John did not initially write to believers. The New Testament book of John was written to those whom John urged to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (Jn 20:30,31). If the unbelievers to whom he wrote believed, then they would have an eternal relationship with the Son of God. They could have this relationship if they followed through with what God required to be born again (Jn 3:3-5) John affirmed that belief in Jesus was the foundation upon which they could establish this eternal relationship with God. In this way, belief was relational in reference to their salvation.
We find throughout the New Testament the rest of the story about the “relational belief” about which John wrote. In reference to the eternal relationship into which his readers must come with the Son of God, John wrote briefly about the door of entry, that is, being born again (Jn 3:3-5). To be born into this relationship with the Son of God in whom one believed, a response to belief (obedience) was necessary on the part of the believer. Belief, therefore, could not be an end within itself. It could not be a simple acceptance of facts. It had to be a relational response to what God required in order to connect with His Son. The eternal relationship with God that John desired that his readers have had to be a behavioral response to the intellectual information that he wrote in words.
How one establishes a relationship with God can only be defined by God, and thus, only in His word are we to determine how and what a relationship is with our Lord Jesus Christ. We have found that most people are more inclined to use the common religious definitions of the confused religious world to define how one establishes a behavioral relationship with Jesus. Common accepted theology of the majority is often easier to believe than opening one’s Bible to determine how God defines these matters and establishes His terms for being born again.
In order to explain what John meant when he introduced the subject of being “born again,” Jesus continued to explain at the end of His ministry what He meant by the term. The declarative statement of Jesus in Mark 16:15 is a record of concluding thoughts of Jesus that revealed the seriousness of what is most important in one’s restoration to a relationship with God. Jesus’ statement was simple, but loaded with meaning when considered in the context of His entire message of the gospel.
Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Every theological wiggle possible has been made in the religious world to discount what Jesus meant in this statement. But the statement is blatantly clear. The meaning can be clearly understood in the context of the truth of the gospel of Jesus. If we do not consider the whole text of His message, and what the Holy Spirit explained in the whole of the New Testament, then belief becomes a simple legal recognition of facts with no resounding confession or repentance in one’s life. Baptism is subsequently relegated to a legalistic plunge into water in obedience to a command to “get baptized.” Such a conclusion is both impersonal and a denial to the truth of the gospel and the relationship that the Father seeks to have with those who believe on His Son.
The “belief” about which Jesus spoke was relational in that it must move one to respond to Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. The gospel (good news) must be received in mind (intellect) and in heart (emotional). It is God’s ultimatum for sinners to bring themselves into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Belief, therefore, is an emotional response and foundation in reference to the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our hope.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul explains, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand” (1 Co 15:1). The word “stand” is metaphorical in reference to emotional security. Belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (the gospel), therefore, is an emotional response to an intellectual knowledge of the event of the gospel that Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3,4). One must intellectually know and believe that Jesus, as the Son of God, died for our sins. However, one’s intellectual belief in the death of the Son of God for our sins is not good enough. Intellectual belief is not relational in reference to connecting with the saving power of the gospel. There must be an emotional attachment to the event of the gospel in order to emotionally “stand” upon an assurance that we are saved by the event of the gospel. Knowledge of facts must be combined with behavior.
This brings us to Jesus’ connection between belief, baptism and salvation. Jesus explained in Mark 16:15 that in order to be saved, baptism must occur in response to one’s intellectual and emotional response to the event of Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection for our hope. Baptism is not a legality. It is a relational response to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And when one relationally responds to his belief in the salvational work of Jesus at the cross, and in the resurrection, then the blessing of salvation comes into the life of the one who obeys the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. One is thus born again (Jn 3:3-5).
Paul explains the relational response of baptism to the gospel in Romans 6:3-6. Notice carefully how he makes baptism a personal encounter with the death and resurrection of Jesus. He begins with a question: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (Rm 6:3). Jesus’ death was personal, and so is our baptism into His death. Paul explained: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death …” (Rm 6:4). The preposition “with” makes the response of baptism relational in reference to our contact with the death of Jesus. Baptism is not a ceremony. It is not a legal obedience to commands. It is establishing a personal connection with Jesus right at the cross of Jesus and in partnership with His resurrection. If one cannot establish this relationship with Jesus at the cross, and in the resurrection, then he has no real, true and personal relationship with Jesus.
Jesus died for our sins at the cross. If one would establish a relationship with Jesus, then that is were the relationship truly begins. Only through baptism into His death can we be at the cross with Jesus. This is why Peter reminded those on Pentecost in Acts 2 that they must be baptized for remission of their sins (At 2:38). If the separation from God through sin remains in one’s life, then there can be no relationship with God against whom we sin (Is 59:2).
But Paul was not finish with his commentary on what Jesus meant in Mark 16:15. Belief leads us to be “united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death,” and thus, “we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rm 6:5). As “our old man was crucified with Him” at the cross in repentance, our new man walks in newness of life when we come forth from a grave of water (Rm 6:5,6). Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, could not have explained the relational obedience of baptism in a better way. There can be no relational walk with Jesus in the new life, if there is no death and burial of the old man.
At the end of His mission on earth, Jesus concluded with a relational statement to His disciples in reference to baptism. He commanded His disciples to “disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In this statement, Jesus used the Greek word eis. Eis is relational. In baptism, one comes into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is belief in Jesus as the Son of God that moves one to go to the cross with Christ. It is belief that takes one into a grave of water with Jesus in order to wash away sins that keep one separated from God (At 22:16). It is belief that brings one forth from the grave into a resurrected life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Unless one’s belief results in crucifixion and burial with Jesus, one has no true or personal relationship with the One who will return from heaven to collect His people who have been washed in His blood (1 Jn 1:7). Those who have not believed, gone to the cross, grave and experienced a resurrection with Jesus, do not have a redeeming relationship with the Christ who went to the cross and grave for them.