Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

evangelism sovereignty packer

The mysterious “they” say the greatest fear of many people—even more than death!—is public speaking. Standing before an audience, whether it’s a group of three or three hundred, is absolutely terrifying for some. But you know something? I think there’s something else that’s far more terrifying, especially for Christians:

Evangelism.

So many of us seem to be terrified of the idea of sharing our faith—we don’t know how to do it, we don’t want to do it “wrong.” But for some of us, our questions about evangelism aren’t simply of the “how-to” variety—they’re all about the “why”:

If God is truly sovereign over all of creation, why do we need to evangelize at all?

Does active evangelism suggest God isn’t really as sovereign as we think?

All of us at one time or another ask these questions, even if it’s only to ourselves. Many of us struggle to see how an all-sovereign God could require human beings to be involved in the work of salvation. At our worst, some fall prey to the notion that we have no need to evangelize at all, while others find themselves without any confidence that God will indeed save some.

J.I. Packer’s classic book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, is a sharp corrective to both of these errors. God’s sovereignty is not a barrier to evangelism, Packer argues. Instead, “faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks” (10). [Read more...]

It’s not insensitive, it’s simply the truth

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It’s not manipulative or insensitive to bring up the urgent nature of salvation. It’s simply the truth. The time of opportunity will end.

As Christians, we’ve come alive to the truth that history isn’t cyclical, always repeating in an endless rotation of events, spinning till any given part of it becomes meaningless. No! We know that God has created this world, and that he will bring it to a close at the judgment. We know that he gives us life, and he takes it away. The time that we have is limited; the amount is uncertain, but the use of it is up to us. So Paul tells us in Ephesians to “make the most of every opportunity (5:16).”

Like a collector buying up a collection, we should desire to capture each fleeting hour and to turn it into a trophy for God and his grace. As Paul said, “The time is short. From now on … those who use the things of the world [should use them] as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29, 31).

What are your circumstances right now? Trust the Lord to use you in them instead of seeking for new ones. Don’t let the passing permanence of your world or the lulling tedium of certain long hours and minutes make a fool of you. The days are “evil” (Eph. 5:16) in the sense that they are dangerous and fleeting, and we must redeem the time and make the most of every hour. So we say with Paul that, in view of a certain judgment, Christ’s love compels us to tell the good news to others (see 2 Cor. 5:10–15). We must be honest not only about the cost of repentance, but also about the expiration date of the offer. Such honesty compels us to urgency.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 58-59

(photo credit: snaps via photopin cc)

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Facing off with Bullying

Barnabas Piper:

The best way to eliminate bullying is to stop emphasizing it. The same wisdom that decided all meanness was bullying decided that the more we point bullying the less it will happen. That’s garbage. Bullying isn’t just a bad action like selling drugs or stealing cars. It is psychological warfare and thrives on fear. The fear in the bully drives him to make others even more afraid. And the more we “see” bullies hiding behind every insult and under every conflict the more we feed the fear. We must be aware but not paranoid.

Where is Biblical Counseling’s Ken Ham?

David Murray:

I know of no single biblical counselor who rejects the observations of secular psychiatry. Biblical counselors embrace the same facts as secular counselors, integrationists, and Christian psychologists. Biblical counselors are not distinct from these other approaches in their embrace of the facts but in their approach to and understanding of these facts.

I think this is true in principle, but I don’t see much evidence of it in practice. That’s where I’d like to see the biblical counseling movement mature and develop, and it could do so by taking a leaf out of Ken Ham’s book.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new Kindle deals for you:

How to create a culture of evangelism

Mack Stiles:

But in a culture of evangelism the work is grassroots, not top-down. In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church; they understand that church, just being biblical church, is a witness in and of itself. The church supports and prays for outreach and evangelistic opportunities, but the church’s role is not primarily to run evangelistic programs. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism, the church does not do evangelism.

I know this point may seem a bit picky, but it’s really important. If you don’t get this point right, you can subvert the church. We want church to be church, and members to be seeker friendly, not the other way around.

Brothers, don’t ignore the devout nations

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

Recently, Time shared the list of the most and least godly cities (which, incidentally, was updated here). Careful readers will hopefully find much to be encouraged about in it—there is much work to be done in America, and there are many who have not been reached with the gospel, so there’s much to be excited about. But there’s one item I hope missionaries and church planters ignore entirely:

Christian missionaries can apparently steer clear of Tennessee, as the report suggests the state is the most devout in the union. Chattanooga was found to be the most Bible-minded city in America, a title it won from last year’s victor, Knoxville.

