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John 2:23-25 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:42 mins 7 secs

Only Condition for Salvation: Is There a Faith in Christ that Doesn't Save?
John 2:23–25
John Lesson #022
October 11, 1998
www.deanbibleministries.org

John 2:23 NASB "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. [24] But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, [25] and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

Here is the scenario. Jesus has not only come and cleansed the temple but he performs many other miracles. This is the beginning of His ministry and we are told by the apostle John that there are many who believed in His name. But Jesus does not entrust Himself to them because He knows what is in their hearts. There are a lot of people who have said that these people are not true Christians, "they don't have saving faith." They draw a distinction between faith and saving faith. So we need to ask the question when we come to this passage, Are these people truly saved? And beneath this is the question, Are there some who can believe in Jesus name but are not truly saved or regenerate? The assumption that underlies this view is that if they were truly believers Jesus would trust Himself to them. After all, they would be regenerate, wouldn't they? Why is it that Jesus does not entrust Himself to these people if they are indeed believers? When we read the array of commentaries that have been written on this passage the standard comment is that they are not believers. We need to evaluate this because it is an issue to understanding the nature of the Gospel, and one in which there is a lot of confusion today.

The English text says: "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing." The contention one writer says is that not all faith in Christ is saving faith, that there are those who believe and are swayed simply on the basis of miracles and their faith is merely a superficial faith. So we have to ask ourselves, Is the faith that is based on miracles an inadequate faith for salvation. The key phrase is the phrase is "believed in his name," in the Greek episteusan eis to onoma autou [e)pisteusan e)ij to o)noma a)utou]. Is that an adequate basis for salvation? 

Let's just skip down to the next chapter, John 3:16 NASB "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." The key phrase is "whoever believes in Him," ho pisteuon (articular present active participle of pisteuo) eis auton [o( pisteuwn e)ij auton]. That is the same phrase we have in John 2:23. In John 3:16 it seems that all that is required at salvation is that we believe in Him, simply faith alone in Christ alone.

Looking down two more verses. What is the basis for condemnation? John 3:18 NASB "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." "He who believes in Him," is again the phrase ho pisteuon eis auton. The basis for condemnation is "he who does not believe … because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." The basis for condemnation is the negative me [mh] and the perfect active indicative of pisteuo [pisteuw] eis to onoma [e)ij to o)noma], the exact same terminology that we have in John 2:23. There it says many believed on His name. The basis for condemnation is not believing in His name. So in John's terminology it would seem that if the basis for salvation is to believe in Him (John 3:16) and the basis for condemnation (John 3:18) is that you have not believed in His name, that in John 2:23 they have done exactly what John says is necessary in order to be saved.

We have to evaluate the other things that are usually suggested in this, and that it that a faith that is generated by signs is somehow a lesser faith, a non-saving faith, or an inadequate faith. Does that hold water? John 20:30, 31 NASB "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe [future active subjunctive of pisteuo] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [present active participle] you may have life in His name." So these verses use the terminology that salvation is related to believing in His name. But John says something more here. He says that Jesus performed many, many signs. That is why John is writing, to tell us about the signs so that we can believe in His name and have life in His name. So John completely rejects the notion that somehow seeing miracles and believing in Christ on the basis of the miracles He performs is a lesser or inadequate faith for salvation. John writes his whole Gospel to tell us about the signs that Jesus performed so that we can believe in Him and have life in His name. Faith is not something that is some subjective emotion. That is how many people think of faith, that somehow it is divorced from reason. But for John and the other writers of Scripture faith is not something that is divorced from reason, it is something that is inherently rational and reasonable. You believe with your mind, not with your emotions. Faith is something that is based on knowledge and content and facts. So John is going to give us the facts about Jesus, the documentation, the credentials of this man who claimed to be the Messiah, so that we will know that He has performed those signs and has the credentials and is who he claimed to be, and that once we understand His credentials and that he satisfied those claims, that we can then have faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is based on knowledge, faith is based on reason, and faith is based on understanding what he did and who He claimed to be. So for John the notion that faith generated by signs is somehow a lesser faith or an inadequate faith is completely erroneous.

However, John does realize that the person who believes on the basis of the observation of miracles is not quite as praiseworthy as the person who believes on the basis of not seeing these signs. For example, the episode preceding this statement in John 20:30 is the episode with Thomas, when Thomas did not believe that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead. The Lord comes and appears to him and has him put his finger and his hands on Him so that he can have that empirical knowledge that Jesus has risen from the dead. When Thomas responds and says, "My Lord and my God," what is Jesus response? "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed {are} they who did not see, and {yet} believed." In other words, if you don't see the signs and you believe in Jesus on the basis of the historical testimony of God's Word then you get an A+. If you believe on the basis of the signs you just get an A. Both are passing grades, but it is more commendable to believe without seeing the signs than it is to believe by having seen the signs.

