Most great leaders are known for a single idea. That doesn't mean that great leaders only have one idea, but in terms of history, most are remembered for one thing. Just about every historical figure can be boiled down to a main claim. Abraham Lincoln's main claim was that slavery must end. He may have loved golf and afternoon tea, but that's not why we remember him. We remember him for his main claim, and that he was swaying a country to believe in His fantastic idea. Martin Luther's main claim was that the established church was wrong. For Martin Luther King Jr. it was that people of any color could win equality by peaceful protest. Most every leader from history can be boiled down to a main claim. Jesus, too, can be explained in terms of what His main claim was. That is what we will explore in this section.
In the last section, we discovered that you don't need to believe everything about Jesus before you can believe in Him for salvation. In this section, we will learn that a person must believe that Jesus' main claim is true. Think of His powerful words to the Pharisees.
If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
This reveals Jesus’ main claim that must be believed for eternal life to be received. What’s the main claim? Jesus’ main claim is: “I am He.” His main claim has to do with His identity. Believing that His main claim is true, that He is who He claims to be, will rescue the believer from spiritual death. But, who does He claim to be? Knowing who He claimed to be is to know His main claim.
Throughout the Gospel of John He claims to be: Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the one written about by the prophets and Moses. These are not all different identities, but various ways of describing the same identity. I know a man who is a dad, a college professor, a church elder, and an artist. I’m talking about one person who is recognized by different titles and characteristics. In the same way, Jesus can be identified with any of these titles. That unified set of ideas is His main claim. Jesus’ main claim is His identity and the ability that comes with that identity.
Believing in Jesus is to believe that He is who He claims to be. By extension, then, believing in Jesus is to believe that He can also do what He promises to do. After all, the Savior is the one who saves. So you can't believe that He is savior and not also believe that He saves. Believing in Jesus is about believing in His identity and His resulting ability. Jesus' main claim is His identity and ability. That is what one must believe to be saved.
Fortunately, the Gospel of John doesn't just tell us that people believed in Jesus. It also gives a handful of examples of what people actually believed about Jesus. This is the belief that got them saved. These people were saved by their faith. They then openly expressed that faith. This is an indispensable insight on what someone has to believe to be saved. Take a look at these salvation statements from John the Baptist, Philip, Andrew, Nathanael, Peter, Martha, John, and the Samaritans. Note the following page for these statements.
What do you notice about each of these statements from the early believers? What did they all believe about Jesus? They each recognized Him for who He was. They each used slightly different words to describe who they’d realized Him to be, but they all recognized Him. That’s what it means to believe in Him. To believe that He is who He claims to be and be convinced He will do what he’s promised to do is belief in Jesus.
This is what the first chapter of John explains when it says:
The Light [which is Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… (John 1:5)
Believing in Jesus has to do with comprehending, or recognizing Him as the one He claims to be. If you believe Jesus existed, but He wasn't who He claimed, then the above verse describes you. You haven't comprehended the light which is Jesus. Though, John chapter one goes on to explain that there would be those who do accept His main claim of identity and ability:
He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:11-12)
Though many refuse to recognize Him as the one He claimed to be, some do accept His claim. There would be those who believe in His name. If I claim to be Lucas Kitchen, you can believe that is my name. If I claim to be Abraham Lincoln, it would make sense that you don’t believe that’s my name. In the same way, those who believe in Jesus’ name are believing that He is the person He claims to be. They are believing that the name He claims, Messiah, Son of God, or Savior, is accurate.
Belief in Jesus’ identity and ability is present in all of the statements on the chart. Each of these believers believed in Jesus’ main claim. They believed that He was who He claimed to be, the Savior sent from God, and that consequently He would do what He promised to do, give every believer eternal life.
There are many great things one should believe about Jesus, but there is only one simple set of ideas which if believed, brings about a new birth into eternal life. Believe Jesus’ main claim is true and you have everlasting life. Believe in Jesus to give you eternal life, and you will get it the moment you believe.
Let’s make it personal. If you are convinced that Jesus saves all people who believe in Him, that belief must include that Jesus “saves you” if you believe in Him. As one author has written, justifying faith is being convinced that the facts of salvation are true and that what has happened must have happened “for me” and “for my sake.”1 If you believe that Jesus is willing to save all people, then by extension that salvation is extended to you if you believe it. Believing that He is the savior must also mean that He saves you as soon as you believe in Him as such. Believe in Jesus for everlasting life (or some equivalent term)2 and you are saved forever.
1 Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), p. 230.
2 Examples include: Go to Heaven when you die, Saved, Justified, Be with God forever, Enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and many other equivalent terms.