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Look and live.
Arthur W. Pink on the look of faith which brings salvation to the sinner.
John chapter 3 is, perhaps, one of the most loaded scenes in the entire recorded history of Jesus’s life. It stands out among the rest of the Gospel accounts because of the eponymous words of the Savior regarding his mission in the world — namely, that because of the love the Heavenly Father, he was sent in order that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Those words constitute what is surely the most memorable refrain from this incredibly revealing twilight conversation between a rigid Pharisee and a rogue Galilean Teacher. But while the sixteenth verse might get the majority of the acclaim, it is, actually, the fourteenth verse which provides the redolent and resonant reasons why that is so.
After confusing the snot out of Nicodemus with all that talk about being born again, Jesus presses further into the matter by describing how this second birth comes about. To do so, he utilizes a most captivating image from Israel’s wilderness wandering days. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” Jesus asserts, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15). Capitalizing on Nicodemus’s Old Testament acuity, Jesus intends to reconfigure the way in which that familiar tale of the bronze serpent was understood. This he does by evincing that that serpent of brass crafted by Moses which led to the healing of countless incapacitated Israelites was but a shadow of what he was here to establish. That is, free forgiveness for every stinking sinner on the basis of the sin-atoning-death of the only begotten Son of God. And the kicker is: all it takes is a “look of faith.” Here’s an excerpt from Arthur W. Pink’s commentary on this same passage which further clarifies this incandescent news:
Just as the bitten Israelites were healed by a look of faith, so the sinner may be saved by looking to Christ by faith. Saving faith is not some difficult and meritorious work which man must perform so as to give him a claim upon God for the blessing of salvation. It is not on account of our faith that God saves us, but it is through the means of our faith. It is in believing we are saved. It is like saying to a starving man, He that eats of this food shall be relieved from the pangs of hunger, and be refreshed and strengthened. Eating is no meritorious performance, but, from the nature of things, eating is the indispensable means of relieving hunger. To say that when a man believes he shall be saved, is just to say that the guiltiest of the guilty, and the vilest of the vile, is welcome to salvation, if he will but receive it in the only way in which, from the nature of the case, it can be received, namely, by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which means believing what God has recorded concerning His Son in the Holy Scriptures. The moment a sinner does that he is saved, just as God said to Moses, “It shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”
“Every one that is bitten.” No matter how many times he may have been bitten; no matter how far the poison had advanced in its progress toward a fatal issue, if he but looked he should “live.” Such is the Gospel declaration: “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” There is no exception. The vilest wretch on the face of the earth, the most degraded and despised, the most miserable and wretched of all human kind, who believes in Christ shall be saved by Him with an everlasting salvation. Not sin but unbelief can bar the sinner’s way to the Saviour. It is possible that some of the Israelites who heard of the Divinely appointed remedy made light of it; it may be that some of them cherished wicked doubts as to the possibility of them obtaining any relief by looking at a brazen serpent; some may have hoped for recovery by the use of ordinary means; no matter, if these things were true of them, and later they found the disease gaining on them, and then they lifted up a believing eye to the Divinely erected standard, they too were healed. And should these lines be ready by one who has long procrastinated, who has continued for many long years in a course of stout-hearted unbelief and impenitence, nevertheless, the marvelous grace of our God declares to you, that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is still the “accepted time”; it is still “the day of salvation.” Believe now, and thou shalt be saved . . .
The Lord Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He does not define the method or the manner of coming, and even if the poor sinner comes groping, stumbling, falling, yet if only he will “come” there is a warm welcome for him. So it is in our text: it is “whosoever believeth” — nothing is said about the strength or the intelligence of the belief, for it is not the character or degree of faith that saves, but Christ Himself. Faith is simply the eye of the soul that looks off unto the Lord Jesus. Do not rest, then, on your faith, but on the Saviour Himself. (2:1.133–35)
And so it is that saving faith is clearly identified and defined, not as a meritorious performance but as a desperate “look of faith” to the only Object which can dispense healing grace. That’s the only requirement to be made whole, to be saved everlastingly. Nothing else is demanded, because the Savior “lifted up” on the tree for you has met every demand already. Look and live, my friends.
Grace and peace to you.
Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Vols. 1–3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975).