28 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
The crowd misunderstood Jesus’ point. Jesus did not intend that the Jews should do some novel work to please God. His point was simply that pure material goals were not worth pursuing.
Then they said to Him,
The Jews responded to Jesus on a human level and missed His point of how people obtain eternal life. They thought that God set up some human standard for salvation.
“What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
“Work the works” is a Hebraism meaning that this group was oriented to works salvation. The people missed Jesus’ point of salvation by grace. They assumed that they could do something to gain God’s approval. They thought the action to which Jesus referred was action demanded by God so that they could be saved. This was to miss the point that eternal life is something given rather than something worked for.
Ro 10:2-4, For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
The Jews expressed no doubt about their ability to do the “works of God.” They had difficulty in understanding that eternal life was a gift. They could not fully grasp the grace of God.
Jesus answered and said to them,
Jesus unequivocally challenged their assumption about a salvation whereby one could work for it (Eph 2:8-9; Ti 3:5).
“This is the work [undertaking] of God,
The crowd spoke of “works” but Jesus spoke of a “work.” There is only one “work” that is required from God for salvation, the work of faith. This “work” lies as the sole prerequisite for salvation. The work of God is not what man does for God but the reception of what God has done for people.
that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Believing in Jesus is God’s only qualification for our salvation. Man is totally unable to save himself. Jesus reversed the crowd’s question of how we shall work the works of God to a question of belief.
Belief in Jesus is to believe in a coherent object.
Jesus is the supreme object of our faith. He is the one whom the Father sent. As the Son He spent eternity in the presence of the Father. The Father sent this Son. It is He who is to be believed to receive eternal life. Those who listen to Jesus cannot dodge His claims.
Jesus said in this verse that to believe in the Messiah is “the work of God.” All salvation is by grace and therefore a “gift” from God (Eph 2:8). This is faith apart from the works of the law (Ro 3:28).
The “work of God” is not what we do but what God does for our salvation. Our role is simply to believe His work on our behalf. Faith brings no merit to God. We come to God empty so that He can fill us with His grace.