(Jn. 3:36) Does this passage require obedience in order to have saving faith?

CLAIM: Jesus says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36). John MacArthur writes, “Thus the true test of faith is this: does it produce obedience? If not, it is not saving faith. Disobedience is unbelief. Real faith obeys.”[1] Lordship theologians use this verse to equate faith with obedience. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: The Greek word for “obey” here is apeitheo. The KJV interprets apeitheo as “he who does not believe.” Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich write, “Since, in view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their gospel, apeitheo may be restricted in some passages to the meaning “disbelieve, be an unbeliever.” This sense… seems most probable.”[2] Charles Bing adds, “Thus framed in terms of Christ’s authority, the rejection of Christ’s testimony is characterized as the disobedience or rebellion which refuses to believe Him (3:32). It is therefore consistent with John’s Gospel, the “Faith Gospel,” if apeitheo is understood as disobedience to the command to believe.” Likewise, Leon Morris (commenting on 2 Thess. 1:7-8) writes, “The second clause… involves the rejection of the revelation that God has given in His Son. The gospel is a message of good news, but it is also an invitation from the King of kings. Rejection of the gospel accordingly is disobedience to a royal invitation.”[3]

[1] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 47.

[2] BAGD, s.v. “apeitheo,” 82.

[3] Leon Morris The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), 205.