I have a friend from another country who sent me a gospel tract and asked for my feedback. What I found in the tract stirred up a lot of thoughts and emotions about how we in America talk about the Gospel. We have a terrible habit that is choking the life out of our gospel presentation.
We have a huge problem in church circles. I call it termonology swap. Let me explain. The Gospel Of John is the book we go to to learn how to have eternal life. Jesus makes it clear that there is one requirement that must be met. It’s that we believe. There are a string of verses which I call FAITH-ALONE-ETERNAL-SECURITY verses and they reiterate this. Here they are:
John 3:15-16, 3:36, 4:13-14, 5:24, 6:40, 6:47, 10:28-30, 11:25-26, 20:30-31,
These verses make a few things very clear. They show that
1. Eternal life is irrevocable
2. It’s a free gift
3. We receive it by simply believing in Jesus for it.
I think we have to highlight and repeat this over and over again. “To believe in Jesus is to have eternal life.” Thus, that’s what we’re believing in Him to do, give us eternal life. Essentially we’re believing in Jesus for eternal life. The GOJ repeats this idea so many times. I think any time we come to a faith-alone-eternal-security verse we have to point it out, celebrate it, and make a huge deal of it.
Here’s where the swap becomes important. I’ve seen many people teach through the Gospel of John. Almost every preacher at some point in his career will teach through John. Most of the time those sermon series, feel like a string of missed opportunities. So many times as I’ve watched preachers and teachers speak on John, I was eager to hear them stop and make comment on these faith-alone-eternal-security verses, and much of the time they weren’t really highlighted. What a sad state of affairs. It seems that they are missing the point. It’s worse than that though.
The thing that happens so much is what I call a terminology swap. Often preachers and teachers who are going through John use terminology that is not the terminology that the Gospel uses. I’ve seen this over and over again. Someone will read John 3:16, which says to believe. Then they will look up from their Bible and say, “will you accept Him?” Or they will read John 6:47 which say to believe, and they will say, “will you trust Him?” Or they’ll read John 11:25-26 which says to believe, and they’ll look up and say, “will you receive Him?” Why are they changing out the word believe for other words that don’t quite mean the same thing? Why is this happening? Why do teachers nearly refuse to stay within the boundaries of what the Gospel of John says? I don’t know but it drives me nuts.
Trust is not a bad term, but it has a slightly different meaning in English than believe. I can choose to trust someone while not believing they will deliver. I could decide to “trust” a drunk friend by getting in her car, while simultaneously knowing that she is going to crash that car. In English trust can include the notion that you don’t know how things will turn out. That is not what believe means. Trust is a good word in certain circumstances, but it’s not quite the word Jesus and John use in the Gospel of John. It’s not quite a synonym for believe.
Accept Once again, accept can mean believe, but it can also mean other things. For instance, let’s say I’m talking to an atheist. I can accept them as a person while rejecting their worldview. Accepting a person can simply mean I show them respect while simultaneously believing that they are wrong. Is this what it means to accept Jesus? Yikes! Accept can be quite ambiguous. That’s why I think it’s important to stick with the word John and Jesus use, Believe.
Receive This word is in the Gospel of John, but John defines it for us by saying that to receive is to believe in His name. (Jn. 1:12) What’s more, receive in the Gospel of John is used a bunch of different ways. Receive honor from one another… (John 5:44), Receive circumcision (Jn. 7:23), Received him into the boat… (Jn. 6:21). In John’s Gospel receive, can mean a bunch of different stuff. Jesus primarily chooses to use the word believe when he’s talking about what someone must do to get eternal life. In the faith-alone-eternal-security verses I mentioned, He uses the term believe over and over. Because of the ambiguity of the term receive many people have defined it in modern terms. Loads have associated it with walking down an aisle, praying a prayer, and various other trappings of church life. I wonder if this is why these terms get used, because you can pack a lot more activities into them, whereas, believe is simple and plain.
I think believe is the most important verb in the English (or any) language. We need to stop the swap, and use the terms that Jesus used in the Gospel of John.
We must believe in Jesus. By doing so we receive eternal life.
If you’re a preacher, teacher, or layperson who shares the gospel, please use the terms you find in the Gospel of John. I know that it may be difficult since we have years of ingrained behavior. We need to shift this terrible trend. Your listener’s eternal destiny is riding on it.