WHO AM I?

God wants us to know that we are far more than what we have been told by Satan and other people. No one has the power to define us but the One Who created us and redeemed us. God takes a lot of time in the Bible to tell us who we are when we become His children through faith in Jesus (John 1:12; I John 5:1). The phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” is used 120 times in the New Testament and refers to how God sees us after we become children of God by believing in Jesus.

Who am I after I come to faith in Jesus?

I am never alone (Deut. 31:6, 8; Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5)

I am the apple of my Father’s eye (Ps. 17:8; Matt. 6:26; 10:29-31)

I am a delight to God (Ps. 18:19; Zeph. 3:17)

I am cherished and loved by God (Ps. 27:10)

I am hope-filled (Ps. 27:13; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 5:5)

I am helped, not helpless (Isa. 41:10, 13)

I am redeemed by God and therefore, I belong to Him (Isa. 43:1b).

I am always loved by God no matter what (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 5:8; 8:37-39)

I am the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13)

I am the light of the world (Matt. 5:14)

I am a child of rest, no longer having to work for my salvation (Matt. 11:28)

I am precious to Jesus Who gave up everything to redeem or purchase me (Matt. 13:45-46; I Cor. 6:19-20; I Pet. 1:18-19)

I am given authority over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:17, 19-20)

I am given everlasting life and will not be judged for my sins in the future (John 5:24)

I am free from bondage to sin positionally (John 8:31-36)

I am part of the True Vine, a channel of Christ’s life (John 15:1, 5)

I am chosen and appointed by Christ to produce lasting fruit (John 15:16)

I am given the power of the Holy Spirit inside me (Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:11; Gal. 5:22-23)

I am given peace with God through faith in Jesus (Rom. 5:1)

I am given hope because the love of God was poured out in my heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5)

I am dead to sin (Rom. 6:2, 11; I Pet. 2:24)

I am set free from the power of sin (Rom. 6:2-11)

I am a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:18)

I am slave of God (Rom. 6:22)

I have the Spirit of adoption by whom I cry out to God, ‘Abba (Daddy/Papa), Father.’” (Rom. 8:15)

I am free from accusation in Christ (Rom. 8:33)

I am free from condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:34)

I have an eternal inheritance from God (glorified resurrection body/eternal dwelling on the New Earth) that cannot be taken from me (Rom. 8:17a; Gal. 3:26, 29; Eph. 1:14; cf. John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:35-58; Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21-22)

I am more than a conqueror through Christ Who loved me (Rom. 8:37)

I can never be separated from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39)

I have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16)

I am a holy temple where the Holy Spirit now lives (I Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Eph. 2:21-22)

I am united to the Lord and am one spirit with Him (I Cor. 6:17)

I am a member of Christ’s body (I Cor. 12:27; Eph. 5:30)

I am not the great “I AM” (Exod. 3:14; John 8:24, 28, 58), but by the grace of God, I am what I am (I Cor. 15:10)

I am a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)

I am reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18a)

I am a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18b-19)

I am an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)

I am good enough in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21)

I am a bondservant of Christ (Gal. 1:10)

I can change because Jesus now lives inside me through His Spirit (Gal. 2:20; cf. Rom. 8:11)

I am redeemed from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13; I Pet. 1:18-19)

I am a son of God through faith in Jesus and am one in Christ (Gal. 3:26, 28)

I am a saint (one declared totally righteous) at the core of my being, not a sinner (Eph. 1:1; I John 3:9)

I am chosen or wanted by God (Eph. 1:4a; Col. 3:12a)

I am holy and without blame before God (Eph. 1:4b)

I am totally accepted by God in Christ (Eph. 1:6)

I am totally forgiven in Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14)

I am sealed by the Holy Spirit Who guarantees my safe and secure delivery to God in heaven (Eph. 1:13-14)

I am God’s precious inheritance (Eph. 1:18)

I am seated in a position of authority and victory next to Jesus in the heavenly places far above all other authorities (Eph. 1:20-21; 2:5-6)

I am God’s masterpiece, not a mistake (Eph. 2:10)

I have been brought closer to God through the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13)

I have instant access to the Father by one Spirit (Eph. 2:18)

I am a fellow-citizen with the rest of God’s family (Eph. 2:19)

I am a prisoner of Christ (Eph. 3:1; 4:1)

I am a new man created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24)

I am a child of light, defined by the light of Jesus Christ, not by the darkness of my sin (Eph. 5:8; cf. John 12:36)

I am a citizen of heaven, seated in heaven right now (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:6)

I have what it takes in Christ (Phil. 4:13)

I am delivered from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13)

I am complete in Christ, lacking nothing (Col. 2:10)

I am safely and securely hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)

I am an expression of the life of Christ because He is my life (Col 3:4; Deut. 30:20).

I am deeply loved by God (Col. 3:12a; I John 3:1)

I am credited with Christ’s holiness and therefore I am accepted by God (Col. 3:12a)

I am a son of light and not of darkness (I Thess. 5:5)

I am a perfected worshiper of Christ through His once and for all sacrifice (Heb. 10:10, 14)

I am God’s child born again of the incorruptible seed of the Word of God that stands forever (I Pet. 1:3, 23)

I am one of God’s living stones being built up in Christ as a spiritual house (I Pet. 2:5)

I am a member of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (I Pet. 2:9a)

I am a special person to God (I Pet. 2:9b)

I am an alien and stranger to this world in which I temporarily live (I Pet. 2:11a)

I am cared for by God (I Pet. 5:7)

I am an enemy to the devil (I Pet. 5:8)

I am a child of God and will resemble Jesus when He returns (I John 3:1-2)

I am an overcomer because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world (I John 4:4)

I overcame the world’s opposition when I believed in Jesus (I John 5:1, 4)

I am born of God and the wicked one cannot touch or harm my born-again nature (I John 5:18)

SPIRITUAL WARFARE – Part 1

The Lord has burdened me (Jeff) to address something that many Christians are either unaware of or simply do not wish to acknowledge. It has to do with spiritual warfare – the conflict in the spiritual realm that impacts the physical realm.

For years I have battled trauma-based problems that have nearly destroyed my marriage, my family, and even my own life. I have spent thousands of dollars to receive treatment from various reputable counselors and recovery programs to find freedom from these problems that have controlled me. While I found these people and programs to be somewhat helpful, I remained stuck with these problems that were controlling my life, and thus, I was losing hope fast. That is, until I went to Biblical Restoration Ministries (BRM) in Sioux City, Iowa, over a month ago.

At BRM, I discovered that the primary roots of my problems were spiritual rather than emotional, psychological, or physical. I feel embarrassed to even say that because here I am a former pastor and missionary who failed to take my own advice that I had given to many Christians during thirty-two years of vocational ministry. I also discovered at BRM that my problems were not unique to me. There are thousands of Christians who have similar battles as I do. Why is this?       

Because every born-again Christian is a target for our enemy. Unlike the good news of Jesus’ love for us and His terrific plan for our lives, the bad news is that the Devil hates each of us and has a terrible plan for our lives. Satan’s plan can be summarized in John 10:10a: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” Let’s look at each part of Satan’s plan:

“to steal” – Satan wants to rob Christians of the eternal significance of their lives. He wants us to get so focused on our problems and circumstances that we will never reach out to Jesus or to other believers who can help us. That way, we are no threat to the Devil. Our enemy wants to steal the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in our lives. That is why every attack of the enemy is designed to get our eyes off Jesus (cf. Heb. 12:2) and onto ourselves and our problems. [1]

One of the common ways Satan attacks Christians in this area is to steal their assurance of salvation. Since the Devil knows that eternal life is free (John 4:10; cf. Rom. 6:23a; Ephes. 2:8-9) and can never be lost once we receive it by faith alone in Jesus alone (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39; Ephes. 1:13-14), he will try to steal our assurance of salvation. He will seek to convince us that no true child of God would have the kinds of sinful thoughts, feelings, or actions that we may struggle with.

If he can deceive us into thinking we have lost our salvation or we were never saved to begin with, then we will be more inclined to think and act like a non-Christian instead of the true child of God we are by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Satan knows that if he can successfully attack our identity in Christ, he has won a significant battle. He understands that we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be (cf. Prov. 23:7a). So, if we perceive ourselves to have lost our salvation or never had it to begin with, we will think and act more like a non-Christian thinks and acts.

“to kill” – The second part of Satan’s plan is to “kill” the Christian. But he cannot do that without God’s permission, so the Devil will tell the Christian to do it for him. Our enemy will try to convince children of God that the only way out of their life-controlling problems is to take their own life. Suicide is not just a non-Christian problem. Christians can also struggle with thoughts of suicide because they have lost hope, and some have even successfully taken their own lives.

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention reports that suicide rates increased approximately 36% between 2000–2021. Suicide was responsible for 48,183 deaths in 2021, which was about one death every 11 minutes. [2] The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2021, an estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted suicides. [3]
Suicide affects people of all ages. In 2021, suicide was among the top 9 leading causes of death for people ages 10-64. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 20-34. [4] It would be naïve for us to think that none of those statistics included Christians. [5]

Logan writes about Christians who struggle with suicidal thoughts, “‘I might as well end it all,’ they reason. Others think, ‘My situation is hopeless; I might as well give up and divorce my wife.’ And some believe, ‘Oh, I’m just born that way. I’ve got bad genes, or a physical problem.’ Each abandons hope he or she can be useful to God; they move to the sidelines as injured servants of God.” [6]

“to destroy” – The enemy wants to destroy our relationships especially with other Christians because he knows that believers who live in unity with one another provide an excellent expression of the image of God for a watching world to observe.

The apostle Paul writes to Christians in the city of Ephesus,  25 Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.” (Ephes. 4:25-27). Christians are to speak “truth” to one another (Ephes. 4:25) in love (Ephes. 4:15) because God’s “truth” is what sets us free from Satan’s lies (cf. John 8:31-36, 44). However, hearing the truth from another believer can sometimes be hurtful.

Hence, God instructs us in those instances to “be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephes. 4:26). The feeling of anger is not wrong in and of itself. Even God feels anger (cf. Exod. 4:14; Num. 11:10; Deut. 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 12:19; Col. 3:6; Heb. 3:11; 4:3; Rev. 6:16; 19:15; et. al). Why is it important to resolve our anger before we go to bed? Because unresolved anger gives “place to the devil” (Ephes. 4:27).

The Greek word for “place” (topos) can mean “an inhabited place, a favorable circumstance for doing something, an opportunity.” [7]  When believers let their anger control them instead of taking control of their anger, bitterness and resentment can set in and give the devil a “chance” or “opportunity” to exert his influence [8] and create division among God’s people.

Let’s remember that the apostle Paul is writing to Christians at Ephesus whom he calls saints (Ephes. 1:1), who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephes. 1:3), including their redemption in Christ and their forgiveness (Ephes. 1:7), their salvation from hell (Ephes. 1:13a), and the seal of the Holy Spirit which guarantees their safe and secure delivery to heaven in the future (Ephes. 13b-14). Yet the apostle also teaches that Satan can influence these believers who are destined for heaven.

The key word is “influence.” You may ask, “Can a Christian be demon-possessed?”  There is much debate among Christians about this topic. The word “demon-possessed” itself causes a lot of confusion.

