“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.”
Eternal life and eternal judgment—we often think of these things as exclusively future realities. After all, passages such as Daniel 12:2 locate these things at the time when we are raised from the dead. The New Testament, however, says that although the full consummation of both eternal life and eternal judgment remain ahead of us, people begin to experience these realities even now. Romans 6–8, for example, reveals that the same Holy Spirit who will raise our bodies from the dead is present in us now, giving us a taste of the life to come by renewing us after Christ’s image and growing us toward the holiness that we will possess when we finally see God.
Scripture also indicates that eternal judgment is also a present experience for the unregenerate. We have seen this in John 3:18, which says that those who do not believe in Christ are “condemned already.” Today’s passage makes much the same point. When John says that the wrath of God remains on those who do not obey Jesus, He is talking about a present reality (v. 36). Although we cannot explain completely what that means, it is worth noting that those who persistently reject Christ run the risk of having their hearts hardened just as Pharaoh’s was. We cannot assume that we can put off trusting in Christ today, thinking we will have another opportunity later. Today is the day we must believe, for there may not be another chance (Heb. 3:12–19). Anyone who has not yet trusted in Jesus must trust Him now, and those who have already placed their faith in Him will continue to believe.
John 3 has revealed to us the necessity of regeneration from above and faith in Christ for salvation. We enter into eternal life only if the Spirit regenerates our hearts such that we inevitably believe in Christ (vv. 1–35). There is no way to salvation other than faith in Christ alone. If we do not “obey” Him—if we do not follow His command to repent of our sins and trust in Him alone for salvation—all we can expect is eternal wrath (v. 36). Saving faith in Christ is proof of our regeneration and evidence that we have eternal life. It indicates that we have passed out of condemnation in Adam into life in Christ (Rom. 5:12–21). All people are born under God’s wrath, and Christ is the only way to escape it. But if we reject the one way of God’s gracious salvation, the wrath we receive will be increased. John Calvin comments, “Though all mankind are involved in the same destruction, yet a heavier and double vengeance awaits those who refuse to have the Son of God as their deliverer.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, and that is why people must be urged to trust in Christ right now. Any time someone hears the gospel might be the last time they hear it, so we must urge people to repent and believe today when we give them the gospel.