I’ve got a lot of friends in Tennessee (in fact, we’re going for a visit in just a few weeks—you have been warned), and I’ve gotta say, there are some amazing churches and ministries in this fine state:

  • LifeWay’s doing some amazing stuff, with the Gospel Project and a number of other initiatives;
  • Ray Ortlund and Immanuel Church are seeking to “make the real Jesus non-ignorable,” (which, by the way, is one of the best mission statements ever);
  • Josh Howerton, Matt Svoboda and the crew at The Bridge are doing great things down in Spring Hill.

Then there’s The Fellowship, Grace Community Church, Christ Community Church… and those are just a few of the ones I know about surrounding Nashville!

There are so many wonderful, gospel-loving, Jesus-proclaiming churches in a state like Tennessee that it’s easy to forget that there are still a whole lot more that are either soft on the gospel, or have abandoned it altogether. In my own homeland, Canada, we don’t have remotely close to the remaining cultural openness to Christianity that America does, but we still have many good, faithful churches.

And you know what those churches need?

They need more faithful churches around them.

They need more faithful brothers and sisters working alongside them, sharing the good news about Jesus, preaching the Scriptures unashamedly, shaking sleepy churches out of complacency, and rescuing people from the clutches of damnably apostate ones.

In our country, where there are tens of thousands of churches across the land, and yet anywhere between four and eight per cent of the population are evangelicals, and is home to the single largest unreached people group in North America, there is a great need for the gospel. In fact, it’s a need at least as great as that of many lesser developed nations. Though it was once so, a devout nation we are not.

Brothers, we must go out to all the nations. We dare not neglect the call to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples from every tribe, tongue and nation (Matt: 28:19-20).

But don’t ignore the “devout” nations, either.

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And The Most Godless City in America Is…

America, you may have a new Sodom and Gomorrah.

The two least “Bible-minded” cities in the United States are the adjacent metros of Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass., according to a study out Wednesday from the American Bible Society.

The study defines “Bible-mindedness” as a combination of how often respondents read the Bible and how accurate they think the Bible is. “Respondents who report reading the bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible are classified as ‘Bible Minded,’” says the study’s methodology.

A Golden Age in Christian Publishing

Tim Challies:

I sometimes find myself grumbling a little bit about the state of publishing today, and especially the state of Christian publishing. Many of the big publishers have been gobbled up by corporations whose primary concern is not the glory of God but the health of the bottom line. Some of the medium-sized publishers seem to collect any and every rambling word of the popular pastors and personalities so they can slap those words on paper. Many of the smallest publishers are churning out books that simply do not deserve to be printed. New tools for self-publishing allow anyone with an idea to commit it to paper and distribute it as widely as they can. And that’s not all that is concerning or annoying. There are the thousands of truly awful, unbiblical books being published each year, and the fact that the bestseller lists are inevitably dominated by titles that are not only bad, but often downright dangerous.

And yet, when I stop and consider the state of Christian publishing, I can’t help but think that we are in a golden age. A strange age, to be sure, but a golden one nonetheless. Christians today are extraordinarily blessed by a vast number of excellent, Christ-centered, God-glorifying books.

I see evidence for this golden age in so many different ways.

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Keeping it Real

Aimee Byrd:

We now live in a culture that cares about natural sources and baptismal candidates that aren’t going to break the pastor’s back. In a time where our technology can easy distance us from meaningful relationships, we are also concerned about Christian community. But we don’t want the plastic community that tucks their shirts in and pretends like they are more sanctified-than-thou. We want authentic community that is honest about their struggles in the journey.

Has ‘Authenticity’ Trumped Holiness?

Brett McCracken:

In recent years, evangelical Christianity has made its imperfection a point of emphasis. Books were published with titles like Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect PeopleDeath by Church and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and churches popped up with names like Scum of the Earth and Salvage Yard. Evangelicals made films like Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, wrote blog posts with titles like “Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians,” and maintained websites like anchoredmess.commodernreject.com,churchmarketingsucks.comrecoveringevangelical.com, and wrecked.org—a site that includes categories like “A Hot Mess,” “Muddling Through,” “My Broken Heart,” and “My Wreckage.”

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Let the full weight land on you

Also, here’s nice set of photos covering the March for Life event yesterday. Praise God for those who could brave the weather to speak up on behalf of those who cannot.

Photo via @kathrynlopez

HT Denny Burk

The Death of Witnessing

Leon Brown:

There are many impediments to witnessing (i.e., sharing your faith). Many of us are absolutely terrified. Beads of sweat begin to moisten our backs merely at the thought of evangelistic outreach. Sometimes we think it is better left to the professionals. They will say the right things; they will have all the answers; they will navigate the witnessing conversation appropriately. The list of impediments, some of which may be better categorized as excuses, is extensive. However, when you finally muster the courage to talk to others about Jesus, there is another force that prohibits you. In fact, it is not something you can control. It is technology.