Tim Warner says, “We obtain our English word ‘demon’ by transliterating the Greek word daimon. We should have done the same with the Greek word daimonizomai – a verb form of the same Greek root. It would then come into English as ‘demonize’ and we could then speak of the degree to which a person could be demonized rather than being limited to the either-or options imposed by the possessed-not possessed view.”[9]

Warner concludes, “Spiritual ‘possession’ clearly implies ownership and would seem to include the control of one’s eternal destiny. [It] would be impossible to be owned and controlled by Satan and have a saving relationship with Christ at the same time. So, if the question is, ‘Can a Christian be demon-possessed?’, the answer is clearly no.”[10] [emphasis added]

The apostle Paul already taught that those who “heard” and “believed” the gospel “were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephes. 1:13-14). The word “sealed” (sphragizō) was used in the ancient world to refer to a legal signature which guaranteed the promise or contents of what was sealed. It signifies ownership and security caused by the backing of the owner. [11]

“In Ephesians 1:13-14, we are told that the Holy Spirit Himself is the seal. He is impressed upon us, so to speak. His presence in our lives is thus a guarantee of God’s protection and that we are owned by God. A broken seal was an indication that the person had not been protected. The Holy Spirit cannot be broken. He is the seal of ownership. In Ephesians 4:30, we are told that we are sealed unto the day of redemption. This sealing ministry of the Spirit is forever and guarantees that we will arrive safely for the redemption of our bodies and entrance into heaven (Romans 8:23). He is the seal that we are now owned and protected by God until the day of redemption.” [12] [emphasis added]

The word “guarantee” (arrabōn) was a regular feature of the Greek business world. The “arrabōn” was a part of the purchase price of anything paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest of the price should in due time be paid. [13] The seal of the Holy Spirit guarantees that the remainder of our “inheritance” blessings will eventually be given to us. The primary aspect of our inheritance involves life in heaven with the Lord Jesus.

Registered mail is a good example of the seal of the Holy Spirit. When something is registered at the post office it is sealed until delivered. Only two persons can open registered mail – the sender (if it is delivered back to him) and the recipient. When we believe in Christ for eternal life, we are sealed by God the Holy Spirit until we go to heaven. God is the One who sends us on our way to heaven, and God in heaven is the Recipient on our arrival. There is no power greater than God who can break the Holy Spirit’s seal. Only God can break this seal and He promises not to do so “until the redemption of the purchased possession” which is when the Christian is delivered safely and securely to God in heaven.   

I love the way Tony Evans describes this: “When you believe in Christ as your Savior, God puts you inside an envelope called Christ. You are ‘in Christ.’ But God also guarantees delivery. He registers the letter and seals it with the Holy Spirit – indicating that He is its owner and the only One qualified to open it.

“Paul also says the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge to us – the down payment of our inheritance (1:14), the guarantee that God will do for us everything He promised for His children. Like an engagement ring, the Holy Spirit is like a down payment on an eternal commitment. The Spirit is a heavenly first installment given in anticipation of eternal life, a life that is eternally secure. He’s a foretaste of what’s ahead.” [14] [emphasis added]

The Bible clearly tells us Jesus Christ bought or redeemed us at the cost of His own blood (Ephes. 1:7), and therefore, we are forever owned by Jesus (I Cor. 6:19; Ephes. 1:13-14). Nowhere in the Bible are we told that Jesus sold us to the Devil. Satan does not own a Christian nor control his or her eternal destiny. Jesus does.

But to what degree can the Devil and his demonic armies influence believers in Jesus? The kingdom of darkness can only influence Christians “to the extent that we allow them to do so… The act of giving or allowing Satan to take any amount of control in our life is referred to as ‘giving ground.’” [15]

If we hold on to sin in our lives and do not deal with it in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are giving the enemy an entrance into our lives. This is the idea Paul presented in  Ephesians 4:26-27 when he said that unresolved anger gives place or opportunity to the devil. So as believers in Jesus, we can give ground to Satan. He cannot take it in our lives without our cooperation and permission. All he can do is influence us: plant evil thoughts, make suggestions, or place temptations in our path. [16]

Satan wants to gain ground in our Christian lives so he can use it on which to build his “strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4) of lies which will begin to undermine our relationship with and testimony for Jesus. A stronghold can be defined“as a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes me to accept as unchangeable something that we know is contrary to the will of God.”  [17]

This does not mean that every time a Christian sins, he is giving Satan ground on which to build a towering fortress of lies. No, we give the Devil ground when we refuse to let go of our sin, confess it, and forsake it (Prov. 28:13). This is made clear in Ephesians 4:26-27. It is not one moment of anger that gives Satan ground on which to build a stronghold. It is anger that is stored up, nurtured, and allowed to develop into bitterness and the other terrible things the apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 4:31. Hence, Satan can turn an act of sin into a regular practice of sin, and from there it degenerates into a habit which leads down into bondage where the believer is “caught in the cords of his sin” (Prov. 5:22). [18]

Logan explains it this way: Giving ground is like giving Satan the land and the ‘building permit,’ the permission he needs to erect his stronghold. All he has to do then is start digging the foundation.”

Satan’s strongholds are built upon the foundation of lies. Satan is “a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44). Since the Devil was stripped of his power at the cross of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:13-15; Heb. 2:14-15), his only power now is in the lie. He uses deception to get our eyes off the Lord Jesus and on to our circumstances and problems.

The past several years I had gone down this path of destruction. I gave Satan ground in my life where he built strongholds that nearly destroyed my life. But God in His great mercy and grace intervened and is bringing me out of this spiritual bondage. Next time, Lord willing, I will share with you what I am learning from Jesus through BRM concerning the biblical process for finding freedom in Christ that delivers us from spiritual bondage.

FOOTNOTES: 

[1] Jim Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 27.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System, Mortality 2018-2021 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2023. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 2018-2021, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10-expanded.html on Jan 11, 2023.

[3] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2022). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP22-07-01-005, NSDUH Series H-57). Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-annual-national-report.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics System, Mortality 2018-2021 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2023. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 2018-2021, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10-expanded.html on Jan 11, 2023.

[5] See Corey Widmer’s September 27, 2023, Christianity Today article entitled, “Our Church Lost Three Men to Suicide in Two Years,” at https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/september-web-only/suicide-stats-christian-church-community-pastor-resources.html

[6] Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, pg. 27.

[7] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 1011-1012.

[8] Ibid., pg. 1012.

[9] Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, pg. 32 cites Timothy Warner, Spiritual Warfare (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway, 1991), pg. 79.

[10] Ibid., cites Warner, Spiritual Warfare, pg. 80.

[11] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 980.

[12] Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 756.

[13] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 134.

[14] Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, 2019 Kindle Edition, pg. 2635.

[15] Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, pg. 33 cites Scott Moreau, The World of Spirits (Nairobi, Kenya: Evangel Publishers, 1990), pg. 90.

[16] Ibid., pg. 35.

[17] Ibid., pg. 34 cites Ed Silvoso, “How to Reach Our Cities for Christ” videocassette (Oak Brook, ILL: Institute in Basic Life Principles, 1992).

[18] Adapted from Ibid., pg. 36.

WAS THE RECENT SOLAR ECLIPSE A SIGN THAT CHRIST’S COMING IS NEAR?

On my bike ride last Monday (April 8, 2024) while I was stopped at a stoplight, a woman walking her dog asked me if I was waiting for the eclipse. I said the coming of Christ is more important to me than the coming of a solar eclipse. [1] She agreed, but then she asked if the solar eclipse was a sign that Christ’s coming is near, citing Jesus’ words from His Olivet Discourse, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…” (Matt. 24:29) prior to Christ’s return to earth (Matt. 24:30-31). About three weeks ago while I was driving my wheelchair van at work, a client’s caregiver said her church taught that this solar eclipse was the last chance for people to get right with God because Jesus was coming back to earth at that time. 

Is this solar eclipse one of the signs that Jesus spoke of regarding His coming to earth? Well, the solar eclipse has come and gone, but Jesus did not return to earth. Should this surprise us? No. Why do I say this?

Because there are no prophetic signs that must take place before Jesus comes back for His church. Those who conclude that Jesus’ reference to the darkening of the sun prior to His return to earth refers to this recent solar eclipse are confusing two different aspects of Jesus’ Second Coming which Christ alludes to in Matthew 24.

When His disciples ask, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3), Christ answers the second question (“And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”) first in Matt. 24:4-35 which describes the seven-year Tribulation period that will contain many “signs” of the nearness of Jesus return to earth. This is designated by the words “the sign” (to semeion) used only in verses 3 and 30. Jesus begins with a survey of the entire seven years (Matt. 24:4-14) followed by a closer look at the last half of the seven-year Tribulation (Matt. 24:15-28).

Then in verse 29 Jesus uses the phrase, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…” to introduce His description of His Second Coming described in Matthews 24:30-31. Christ explains in Matthew 24:32-35 how the events of the seven-year Tribulation He just described (Matt. 24:5-31) are like the springtime budding of the fig tree. Just as the budding of the fig tree in the spring signals the nearness of summer, so the events that take place during the Tribulation provide clear evidence of the nearness of Christ’s Second Coming. Throughout Matthew 24:5-31 there are many observable “signs” or “warnings” that signal Christ’s future return to earth. In Matthew 24:32-35 Jesus commands His disciples to “learn this parable from the fig tree” and “When you see all these things, know that it [His return to earth] is near.”

But when we come to Matthew 24:36, Jesus says, “But of that day and hour no one knows.” Now Jesus is talking about His coming without any preceding observable signs that signal His return. Jesus is talking about two different aspects of His Second Coming – one that involves observable signs(Matt. 24:4-31) and one that involves no observable signs (Matt. 24:36-44). (see chart)

The Greek phrase “But of” (peri de) that Jesus uses in Matthew 24:36 at the beginning of the sentence marks a new section of thought that looks back to the previous material to answer an unanswered question. Hence, Jesus answers the disciples’ first question (“When will these things be?”) in verse 3 about when the end-time events will begin. Because of this major transitional marker (peri de), “the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37) is referring to a different phase of the Lord’s return. 

The peri de (“But of”) of verse 36 is followed by the phrase “that day and hour.” In Matthew 24, only the phrase “those days” (plural) had been used (24:19, 22, 29). But in verse 36, Jesus changes to “that day” (singular). Why? Because He is transitioning to talk about the Old Testament “day of the Lord” which was considered an imminent event – it could take place at any moment (Ezek. 30:3, 9; Joel 3:14, 18; Zeph. 1:7-15). The apostle Paul also uses “day” for the imminent day of the Lord in I Thessalonians 5:4 where he is speaking of the sudden removal of the church prior to the wrath of God during the Tribulation period (I Thess. 4:13-5:11; cf. 1:10). Both the pretribulational rapture and day of the Lord are illustrated by the thief in the night imagery which is an imminent event (cf. Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39-40; I Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). 

After Jesus looked at the events of Daniel’s 70th  week of years as a whole (Matt. 24:4-35), He now talks about the beginning of that week (Matt 24:36-44) which will catch everyone by surprise. Jesus explains that the coming of “that day and hour” will be like “the days of Noah” in which people “were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:38-39; cf. Luke 17:27-28 where a similar description of the days of Lot is given).  The lifestyles described in the days of Noah and Lot have existed in every generation since the early days of human history. These lifestyles are ones of normalcy and indifference.

In Matthew 24:41-42, two men are working in a field and two women are grinding at the mill which also focuses on normal, unsuspecting lifestyles. Jesus’ point in Matthew 24:37-39 is that just as normal and unsuspecting lifestyles existed prior to the great worldwide judgment of the flood in Noah’s day, so too normal and unsuspecting lifestyles will exist prior to the sudden beginning of the day-of-the-Lord judgments which begin after the Rapture of the church. The people of Noah’s day “did not know” about the coming worldwide flood “until the flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:39). Is it likely that the world will not know about the devastating judgments that have been inflicting it during the past seven-year Tribulation (Matt. 24:5-31; cf. Rev. 6:6-17)? Not likely. It is much better to understand Jesus’ Noah illustration corresponding to the time of the sudden arrival of the day of the Lord and the pretribulation rapture. 

