has little to do with mentally acknowledging who Jesus is.  Pisteuo meant "to trust," not give mental assent to something or someone.  Because this Greek word is a present Greek active participle, John was saying that whoever has become a present-day, trusting-one, in Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life.  The verb tense of the word "pisteuo" emphasizes one who trusts his life with Jesus because of who he has become, and that is a trusting one.  The emphasis in John 3:16 is not simply on the action of trusting, but trusting because one has become a trusting-one.  The action of trusting, or believing, is a product of one, by virtue of his new nature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) becoming a believer.  One becomes a trusting one, a believer, when he receives the Holy Spirit into his life, making him that new creation.  2 Corinthians 5:17, in the CSB, reads:


"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!"


Simply acknowledging that Jesus is the divine Son of God saves no one.  What saves a person is when the Holy Spirit comes into that person's life, making him a new person in Christ, or, a present-day believer.  This, at least in part, is the meaning to John 3:16.  

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