Here’s an interesting topic that is a source of confusion for a lot of people.
What exactly does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?
Probably the most famous passage in all the bible is John 3:16,
“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 take this verse at face value, understanding what it means to believe in Jesus can be eternally beneficial! Wow!
Yet, there must be more to it because James 2:19 says “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”. I’m betting the demons won’t be enjoying eternal life with God!
So what exactly is John 3:16 talking about? Can we know for sure?
Jesus himself explains what this means in the verses surrounding John 3:16. Here’s the whole passage:
“ Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  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.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:14-18
Jesus is making reference in verse 14 to an interesting story in Numbers 21. The story is that as the Israelites were wandering around in the desert (that’s another whole story), they began to grumble against Moses’ leadership. God punished the Israelites by sending venomous snakes. The people began to die from snakebite. Moses interceded on behalf of the people and asked God to remove the snakes. Instead God provided a way to be saved from the snakes. Here’s what He said (Numbers 21:8,9)
“The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” so Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
This is the snake that Jesus is referring to in John 3:14. Wow, what a crazy solution to a life threatening problem. Think about it. If you were bitten by a venomous snake and someone told you to look at some kind of bronze statue on a pole, wouldn’t you find that a bit crazy? Wouldn’t you try it though? You would if you realized that you were going to die!
If you think about it, I’m pretty sure God didn’t put some kind of magic on the bronze snake. The power of the snake on the pole was simply that God promised that if you would look at it you’d be saved. The power was in the promise. All the Israelites had to do was simply BELIEVE that what God said he would do, he would do.
Jesus equates his being lifted up (on the cross) with that of the bronze snake. In John 3:18 Jesus says that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already.” That’s kind of like the Israelites. They were snake-bit and were condemned already.
Romans 3:23 says that the wages of sin is death. So the venom that condemns us is sin. We’re snake bit by sin. That’s the bad news. The good news is that just as God provided a way for the Israelites to be saved from the snakes, he has provided a way for us to be saved from sin…Jesus. See it in John 3:16 and 17? And, just like the power of the snake on the pole was based on a promise, so our believing in Jesus is based on a promise.
Romans 10:9 says “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.“. This is a promise. This is almost identical to looking at a bronze snake on a pole. At first glance it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it can save your life!
Confession simply means you admit that Jesus is the boss and that you indeed are “snake bit” by sin. You have to believe that God raised him from the dead because first of all it doesn’t make sense to ask for help from someone who is dead himself. Secondly, God raised Jesus from the dead to prove he had power over death. Why wouldn’t you believe in the promise of a God who can beat death?
So there you have it. Believing in Jesus simply means you believe he’ll do what he said he’d do. If you realize you’re snake bit with sin and ask Jesus to save you, he will. That’s the promise. That’s eternal life.
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