Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 10, 1961
NUMBER 14, PAGE 1,12

John's Teaching On Salvation By Faith

L. A. Mott, Las Vegas, Nevada

Merrill C. Tenney's book on the fourth account of the gospel is most appropriately titled John: The Gospel of Belief. Unlike most authors, John states his purpose in the latter part of his book rather than at the beginning: "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name." (Jno. 20:30-31) Only the works of Paul are generally adjudged by those of the "faith only" persuasion to compare with John's gospel and epistle as a stronghold of their theory. But as we have seen (in previous articles), these people are mistaken about Paul. Now I propose to prove beyond question that John, no less than Paul, absolutely and undeniably, in the very plainest of language, contradicts the theory.

The testimony of John, at least in the gospel, will be, partially, simply John's record of Jesus' testimony on the subject.

That John's writings teach the doctrine of salvation by faith no one is disposed to deny. I take comfort in the fact. But what I am against is the perversion of John's teaching which is currently being circulated among sectarians.

Characteristic statements of John on the subject are the following:

(I) "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

(2) "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, bath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life." (5:24)

(3) "For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal ,life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (6:40)

(4) Quoted above is 20:30-31.

(5) "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." (1 Jno. 5:1)

(6) "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God." (5:13)

The point I would like to have us notice just now is that in hardly any of these passages is there enough information for us to determine just what is the precise nature of this faith. That is, we are unable from most of these passages to determine whether the faith that saves is faith without further obedience, or faith that includes obedience. Therefore, just as we did with Paul's teaching, we shall turn to other statement$ of John to find out whether he meant that one is saved the very moment he believes. John, at least, knew what he meant in the above verses. Therefore, we shall allow him to interpret them for us.

John 1:12

"But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name." This verse states that the believer has the right, or power as per the KJV, to become a child of God. He is not a child of God, but has the right to become one. One cannot be given the power to become that which he already is. This proves beyond a doubt that we are not children of God the very moment we believe. However, we have the right to become children of God and may exercise that right by becoming such.

John 3:16

The classic passage from John on faith is John 3:16. The next argument is based on the chapter that includes this verse. Three points in the chapter should convince us that "believeth" in v. 16 does not mean faith only, nor faith without baptism.

(1) In v. 3 Jesus said, "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." He further explained in v. 5, "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The question is: Does "believeth" in v. 16 include the new birth? All must agree that it does. Therefore, a birth of water is included in the faith under consideration. The almost unanimous agreement of scholars that this refers to water baptism (cf. Shepherd's Handbook on Baptism, pp. 320-338) is confirmed by such passages as Acts 22:16, Eph. 5:26, and Tit. 3:5. Alas, what other application could this have in connection with the Christian religion?

(2) Notice verses 14-15, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life." The historical record of this is found in Num. 21. The people had been bitten by fiery serpents. The remedy God prescribed was for Moses to make a fiery serpent of brass and erect it upon a standard. Those who looked at this serpent were healed. It is to be noted that they were healed, not the moment they conceived faith in their hearts, but only after their faith had been expressed in the action of looking. The analogy of John 3:14-16 proves convincingly that saving faith means more than a mere act of the heart. It involves the expression of the faith in the heart in some external act, i.e., baptism (v. 5)

(3) Verse 36 states, "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." "Believeth" is from the verb pisteuo. "Obeyeth not" is from the opposite of the verb peitho. This latter is translated "believeth not" in the KJ V and in the ASV footnote. But it is not the same word as the first Greek word translated "believeth." Since it is a different word, does it not follow that it should he rendered differently so as to show this difference? Westcott translates the word "disobeyeth," and then remarks, "Disbelief is regarded in its activity" (The Gospel According to John, p. 62; emphasis mine, LAM). The testimony of Vincent is to the same effect: "Disbelief is regarded in its active manifestation, disobedience." The verb peitho, says he, "means to persuade, to cause belief, to induce one to do something by persuading, and so runs into the meaning of to obey, properly as the result of persuasion." Further, he remarks, "Obedience, however, includes faith. Compare Rom. 1. 5, the obedience of faith" (Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 109).

Vine agrees with these men; he states that the difference between peitho and pisteuo is "that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter .... peitho, in N. T. suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. III, p. 124). It is clear from these quotations from the scholars that "obeyeth not" is the correct translation of the word used in John 3:36.

The point I wish to call attention to is that disobedience is here set in opposition to faith. To disobey is to fall to receive the blessings promised to the one who believes.

Thus, the obedient believer is the one under consideration in John 3. He is the one who will receive eternal life.

John 8:31-44

In John 8:30 we read, 'As he spake these things, many believed on him." Many believed: are they saved? Look at verses 31-32: "Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Note these points: (1) Jesus spoke to believers. (2) These believers were not free, for Jesus said, "....the truth shall make you free." The kind of bondage and freedom Jesus had in mind is explained in verse 34: "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin." Thus, the bondage is a bondage to sin; the freedom is freedom from sin. So here are some believers who are bondservants of sin.

Now Read All The Way To Verse 44. Jesus Is Still Talking To The Same People, Namely, "Those Jews That Had Believed Him" When In Verse 44 He Says, "Ye Are Of Your Father The Devil, And The Lusts Of Your Father It Is Your Will To Do." So Here Are Some Believers Who Are Children Of The Devil.

John 12:42-43

The final argument from John is based on 12:42-43: "Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God." These rulers believed, but they were not saved, for they were ashamed to confess their faith. Jesus said: "Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32-33) "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mk. 8:38) In Rom. 10:9-10 Paul made confession a condition of salvation. The rulers of Jno. 12 would not confess; therefore, they were not saved. They believed; but they were not saved. Therefore, it is not true that one is saved the very instant faith is conceived in his heart.


Thus, once again the "faith only" people are seen to be in error. Abundant evidence has been produced against the position that John taught salvation by faith before and without further acts of obedience. In perfect agreement with Paul, John teaches that faith saves when it is perfected through external acts of obedience.