Sounds easy, right? Just believe in Jesus, and off you go to heaven after death.
But what then is this bit about “works”?
And what does it mean to “believe”? To “believe in the name of the only Son of God”? It certainly does not mean to believe in the name “Jesus”–for that was not his name. It’s a Latinized version of it that he would not have answered to. We’re not even sure what his real name was—something like “Yeheshua,” perhaps.
It also does not mean believing that Jesus really is the Son of God. According to the New Testament, the Devil himself acknowledges this. And he is not saved.
“Belief” here means something more like trusting. We must trust in God, which is to say, trust in Jesus, who is the “name,” the Word or Logos.
After all, it is philosophically impossible to believe that God does not exist—he must necessarily exist as a concept, or we would have no concept of him. So that whole debate, “does God exist?” is a con. Self-proclaimed atheists never seem to really disbelieve in God; if they really did not believe he existed, why would they be so angry at him? Why would they care? What does not exist cannot hurt them. Do they make such a fuss about not believing in sea serpents?
So believing that God exists, for the religious, is certainly not enough. There is no merit in believing in God in this sense. Rather, are we prepared to raise him up before us on our journey, as our standard, our guide, our protector, as Moses did with the brazen serpent in the desert? That is belief: commitment.
Those who are not prepared to do this, the passage explains in turn, are not prepared to do so for a predictable reason. When one has done something wrong, and does not want to admit it, truth itself becomes the enemy. One does not want truth, and so becomes the enemy of truth. One does not want justice, and so becomes the enemy of justice. One does not want light, and so becomes the enemy of light. One does not want things to be clear; one does not want the ways straight, the truth known, or the light to shine into closets.
This tendency is a basic principle explaining the world as it is. It explains why things are so often the reverse of what they seem to be; why we seem to live in a Looking Glass World. “Choice” means abortion; “affirmative action” means discrimination; “reproductive health” means contraception. We want to do something; we know it is wrong; we justify ourselves by lying about it, even to ourselves; and, over time, we become enemies of truth. This is why John the Baptist, as herald of the incarnation, saw his task as “making the ways straight for the Lord”; because, in the normal course of things, most people had been busy for uncounted generations changing all the signposts. Confucius, asked what was the first task of good government, said, “the rectification of terms.”
All of us are brought up in a Matrix, sold a complex and systematic distortion of the world at school, in the media, and by governments.
The way to salvation is to break out of this and see things in the light, as they are.