John 3:36 is a wonderfully concise, wonderfully direct articulation of the Gospel. The verse says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (ESV). In this one statement we hear of sin, wrath, and death, answered with belief, life, and grace. We hear that all people stand already under the wrath of God (the wrath of God remains on him), but also that this disaster need not persist. In particular, notice the parallel between “believes in the Son” (which results in life) and “does not obey the Son” (which results in death). This parallel demonstrates the inherent link between belief and obedience. They are two sides of the same coin that is salvation. I do not believe Jesus Christ if my life does not belong to him in obedience. Conversely, I am not obeying Jesus (regardless of how squeaky clean I may think myself) if I do not believe that he is the Son of God.
In saying these things, I am not preaching a message of perfectionistic salvation, not at all! The greatest step of obedience to Jesus Christ that anyone makes is to confess their guilt as a sinner and their need for Jesus’ righteousness to become their own: my sin on him, his righteousness on me (something we express in theological terms as “double imputation”). The person who undertakes this surrender of faith – the person experiencing God’s electing and empowering grace that makes them able for such surrender – is someone walking in obedience (and thus belief) to Christ. This first step of obedience will foster continued obedience, such that the obedient life after Jesus becomes, perhaps, the chief marker of genuine faith, of real belief.
Do you believe Jesus Christ this morning? If so, you are even now living life that is eternal. Do you obey Jesus Christ this morning? If so, your confession of belief is indeed genuine. Praise God! If your answer to either question is “no,” then friend, take warning! May it not be said of you that the wrath of God remains on you still.