Just A Tiny Bit Of Arsenic

Mark Altrogge:

Beware the thought that says, “A little bit won’t hurt.” That’s a lie from hell.

Would you drink a glass of water if I said to you “There’s just a tiny bit of arsenic in this, but it won’t hurt you”? What airline would let someone board who said, “I only have a small bomb with me”?

The ‘Big Lie’ in putting off pregnancy

Wendy Sachs on the new book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock:

Perhaps one of the greatest myths today is the ability of science to step in and make babies for women at virtually any age. Selvaratnam says that we see the success stories, but rarely hear about the huge numbers of failed attempts. A 2009 report on Assisted Reproductive Technologies, or ARTs, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the single most important factor affecting the chances of a successful pregnancy through ARTs is a woman’s age. Selvaratnam reports that at age 40, the chance is 18.7%; at 42, it’s 10%; at 44, it’s only 2.9%.

“We are the guinea pig generation for testing the limits of our fertility, or our chances of having a child. The shock and the lack of preparation when you’re not prepared and the pressure women feel in general about our reproductive selves adds to the shame women feel when they can’t get pregnant,” Selvaratnam said.

Save on Paul Miller’s A Loving Life at WTS Books

Over at Westminster Books, Paul Miller’s new book, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships, is on sale for 50% off, or 62% off if you buy three or more copies. This sale ends today.

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30 really mean notes written by children

Prepared to be shocked at the brutal honesty of children.

Seven Standards for Good Writing

Barnabas Piper:

What is good writing? This book isn’t very good. That one is. But what is this “good”? Some might say good writing is only a matter of preference, but that gives too much power to one with limited taste. If you only like theology books then Pat Conroy’s heartbreaking novels won’t seem so good to you. But you’d be wrong.

How can I call an opinion about a subjective form wrong? Well, because there are standards by which I can argue. Yes, each standard is open for debate, but combine them all and a sieve of sorts is formed to sift the poor works and let through the quality ones.

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Preventing sexual abuse in the church

Trillia Newbell, Justin Holcomb and Scotty Smith discuss:

What about those who never heard…?

Todd Pruitt, sharing wisdom from Francis Schaeffer:

It is a vexing question for many: “What about those who have never heard?” How can God hold accountable for believing the gospel those who have never heard the gospel? Certainly God cannot send a man to Hell for not believing when he never even had the opportunity to reject the gospel in the first place. The very idea flies in the face of all our notions of justice.

But the question itself is fatally flawed. Are we condemned for rejecting the gospel? Or are we condemned because we are sinners?

The following is a helpful thought experiment from Francis Schaeffer…

tripp-quote

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Create a Disciple-Making Plan for 2014

Tim Brister:

…I believe you and I need to have a disciple-making plan for our lives. Yes we need to pray. Yes we need to study and learn. But we also need a personal plan and process that we embrace in order to orient our lives around making, maturing, mobilizing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. It simply cannot be tangential or accidental or on the periphery of your life. It cannot be relegated to a small compartment of your life or canned program. To make disciples, you need to be “all in.”

I Want to Turn Your Dreams Back On

Check out John Piper’s plenary session at Cross:

The transcript is also available at the link if you don’t feel like watching the entire hour.

Reject the Entre-Pastor

Jeff Medders:

I don’t know how much longer I can stomach the fake church.… The “church” that looks more like a cheap Vegas act than a gathering of sinners drinking from the fountain of grace that flows from Emmanuel’s veins. There is a style of Churchianty that is all about the tinsel and lights, it’s not about Him. A Church-centered Church is no biblical church. The Church doesn’t exist for herself, no more than a Bride exists to be a Bride for the sake of being a Bride. The Church is a Bride for the Groom—for Christ. Remember the movies where a woman tries on a wedding dress and does it for her own enjoyment? That’s exactly how many churches operate. They put on their shows, their decanted ghost-written sermons, and gawk at themselves in the reflections of their satellite campus cameras. “Lights, camera, actions…oh yeah, and Jesus too”. There will be a big judgment for these men. Jesus will handle these charlatans at the Eschaton.

But this should give us an awkward pause of reflection.

Pray For Your Daughter

Mike Leake is getting ready to launch a new 31-day prayer challenge on January 1—this time for our daughters. As a father of two little girls, I’m really looking forward to taking part in this one.

Which Christians actually evangelize?

Kate Tracy:

Despite worries that millennials have given up on Christianity, or that they’re too focused on social justice campaigns, young adults are sharing their faith the most frequently. By contrast, evangelism is fading fastest among the middle class.

