To Believe God is to Obey Him

SunStar Cortez
SunStar Cortez

Asked which is the most popular verse in the Bible, many people will promptly respond, “John 3:16,” and they are right. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But how did this verse come about and what does believing in God mean? To answer this question, let us look back a little at our salvation history.

When God created the first man and woman, everything was in an ideal state at the Garden of Eden. Not until our first parents disobeyed God. Tempted by the devil, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God forbade them to eat. As a result, sin entered the world and corrupted God’s beautiful creation. The human race, tainted by original sin, was separated from the holy and just God.

This separation, however, painful as it is, was not the end. God’s words in Genesis 1:8, “Where are you?”, in which he was calling Adam, began the long journey of God, searching for man to mend their broken relationship. God’s justice necessitated that he condemns man for his disobedience, but God’s mercy inflamed him to devise a plan for restoration.

Man must be taught holiness, and for this God gave him his Law. The Law in the Old Testament can be summarized in the so-called Ten Commandments, which are as follows: (1) I, the Lord, your God. You shall not have any other gods besides me. (2) You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. (3) Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. (4) Honor your father and mother. (5) You shall not kill. (6) You shall not commit adultery. (7) You shall not steal. (8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (9) You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. (10) You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

While these ten were considered as the foundational laws, there were many other related or additional commandments prescribed in the Old Testament. Some claim that the total number of these commandments is 613. A close examination of some of them will reveal how odd they seem to us, modern believers. Examples are prescriptions like: “…You shall not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19, NIV), and “When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. (Leviticus 15:18). They seem odd because taken literally, we cannot find the logic behind them. The truth, however, is that these laws pointed out to deeper symbolic meanings, such as the need for purity and holiness.

To this, add the problem of the impossibility for any human being to keep all of the Law perfectly throughout his lifetime. Solomon wrote, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,

no one who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20), while Paul claimed, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). When a man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher,” he answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:9).

Compounding the problem of sin even further are the consequences of its violation. In Romans 6:23 we read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”, while in James 2:10 we find, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

Then why did God give the Law, and how can man be brought out of this quandary? Well, the Law was a stop-gap solution to give man hope until the permanent solution is introduced; it was meant to prepare man for this solution. Paul wrote, “Therefore, the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). As our guardian, the Law prepared us to the humble realization that we cannot save ourselves; only God can.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

What then was the permanent solution to restore man’s relationship with God? It was God sending his Son Jesus Christ to take upon himself the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross, and offering the free gift of salvation to all who will believe in him. And so, the most popular verse in the Bible came into being: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

But what does believing in Jesus mean? Does it mean simple mental assent or affirmation of who Jesus is? Is it simply knowing and accepting the fact that Jesus is our Savior? While that is important, believing is more than that. To believe in Jesus also means to obey him. By his words and actions, Jesus showed us what the Law really meant. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”(Matthew 5:17), and this fulfillment can be summarized in one word – “love.” He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37-40).

In selected translations of the Bible, such as the New Living Translation (NLT) and the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVUE), it can be seen that believing connotes obeying.  An example is John 3:36: “Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” Likewise, in reference to the Israelites who came out of Egypt but failed to enter the Promised Land, the Bible had this to say, “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So, we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:18-19, NIV).

In conclusion, we see that the permanent and perfect solution that God gave us to be saved, as found in John 3:16, is to believe in Jesus. This belief is more than a mental or verbal acknowledgment of who Jesus is, but a resolution to obey his commandment of love. He said beforehand, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21).

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