The word “taken” in Matthew 24:40-41 refers to believers being taken in the rapture before the Tribulation. While Jesus uses the word airo (“took…away”) in Matthew 24:37 to refer to unbelievers being taken in judgment by the Flood, He uses a different word for “taken” (paralambano) in Matthew 24:40-41. This Greek word, paralambano, has the meaning of “take into close association, take (to oneself), take with/along.[2] It conveys the idea of personal accompaniment. In other words, believers will be taken to be with Christ forever at the rapture of the church (cf. I Thess. 4:15-17). Two days after His teaching in Matthew 24, Jesus used the word paralambano in John 14:3 to describe the taking of believers in a pretribulational rapture – “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive [paralambano] you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). 

This understanding is substantiated further by the word for “left” (aphiemi) in Matthew 24:40-41 which has the idea of “abandon” when its object is a person (cf. Matt. 4:11, 22; 8:15; 13:36; 19:29; 22:22, 25; 26:56, etc.). God will never abandon believers (Heb. 13:5). Two days after Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24, He used aphiemi in John 14:18 when He said, “I will not leave [aphiemi] you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Rather than referring to unbelievers being taken to judgment and believers being abandoned by the Lord in Matthew 24:40-41, Christ is referring to believers being taken to be with Jesus forever at the rapture of the church and unbelievers being abandoned to face God’s wrath during the seven-year tribulation period on the earth. The judgments of the day of the Lord will come on unbelievers and they will not escape (I Thess. 5:3). 

Jesus employs “the thief” imagery in Matthew 24:42-44 to encourage His disciples to “watch” and “be ready” for His any-moment coming for them. This thief imagery is also used in several other prophetic passages dealing with the rapture and day of the Lord, most importantly I Thess. 5:2-4 and 2 Peter 3:10. A thief depends upon the element of surprise. He does not give any forewarning of his coming. Hence, the thief imagery used in Matthew 24:42-44 must refer to the pretribulational rapture of the church which has no observable signs prior to it (Matt. 24:36-44). But the Second Coming of Christ to earth at the end of the tribulation has many observable signs (Matt. 24:5-31). 

The use of the word “watch” (gregoreo) in Matthew 24:42-43 in connection with the thief imagery conveys the idea of imminency – it could happen at any moment. Gregoreo occurs several times in prophetic passages taught by Jesus (Matt. 24:42, 43; 25:13; Mark 13:34, 35, 37; Luke 12:37) and the apostles Paul ( I Thess. 5:6, 10) and John (Rev. 3:2, 3; 16:15). Eight of the twelve uses of gregoreo in prophecy take place with the thief imagery (Matt. 24:42-43; Luke 12:37-39; I Thess. 5:2-10; Rev. 3:2-3; Rev. 16:15). Even in non-prophetic passages, imminency is connected to the use of the verb “to watch” (cf. Matt. 26:45; Acts 20:31; I Pet. 5:8). It is most appropriate to understand Jesus’ command to “watch” or be “alert” (gregoreo) in connection with the thief imagery in Matthew 24:42-44, to refer to an imminent, pretribulational return of Christ prior to the tribulation period. Hence, we can be confident that the apostle Paul’s use of the verb “to watch” in I Thessalonians 5:6 and 10 in the context of an imminent pretribulational rapture was derived from Jesus’ use of the same word in Matthew 24:42-44 where He stressed watchfulness in the context of His imminent pretribulational rapture. 

Hence, when people mistakenly refer to the recent solar eclipse as a sign of the nearness of Christ’s return to earth, they are confusing the second aspect of Christ’s coming which will be preceded by observable signs (i.e. the sun darkening, etc.) with the first aspect (i.e. the rapture or removal of the church) which will not be preceded by observable signs (see chart).

      

Before I left the woman who asked me about the solar eclipse being a sign of the nearness of Christ’s coming, I told her that Jesus’ coming for His church could happen at any moment. There are no prophetic signs that must take place before He comes for those who are His. The key is to be ready for His return.

If you are not certain you have the gift of eternal life from Jesus and that you will go to heaven when Christ comes for His church at any moment, you can receive His gift right now. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Are you persuaded that Jesus was speaking the truth when He said this, and He is therefore worthy of your trust? If so, then Christ guarantees you now have everlasting life, and you will enter His heaven in the future whether you die first (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21-23) or He comes back while you are alive (I Thess. 4:15-17).

If you do know you have everlasting life as a result of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13), it is important not to let anything eclipse the light of the Son in your life. The recent solar eclipse occurred when the Moon passed between the Earth and the Sun and blotted out all or some of the Sun’s light, depending on where you live. When we permit someone or something to come between us and the Son that blocks His light from reaching us, we experience broken fellowship with Jesus. The key is for us to remain open and honest before the Son, Who is light (I John 1:5-7). When God reveals sin in our lives, we simply confess that sin to Him, and He is faithful and just to forgive that sin and cleanse us of all our unknown sins or unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

FOOTONOTES:

[1] According to NASA there has been an average of 2-3 solar eclipses of all kinds each year every 1,000 years and about 2 total solar eclipses every 3 years (retrieved on April 12, 2024, from https://science.nasa.gov/eclipses/future-eclipses/eclipse-2024/faq/).

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2000 Kindle Edition, pg. 767.

John 4 – Part 1: “From an Empty Life to Eternal Life”

“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’” John 4:10

In the fall of 2019, I began to realize that I had some life-controlling problems that I could not overcome on my own.  So, I began a process of recovery to overcome trauma-based addictions that were destroying my life and my relationships with those closest to me.    

Much of my battle with these addictions involves shame. Many people confuse shame with guilt. Guilt is the conviction we experience when we have violated God’s standard of holiness. In short, guilt says, “I have done wrong.” For example, when a person covets, hates, lies, lusts, murders, steals, or commits adultery, he or she has a sense of guilt for having done wrong (cf. Ps. 32:1-5; Rom. 3:1-20; James 2:10). The Bible teaches us that sin and its subsequent guilt can lead an unsaved person to believe or trust in Christ alone as his or her Savior, resulting in cleansing and forgiveness (cf. John 16:8-11; Acts 10:43; Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:22-24). God uses our guilt to convict us of our need for Him.

The Hebrew word for “ashamed” (cf. Gen. 2:25) is bosh, which means to fall into disgrace, to be embarrassed or humiliated. [1] The Greek word for “shame” (Heb. 12:2) is aischynēs which also refers to disgrace. [2] According to some theologians and psychologists, shame is a feeling (or belief) that we are bad, defective, flawed, and worthless.

Guilt says, “I have done wrong,” but shame says, “I am wrong.” [3] Instead of focusing on what a person has done (guilt), shame focuses on who the person is. It says that at the core of our being we are bad, flawed, inferior, unacceptable, and unworthy. One author says, “Shame is a strong sense of being uniquely and hopelessly different and less than other human beings.” [4] Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Let me illustrate the difference between guilt and shame. When I say, “I feel bad about yelling at my children when they misbehave,” that is guilt. But when I say, “I am a bad father,” that is shame.

We can feel guilt and shame at the same time. But shame is more relational. We can feel shame because of our own actions and the actions of others. There are two types of shame: true shame and false shame.

True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:7-8, 10).

False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” [5] For example, a child who was sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I am bad because that happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”       

When God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and joined them together as husband and wife, the Bible tells us “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:25; cf. Mark 10:6-9). Before Adam and Eve sinned, they did not experience shame. Therefore, shame was not part of God’s original design for humankind. To be “naked” and “not ashamed” suggests something more than not wearing any clothes. These words describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and with one another. They were able to be completely open with the Lord and each other without holding anything back or hiding their true selves. Adam and Eve were fully known by God and each other and they were okay with this. This enabled them to experience uninhibited fellowship with God and with one another. [6] They knew that they were totally accepted and loved by God. There was nothing to fear and nothing to hide from the Lord and each other.

Prior to the Fall, they did not experience any self-consciousness regarding the uniqueness of their personhood as man and woman. For example, Adam probably did not doubt his masculinity or his ability to impress Eve as a man. He was not concerned about his biceps being big enough or being a good enough lover for Eve. Nor did Eve wonder if her beauty was enough to attract Adam or if her ideas were as significant as his. With an unwavering assurance, both knew that who they were and what they offered to one another was more than just good enough – it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). [7]

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-6), they experienced shame for the first time. The complete innocence and vulnerability they once had with God and one another were now lost. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Gen. 3:7). They were now self-conscious and ashamed of their nakedness before one another, so they tried to remove their shame by covering themselves with fig leaves. They went from holding nothing back from one another to hiding and covering their true selves.

When they put their own desires ahead of God’s will for their lives, they may have realized they could also put their own interests ahead of the other’s. Would Adam be able to trust Eve after she violated God’s trust? Would Eve be able to trust Adam after he did the same thing? Once transparent and vulnerable with each other, Adam and Eve now covered their physical nakedness and the nakedness of their souls with fig leaves. Instead of trusting each other, they were afraid of being hurt by one another, so they chose to protect themselves by hiding under the cover of fig leaves.

But their sin and shame also adversely affected their closeness with God. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). Instead of being open and vulnerable before God, they now hid themselves from His presence when He pursued them. God is presented in this verse as pursuing His fallen children by walking in the garden in the cool of the day as if this was something He had always done to connect with them.      

We might assume that God came to them to punish and shame Adam and Eve for the wrong they had done but notice that God does not seek to shame His fallen children. He seeks to restore them. “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen. 3:9). Why would an all-knowing God ask Adam a question to which He already knows the answer? Because the Lord wanted a confession from Adam. “Where are you in relation to Me?” God asks. God knew where Adam was, but did Adam know where he was in relation to the Lord? Do we know where we are in relation to God?

When Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked” (Gen. 3:10), God replied, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat” (Gen. 3:11)? God never told Adam and Eve they were naked. This was the natural consequence of their sin. Satan also reveals our shame to us when we sin (true shame) or don’t sin (false shame). His accusations against believers produce shame in their lives. The Devil uses shame to isolate Christians from God and one another. Like a roaring lion who focuses on those who are isolated and weak, Satan focuses on believers who are alone and weak (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

Would Adam and Eve believe God is still the same loving and merciful God that He had always been prior to their disobedience? Or would they believe the lie of the serpent who implied that God could not really be trusted (cf. Gen. 3:1-5)? The Lord did not abandon Adam and Eve when they sinned and felt ashamed. He sought them out to restore them to fellowship with Himself.

But instead of trusting the Lord, Adam and Eve were now afraid of Him. “So he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Gen. 3:10). Their sin and shame now became a barrier to His loving and merciful pursuit of them. Not only were they self-conscious of their nakedness before one another, they were now self-conscious of their nakedness before God. By covering themselves with fig leaves and hiding themselves among the trees of the garden, Adam and Eve removed themselves from being able to receive God’s love, grace, and mercy which He was freely offering to them. Their faith in God had now changed to fear. Unfortunately, their shame pushed them away from the Lord instead of drawing them near to Him. And shame can do the same to us today.

Like Adam and Eve, we also try to hide our shame from the Lord with modern-day fig leaves. [8] We may hide behind expensive cars, motorcycles, or homes. Some of us may take refuge behind our vast theological knowledge, ministries, or positions of leadership. We may hide behind our busyness, hobbies, humor, sarcasm, sports, or superficial interactions. Others may try to cover their shame with religious efforts and rituals like Nicodemus did (John 3:1-21). Whatever fig leaves we choose to hide behind, we are going against God’s design for us by refusing to present our true selves to Him and to one another. This never leads to the abundant life God meant for us to experience. What fig leaves are you hiding behind?

In the first part of John 4, the Lord Jesus will encounter a hurting woman at a well of water who tried to cover her shame with the fig leaf of romantic relationships. We may see God as this woman may have seen Him – as a distant and impersonable Being Who does not care about us. So, we try to medicate our loneliness and pain with romantic or sexual relationships which only intensifies our shame. These relationships may be with real or imaginary people. By imaginary I am referring to online pornography which is destroying lives today.

