“Whoever Believes In Him” (John 3:16 sermon)

We all want to go to heaven — but what do you have to do to go there? I once read a survey of multi-millionaires, in which they were asked, “How much would you be willing to pay for a reserved ticket to heaven?” The average answer was $640,000. Folks that’s cheap, compared to the price of what it really took: as we saw last week, it cost the blood of the “only begotten”, perfect Son of God Himself, which was the only thing that could have paid for our sins. $640,000 is NOTHING compared to that!

But now that Jesus has paid that incomprehensible price for our salvation, HOW do we get what He did on the cross, applied to our lives so that we are saved? This is an important question. How do you get what Jesus died for you to have?
— some would say “Get baptized”
— some would say “Take the the Lord’s supper, or the mass”
— some would say “walk down an aisle and make a decision”
— some would say “pray the words of a certain prayer”
Some of these things are good, but NONE of them is really the right answer in itself. We find the answer to that question in the words of this great verse that we are looking at this morning: “that whoever BELIEVES IN HIM shall not perish but have everlasting life.” These words hold the key that unlocks salvation for us. Let’s look at them one by one: “Whoever … believes … in Him”.

I. “BELIEVES”: salvation by faith

First, let’s look at this word, “believes”; this is the first key word — and really, if you understand what it means, it is the ONLY word needed for salvation! What do you need to do to be saved? “Believe.” This is the vital doctrine of “justification by faith” or “salvation by faith.” It basically means that what we need to do to be saved is to believe, or “have faith” in Jesus Christ.

We see throughout the New Testament this doctrine of “justification by faith:
— Jesus said here in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
— John wrote later in this book that these things have been written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (20:31)
— In Acts 16 the Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas “What must I do to be saved?” And they told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
— In Acts 10:43 Peter preached that “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” and the Gentiles he was preaching to were immediately saved.
— Romans 3:22 says “the righteousness of God (is) through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
— Romans 5:1 says “Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
— Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and BELIEVE in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Over and over and over again, the Bible makes it clear that we receive the benefits of what Jesus did for us on the cross “by faith”, or by “believing in Him.” Salvation is by FAITH.

We briefly mentioned a couple of weeks ago an Old Testament story that illustrates this. Numbers 21 tells how during the Exodus in the wilderness, the people of Israel complained against God and Moses, and so God sent serpents who bit the people, and they were dying. So they confessed their rebellion against the Lord, and so God told Moses to do this: He told him to make a replica of a serpent out of bronze, and put it up on a pole, and He said: “Everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” So Moses made that bronze serpent, and he put it up on a pole, and whoever was poisoned, and looked at the bronze serpent on the pole, “he lived.”

We may think: “That is kind of a weird story.” But you know, there are a lot of things that don’t make sense to us until God explains them to us later — and that is just what Jesus does here in John 3. Just before He gave us John 3:16, in :14-15 Jesus says: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” He was saying, that episode of the serpent in Numbers 21 was a picture, that helps us understand how we are to be saved today. What did the people of Israel DO to be saved when they were bitten by those snakes? They didn’t really “do” anything, did they? All they did was believe the message, and look to that thing uplifted on that pole, and if they believed enough to look at it to save them, then they were healed. This is a picture of salvation by faith. They didn’t really “do” anything to save themselves; they just LOOKED BY FAITH. And Jesus says here, that is how it is with OUR salvation too. Jesus, just like that serpent, would be “lifted up” on a cross, and whoever LOOKS TO HIM BY FAITH, believing that He will save them, will be saved! Just like Israel in the wilderness that day, it’s not that you really “DO” anything; it is just by FAITH, by believing in Him!

And this is exactly what the whole New Testament teaches: Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace that you are saved, through FAITH — it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is not anything we “do” to save ourselves; God GIVES us the gift of salvation when we look to Jesus and believe that He will save us. “BELIEVE IN HIM” like this verse says, and what Jesus did on the cross will be applied to your life: you will be forgiven of your sins, saved, and given a home in heaven and restored to a relationship with God. Not by the good things you do for God, but just by “believing in Him.”

Now we need to understand what “believing in Him” really means. It does NOT mean that you just believe in your mind that there is a person called Jesus Christ. James Chapter 2 makes this clear: “You believe that God is one? You do well, the demons also believe and shudder.” In other words, “believing” in Him doesn’t mean just believing that He exists like you “believe” that George Washington was a historical person. James says the DEMONS believe that — in fact, they know it better than you do!

No, to “believe” in Him means to really believe Who He is and what He came to do. It means that you realize that you have been “bitten by the ‘serpent’ of sin”, and that unless something happens to save you, you are going to perish and spend eternity in hell! But you believe that God has provided a way of salvation, through Someone — His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ — who was lifted up on the cross. And you look to Him and Him alone and what He did on that cross to save YOU and change YOU! That’s what it means to really “believe” in Him.

