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Salvation in the Gospel of John

Updated on July 12, 2015


The Gospel of John is the favourite gospel for explaining salvation. Very early in the book the idea of belief for salvation is presented. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

This is followed by one of the most famous events in the gospels, the encounter with Nicodemus in chapter 3. It is here that we are introduced to the term born again. It is first stated to Nicodemus in v. 3 “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus questions whether this can be understood literally upon which Jesus answers “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Some understand this verse to require baptism, others that it is simply a metaphorical or spiritual water.

As we continue reading in the chapter we find that three times belief is mentioned without qualification as the means of salvation. First in v.15 “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” We might expect that if there were to be a qualification it would occur here, but rather than a qualification added to belief we have a reiteration of belief as sufficient for salvation, this is of course the famous John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It as an absolutely clear statement that belief is sufficient for salvation without qualification.

Again we might expect that if there were to be a qualification or addition for salvation it should appear here, we have had two absolutely clear statements regarding salvation, if Jesus needed to qualify them it should be done here. We do in fact get a clarification of the meaning of salvation in v.18; “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The clarification does not add anything to belief, it does not qualify belief, it restates the sufficiency of belief and shows that unbelief or non-belief is the cause for condemnation.

What follows is an account of baptism by both Jesus and John, this would make the perfect opportunity to clarify the need for baptism in salvation, but there is no word added regarding a need for baptism in salvation (baptism in the New Testament is a step of discipleship). At the end of the chapter we have a restatement of the necessity and sufficiency of belief for salvation, v. 36; “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

The idea of spiritual water gains credence in chapter 4 where Jesus talks with the woman of Samaria, this is found in vv. 10 and 13-14; “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman wondered whether this water may be physical water but from the words of Jesus it is plain that this is spiritual water he is talking about.

Later when he is confronted by the Jews Jesus again makes plain that salvation is by belief; “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:24. Here belief is connected first of all with everlasting life, second, it provides relief from condemnation. As the belief is connected with both everlasting life and no condemnation without qualification or addition we can say that belief is the only necessary condition of salvation.

Nowhere is this more forcefully made clear than in John 6:28-29; “Then they said unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” We have an entire New Testament full of commands about what Christians are supposed to do, we have four gospels that record the words and actions of Jesus, and out of all of that Jesus says that to do the work of God we must believe on him! This shows that doing all the other things is meaningless toward salvation. All of the Christian’s works flow from salvation (see James 2:18 “…I will show thee my faith by my works.” ) rather than the other way around. Without salvation all of our works are either meaningless toward God or are sin (see Matthew 7:21-23).

The idea of spiritual bread and water, of spiritual hunger and thirst are continued in chapter 6, v.35; “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

To add to the idea that belief is sufficient for salvation Jesus makes plain the will of God in v. 40; “And this is the will of him that sent me, every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Belief then is connected as being in the will of God, it is shown here as a necessary and unqualified condition. This is restated in v. 47; “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” The fact that Jesus so often states that belief is a sufficient condition for salvation should leave us in no doubt to that fact. Furthermore there is ample opportunity for him to qualify that condition and yet at no point does he do so.

It should be abundantly clear that Jesus in the Gospel of John makes use of metaphor in his messages. He provides living water, he is the bread of life, labour not for the meat that perishes, all of these are spiritual metaphors to help us understand Jesus mission, and whenever Jesus uses these metaphors he reiterates the need for belief without providing further qualifying statements. Therefore we can conclude that belief is a sufficient condition for salvation.

A further example is provided in chapter 7:37-38; “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And again in chapter 11:25; “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:”.

As John concludes his gospel he has the opportunity to make clear to us his purpose, he can provide us a summary of Jesus’ teaching and his intent and I believe that he does in chapter 20:30-31; “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” The idea of belief as the only necessary and therefore sufficient for salvation is reiterated. Throughout the Gospel of John this thought has been paramount, we need to believe in the Son of God to receive salvation. Everlasting life, being born again, not being condemned, passing from death to life, all of these are comprehended in belief in Jesus the Son of God.

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