A man is chained to computer late at night.

Pornography is one of the most destructive practices in the church today and most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. The majority of churches preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment in which to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted. [9]

 “Pornography is the number one addiction for men. One out of two internet hits have to do with sex and pornography. Pornography can ruin normal sexual relationships because no real person can live up to pornographic images and fantasies. Research has shown that the limbic system bonds with whatever you are visualizing at the time of orgasm, so the next time you have sexual cravings they will be focused on that image or fantasy. This is why pornography is so addicting. Pornography is not really about sex; it is about zoning out, getting high on your own neurochemicals. Sex addicts report having withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine withdrawal.” [10]       

Pornography is not just an adult addiction. Young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing. If you don’t think it’s possible for your children to get hooked on porn, you need to listen to Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s videos. [11]

In his book, “The Freedom Fight: The New Drug and the Truths that Set Us Free,” Ted Shimer notes the following about pornography in America in a chapter entitled “Sexualized Society”: [12]

It might come as no surprise that there is virtually no difference in monthly porn use among non-Christian men (65%) versus Christian men (64%). [13] In fact, it might even be worse than the published statistics indicate. The Freedom Fight recently conducted a survey of over 750 Christian college men from over thirty different campuses across the country. Each of the men we surveyed was involved in a campus ministry, and each considered their faith to be a vital element in their lives. Many of them were leaders in their ministries. What we found was alarming – 89% of the growing Christian men we surveyed watch porn, at least occasionally. More than six in ten view it at least weekly. More than half of these practicing Christian men say they are addicted to pornography. [14]

“The Freedom Fight’s recent survey of over 550 Christian women in ministry from over thirty university campuses across the US showed that 51% are watching porn at least occasionally. These aren’t just any college women either. These women are practicing Christians, involved in campus ministry, and many of them are in leadership positions. Though their faith is important to them, pornography remains a part of their lives.” [15]

“Two out of three Christian men watch porn regularly. [16] Many of them feel bad about it, but few of them have an urgency and commitment to break free. In fact, less than one in ten of these men seek meaningful help. [17]How can so many Christians seem content to live in sin? The answer is shame and self-deception. [18]

What kind of impact does pornography have on people? Shimer notes the following: Those who watch more and more porn do not see it as harmful and place a decreased value on the institution of marriage, the desire for children, and the need for faithfulness in marriage. [19] Research shows that the more porn someone watches, the more likely they are to be bisexual. [20] Pornography encourages behavior by producing permission-giving beliefs that say, “What I am doing is normal, doesn’t hurt anyone, and everyone is doing it.” [21] Shimer states that “this … is why many porn users – including Christians – find themselves experimenting with sexual behavior that goes against their morals, values, and even their sexual preferences.” [22]       

In addition to the psychological and spiritual repercussions, pornography consumption is also wreaking havoc on society. It rewires the brain, causing teenagers and twenty-something young men to experience porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED). [23] It replaces a desire for sex with real women with a desire for images and fantasy so that men are having less sex with a real person. [24] Those who view porn regularly are more likely to view hookup sex in a positive light [25] and display violence towards women. [26]        

Viewing child pornography has increased drastically in the last decade, with the FBI reporting that child porn arrests increased by 2,500%! [27] This is tragic because viewing child pornography leads to the abuse of children. [28]

This deviance that can result from porn consumption has impacted the church. In 2019, a headline in the Houston Chronicle read, “More than 100 Southern Baptist Youth Pastors Convicted or Charged in Sex Crimes.” [29]

Pornography is one of the leading contributors to human sex trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery. In the United States, up to 300,000 Americans under the age of eighteen are lured into the commercial sex trade every year. [30] The Rescue:Freedom organization’s survey showed that forty-nine percent of women rescued from sex trafficking in nine countries said their traffickers made pornographic videos of them while they were being raped. [31]

“One underage girl was missing for almost a year before her mother learned that sixty pornographic videos of her had been posted to multiple pornography platforms, including Pornhub and Snapchat. Pornhub described the minor girl as a ‘verified model with valid ID.’” [32]

As pornography use grows so does sex trafficking. “Reported cases of human sex trafficking in the US increased 842% in the past ten years.” [33] “The average age of a trafficked victim to begin to be sold in the United States is thirteen.” [34] “The collective billions of porn clicks per year help fuel the demand of sex traffickers who make money selling videos to porn sites.” [35]

Sociologist, Mark Regnerus says he believes the reason why never-marrieds outnumbered marrieds by 2015 is because for American men, the quality of porn and masturbation is enough to satisfy them in place of the pursuit of real sex with women. And women today expect little in return for sex in terms of time, attention, commitment, or fidelity. [36]

Porn use among women makes them more likely to cheat on a romantic partner and less likely to support traditional marriage. [37]

Researchers are forecasting that a third of Americans now in their twenties will never wed. This is more than triple the historic norm. [38]

The more porn Christians view the less will be their spiritual disciplines and the more doubts they will have about their faith. They are less likely to read their Bibles, attend church, pray, and participate in Christian service. [39]

Dr. Samuel Perry, sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma, did extensive research on the effects of porn use on a person’s religious commitments. He summarized his conclusions: “Any porn use… is associated with declines in religious commitment and behavior (i.e., attending services, prayer, etc.) and an increase in religious doubts.” [40]

While many Christian leaders are understandably calling porn the greatest threat to the Church, [41] less than 7% of pastors provide solutions to help their people break free from porn. [42]Shimer believes the reasons pastors don’t address this issue is because they are either addicted to porn themselves, [43] they are unaware of the significance of the issue, [44]or because it is such an uncomfortable topic to address. [45]

If you are struggling with pornography, contact Pure Desire at www.puredesire.org, The Genesis Process at www.genesisprocess.org, The Freedom Fight at www.thefreedomfight.org, or 423 Communities at www.423communities.org to obtain hope and healing from your addiction.         

To help us become more effective in reaching hurting and ashamed people who are addicted to porn and sex (or anything other than God) , we are going to see how Jesus presents the gospel to a hurting and ashamed woman in John 4:1-26. Let’s see HOW CAN WE CAN REACH THE HURTING SEX ADDICT FOR CHRIST.

1. CROSS OVER THE BARRIER OF PREJUDICE (4:1-7a). 4:1: The word “therefore” connects the humble and selfless service of John the Baptist (3:22-36) with Jesus making and baptizing “more disciples than John.” Jesus is referred to as “the Lord” (ho Kurios) for the first time in the gospel of John to emphasize His superiority in view of what both Johns had just established (3:28-30, 31-36). [46] Christ “knew that the Pharisees” wanted to stir up division between His disciples and those of John the Baptist (cf. 3:25-26). [47] 

4:2: John informs us that “Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples” did (4:2) to downplay the spiritual significance of water baptism in a book written to tell non-Christians how to get to heaven. [48] Water baptism has nothing to do with going to heaven.   

This is also why the apostle Paul downplayed water baptism when he wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” (I Cor. 1:17). He distinguishes preaching the gospel from water baptism. Water baptism is not part of the gospel message because it is not  necessary for justification before God.

 4:3: Jesus “left Judea” to go “to Galilee” to avoid trouble with the Pharisees who “heard” of His growing popularity (4:1). Jesus “wanted to avoid unnecessary premature conflict with them—not for fear of them, but because they would interfere with His ministry and schedule. John never referred to the Sadducees or the Herodians by name in his gospel, because he viewed the Pharisees as the true representativesof the unbelieving nation of Israel.” [49]      

4:4: The most popular and direct route from Judea to Galilee went straight through Samaria. [50]“Even though the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along, most Galilean Jews chose to travel through Samaria rather than taking the longer route through Perea, east of the Jordan River, which Judean Jews preferred.” [51]“The trip from Galilee to Jerusalem via Samaria normally took three days.” [52]

Instead of the normal route that Judean Jews took around Samaria by crossing the Jordan River, traveling north, and then crossing the Jordan into Galilee, Jesus went straight north into “Samaria” (see map above). Such a course was direct and shorter, but Judean Jews did not go that way because they hated Samaritans. “The Jews disliked the Samaritans, considering them an unclean race. Originally, the name Samaria applied to the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel, which was founded by King Omri (cf. 1 Kgs. 16:23-24). But eventually the entire northern kingdom was referred to by this name. When the Assyrians conquered it, they deported many Israelites, but left others in the land. Then the Assyrians settled other conquered peoples there, who intermarried with the remaining Israelites. This mixture of peoples also involved the worship of various false gods (see 2 Kgs. 17:24-41). The Samaritans of Jesus’s day were their descendants, a people of mixed ancestry and syncretistic religious practices. Thus, the Jews despised them.” [53]

But Jesus “needed to go through Samaria.” Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria when the alternate route was available? Because He had a divine appointment there with someone. Christ did not let cultural or racial divisions keep Him from addressing the spiritual needs of hurting people and nor should we. Jesus’ love for the lost led Him to cross over the barriers that people had created to seek and to save a lost woman in Samaria (Luke 19:10).

Does our love for unsaved people motivate us to cross over man-made barriers? Are we willing to despise shame as Jesus did (Heb. 12:2) whether it be our own or the shame of another, so we can help them find lasting freedom from shame? Today there seems to be more of a stigma attached to porn and sex addictions than any other addictions (e.g., alcohol and drug addiction, etc.). Are we willing to cross over the barriers established by our secular and religious cultures  to show Christ’s love to the porn and sex addict?

4:5: As Jesus and His disciples journeyed across Samaria, they came to the village of “Sychar” [54] which means “drunken or lying-town.” [55] John locates the Samaritan city of Sychar not in terms of its geographic location, but by its historic relevance [56]near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.” “This parcel of land was significant in Israel’s history as a place purchased by Jacob (who was later renamed ‘Israel’) and given to his sons (Gen. 33:18-21). This was also the place where the bones of Joseph were laid to rest after Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Josh. 24:32). John’s mention of the well is no accident either. Samaria had no major rivers to supply water, only wadis (natural drainage channels), which brought seasonal rains and then dried up for months at a time. Jeremiah used the wadi as an image of deceit (Jer. 15:18). The historic location and the presence of Jacob’s well gave Jesus (and therefore John) another perfect opportunity to draw upon the familiar symbol of life: water.” [57]

4:6: John uses two Greek words to describe “Jacob’s well.” The first was pēgē in verse 6, which means “a spring or fountain,” [58] and the second is phrear in verses 11 and 12, which means “a construction consisting of a vertical shaft, covered with a stone, for water supply” [59] or “a cistern.” [60] Hence, “Jacob’s well” was both a spring and a well. “It was a deep hole that someone had dug in the ground, that was fed by a spring. The site is still a popular tourist attraction, and the deep spring still flows. Edersheim estimated (in 1886) that the well was originally about 150 feet deep.” [61]

Being weary from His journey, Jesus rested at Jacob’s well at the “sixth hour” or noon in Jewish time while the disciples went into the city for food (4:8). While fully God (1:1), Jesus was also fully man (1:14) and experienced the thirst and fatigue that all weary travelers feel so He can understand when we are parched and tired (cf. Heb. 4:15). 

“Notice that John emphasizes the full deity (‘the Word was God, 1:1) and the full humanity (He was ‘worn out,’ 4:6) of Jesus. In theological terminology, the uniting of two distinct natures (divine and human) in one Person (Jesus Christ) is known as the hypostatic union. Jesus Christ was, is, and ever will be the God-Man (see Phil. 2:6-11). It is also important to note that Jacob’s well represents common ground, since both Jews and Samaritans revered Jacob.”[62]

4:7: While Jesus was resting, a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus “needed to go through Samaria” (4:4) because He had a divine appointment with a hurting woman whom God would eventually use to transform an entire community. Christ was willing to cross over the barriers of prejudice to reach her.   