Billy Graham put it this way: “To believe in Christ is to commit our lives by faith to Christ—to trust Him personally as our Lord and Savior”

If you have never done it, I hope that today you will “Believe in Jesus”: realize you are perishing in your sin, that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, and look to HIM to save you. “Believe in Him” and have eternal life.

II. “IN HIM”: the object of faith

But those last two words are vitally important as well: “Whoever believes IN HIM” shall not perish but have everlasting life.” “IN HIM” is a key. See, we have to understand that it is not just “faith” that saves us; it is faith “IN HIM” that saves.

See, “faith” is a ability that all people everywhere possess. “Faith” just means to believe something; to trust some one or something. Everyone in the world exercises faith in many things every day — even the atheist! We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning; we have faith that when we flip the switch, the light will come on; we have faith that if we get a shot, it will help prevent or cure an illness; we have faith in all kinds of things. So we all exercise faith, every day.

But what we have to realize is that faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. People put their faith in all kinds of things that let them down:
I read not long ago about an investment manager who had taken the retirement funds of hundreds of people — they trusted him to invest their money safely for them — but he lost their money. They had faith in him, but their faith was misplaced. This kind of thing happens all the time: people put their faith in someone or something — and they really had faith — but a faith is only as good as the object in which the faith is placed.

That is especially true when it comes to religion. People talk about faith in religion as if it is all equally good. You hear people use the expression: “They are a person of faith” — as if it doesn’t matter WHAT their faith is in, as long as they have this thing called “faith.” But just like in every other area of your life, WHAT you have faith IN, in your religion matters. It is not enough to just “believe”; you have to believe in the right thing.

Back in the 1990’s, hundreds of people in Texas believed that David Koresh was the Messiah. They trusted him as their master, and sold their possessions and followed him to his compound and lived according to his teachings. When the FBI raided their compound and killed Koresh, several of them indicated that they believed that he would rise from the dead on the 3rd day. They had faith; but their faith was only as good as the man their faith was placed in. David Koresh’s grave is still there in East Texas to this day, showing us that their faith was misplaced.

So it is not enough to just “have faith.” WHAT your faith is IN, is vital. And the Bible tells us that the only object of genuine saving faith is Jesus Christ. — “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
— Jesus Himself said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
— John wrote: “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does NOT have the life.” (I John 5:12)

God’s word says your faith must be in Jesus in order to save you. Nothing else would have saved the Israelites in the wilderness that day other than faith in the serpent lifted up on the pole. Nothing else will save you TODAY but faith in Jesus lifted up on the cross. Your faith must be in Jesus to save.

And this is where it can get really tricky. Your faith must be in JESUS HIMSELF — not in your own “good works” in the Christian church; not even in some of the things we typically associate with salvation, like getting baptized, going down to the front, or praying a certain prayer of salvation. All these things can be good, but you need to careful that your faith is not in THEM, but in Jesus.

For example, baptism is good; if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, you should be baptized as a public profession to the world of what He’s done for you. But I have heard people who were asked if they were going to heaven, and they have said: “Yes, I was baptized.” Getting baptized is good, but if you are trusting that you are going to heaven because you were baptized, your faith is in the wrong thing! Your faith must be in Jesus, not in your baptism.

The same thing is true of going forward to make a profession of faith. Years ago I heard the testimony of a young lady who used some disturbing terminology as she shared. She said, “Before I went down to the front I didn’t know if I was going to heaven, but then I went down to the front. And now that I have gone down to the front I know I am saved. I’m so glad I went down to the front!” Do you see what’s wrong with that? I HOPE that when she “went down to the front” of that church that she put her faith in Jesus — but for all the world it sure sounded like her hope for salvation was in the fact that she “went down the front”! Listen, going down to the front” of the church doesn’t save you! There is nothing “magic” here; I promise. You can go down this aisle to the front of the church so many times that you wear a hole to the ground and it won’t save you. Do not put your trust in “going down to the front”, or taking the pastor’s hand, or being baptized — or even praying some certain words in a prayer!

Listen, so many people think they are going to heaven because they “prayed the prayer” — as if the Sinners Prayer was some kind of “magical formula” that would save them. Just repeating certain words will not save you. Your faith must be in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. The Bible makes it clear: there is only ONE object of faith that will save you and that is faith IN JESUS CHRIST — that He died on the cross and paid for your sins. If you have never done it before, right now, today, consciously put your faith & trust in Jesus and Jesus ALONE for your salvation, and say with that great new hymn: “In CHRIST ALONE my hope is found.”

