Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life – John 3:36

I love the way that John wrote this sentence! Especially because it doesn’t say what we expect it to say. The internal logic of the sentence is imbalanced and I think there is a lot for us to learn from that fact. John is setting up a contrast, and after saying “whoever believes…” one would expect him to follow that up with “whoever does not believe…” However, he doesn’t do that. He says, “Whoever does not obey…” It would seem as if John is suggesting that belief and obedience are two sides of the same coin, but before we land on that conclusion, let’s explore the idea a bit.

It is true that in the Hebrew mindset, the concepts of belief and obedience are very closely connected. My Hebrew Professor at Seminary explained this relationship with an all too familiar illustration of being pulled over by a police officer. If an officer walks up to your window and says, “Do you know what the speed limit is?” My professor explained that in the Hebrew language, there is no appropriate way to say “yes” if you were driving faster. You would have to say, “no, I did not know what the speed limit was.” Apparently, the language itself would require you to say, “I was not knowing the speed limit as I was driving.” Likewise, when we are in active disobedience to God, we are not knowing or believing God. This is why Jesus would say, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). It isn’t just about believing, it is about holding to them… obeying them.

However, I’m not sure that John would suggest that belief is exactly the same as obedience. There may be a close relationship, but it isn’t a one-to-one relationship. The words aren’t interchangeable. Theologically speaking, you can say, “Whoever believes is also obeying,” but you can’t say “Whoever obeys, also believes.” The relationship between the two concepts only seems to go in one direction. To believe is to obey (or at least it should be), but to obey is not necessarily to believe. A person can obey for all sorts of reasons that don’t depend on belief. Some people obey out of fear of punishment, others for selfish reasons. The act of obeying in and of itself, is not enough. Obedience must be accompanied by belief for it to lead to eternal life. And isn’t that what we want? So maybe, we need to think about our own relationship with the word “obedience.” Maybe it is a bigger deal than we realized.

Josh Rose
Discipleship Pastor

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