Just as He called Nicodemus, so Jesus Christ calls for us all to believe in Him. Unfortunately, the English words that we translate as believing or faith do not fully capture the dynamic nature of the Greek word for believing. To aid us in exploring this concept of belief, I'll introduce you to two men...
On the other side of the world, there is this man. For his safety, we will call him by the name Alexander. He lives in a country that is predominantly Islamic; in fact, nearly 100% of the population professes to be Muslim. Alexander struggles to provide for his family. His government is corrupt, and he joins the rest of his people in struggling to make it in an amoral and dishonest system. Alexander lives a moral life, and he is easily described as a "good man."
There is this thing about Alexander, though, that you should know. He met a family several months ago, an American family, and he became friends with the husband. This family came to Alexander's country on a work visa, but he knew from the beginning that something was different about them. They are kind and loving, even toward strangers. They have a joy upon their faces that Alexander longs to possess. Even their young children, who now live far away from their family, friends, and the comforts of home, seem to have a greater purpose in their present circumstances.
You see, unbeknownst to him, Alexander met a missionary family, and they have built a friendship with Alexander and his family. A trusting friendship has evolved, and in the privacy of their home the missionaries have told Alexander the message of Jesus Christ.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. 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 3:16-18
The crazy thing is that while Alexander wants to believe the message of the missionaries, he has not converted yet. The first time he heard the story of Jesus, the true story of the Gospel, his eyes were opened to the Truth. A spark ignited in his heart to know the One for whom he was created and to experience freedom from sin. He wrestles every day with what to do, for he longs to know Jesus. You might wonder why he does not just "pray a prayer" and get it over with - why not just confess his sins and believe? But he cannot do this so flippantly. Alexander knows that to truly believe, to commit his life to Jesus, will require all of him. The change may first occur in the privacy of his own heart, but the time will come when he must testify to his true allegiance. And where he lives, it could literally cost him his life. Only time will tell what Alexander ultimately decides.
There is this other guy, an American we will call Joe. He is a single, thirty-something business professional. Joe lives in the city and enjoys a thriving social life after work hours. Joe lives in excess, pursuing pleasure to his heart's content. He spends his money and his time on frivolous activities, and he laughs at the days to come. Joe is addicted to pornography, although no one knows of this secret activity. Joe wants to have a family some day, but he believes he is too young to settle down just yet. There is too much fun to be had! Joe has many friends, and most would describe him as a "good guy."
Joe attends church only a few times a year, typically around the major holidays and when his parents are visiting. He doesn't ever read the Bible because he says it is boring and hard to understand. When asked what his spiritual beliefs are, Joe claims he is a Christian. He says, in a monotone voice, that he "prayed the prayer" at a VBS when he was young, and he was baptized shortly thereafter. That's about all Joe has to say on the topic.
When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus under the blanket of night so long ago, He simplified the diversity of humanity by breaking us all down into only two categories: those who cling to the darkness, and those who come into the light. How do you know into which camp you fall? By what you do...
"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:19-21
Which man truly grasps the call of Christ to believe? It seems that our friend Alexander, while he has not responded yet, "gets it." Alexander may be a good man, but he will never be good enough. He is still enslaved to sin and in need of a Savior. He understands that if he chooses to believe on Jesus, it is an all or nothing decision. For Alexander, it might literally be a life or death decision.
Our friend Joe, on the other hand, has completely missed the point. He stumbles along in this life, blinded by his own arrogance and pride. He gropes in the darkness for a contentment that this world cannot offer him, and he flees from the light. Joe hardly considers eternity, thinking he nailed it down long ago when he recited that simple prayer, almost like they were magical words. Joe thinks he's fine, but he too is still enslaved to sin and in need of a Savior.
The cost to follow Christ is the same for us all, just as it is for Alexander, just as it was for Nicodemus. To truly believe in Him requires that we completely give our lives to Him. Genuine belief leads to a radically altered life. There is no other way.