Who represents your Samaria? One way to find out is to ask yourself, “Who do I dislike the most? Who do I try to avoid the most?” Are we willing to do whatever it takes to reach people that no one else wants to reach? That person at work or in our neighborhood that is the subject of jokes and gossip? That person whose values and lifestyle are the opposite of our own? The person who has so many problems and needs that the only thing they can give you is a list of complaints? Ask the Lord to show you who represents your Samaria. Then surrender to His will.

Peter modeled surrender when, after a night of failed fishing, Jesus told him to try again: “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:5). Surrendered people obey God’s word, even when it doesn’t make sense. Jesus “needed” to go through Samaria. You and I NEED to go through Samaria too. We need to surrender to Jesus and go to the hurting and the despised even if it doesn’t make sense to us. If we don’t tell these hurting people about Jesus, who will?

These people are not going to come to Christ on their own. Their shame has isolated them from God and other people. They are already feeling unworthy and unwanted because of their shame. They must be approached with love and grace where they feel safe. The second way to reach the hurting for Christ is to 2. CULTIVATE THE HURTING WITH LOVE (4:7b-9). How do we do this? Listen to them. In John 3, Jesus did most of the talking in His conversation with Nicodemus. He was confrontive with Nicodemus. But in John 4, Christ listened. He was compassionate. He cultivated the Samaritan woman with His love. In John 3, only three verses record what Nicodemus says. In John 4, seven verses cover what the Samaritan woman said to Jesus. God both speaks and listens. As the hurting person begins to open up, ask questions about his or her problem. Then listen. Ask more questions. Then listen some more. 

4:7b-9: Christ said to the woman, “Give Me a drink” (4:7b). His request is most effective since water is what she has come to the well for. By asking her for a drink, He goes from the problem of an empty bucket to her greater problem of an empty life.

You can do the same thing most effectively. When talking to someone who has marriage problems, you might begin by talking about marriage in general. Then mention how you and your spouse have been helped by the teachings on marriage in the Bible. Explain how you have discovered that it is the One who created marriage that knows best how to make it work. Once the person sees the need for Christ in a marriage, you can then begin at step one: the need to know Christ personally and have the assurance of eternal life. Let’s look at this woman’s empty life.

He had come to redeem this woman and He knew how to reach her. She wore the emotional armor of a woman beaten down by the morality of the righteous. He honored her closely guarded vulnerability by appealing to her kindness.” [63]

4:8: Jesus was alone at Jacob’s well because “His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” Their absence suggests that Jesus knew He could not be as effective ministering to this woman with the presence of the racial and gender biases of the disciples. [64]

THIS WOMAN HAD MANY PRESSING PROBLEMS:

1. SHE WAS HATED BY JEWS BECAUSE SHE WAS RACIALLY MIXED as a “Samaritan” (4:9a). When Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom seven hundred years before Christ, many of the Jews were exported, and many foreigners were imported. The Jews who stayed and the Gentiles who came intermarried. The offspring were half-breeds called Samaritans. The Jews hated them and would have nothing to do with them.

2. AS “A WOMAN” SHE WAS SCORNED BY JEWISH MEN (4:9b). Jesus evidently asked the woman for a drink both because she was drawing water, and to initiate conversation with her.

“The normal prejudices of the day prohibited public conversation between men and women, between Jews and Samaritans, and especially between strangers. A Jewish Rabbi would rather go thirsty than violate these proprieties.” [65]

Can you imagine not being able to talk with your own husband in public? This was wrong, but socially accepted and expected. Rabbinic Law stated that “the daughters of the Samaritans are menstruants from their cradle” [66] and therefore viewed them as continually unclean. Her water bucket would be ceremonially unclean. Imagine no one wanting to touch your things because they thought it would make them dirty if they did?                

Unfortunately, churches may treat porn and sex addicts this way. They avoid eye contact with them or even avoid asking them how they are doing. Their intentions may be good, but the addict feels unwanted and unloved much like this Samaritan woman did.

3. SHE WAS DIVORCED. As a matter of fact, she was not only divorced, but she had been through five broken marriages, and now the man she was living with was not even her husband (4:17-18). All this woman knew was an unending sense of dissatisfaction. She “had five husbands,” but none of her marriages worked. They may have left for different reasons, but she was left with the same results – loneliness and emptiness inside. She tried to quench her spiritual thirst with men, but it did not work. Many addicts today who try to medicate their pain with porn and sex end up experiencing more loneliness and shame as a result.

4. SHE WAS A SOCIAL OUTCAST. She came to the well alone at“the sixth hour” (noon – Jewish time) in the heat of the day, when it was so hot she knew no one else would be there (4:6). Normally the women came later and together. Because of her divorces and her living with a man who was not her husband, she was alienated. She probably didn’t have a female friend. She was probably the subject of jokes and gossip. They laughed behind her back and maybe to her face. Like many porn and sex addicts today, she felt unloved, unwanted, unworthy, hated, and rejected. No doubt, she hated herself. But Jesus went beyond the barriers of prejudice and reached out to this woman in love. After you’ve listened to a hurting person’s problems, you will have to speak.

3. COMMUNICATE THE GOSPEL WITH RELEVANCE (4:10-26). Jesus did not take months to get to know this woman before He shared how she could have eternal life. He shared the gospel with her during His first conversation with her. The idea that you must build a friendship with someone over a long period of time before you can share Christ with them is not always true. Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus and this woman at the well remind us that God has some people ready to hear and believe the gospel the very first time you meet them. The truth is the longer you know a person before sharing Christ with them, the harder it becomes. If I wait five years to tell someone about the most important Person in my life, they have every right to ask me why I waited five years to mention it to him.

Christ now moves from the water that could not satisfy her thirst, to the water that could. In other words, Jesus is being relevant by communicating what this woman needs to hear in a way she could understand it. They were at a well, so He talks to her about living waters (John 4:1-26). When Christ was with the fishermen, He talked about fishing for men (Matt. 4:18-20). When He was with farmers, He talked about sowing seed (Luke 8:4-15). Jesus used methods and words they would understand and value. If we are going to be effective in reaching non-Christians, we must also minister to them in ways that they value and understand.       

Evans also notes “that Jesus did not give up His cultural and racial identity to minister to someone of a different race and culture. His willingness to engage her socially by drinking water from her cup opened the door for Him to reach her spiritually. We should never ignore or reject the humanity of different people as we seek to share with them the good news of the gospel.” [67]

What does Christ say she needs to know to quench her spiritual thirst? 4:10: She needs to know “the gift of God” (4:10-15) and the Giver (“who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’”) of the gift (4:16-26). The word that Jesus used for “gift” (dōrean) occurs only here in the gospels. [68] It emphasizes the freeness of God’s gift. [69]

Did Jesus tell her to stop living with her boyfriend to be saved? No. Did He tell her to start centering her life around God or to be baptized? No. Does He tell her to turn from her sin and follow Him the rest of her life? No. He says to ask for the gift of God and He would freely give it to her. That is grace – getting what we do not deserve.

A friend of mine had lunch with his friend at a restaurant, and at the end of their time together my friend went to the restroom. When he left the restroom, he absentmindedly went to his car without paying for his lunch. A half mile down the road he realized this and felt terrible, so he went back. When he walked into the restaurant, he expected justice – surely the staff had called the cops, or at least gotten very angry. He hoped for mercy – that they would accept his apology and let him pay them. But he was surprised by grace – they told him that his friend had secretly paid for his lunch before he left! The woman at the well was so surprised by Jesus’ offer of grace she says…

4:11-12: The woman thinks Jesus is talking about physical water which is understandable because the phrase Jesus used in 4:10, “living water,” can refer to “flowing water.” [70]  The woman asks Jesus how He could draw water from this well since He has “nothing to draw with, and the well is deep” (4:11). Today Jacob’s well is identified by archaeologists as one of the deepest in Palestine [71] – over seventy-five feet deep. [72] In her mind, such a feat would be “greater than our father Jacob” digging the well (4:12). “Jacob gave us a well” which two thousand years later still produced good water. Could this Stranger give even better water, from a well that would never run dry? She may have thought to herself.  [73]

By mentioning Jacob as “our father,” she was reminding this Jew that Jacob was as much an ancestor of the Samaritans as he was of the Jews. [74] The Samaritans traced their ancestry from Jacob through Joseph and his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. [75]

4:13: Jesus reminds her that “this water” from Jacob’s well will only quench her “thirst” temporarily so she will have to return again and again for more. Her focus on physical water reminds us of how many times we have tried and tried to quench our spiritual thirst from the same things that no longer work – relationships, drugs, our work, pornography – but they leave us feeling emptier. The old ways don’t work any longer. We need the real thing – a permanent thirst quencher. It is seen in the next verse.

4:14a: The word “drinks” means to “believe.” Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). “To drink” means “to believe” – because both drinking and believing permanently quench our spiritual thirst. The spiritual need that Jesus’ water meets can never reoccur. One drink of His water will satisfy our need for eternal life forever. The phrase “will never thirst” [76] literally means “will by no means thirst forever!” One drink is all it takes for this living water to permanently quench one’s spiritual thirst.       

“The emphasis of the Gospel of John is on that initial act of faith that produces this permanent and unchangeable result in the person who has believed… God gives eternal life even to those who only have a temporary faith. That’s enough to get them saved.” [77]

It cannot be undone. This negates the idea that faith must be continuous to be “true saving faith.” Since drinking symbolizes believing (cf. John 6:35), one drink, that is, one act of believing in Jesus, results in eternal life. Christ specifically denies that one must keep on drinking to receive or have everlasting life. [78]

“If you receive a drink from Jesus, you don’t have to come back for another. His living water becomes its own everlasting well. Thirst no more.” [79]

Eternal life is a forever gift because it is eternal – without end. Eternal life cannot be lost because the believer can never thirst again for it. How is this possible?

4:14b: Jesus is truly greater than Jacob because when a person believes in Him, “the water that” He “shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The word “fountain” (pēgē) was translated as “well” earlier (4:6) and means “a spring or fountain.” [80] The word translated “springs up” (hallomai) can mean to “bubble up” [81] or “leap up.” [82] Christ digs a well in the human heart that continuously meets the spiritual needs of the one who drinks from it, but Jacob’s well was in the earth and the drinker of it must return again and again. Men dig wells in the earth, only Jesus Christ can dig a well in the human heart that gushes up into everlasting life [83] and constantly nourishes and satisfies the human soul. [84] Jesus’ well never runs dry.

“The living water is the saving message which once received (once drunk) springs up into everlasting life. As Jesus makes clear in the following verses, the living water is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah who guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him. Believing in Jesus results in eternal life taking up residence in the recipient so that he or she actually has an eternal living water fountain within.” [85]

The living water that Jesus promised provided eternal satisfaction without hard work, in contrast to the physical water this woman had to draw out of a deep well by hand. [86] Christ’s living water was absolutely free! The water this woman came to the well to obtain required human effort.

This contrast between living water as a free gift and physical water as something you must work hard for is seen today among the different views of salvation within Christianity. Some say that believing in Jesus is not enough to receive eternal life. One must also work for it by submitting or surrendering to God and obeying His commands to receive eternal life. [87]

This is contrary to what Jesus taught at the well in Samaria. Eternal life is an absolutely free gift that is received forever by taking one drink, one act of believing in Jesus alone (John 4:10-14; 6:35). [88] The one who teaches anything different than what Christ and the apostles taught is preaching “a different gospel” and is “accursed” (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).        

