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Van Kampen Disagrees On Traditional Meaning Of John 3:16

Like Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and John MacArthur, Robert Van Kampen in his book The Sign (Crossway: 2000) says more than belief is necessary to be saved. Van Kampen says John 3:16, and the verb pisteuo translated as believe, mean more than belief alone. Van Kampen claims that “many people acknowledge that Christ is the Savior and the only way to salvation, but are not saved because they have never repented of their sin and placed their personal trust in Him as King.” He says John 3:16 means in Greek to convey those requirements, and not belief alone.

Van Kampen claims those who rely upon an epiphany of acceptance of Jesus is “exactly the kind of false, or incomplete, belief Jesus spoke” about in Matthew 7:21-23.

In that passage, Jesus described people who had signs and prophecy in Jesus’ name, but Jesus denied them because they worked anomia (which means ‘lawlessness’ or ‘the negation of the Mosaic law.’) Van Kampen insists that salvation depends on the “total commitment of one’s heart to follow Christ,” and not “mere assent to the truth of the gospel.” In other words, an obedience for Christ.

If Van Kampen is correct, then those who think believing in things like the resurrection saves them are trusting in an insufficient experience for salvation. Despite famous people and organizations endorsing this belief-alone salvation, if what Van Kampen and many others are saying is true, many who rely upon faith alone are as lost as they were before coming to believe Jesus was Savior. Only if the convert also committed his life to Christ, repented from his sins and followed Him devoutly in obedience to His commands and His position as Lord will such a convert be saved.

If Van Kampen is right, there are going to be a lot of people -- millions of people -- who will find out when it is too late that they were deluded. Van Kampen is saying they were deluded precisely in how they understood the Greek word pisteuo in John 3:16. But is Van Kampen correct?

For the thorough answer, see our chapter on John 3:16 in Jesus' Words on Salvation at this link.

Study Notes:

Christian Courier agrees that John 3:36 reveals pisteuo as used there, even though translated as believe in the KJV, was contrasted with disobey, and that this means in John 3:36 it meant to obey. The article reads reads:

(3) Belief can be used — and frequently is — in the full sense of being obedient. Jesus taught:

“He that believeth [pisteuo] on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not [apeitho] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” John 3:36 — ASV).

In the ultimate sense, therefore, to believe the Lord is to do what he says, and a refusal to obey his will is an expression of disbelief. This is a sobering thought. (Wayne Jackson, Belief as Used in the Book of ActsChristian Courier.)

Hence, "believing on" the son means obeying unto the son.

The same usage of "apeitho" and "pisteuo" are found in Acts 14:1-4, where some "pisteuo" and some "apeitho." See Biblehub.