As the Apostle John comes to the end of his gospel, having just described the events of Jesus’ resurrection, he pauses to state his purpose in writing his account of Jesus’ life. He declares, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

John states what Jesus and His Apostles consistently declare: the hope found in coming to Jesus is nothing less than life in His name—a life that is new, abundant, and eternal in Him (John 10:10; Eph. 4:4–5; Rom. 5:20–21). How do we receive this abundant new life? John puts it succinctly: by believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

But what exactly does John mean by believing that Jesus is the Messiah? What is involved in such belief? This question is not merely academic or exegetical. As a pastor, I have watched middle school students wrestle with this question as they have asked, “Do I just know what my parents have taught me, or do I genuinely, biblically, believe in Christ?” I have talked with adults who affirm their belief but struggle to express it or wrestle with doubt over whether their confession is sufficient. And of course, it is a practical question for each of us personally as we examine our hearts before the Lord.

Fortunately, John gives us the answer we need, not just in a neat definition but by demonstrating what saving faith looks like in the response of Jesus’ disciples as He greets them after His resurrection. His account shows us that there is both a factual aspect to believing and a personal aspect to believing.

The factual part of believing calls us to assent to the historical fact that Jesus was not merely a good man, but the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and was raised to life again on Easter morning. We see this belief spring up in the disciples in John 20:19–23 as they understand who Jesus is and what He came to do.

In verse 19, the disciples are gathered in a room, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. It had been a devastating weekend as they watched the man they had committed to follow with their all arrested, tried, and crucified. It had been a confusing day as they received startling but increasing reports that Jesus was alive again. That Jesus’ tomb was now empty was incontrovertible. But what exactly had happened?

The hope found in coming to Jesus is nothing less than life in His name.

Into that confusion, Jesus Himself appeared, announcing, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21). He then showed them His hands, His feet, and His side. He talked with them, apparently discussing the coming Holy Spirit, their mission to proclaim His name, and the invitation to believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins. As you read these verses, you can see the disciples moving from their initial fear that a ghost had appeared to great joy after examining His hands, talking with their beloved Lord, and coming to believe as fact that Jesus was truly alive. Belief for these disciples involved an intellectual confidence that Jesus had physically died, that He had risen bodily from the dead, and that He was, therefore, the Messiah, the Son of God, just as He claimed to be.

Now, there may be reasons we struggle to believe this. How do we know Jesus really was dead and literally rose again? Can we trust the Bible when there is so much that seems out of step with what we know or value today? Some ask, “I believe Jesus lived and was a great man, but was He really the Son of God?” Maybe you wrestle with some of these questions yourself. If so, they are legitimate questions. But God has given us good answers to these questions if you will look for them. Belief is not a blind faith in something that is far-fetched or illogical; it is affirming as true what God has done in Christ and has told us in His Word even though we haven’t seen it in person. There are answers to these good questions. Seek them, that you might believe.

But in addition to the factual part of belief, there is a personal aspect to belief. That becomes clear in Jesus’ second visit to the locked room. In John 20:24–29, we find the disciples back in that same room, with the doors locked once again. This time there is a new member of their party who hadn’t been there before—the Apostle Thomas. Thomas was a renowned pessimist. Of course, like every pessimist, he firmly believed he was just a realist. So when the other ten disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas said, in the unauthorized embellished version: “Look, I know we all are disappointed and grieving, but I’m not falling for the unrealistic hope here. Unless I see the nail holes in His hands and my hand into the hole in His side, I won’t believe it.”

When Jesus arrives, He turns immediately to address Thomas, inviting him to put his hands in the nail holes, to feel His side, to stop doubting, and to believe. Thomas’ response to Jesus in John 20:28 beautifully describes the personal commitment involved in genuine belief. After seeing and touching the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas doesn’t say, “OK, you proved it; I guess I’ll believe that You are alive.” No, he responds with a personal expression of love and submission and worship: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). To have the peace the resurrected Jesus offers, to have life in His name, we need more than intellectual assent. We need to know Jesus personally and submit ourselves and our lives to Him as our Lord. Genuine belief is not merely a matter of what we feel or what we think. It is not a benign willingness to believe that God exists or that Jesus really walked the earth. It is a personal trust that Jesus is the One who meets our deepest need such that we submit our hearts and our lives to Him.

Some are happy to acknowledge the reality that God exists. But they, too, have doubts that are a barrier to true belief. These doubts are not intellectual. These doubts are moral: Do I really want to submit to and follow Jesus? Do I really want to give my life to Him and obey His Word? Or do I want to retain my freedom to think and live as seems best to me? If that is your struggle, I remind you of what’s at stake—life or death, under the judgment of God or under the forgiveness of God. I urge you to give yourself to Him personally in love, worship, and obedience; joining Thomas in saying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Do not ignore the kindness of God in sending His Son to die for your sins. Do not ignore the kindness of God in giving us His Word that we might know Jesus and what He has done for us. Do not disbelieve but believe, and you will have life in His name.

Salvation and Beginning in Faith

What Is General Revelation?