John 12:36 NASB "'While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.' These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them." Sons of light is a metaphor for a believer.   What is the condition for becoming a believer? Believe in the Light! Simple. It is not believe and be baptised, not believe and confess your faith—Romans 10 is not talking about phase one salvation. When it says "Believe and confess with your mouth and you will be saved," you have to always ask the question, What is the passage talking about being saved from? In Romans 10 it is not talking about being saved from the eternal penalty of sin, which is phase one salvation, it is talking about blessing in the spiritual life, phase two salvation. Romans 10 has nothing to do with justification faith, but sanctification faith.

 "…and He went away and hid Himself from them." That is interesting. The same dynamic we see in John 2 seems to be suggested. He is not trusting these people. [37] "But though He had performed so many signs before them, {yet} they were not believing in Him. [38] {This was} to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: 'LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?' [39] For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 'HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.' [40] These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. [41] Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him" – pisteuo eis auton – "but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing {Him,} for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue." They are believing in Him but they don't have the courage of their convictions. So the Bible recognizes that there are two classes of believers. There are those who have the courage of their convictions and there are those who believe who do not have the courage of their convictions. Both will end up in heaven. "Many of the rulers believed in Him" would include Nicodemus. He is saved but does not make a public show of it. But by the end of Jesus' public ministry who is it that shows up to help bury the Lord? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two prominent Pharisees. So while they believed an initially did not have the courage of their convictions, some eventually did.

The key phrase is, they believed in Him. John 3:16, 18; 3:36; 12:36; 4:39; 6:29, 35, 40; 7:38, 39 and many, many other there is this same phrase used over and over and over again where the apostle John says salvation is "believe in Him." For John it is clear that the basis for salvation is simply faith alone in Christ alone.

There is a rebuke for those who believe but not on the basis of signs. This take place after Jesus witnesses to the woman at the well. No miracles took place and this takes place after that episode and Jesus goes to Cana of Galilee where we are told he made the water wine. John 4:46 NASB "Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. [47] When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring {Him} to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. [48] So Jesus said to him, 'Unless you {people} see signs and wonders, you {simply} will not believe'." The implication there is, once again, it is better to believe without seeing the signs than to believe having seen the signs, but that doesn't that if you believe on the basis of signs you are not saved. [50] "Jesus said to him, 'Go; your son lives.' The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. [51] As he was now going down, {his} slaves met him, saying that his son was living."

John 1:12 NASB "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name."  Exactly the same phrase that John uses in 2:23; it states that the sufficient condition for salvation is to believe in Jesus' name. So when we come to John 2:23 and we read that many believed in His name "beholding the signs which he was doing," John is making a positive statement there. His purpose in the book is to give us signs and evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be, and he is saying here in this verse that His signs were so dramatic that many believed on Him, many were saved. But in contrast to that Jesus understood what was in men. The contention today is that when you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you come to that moment where you put your faith alone in Christ alone, that something happens to you, that somehow it diminishes and restricts then power of your sin nature, that it is no longer as sinful as it used to be, it is not going to have the same dynamic. There are some sins that you are just not going to be able to commit after you are saved that you could commit before you were saved. That means that you can look at somebody and of they commit certain sins you think they are not saved. We have all heard people say that, and what that betrays is an underlying notion that somehow faith is based on works. But the sin nature you had before you were saved is the same sin nature you have after you are saved, and the only way you can control the sin nature after you are saved is through the filling of the Holy Spirit and knowledge and application of doctrine. The psalmist said: Psalm 119:9 NASB "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping {it} according to Your word." That is the key. Christian fellowship is not the key to getting over problems in your spiritual life; it is the Word of God, that is where the power resides. It is the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

The other assumption is that there are two kinds of faith, a faith that saves and a faith in Jesus that doesn't save. This is evident even in some hymns that we sing. E.g. "I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart." That distinguishes that from all other kinds of faith. They say, if you are going to have saving faith then God has to give it to you. That is how they organize this. Because everyday faith won't work, that is the kind of faith that these people in John 2:23 had. They believed but it wasn't saving faith because saving faith has to come from God. And then they will go to Ephesians 2:8, 9 where it says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves" and they will take the "that" and refer it to the faith and say that faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. But that is not what the Greek grammar indicates. The gift is the salvation by grace that God provides: salvation by grace through faith. So we need to beware of people who draw a distinction between faith and saving faith. The Scripture is clear that we are not saved because of faith; that is, again, based upon a misunderstanding of the Greek. dia plus the genitive is through; it is means; dia plus the accusative means because. We are saved through faith, not because of faith. We are saved because of the work of Christ on the cross; that is the cause of our salvation. We appropriate it through faith. You are not saved because you believe, you are saved through your faith, you are saved because Jesus Christ died for your sins. It is the object of faith that makes the difference, it is not faith itself.

John 2:24 NASB "But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men." There, incidentally, we do have a dia plus the accusative to show that it is cause. Jesus knew they were still sinners, they hadn't learned anything, they believed but that was it, they still did not know any doctrine. [25] "and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man."

Interestingly enough, the phrase pisteuo eis is almost exclusively used by the apostle John but it is used by the apostle Paul in no other location that Galatians 2:16 NASB "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

 So it all weaves together and it is all very clear that the basis for salvation is not on works, it calls for a simple everyday faith, but the object is what makes the difference.