There is only ONE object of saving faith: “Whoever believes IN HIM shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Your faith must be IN Jesus.

III. “WHOEVER”: the invitation of faith

And the opportunity to have saving faith in Jesus is open to anyone. This verse says: “WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Whoever.”

In the original Bible language, it is literally “ALL the ones believing in Him”. The point is: if you will believe, in Him alone, the way we just described, then you will have your sins forgiven and have eternal life. The invitation is open to everyone. We already saw a couple of weeks ago how “God so loved the WORLD” — the whole world, the sinful world, the ethnic world — that people of every kind, every sin, every person, can be saved. This invitation is for everyone:
— Jesus said here; “WHOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
— He said in :15, “WHOEVER believes, may in Him have eternal life.”
— Romans 10:13 “WHOEVER will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
— Revelation 22:17 “Let him that is thirsty come. WHOSOEVER will, let him take the water of life freely.”

WHOEVER — That means anyone!
— The Apostle Paul was a “persecutor and a blasphemer and a violent aggressor”
— Sadhu Sundar Singh was an Indian Sikh who persecuted Christians in India and once burned a Bible page by page
— Rosaria Butterfield was a left-wing Lesbian professor at a liberal university
— Chuck Colson was a counselor to the President of the United States who would stop at nothing in his quest for power.
— Dr. Bill Tolar was an atheist who delighted in his intellectual pride
— Mike Viator was a Catholic who thought all his good works in the church would save him
— Joshua Breland was a young college student caught up in the culture of drugs and rock & roll
— Cheryl Thomas was a young high school student whose heart had been broken
— Shawn Thomas was a little boy in a poor family whose car broke down while they were trying to move to California and they ended up living in Oklahoma.

Listen, it doesn’t matter: it’s for rich; poor; young; old; American; Indian; “down & out”; “up and out” — The gospel of Jesus Christ is for all these “whosoevers”. The old hymn has it right: “Whosoever surely meaneth me”! “Whosoever” you are, the gospel of Jesus is for YOU — if you’ll just believe it, and take Him up on it! Believe that it’s not too good to be true, and act on it!

I have never been a big fan of those little boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, but something that happened to us years ago changed that somewhat. Cheryl & I had not long been in our first church when she had bought a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Not my favorite, but she enjoys it. One day she brought me something that came out of the box, and it said you have won an ounce of gold, or $400 (which is what an ounce of gold was going for at that time). She said do you think this is for real? I said, there is NO WAY that’s right — but as I began to read it, it sounded like we really did win an ounce of gold. I thought, there has to be some catch to this, but I filled out the paperwork, and sent the box top in, and was careful to do everything just the way it said. I figured there was probably SOME reason why they would deny it — but a few weeks later we got a check in the mail from Kraft for $400! I was amazed! It seemed too good to be true! Now, I’m still not very fond of Kraft macaroni & cheese, but ever since then I’ve always let Cheryl & Michael have all of it they want!

That thing seemed too good to be true — but it WAS! Whoever got that message, and sent it in, would win. And we did; and we got it — and at a time in our lives when we really needed it too.
But what we need to understand is that it is the same with this salvation in Jesus Christ. It may seem too good to be true, but because of what Jesus has done, if you will believe in Him, you will be saved. Act on it, for God promises that “WHOSOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Jia Yanqin is a female Chinese student who came to the University of Oklahoma several years ago to study. While she was there she was invited by a friend to come to a Bible study at Trinity Baptist Church, where Cheryl, Michael & I attended while I was sick and out of the pastorate. Jia Yanqin began to study the Bible with several tutors from the church. She learned that God loved her, but that she had sinned and separated herself from fellowship with God, and that Jesus died on the cross to pay for her sins. But one thing remained. She had to do something to respond: she had to “believe” in Jesus to be saved. But what did that mean? Here is what she later wrote in her testimony:

“I suddenly remembered Bill (the leader of Trinity’s Chinese ministry) lecturing on faith. Faith is not that I point to an airplane and (say) to the other people, I think the plane is safe. Faith is that I have to get on the plane and prove it is safe … I believe Jesus is that plane, I am willing to put my faith in Him and trust the fact that He died for our sin.”

I love that picture she gave: Believing in Jesus isn’t just saying, “I believe that plane will hold me”; believing in Jesus is “Getting on the plane.” And that is what Jia Yanqin did that day: she “got on the plane” and trusted her soul and her life to Jesus.

And that is exactly what some of you right here today need to do as well. You’ve heard all about this about Jesus and salvation, perhaps for weeks and months or even years now. But God’s saying to you today — it’s time for you to “get on the plane” — “believe” in Jesus and commit your life to Him today! This promise is for you, for “WHOSOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life”!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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