You may say, “I believed in Jesus for eternal life some time ago but my well seems dry. My soul is parched. Why is that?” Perhaps you have plugged up your well. The sediment of unforgiveness or bitterness has stopped up your well. Perhaps your love for work or sex outside of marriage has plugged up your well. You need to unplug your well by confessing your sin to the Lord with the intent of never going back to it (I John 1:9). Confession and repentance will let the waters of eternal life bubble up again in your heart. I’m not suggesting you have lost eternal life, because that can never happen. But I am suggesting that your experience of eternal life has been hindered by unconfessed sin. Let God restore your closeness or fellowship with Him by confessing your sin to Him so you can experience the abundant life Christ wants you to have.

4:15: Thinking of the daily burden of carrying water from the well to her home, the woman cried out for the water that Jesus offered. “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” She saw His offer as a provision that would release her from a physical burden and asked for that water. Jesus had created a desire for the gift of eternal life in her heart. She saw its desirability. Now, the woman must recognize her need for this gift of God [89] and the One Who can give it to her.

Swindoll writes, “Either the woman was spiritually tone-deaf, or she was deliberately avoiding the real issue. Very often people avoid talking about spiritual matters because physical needs are easier to satisfy and frequently provide the illusion of deeper satisfaction. That’s what drives all sorts of compulsions and addictions. People also avoid spiritual discussions because they are too painfully personal. They have learned to cope with their hopelessness; they don’t want anyone upsetting the delicate balance they have worked so hard to achieve. So, the woman took the conversation back into the shallows, where she was more comfortable.” [90]

 So, Jesus confronts her with the truth to help her connect her spiritual “thirst” with her living arrangements. [91] Christ wants to shift her focus from the “gift of God” (4:10-14) to the Giver of that gift (4:15-26). 4:16: The command, “Go, call your husband, and come here,” was not intended to reveal her sinfulness to her because she was already highly aware of that. Christ’s intent was to move her towards His identity. [92]

“The woman believes that the Messiah, when He comes, will reveal all things (4:25, 29). He knows what she believes about the Messiah, and since He knows her past (and her future), He reveals His knowledge of her to make her begin to wonder if He might be the Messiah.” [93]

Constable notes, “Jesus’ instruction to call her husband was proper, because if He was really going to give her something valuable, her husband needed to be present. This was necessary to avoid any misunderstanding about the reason for the gift, especially in view of Samaritan/ Jewish tensions. In that culture giving a gift to someone implied that the recipient would give something back to the giver. If Jesus had not told the woman to call her husband, she might have suspected that He wanted sexual favors in return for His gift.” [94]

When Jesus mentions her “husband,” He was approaching the most sensitive area in her life… the area where she had experienced the most hurt and shame… the area where she had the highest and thickest walls of self-protection. Like many porn and sex addicts, she felt flawed and unworthy of love. Every fiber in her body wanted to run from this Man. At this point, she could have turned away and left (as many do), but she didn’t.

Somewhat embarrassed, she blurted out. 4:17: “I have no husband” in the traditional sense of the word. [95] 4:18: Jesus knew of her promiscuous life, which was like a Hollywood movie star’s life today, having “had five” former “husbands” and nowa live-in partner who was not her husband. [96] We do not know if her previous marriages had ended in physical death or divorce. It would have been very unusual for all her marriages to have ended in death. [97] Regardless of how they ended, Jesus was not condemning or shaming her or trying to exploit her sinfulness. He merely stated the truth and let it stand on its own. He found a way to commend half of her half-truth [98] when He said, “You have well said… and in that you spoke truly” (4:17b, 18b). How did He know all of this? She was both curious and uncomfortable. How could she pursue this conversation in a manner less painful to her? Then a thought struck her. Could He resolve an ancient dispute? Like many of us when God’s light starts to shine on a painful part of our lives, we try to change the subject.

“The woman obviously didn’t feel so threatened as to run away. Exposing the source of someone’s shame too quickly leaves him or her feeling emotionally stripped naked, and the only natural response is to run for cover. But Jesus’ timing was perfect. He had already established a rapport. He allowed the woman to see His genuine concern for her as a person, not an object. He treated her with uncommon dignity and spoke compassionately to her spiritual need. He didn’t allow her to distract Him from the real issues involved, including her attempt to flatter Him and then engage in a pointless theological debate.” [99]

4:19: A tactic that had worked with other men who got a little too close for comfort was flattery. So, she says, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.” On the surface this may seem like mere flattery. But she is also starting to think more about Jesus in spiritual terms. To her “a prophet” was a messenger from God. [100] The Old Testament spoke of a Messianic “Prophet” Who would be like Moses (Deut. 18:15-18). Her reference to Jesus as “a prophet” indicates that she is focusing more on Christ’s identity now than her own sinfulness. And not just because of His insight into her private life, but because of the gracious way He talked about it with her (cf. 4:28-29). This is what Christ intended at this point in His conversation with her. He brings up her sinful arrangements with men NOT so she can become more aware of her sinfulness, but so she can understand Who Jesus truly is.  

“The Samaritans acknowledged no prophet after Moses other than the One spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:18, and Him they regarded as the Messiah … For her to speak of Jesus as a prophet was thus to move into the area of messianic speculation.” [101]

I often hear evangelistic messages today where the Christian speaker spends more time talking about the sinfulness of the lost than about the marvelous gift of God and the Giver of that gift (John 4:10-14). The importance of the cross is being deemphasized and the corruption of the sinner is being overemphasized. Such an approach magnifies sin more than the infinite Son of God and His sacrifice for all our sins!

Like the apostle Paul, I must again plead with Christians to stop embracing the wisdom of this world which perceives the message of the cross to be foolishness and human wisdom to be appealing (I Cor. 1:18-25). We think that by emphasizing the sinfulness of humanity, people will work harder (repent or turn from their sins) to get to heaven instead of resting by faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone! We must return to the centrality of the cross so our boasting will be in the Lord and His wisdom, not in our own accomplishments or our own wisdom (I Cor. 1:26-31).

Is it risky to preach the message of the cross? Absolutely. People may abuse it and live like the devil after they believe in Christ alone for His permanent and unchanging gift of eternal life (John 4:10-14). But that risk in no way justifies changing the message of the cross. God’s wisdom is expressed in the message of the cross, not in human wisdom that emphasizes our works more than God’s.

Continuing to focus on spiritual terms, the Samaritan woman brings up a spiritual concern that caused tension between her people and the Jews. 4:20: The Jews and Samaritans were like a lot of Christians today. They thought the worship of an omniscient God centered around a place. The Samaritans (“our fathers”)insisted that God was to be worshiped in the Samaritan temple on “this mountain” (Mt. Gerizim) whereas the “Jews” insisted that God was to be worshiped in the temple “in Jerusalem” on Mount Zion.      

Jesus keeps the focus on His identity, not the ancient debate between the Samaritans and the Jews. 4:21: Christ’s command, “believe Me” [102] may be more than a call to believe what He is about to say about worship. It is probably also a call to believe His claim that “salvation (everlasting life) is of the Jews” (4:22) and that He is “the Messiah” (4:25-26). Jesus announces that “the hour is coming” (a reference to the church age which will begin at Pentecost – Acts. 2:1ff), when the worship of the Father will no longer take place on Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem. Instead, each believer in the Messiah will be a temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 4:23-24; I Cor. 3:16; 6:19-20). [103]

4:22: The word “you” in this verse is plural and refers to the Samaritan people in general not just the Samaritan woman. Christ is saying that the Samaritans’ worship is based on ignorance (“You worship what you do not know”). Why would He say this?

“She did not know that the Messiah would be Jewish, though she knew He was coming (4:25). As a result, she did not know that ‘salvation is of the Jews.’ This is the only use of salvation (sōtēria) in John. The Lord likely is referring to the deliverance of the world from its bondage to sin. Surely, she expected a coming age in which Messiah would rule. That age, that salvation, is ‘of the Jews.’ Jesus is saying that salvation is through the Messiah—Who is Jewish—and is found in the (Old Testament) Scriptures, which are also Jewish (cf. Gen. 15:6; Isa. 53; Hab. 2:4).” [104]

The reason the Samaritans were ignorant of these truths was because they rejected all but the first five books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch) whereas the Jews accepted all the Old Testament revelation given to them by God. [105]

“Jesus insisted that her ancestral understanding of worship was flawed, and that salvation is from the Jews (4:22) because the Messiah would be of Jewish lineage, descended from the tribe of Judah. Jesus made it clear that truth trumps race and culture.” [106] 

4:23: Jesus says, “the hour is coming” after His death and resurrection, “and now is,” because the Messiah is present with her at that moment, [107] “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” God the Father “is seeking” people of all ethnicities, not just the Jews or Samaritans, to “worship Him” with their hearts (“in spirit”) and with their heads (“in truth”). Both the Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ day paid close attention to detail and form in worship but neglected to nurture a heart attitude towards the Lord. [108] 4:24: We were created to have our spirits connect with “God” Who “is Spirit.”  To worship God “in truth” is to worship Him the way His Word instructs us (John 17:17) – through the One Who is “the truth” (John 14:6; cf. 5:23). God is seeking those who will connect with Him spiritually through His Son, Jesus Christ, based on the truth of His Word.

Today it is difficult to find a church that maintains a healthy balance in the worship of God with their hearts (“in spirit) and with their heads (“in truth”). The tendency is to lean more toward one of these approaches instead of both. Favoring either to an extreme can result in the chaos of emotionalism and sensationalism (“in spirit) or the coldness of cerebralism and stoicism (“in truth”). Finding and maintaining a healthy balance requires focusing on both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word (cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 17:17; Ephes. 5:9, 18-20; Col. 3:16-17).

“Many people today associate worship primarily with going to church, as the Jews did with going to Jerusalem. Jesus clarified that true worship transcends any particular time or place. We can and should worship God twenty-four hours a day as we set aside (sanctify) every activity as an expression of our love and service for the Lord.” [109]       

This Prophet-like Man Who was all too familiar with her sin-stained life spoke of worship as if it pertained to her and her fellow Samaritans. The woman may have thought, “Could I be one of those whom God seeks to worship Him? But how could I ever approach the infinite and eternal Spirit Who desires my worship? My own spirit is soiled by the sinfulness of my life. And it is hopelessly dried up by the emptiness of dissatisfying relationships.”

Then she remembered: “He offered me living water that gushes up into eternal life. Life that will bring me into contact with the living God, washing away the emptiness of my life. Now she had to ask Him a question. He had said that ‘Salvation was of the Jews.’ And He was a Jew and He had offered me eternal life if I would ask Him for it. Could He be …? Was He the Messiah?” [110]

4:25a: She hesitated to put the question directly, but Jesus’ words and wisdom caused her to think of the“Messiah … who is called the Christ.”  4:25b: Her words, “He will tell us all things” suggest that she is wondering if “that Messiah” could tell her more than this Man about her life and worship? She was asking Him for the living water (4:10). She was ready for the answer and Jesus gave it to her.

4:26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” In the Greek language, it literally reads,“I am [He] the [One] speaking to you.” [111] The phrase “I am” (Egō eimi) is emphatic in this statement and it connects us to God’s self-identification to Moses. “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exod. 3:14).

“Both Jews and Samaritans understood Jesus’ meaning. In fact, the religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God because of His repeated use of the ‘I am’ formula (6:48; 8:18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1-3; 18:5-8).” [112]

Yes, the light of truth flooded the Samaritan woman’s soul. She had arrived at the well empty, but now she departed full of life – life with God forever. She now knew the Gift and the Giver. And that is all she needed to know. That is all anyone needs to know. And when they do, an eternal transaction occurs. Without a word or prayer, her heart had asked, and He had given her eternal life.

This tells us that no one is too bad to receive the gift of God. Perhaps you can relate to the Samaritan woman. Your life is empty and parched. You have tried to fill it with substitutes – relationships, alcohol, drugs, pornography, your work, special projects, etc., but they leave you feeling emptier. You need the real thing – a permanent thirst quencher. Ask Jesus for the gift of eternal life and He will give it to you right now.

