How do you know if you are a true believer? Many people have wondered, and sometimes their wondering has caused anxiety. Some of have said, “Well, we won’t know until we get heaven.” But is that true? Thankfully, no. Jesus says there is a way to know now if a person is a true believer.
In the previous post, we learned how Jesus is the giver of life. Interestingly, then, notice, as he continues teaching how this life-giving capacity of Jesus relates to eternal life. In verses 24-27, he says this,
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”
There is not only abundant life in Jesus, but also eternal life. Jesus has life in himself, just as the Father does. And of course he does because he and Father are one, along with the Spirit. Why doesn’t he mention the Spirit here, then? He will. You can see for yourselves in chapters 14, 15 and 16, where he says that he is sending the Spirit to them. But we’re not quite at that part in the story.
For now, Jesus is clearly saying that those who hear his word and believe him who sent Jesus, he is referring to the Father, have eternal life. Those people will not be condemned. When he says, “condemned” he is talking about people who do not believe in him, and thus are separated from him, both in this life and the life to come. Separation from God is not a place you want to be, no matter when or where. Jesus, however, is clearly giving people the way to be connected to him, to experience life in him.
That’s the message we as his followers can embrace, and which we communicate to others. There is life in Jesus. New life. Abundant life and eternal life. He has life, and he wants us to experience that life. Think about the beauty of that. God has life in himself. Jesus has life in himself. And he offers us relationship with him, so that we can experience his life in our lives.
I love how Paul describes this in Ephesians 3:15-19,
“I pray that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
That’s intense. That’s deep. The life of God, so fully flowing through you. That’s what Jesus is talking about in John 5. He wants people to experience that life. There’s simply nothing that compares with that.
As Jesus continues teaching, we read in John 5, verses 28-30,
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
Jesus here helps us take a peek into the future, at a time called The Resurrection. He is not referring to his resurrection. He is talking about another resurrection, and the dead will rise to face a sorting. Those who have done good to eternal life, those who have done evil to eternal condemnation.
Jesus speaks like this in many places. In his famous Sheep and Goats parable in Matthew 25, for example, he says that God will sort people based on what they did and didn’t do.
Notice that precise word. “Did” and “do.” Not belief. Not ideas. Not thoughts. But actions. What they did and didn’t do. That’s the basis for the sorting.
That’s a problem because so often we tell people, “Just believe.” Except Jesus didn’t say, “Just believe.” In the end, Jesus said, the sorting will not be based on who believed and who didn’t. It will be based on who did good and who did evil.
But wait a minute, Jesus, what about what you just said? Look at verse 24. “Whoever believes has eternal life.” What gives? Is Jesus saying contradictory things?
No. They work together quite nicely. You show what you believe based on your life choices and actions.
In my mind I often return to something Bishop Bruce Hill once said, “Jesus doesn’t want believers, he wants disciples.” He wants people who lives are actually changing, who are becoming more and more like him. People who say “I believe in God and Jesus,” but who are not becoming more and more like Jesus, are simply believers. Jesus clearly teaches us here in John 5 that he wants doers, disciples.
You show you believe by what you do. If you say you are a believer in Jesus, but you are not actively the following the mission of his kingdom right here, right now throughout your life now, then you are showing that you don’t fully believe in Jesus. Belief is not enough.
I’m not suggesting that belief is bad. No. Belief is good! Jesus says so. What I’m saying is that all humans have beliefs. There is no such thing as an absolute unbeliever. Even atheists have beliefs. Their belief is that there is no God. Maybe they believe in science, maybe in the idea that the natural or material world is all that exists. Everyone has beliefs. Therefore, here’s the main point Jesus is making: We show what we believe by how we choose to live.
Jesus wants all people to have the best life possible, yes with a hope for eternity, but also, and equally importantly, life now. That life is possible for us, when we choose to live more and more like he did.
Jesus critiques the religious leaders’ version of the good life, which they said was only attainable by following their rules upon rules upon rules. Jesus comes along and says, “No, that’s not what my Father ever intended. Instead, learn from me how to truly live.” When you follow the way of Jesus you will be free to live his life, the real good life.