Courage and the Christian life

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A couple weeks ago, a news story broke where a waitress who identifies as a lesbian claimed a family refused to tip her because they don’t agree with her lifestyle. The other day, the story returned to the news with a twist—it turns out the server lied.

While there’s a great deal one could say about the whole story, one of the things that struck me about it—even though it turned out to be false—was how much more difficult a story like this makes it for us to be effective witnesses to the gospel in the public square. Because Christians are typically depicted as backwards, hate-filled and homophobic by the media, stories like this make us want to stay quiet. We don’t want to speak up about anything.

And yet, speaking up isn’t something we can avoid—love won’t allow it. And so we need courage. Owen Strachan explains in his excellent new book, Risky Gospel:

…here’s the thing we must remember if we are to have a bold public witness: calling sinners out of sin is not hateful. It’s loving.

This is true of the gospel itself, right? It’s loving for someone to have shared the good news of Christ’s sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection with us. It’s unloving for a Christian not to share this message of hope. In the same way, it’s unloving for us not to speak the truth, whether in public or in private, about homosexuality—or adultery, lying, fear of man, pride, or lust.

It’s not hateful to tell your neighbor that he or she is trapped in sin. It’s kind and compassionate, and especially when you do so in a gracious and kind way. You can do it poorly if you speak without awareness of your own sin, of course. But if you’re humble and empathetic, and you courageously speak the truth about sin, you are by definition being loving. (190)

When the world calls “evil” “good”—whether we’re talking about homosexuality, lust, greed, adultery, pornography—it’s not unloving for us to say we disagree. There is a way to do it which is unloving, but what’s more unloving is for us to say nothing.

If we are Christians, we don’t have the option of being silent, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. If we love our neighbors, we must speak.

Evangelism means being honest

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Let’s not believe that we are simply all engaged in some search for truth. The fall did not leave people neutral toward God but at enmity with him. Therefore we must not pretend that non-Christians are seekers by the simple virtue of their having been made in the image of God. The Bible teaches that people are by nature estranged from God, and we must be honest about that.

What is repentance? It is turning from the sins you love to the holy God you’re called to love. It is admitting that you’re not God. It is beginning to value Jesus more than your immediate pleasure. It is giving up those things the Bible calls sin and leaving them to follow Jesus.

When we tell the gospel to people, we need to do it with honesty. To hold back important and unpalatable parts of the truth is to begin to manipulate and to try to sell a false bill of goods to the person with whom we are sharing. So however we evangelize, we aren’t to hide problems, to ignore our own shortcomings, or to deny difficulties. And we are not to put forward only positives that we imagine our non-Christian friends presently value and present God as simply the means by which they can meet or achieve their own ends. We must be honest.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 56-57

Evangelism is the enterprise of love

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photo: iStock

I remember some time ago, my wife and I were watching a documentary that featured some pretty unusual ideas about evangelism. A so-called evangelist was interviewed and boldly proclaimed that she could get anyone to come to Christ “like that.” Her attitude was smug and self-serving—she seemed far more concerned about getting notches on her belt than properly proclaiming the gospel.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but sadly it’s anything but. I remember sitting in a worship gathering and being told quite emphatically that if we, the congregation members, weren’t each leading five people to Christ every year, we were failing in our duties as a Christian. The mindset was all about numbers, and honestly, made it even harder for me to actually share my faith with anyone.

What if I did it wrong? What if people didn’t respond? What if what if what if…

Looking back, I realize that the issue surrounding much of this mindset stems from having the wrong motivation. It’s not bad to want to see lots of people come to Christ through your personal ministry, but if we’re fixated on counting exactly how many, we’ll be disappointed. Evangelism becomes about me, and not about others. And this is why I so appreciate what J.I. Packer says in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

It must never be forgotten that the enterprise required of us in evangelism is the enterprise of love: an enterprise that springs from a genuine interest in those whom we seek to win, and a genuine care for their well-being, and expresses itself in a genuine respect for them and a genuine friendliness toward them. One sometimes meets a scalp-hunting zeal in evangelism, both in the pulpit and on the personal level, which is both discreditable and alarming. It is discreditable, because it reflects, not love and care nor the desire to be of help, but arrogance and conceit and pleasure in having power over the lives of others. It is alarming, because it finds expression in a ferocious psychological pummeling of the poor victim, which may do great damage to sensitive and impressionable souls. But if love prompts and rules our evangelistic work, we shall approach other people in a different spirit. If we truly care for them, and if our hearts truly love and fear God, then we shall seek to present Christ to them in a way that is both honoring to God and respectful to them. We shall not try to violate their personalities, or exploit their weaknesses, or ride roughshod over their feelings. What we shall be trying to do, rather, is to show them the reality of our friendship and concern by sharing with them our most valuable possession. And this spirit of friendship and concern will shine through all that we say to them, whether in the pulpit or in private, however drastic and shattering the truths that we tell them may be.

