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John 6:25-29 (NIV)
Jesus the Bread of Life
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
1 John 3:23 makes an odd statement, teaching that all of God’s commandments can be boiled down to one word: believe. Once again, John is not misquoting Jesus. In John 6:29, Jesus himself says that the work of God is “to believe in the one he has sent,” which is to say, believe in Jesus. The key to understanding why Jesus emphasizes believing over doing is found in the previous verse, where the disciples ask “what must we do to do the works God requires.” They are recognizing an important doctrine: on our own, we cannot keep God’s commands, or do the work God requires. We can never fully turn away from our selfishness and devote our lives to others. The only way this happens is through a living relationship with Jesus. When Jesus takes over management of our hearts, then we can do God’s works. So, the first work is to actually believe in Jesus, especially believe that Jesus can move into our hearts and change us. This truth is nicely expressed in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Their ‘step 3’ is to “make a decision to turn our wills and lives over to God …” But they wisely precede that with step 2, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It’s the same teaching as the Bible: we need to believe in the power who can help us before we can live a better life.