Most are familiar with John 3:16. It says “For God so loved the world that He sent his only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
For about the first 35 years of my life, I interpreted that verse in this way:
1) Belive that Jesus is God. 2) Believe that His death was sufficient to cancel out all your sins. 3) Then, you can live with God in Heaven forever when you die.
I now believe that this verse is way deeper and more comforting than I ever realized.
The greek word translated believe here can be translated as belief, faith or trust. When Jesus was walking the earth, His message was not about accepting certain truths for the purpose of escaping this planet nor eternal torture. His message was that the Kingdom of Heaven had come to earth. He was continually inviting people to follow Him. He was teaching what life in this Kingdom looked like.
As I have focused on this idea of trust over the last 8-10 years, I have begun to experience more and more freedom.
One of the first things I discovered was that I needed to reform the idea formed in my head when the Bible talks about surrender to God. I used to picture myself as an enemy of God that needed to lay down my arms, get on my knees and give myself to His control. Now I see it more like a baby allowing itself to be consoled and comforted in the arms of its parent.
Another thing I discovered is that trust is in layers.
The first layer conforms to my early interpretation of John 3:16. I trusted Jesus to forgive my sins and to let me live in Heaven when I die. For me, this layer didn’t give much hope for this life.
The second layer I discovered has to do with making decisions in life. I have desired to follow Jesus all my life. As I began to think more about trust, God helped me to see that I didn’t need to agonize over decisions. He knows that I desire to follow Him. I can trust that He is guiding me on the best path for me, for my family and for His purposes in my life. Sometimes this guidance is via circumstances. Sometimes it is via our own desires. Sometimes God uses people to give us guidance. Most of the time, we have to make a choice, but once the decision is made, we can rest in the fact that God is at work and taking us where we need to go. This is even true if the decision ends up looking like a bad idea later on.
The third layer of trust had to do with my own motives. Once I learned to rest in the fact that God was guiding me, I would sometimes agonize over my own motives. In 1 Corinthians 4:3, Paul says that he doesn’t even judge himself. God helped me understand what Paul was talking about here by causing me to focus on trusting Him. Adam and Eve were instructed not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are not meant to decide what is good and what is evil. We are meant to let God define these things for us. God declares that all who trust Jesus are righteous. We don’t get to call ourselves anything else. We don’t get to judge ourselves or anyone else. What freedom there is in just talking to God about things, trusting Him to guide us and to point out when we have areas that need growth.
The latest layer of trust that God is teaching me might come at an earlier stage for some followers of Jesus. Throughout the Bible, God gives promises about causing our lives to be prosperous and abundant and full of reward. Hebrews 11:6 says that in order to please God, we must believe that He rewards those who seek Him. For so long, I have wanted to claim God’s promises, but I had such a hard time believing them. I have known MANY people who have sought God and not experienced many of the promises we see in Scripture. I was in this place for much of my life. God helped me see that Hebrews 11:6 was not just about following it but also requires belief. I knew that the only promise of God that I was believing was the promise of eternal life. As I reflected on this, I realized that most of the people I knew were in the same boat. Most believers I knew were trusting God for salvation and nothing else. I realized that the promise of salvation is only for those who believe it. I’m pretty sure all of God’s promises are like this. Have you ever noticed that in the Bible, none of God’s people are rebuked for being presumptuous? People are often chastised for not having enough faith, however.
We need more faith and more trust.
I now interpret John 3:16 this way:
God loves everyone so much that He sent His son to show and tell them how to live life in His Kingdom. To the extent that you trust Him (and what He has to say about the best way to live in the Kingdom), you will experience life in the fullest sense as it was meant to be lived in the Kingdom. It starts now and continues for eternity.