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. (John 3:16) Notice the bold texts, which is always taken out of context with adjacent verses.
This is the most popularly quoted verse in the Bible, but it is quoted out of context without the companion verses that qualify its meaning to be totally the opposite of how people interpret it, when looked at alone. Many call this verse “an entire Bible in itself.” Unfortunately, we should try to consider studying the true concept and idea of salvation. Many ignore the exclusions, the requirements, and qualifying conditions of salvation, all of which can be met by motivated, active belief.
James corrected this presumed shortcut of salvation, writing to the Jewish Christians: “You say you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe, and tremble,” James 2:19; James was writing to Jewish believers of the Father and the Word [Jesus] being one spirit, and without conflict to – Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Deu 6:4. So James is in effect saying, “you say you believe in Jesus, you do well, the demons do too, but they tremble at his name – do you?” He who believes has the witness in himself, 1 John 5:10; and the witness is heard and obeyed, then to be eventually seen.
First let’s examine the subject verses: 15 That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Notice the word should, meaning probable or likely. Now this word “should” is from the King James and New King James. The other translations say “shall,” which is a huge difference in meaning; one that I don’t think you want to bet your eternal welfare on. For further understanding, look at the verses in Acts, describing how new members were added by the Lord to the early church in Jerusalem, headed by Peter, James, John, etc.
And all who believed were together, and had all things in common; they sold their possessions and goods, and distributed the proceeds among all, as every man had a need. And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart… And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. Acts 2:44-47.
This clearly shows that being saved is not instantaneous with believing, baptizing, and joining the church; no, they were described as should be saved – as in the future, at the death of their selfish spirit.
Believing is not salvation, as Paul emphasizes in many verses in addressing believers in the churches:
- now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed, Rom 13:11,
- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Phil 2:12, and
- But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. 1 Thes 5:8
- For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor 1:18. While in the inward cross of self-denial, you will see the sin slowly disappear from your life until you are free of sin.
- godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation, 2 Cor 7:10.
- do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed to the day of redemption. Eph 4:30.
(Paul is speaking to believers in the church who have not yet been redeemed, which is salvation.)
- For we are the sweet aroma of Christ unto God, to those who are being saved. 2 Cor 2:15
- we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold firm the beginning of our confidence to the end. Heb 3:14
- For you need patience, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. Heb 10:36
- we desire that every one of you show the same diligence in realizing the full assurance of hope to the end.
So that you are not slothful, but followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Heb 6:11-12 .
And Peter echoes the same message that salvation is not just believing or faith, rather salvation is the end of faith’s obedient journey:
Who are kept by the power of God through faith to salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a time, if necessary, you may have to suffer griefs through many trials,
So that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tried with fire, might result in praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you rejoice with joy that is unspeakable and full of glory,
Receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls. 1 Pet 1:5-9.