Although the Samaritan woman sought romantic relationships with men to avoid her shame, Jesus graciously spoke the truth to her in a way that gave her dignity, not more shame. How do we know this? Because after her conversation with Jesus, she goes back to her village and says to the people, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”(4:29). Would she have invited people to come see Jesus if He had shamed her or bullied her? No. Jesus knew all about the shameful things she had done, yet He still loved her. No one ever treated her with such dignity. Jesus spoke to her in a way that brought healing and hope to her heart. He spoke to her in a way that removed her shame and filled her with His love.

And He wants to do the same with you and with me. Are you willing to invite Jesus to come in to the dark and wounded parts of your soul to shine His light of love and heal your brokenness? You may have shameful secrets deep in your soul that you have shared with no one. Jesus already knows what those secrets are, and He is not upset with you.      

Jesus tells us that His heart is “gentle and lowly” (Matt. 11:29). When in the temple, Jesus read Isaiah 42:3 which described the coming Messiah: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” (Matt. 12:20). Jesus, the Messiah, will not treat those of us who are “bruised” with sin and shame harshly (“break” them). He comes along side of us to strengthen and heal us with His presence rather than step on us to advance His own plans. He will not “quench” what little hope (“smoking flax”) we have left inside of us. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him and for life itself. He does this with His gentle and gracious presence in our lives which heals our wounds and replaces our shame with dignity. The woman at the well experienced this when she met Jesus, and her life was forever changed as we shall see in the next chapter.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to You now as a broken sinner who has been deeply hurt by my own sinful choices and the sinful choices of others. I have tried to satisfy my spiritual thirst with so many substitutes that have only made my life worse. I realize today that You still love me despite all of the pain I have caused You and others. I believe You died in my place for all my sins on a cross and rose from the dead. Right now I am asking You, Lord Jesus, to give me everlasting life as a free gift. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have which satisfies my spiritual thirst forever. Thank You that I can never lose this precious gift. Please help me to cross over man-made barriers to share Your life-giving gospel message with people regardless of their culture, color of skin, country, or condition. Please lead me to my Samaria – to those people no one else wants to reach with Your gospel message. I pray for Your boldness, clarity, and compassion as I communicate Your life-giving message to them. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Omaha, NE: Patristic Publishing, 2020 Kindle Edition), pp. 381-383.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 30.

[3] Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 67.

[4] Sandra D. Wilson, Released from Shame: Revised Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), pg. 23.

[5] https://www.ibelieve.com/faith/the-important-difference-between-guilt-and-shame.html.

[6] Cusick, Surfing for God, pg. 68.

[7] Ibid., pg. 69.

[8] Ibid., pg. 71.

[9] Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series Study Guide Volume 1 (Stuart, FL: KindgomWorks Studios, 2017), pg. 21.

[10] Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 206-207.

[11] See Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .

[12] Adapted from Ted Shimer, The Freedom Fight: The New Drug and the Truths that Set Us Free (Houston: High Bridge Books, 2020), pp. 122ff.

[13] Ibid., pg. 20 cites Proven Men Porn Survey (conducted by Barna Group), located at https://provenmen.org/2014PornSurvey/

[14] Ibid., pg. 21 cites 2019 Freedom Fight national Christian student survey involving over 550 women and 750 men from over 30 Universities across the U.S.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., pg. 58 cites 2014 Barna Group Survey at https://wwwprovenmen.org/pornography-survey-statistics-2014/

[17] Ibid., pg. 58, also Shimer states on pg. 334, footnote #2, “Dr. Ted Roberts, the Founder of Pure Desire ministry and Host of the Conquer Series, who had helped people for over thirty years find freedom from pornography, in a correspondence on July 5, 2019, estimated that less than 10% of Christian men who are struggling with porn are seeking recovery in a meaningful way. He believes shame is the biggest factor keeping believers in the shadows.”

[18] Ibid., pg. 58. Shimer also cites Dr. Samuel Perry who said in his July 3, 2019, email correspondence that his research led him to believe that Christian women under-report their porn use because of shame (pg. 334).

[19] Ibid., pg. 22-25 cites Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant (1988) Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 438-453. Doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1988.tb00027.x https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/nnbckv.pdf Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography Dolf Zillman Layden, M. A. (2010); Pornography And Violence: A New Look At The Research, in J. Stoner & D. Huges (eds.); Dr. Mary Layden, Presentation at the Set Free Summit, April 2016; The Porn Phenomenon, Barna Group, https://www.barna.com/research/porn-in-the-digital-age-new-research-reveals-10-trends/

[20] Ibid., pp. 24-25 cites The Report on Digital Sexuality 2019, https://www. yourbrainonporn.com/rebooting-porn-use-faqs/is-my-fetish-porn-induced/the-more-porn-you-watch-the-more-likely-you-are-to-be-bisexual-study-2019.

[21] Ibid., pg. 25 cites Layden, Presentation at the Set Free Summit, April 2016.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., pp. 27-29 cites inability to climax a result of porn, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5039517/, Behav Sci (Basel). 2016 Set; 6(3): 17, Published online 2016 Aug 5. doi:10.3390/bs6030017, Is internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A review with Clinical Reports; TIME, April 2016, Why young men who grew up on internet porn are becoming advocates of turning it off; Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, who’s the clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School, says that many young men today suffer from what he calls porn-induced erectile dysfunction. These men are young, healthy men that can’t maintain an erection with the person that they’re with sexually. But they can get an erection watching porn, https:www.covenanteyes.com/2015/02/27/porn-cause-erectile-dysfunction/?_ga=2.193688685.1717636998.158773822-929581036.1558531859; A 2016 study on Canadian adolescents showed that 45.3% admitted to problems in erectile functioning, https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(16)30056-8/fulltext

[24] Ibid., pp. 28-29 cites survey showing Americans not having sex tripled in the last 10 years, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/03/29/share-americans-not-having-sex-has-reached-record-high/?utm_term=.4d7d002bb327; Playboy, Interview, John Mayer, February 10, 2010.

[25] Ibid., pg. 29 cites D. Zillman & J. Bryant (1988), Pornography’s impact on sexual satisfaction, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 438-453; Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy., (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 95-98 (sexual hookups).

[26] Ibid., pp. 32-33 cites The Brain That Changes Itself, Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doide says of one of his porn-addicted patients, “His feeling that sexual intercourse was a violent act upset him greatly, yet excited him. Thoughts of sexual intercourse immediately led to thoughts of violence and thoughts of violence to sex.”; Anna Bridges, A study of the twenty-five most popular pornographic movies; Foubert, over one hundred studies have shown pornography use increases the likelihood that a man will commit violence against a woman, Malamuth, N. M; Addison, T.; & Koss, M. P. (200), Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them? Annual Review of Sex Research, 11, 26-91; increase in sexual violence, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/national-international/FBI-Report-Shows-Almost-20-Percent-Increase-in-Rape-Reports-495065881.html

[27] Ibid., pg. 33 cites https://www.thetrumpet.com/17188-pedophilia-is-more-common-than-you-think

[28] Ibid., cites 85% of those arrested for Child porn admit to abusing children, https://innocentjustice.org/know-more/

[29]Ibid., cites https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/All-too-often-Southern-Baptist-youth-pastors-13588292.php

[30] Ibid., pg. 35 cites https://arkofhopeforchildrenorg/child-trafficking/child-trafficking-statistics

[31] Ibid., https://fightthenewdrug.org/by-the-numbers-porn-sex-trafficking-connected/

[32] Ibid., cites Anti-Pornhub petition gains steam, accuses adult video giant of facilitating sex trafficking, https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/anti-pornhub-petition-sex-trafficking

[33] Ibid., cites https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/human-sex-trafficking-up-842-california-leads

[34] Ibid., cites http://fortune.com/2019/04/14/human-sex-trafficking-us-slavery

[35] Ibid., pg. 36 cites https://fightthenewdrug.org/by-the-numbers-porn-sex-trafficking-connected/

[36] Ibid., pp. 36-37 cites https://www.wsj.com/articles/cheap-sex-and-the-deline-of-marriage-1506690454?mod=djcm_OBV1_092216&Paid&nan_pid=1864075905&ad_id=8030479

[37] Ibid., pg. 37 cites Regnerus, Cheap Sex, pg. 128.

[38] Ibid., cites Regnerus, Cheap Sex, pg. 121.

[39] Ibid. pp. 62-66.

[40] Ibid., pg. 62 cites Seeing is (Not) Believing: How Viewing Pornography Shapes the Religious Lives of Young Americans, Samuel L. Perry, George M. Hayward, https://academic.oup.com/sf/article/95/4/1757/2877697

[41] Ibid., pg. 87. Shimer also states that over half of pastors say porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation, citing https://www.charismnews.com/us/73208-15-statistics-about-the-church-and-pornography-that-will-blow-your-mind (pg. 338).

[42] Ibid., pg. 89 cites Barna Survey at  https://www.charismnews.com/us/73208-15-statistics-about-the-church-and-pornography-that-will-blow-your-mind

[43] Shimer notes that two separate anonymous surveys showed half of pastors struggle with pornography (pg. 89). He cites on pg. 338 that a 2002 Pastors.com anonymous survey of over 1,300 pastors showed that 54% viewed porn in the last 12 months and 30% last month. He also cites Samuel L. Perry’s 2019 book Addicted to Lust (pg. 30), where Perry states that an anonymous survey by Promise Keepers showed that 54% of pastors had viewed porn in the last seven days.

[44] Ibid., pp. 89-91.

[45] Ibid., pp. 91-92. It must be noted that Shimer does an excellent job addressing how to overcome these obstacles on pages 92-99. This is well worth your time to look over especially if you are wanting to see your church be part of the solution and not part of the problem concerning pornography.

[46] Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, 2023 Edition, pg. 119.

[47] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and  Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 131.

[48] Zane C. Hodges, Faith in His Name: Listening to the gospel of John (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2015), pg. 74.

[49] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 118.

[50] Ibid., pg. 119 cites Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past: The Archeological Background of Judaism and Christianity. 2nd ed. (Princeton University Press. London: Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 309-311.

[51] Ibid., cites Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:6:1; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1, pg. 394.

[52] Ibid., cites Flavius Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, par. 52.

[53] Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, 2019 Kindle Edition), pp. 2210-2211.

[54] Sychar

[55] Archibald Thomas Robertson,. A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 53954.

[56] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on John, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 4 (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 89.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 810.

[59] Ibid., pg. 1065;

[60] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 120.

[61] Ibid., pp. 120-121 cites Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1, pg. 404. 

[62] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2211.

[63] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 90.

[64] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2211.

[65] Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels Editors John F. Walvoord and  Roy B. Zuck (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 573.

[66] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 121 cites the Mishnah Niddah 4:1.

[67] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2212.

[68] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 122.

[69] Zane C. Hodges, The Hungry Inherit: Winning the Wealth of the World to Come (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 6-14.

[70] J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 93.

[71] Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 575.

[72] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 124.

[73] Robert Wilkin, Bond, J.; Derickson, Gary; Doskocil, Brad; Hodges, Zane; Hunt, Dwight; Leach, Shawn. “John.” The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 188.

[74] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 124.

[75] Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures, Kindle Location 54300.

[76] ou mē dipsēsē eis ton aiōna

[77] Zane C. Hodges with Robert N. Wilkin, Tough Texts: Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works? (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2017 Kindle Edition), pp. 106-107.

[78] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 188.

[79] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2212.

[80] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 810.

[81] Ibid., pg. 46.

[82] Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures, Kindle Location 54361 to 54384.

[83] Hodges, The Hungry Inherit, pg. 8.

[84] Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 133.

[85] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 188.