The enterprise of evangelism is the enterprise of love. Our motivation isn’t numbers or acclaim from within our own circles, but to express our love for Jesus by telling the lost about Jesus. We speak in a way that is honoring to Jesus, is respectful to our hearers, and we leave the results in God’s hands.

What Will It Take?

If I could explain all the mysteries of the Bible, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I could show you many signs and wonders, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I sacrificed all that I have and all I am in service to the poor and oppressed, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I could live my life in such a way that there wouldn’t be even a hint of hypocrisy, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.

If I could prove my genuine love and concern for you over and over again, then would you believe?

No, you wouldn’t.

I cannot create a compelling enough argument to make you believe.

I cannot point to any sign that you could not explain away.

I cannot sacrifice enough or be authentic enough to convince you that the gospel is true.

No matter what I say or do, no matter how hard I try, there will always be another excuse to continue in unbelief.

While every day of my life will be spent seeking to live more and more in light of what Christ has done, I know I will stumble and fail. I will say and do things that will cause you to say, “See, this is why I don’t believe!”

I can’t not disappoint. I’m a sinner just like you.

So let’s be honest. I want you to believe the truth of the gospel. I want you to believe that Jesus Christ—God the Son in human form—lived a perfect life in obedience to God the Father, was crucified to pay for my sins and yours, and rose again in victory over sin, death and judgment.

You don’t want to believe this and there is nothing I can do on my own to convince you otherwise.

Fortunately, there is one thing I can do: I can pray for the One who can convince you to do exactly that.

I can pray for a miracle.

The only thing that will make you believe is if God, through the Holy Spirit, gives you a new heart—one that can see the truth and is willing to respond to it.

Then all the arguments will crumble.

Then all the barriers will break down.

Then all the excuses will come to an end.

And then you will believe.

Shall Not The Judge Of All The Earth Do What Is Just?

How can a God who loves the world permit anyone to perish this way? Jesus answers, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). The key word is condemned. The God who loves the world is also a perfectly holy judge. Abraham asked, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). The answer is yes! God’s holy nature requires justice. This means that we must be judged for our sins unless they can be removed, the judgment being eternal death (see Rom. 6:23).

This is where God’s love enters, because God showed His love for the world by sending His Son to die for our sins. God made a way for us to be forgiven and escape judgment, at infinite cost to Himself. This way requires that we receive God’s Son in faith, so that our sins may be transferred to His account at the cross, where Jesus died as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). But if we spurn God’s loving offer of salvation and refuse to believe on Jesus Christ, neither we nor God can avoid our condemnation. No unbeliever will suffer in hell because God lacked love, but “because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

People resent the thought of God condemning anyone, especially them. But we have no cause to resent God. Jesus Himself revealed God’s purpose in giving His Son to die for our sins: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God is never mean-spirited, even in His awful wrath. He has extended love to a world that is wicked, rebellious, and already condemned. God did not send Jesus to cause sinners to perish; sinners were going to perish without Jesus having to die. But God lovingly sent His Son to pay with His own blood the sin-debt for all who believe. God is like a doctor who prescribes the healing medicine. But if we refuse to admit our sickness and refuse to take the pills, we condemn ourselves to death. So it is with all who refuse to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition, location 1150)

Give Your Amen to Jesus

There is an unfortunate tendency when it comes to interpreting John 3:16. John says, “whoever believes in him” will not perish. Some people think that “believing in” Jesus means nothing more than giving assent. They hang their hopes for heaven on this slender reed: “Sure, I believe in Jesus.” They mean that they believe that He exists and agree with at least some of what the Bible says about Him. But the biblical teaching about Jesus means practically nothing to them. They “believe in” Jesus in much the same way a child “believes in” Santa Claus. It is the particular legend or story with which they were brought up.

But John means much more than this when he writes that whoever “believes in” Jesus Christ will not perish. In his outstanding study of John’s Gospel, C. H. Dodd points out that this Greek construction translates a common Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament that employs a form of amen, a word that signifies something that is firmly held or established. Isaiah used it in his famous statement to King Ahaz: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Isa. 7:9b). Therefore, when John says “whoever believes in him,” he is speaking of those who give their “Amen” to Jesus, embracing Him as a trustworthy Savior and committing themselves to Him.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition, location 1108)