[86] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pp. 124-125.

[87] John F. MacArthur, Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), pg. 93; John Piper, Beyond the Gold, Desiring God Radio, May 14, 2006.

[88] See Zane C. Hodges excellent book, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Dallas: Redencion Viva, and Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, Academie Books, 1989).

[89] Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 133.

[90]  Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 92.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 188.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 125.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 188.

[97] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 125.

[98] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 92.

[99] Ibid., pg. 93.

[100] Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 133.

[101] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 126 cites Morris, The Gospel According to John, pg. 236. Cf. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah Vol. 1, pg. 414.

[102] pisteuson Moi 

[103] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 188.

[104] Ibid., pp. 188-189.

[105] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pp. 127-128; cf. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 96.  

[106] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2213.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 189.

[109] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 130 cites Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), pp. 77-84.

[110] Hodges, The Hungry Inherit, pp. 10-11.

[111] Egō eimi, ho lalōn soi.

[112] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 94.

GOD WANTS TO DO A NEW THING

“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

This is one of my favorite verses in the book of Isaiah. The promise of 43:19 must have reminded Isaiah’s Jewish readers who were captives in Babylon of the exodus from Egypt, when God saved their forefathers from bondage and led them through the Red Sea and the “wilderness.” But this exodus from Babylon would be even better because it would restore the Jews to their homeland from which they had been expelled because of their sins. “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” implies that even though the trip from Babylon back to Israel would lead through treacherous territory, God would go ahead of His people and make a way.

The Lord is reassuring us that He will do a “new thing” which shall “spring forth” unexpectedly like a sprout in dry soil. He wants to make a road in “the wilderness” of our wanderings and turn the “desert” of our spiritual dryness into “rivers” of life.

Are we convinced that our past sins are preventing us from moving forward into the new year? Do we feel dried up spiritually and that God has given up on us? Are there obstacles in our lives that seem impossible to overcome? Do not give up. God promises to do something new in our lives! God can make a way where there seems to be no way.

As we begin this new year, let’s remember that “the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:8). None of us will truly be alone in 2024. There is no place we can go in this new year where God is not already there. He “goes before” us. And not only that, “He will be with” us. While that may sound too good to be true, He also promises He will never abandon (“leave”) us nor reject (“forsake”) us. So, we do not need to live in “fear” or discouragement (“dismayed”) because our great and gracious God goes before us, is with us, and guarantees never to abandon or reject us. No matter how inadequate we may feel, God is always more than adequate for anything we may face.

I wonder what may be in our lives that simply cannot co-exist with the new thing that God wants to do? Are we willing to approach God in faith and pray to Him, “Lord, I don’t know what’s going to happen in this new year – but I want to join You in the new thing You are doing!”?

Prayer: Father God, thank You for a new year that is set before us. Please help us open our hearts in faith to the new thing You are wanting to do in our lives. Show us if there is anything in our lives that cannot co-exist with the new thing You are wanting to do in and through us so we can release it to You. Some of us may feel stuck in our Christian lives. We may feel lost wandering through life without any purpose or direction. Others of us may be spiritually dried up and in need of refreshment from Your rivers of life. Please make a way where there seems to be no way. Lord, we are encouraged by Your promise to go before us. There is no place we can go this new year where You are not already there preparing the way for us to go. Thank You for guaranteeing that we will never be alone in this new year because You are with us, and You promise never to abandon us or reject us. Thank You Father for this reassurance which bolsters our faith and diminishes our fears. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

John 3 – Part 4: “More of Him and Less of Me”

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

Muhammad Ali once said to Mark McCormack, “I’m more famous than Jesus Christ.” Recounting the incident in his book, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, McCormack remarked, “I was appalled at the statement, dismissed it as braggadocio, and let it go at that. But months later for some reason I got to thinking about it and started counting up all the Muslim, Hindu, and other non-Christian countries in which Ali was extremely well known. The statement was still braggadocio, but I realized it was also probably true.” [1] The tragedy was not just that Muhammad Ali was arrogant, but it’s that he was probably accurate.

What about in the region where you live? Is Jesus more popular among the people of your town, city, or state than the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, or Hindus? Is He more popular than your governor or favorite celebrity or athlete?

In this chapter, we are going to talk more about vision. Vision is a picture of what God wants us to be and do. In this year, I believe God wants Jesus Christ to become more well-known where you and I are living. So, we are going to talk about how Jesus Christ can become more popular where we live. In doing so, we will discover three ways in John 3:22-36 how Christ can grow in prominence in our area. THE FIRST WAY FOR JESUS TO BECOME MORE POPULAR is for us to…

RESPOND TO GOD’S BLESSING ON OTHERS WITH HUMILITY (3:22-27). 3:22: “After these things” refers to Christ’s conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus where He stressed that faith alone in Christ alone is the only way to heaven (3:5-18). If Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus took place in Jerusalem, then the reference to Christ coming “into the land of Judea” probably refers to the Judean countryside. [2] While in this remote place, Jesus begins to develop new believers into His disciples. A disciple is a devoted follower of Jesus. Once a person believes in Christ to get to heaven, he is then initiated into the discipleship process through water baptism (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15).

Look at the phrase, “He remained with them.” This was an unhurried period that Jesus had with these new believers. They are getting to know each other. Being the Lord’s disciple meant you were with Him. You spent time with Him. New birth or getting to heaven is by believing in Christ alone (3:5-18), but discipleship involves being “baptized” with water and instruction (3:22; cf. Matt. 28:19-20). In all nations, God wants to expand His church through the discipleship process whereby older Christians meet with younger Christians one on one or in small groups to reproduce devoted followers of Christ. This is God’s only plan for increasing Jesus’ popularity around the world (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:2).

Jesus was not the only one baptizing. 3:23: While Jesus baptized downstream, “John“ the Baptist was baptizing “in Aenon” (Ainōn) which means “springs” [3] “near Salim,” a Hebrew and Arabic term meaning “peace.” [4] At this location there were seven springs within a quarter mile radius which meant there was plenty of water to baptize by immersion. [5] The exact location of “Aenon” is not known today. [6]     

“The best evidence seems to point to a site just south of Scythopolis (Old Testament Bethshan) … about 15 miles south of the Sea of Galilee.” [7]

“The other possible site was a few miles east of Sychar (near Old Testament ‘Shechem’) … approximately midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Both plausible sites are only a few miles west of the Jordan River.” [8]

While the exact location of John’s baptizing ministry cannot be determined today, it is important to recognize that the Baptist moved from the south to the north, leaving Jesus to baptize closer to Jerusalem [9] (see map).

3:24: John notes that John the Baptist “had not yet been thrown into prison” yet. The apostle John is the only gospel writer to inform us that “between Jesus’ temptation and John the Baptist’s arrest, John and Jesus baptized at the same time. His reference to John the Baptist’s imprisonment is important because it helps the reader to see that John’s account does not contradict the Synoptics. Yet his primary concern was John the Baptist’s witness for Jesus.” [10]

John’s baptism of repentance prepared people to believe in Jesus. “Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus’” (Acts 19:4; cf.John 3:36).

3:25: John the Baptist’s disciples found themselves at a disadvantage in “a dispute” with “the Jews about purification.” These “Jews” were asking why they should participate in John’s ceremonial washing (baptism) when Christ’s following was larger. [11] It seems as those these interrogators sought to generate a division between John the Baptist and Jesus. Both ministries were inviting people to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah (cf. John 1:7, 41, 49-51; 2:11; 3:15-18, 36; cf. Matt. 21:25, 31-32; Mark 1:15). The Judeans feared that if these two ministries remained united, their message would sweep through the entire nation. The ones who sought to divide these ministries directed their attack towards John the Baptist. [12]

3:26: The “they” may refer to the Baptist’s disciples [13] or to the Judeans who disputed with them. [14] In the context, it makes more sense to me that the Baptist’s disciples “came to John” expressing jealousy towards Jesus’ growing popularity. John’s ministry was dwindling, and Jesus’ ministry was advancing. Notice that they don’t refer to Jesus by name. They say, “He who was with you… to whom you testified… He is baptizing… all are coming to Him.” They are complaining. “John, you did Him a favor by telling others about Him and now He is taking all of your followers.” These men were loyal followers of John the Baptist. They longed for the former days when everyone was coming to listen to their leader. Now this new guy comes into town, and they didn’t like it one bit. To them it was competition.

Can you relate to John’s disciples? When God blesses another ministry near you, do you ever find yourself asking God why they have more people coming to Christ than you do? Do you find yourself comparing the size of your church with other churches? Instead of thanking God for their growth, you wish you had that many people! Or when God blesses an individual believer in your church, do you find yourself feeling jealous of that person? You compare yourself to him or her and think you should have more blessings than them because you are more deserving? If we are honest with ourselves, we have all had these kinds of thoughts and feelings.

How did John the Baptist respond to Jesus’ growing popularity? 3:27: John’s pride was not wounded like his disciples’ were. [15] He understood that any ministry comes “from heaven,” whether it be his or Jesus’ ministry. He realizes that heaven determined that Jesus’ ministry would grow and his would decrease now. More people were coming to Christ because God was bringing them. It was God’s plan for John to prepare the way for Christ and that was all. John humbly accepted God’s plan for him to decrease in popularity and for Jesus to increase in popularity now.

“Everything belongs to the Lord and He has the sovereign right to give or take as He desires, including authority to lead. Because all authority derives from God’s sovereign choosing, no leader can legitimately claim any entitlement to his or her position. Those who claim to exercise authority by ‘divine right’ fail to acknowledge their duty to God and become guilty of pride.” [16]

God is the One who determines the size of a ministry. Therefore, there is no basis for jealousy over another’s opportunity or ministry. Our responsibility is to be faithful to what God has called us to do (cf. I Cor. 4:2). You and I can receive nothing unless it has been given to us from heaven. So, we don’t have to concern ourselves with the size or popularity of our church or our ministries. Thank God for using all kinds of churches and individual believers to reach the lost for Christ!

If we are going to see Jesus become more popular where we live, we must not allow any room for jealousy or competition among different churches or ministries. The spirit of competition causes Christians to compare themselves with what God is doing in another person’s life. No one in our community wants to be a part of that. People in our community want to be a part of churches that are working together and praying for each other. After all, we are on the same team and we want to see God bless all the Bible-believing churches in our area and beyond because it is not about us, it is about Jesus Christ and seeing Him grow in popularity. So, Jesus will become more popular where we live as churches and individuals respond to God’s blessings on others with humility. The second way for Jesus to grow in popularity is to…

REJOICE IN ATTRACTING OTHERS TO JESUS EVEN AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE (3:28-30). 3:28: John reminds his disciples that they already heard him explain that he was only a forerunner (“I have been sent before Him”), and not the Messiah himself (“I am not the Christ”; cf. 1:7-8, 15, 20, 23).God’s plan for John was to prepare people for Jesus’ ministry (cf. Acts 19:4). It was God’s plan now for Jesus to increase in prominence and for John to decrease in prominence. Jesus’ growing popularity was in part due to John doing his job so well. Rather than seek the limelight for himself, John was content to be an instrument to glorify Christ.

The Baptist then refers to the wedding customs of his day to support this fulfillment of his joy. 3:29: In the first century, “the friend of the bridegroom” was an assistant, not the main participant in a wedding. He was responsible for making wedding arrangements and waiting for the groom to return with his bride to the groom’s house for the wedding banquet. The friend of the bridegroom did not expect to take center stage.

“The ‘friend of the bridegroom’ in ancient Near East culture held considerably more responsibility than the ‘best man’ today. In addition to helping the bridegroom prepare his home for the eventual day when the bride would come to stay, he helped direct the wedding feast at the end of the betrothal period. His most significant duty was to guard the bridal chamber during the feast, especially after the bride had slipped into the room unnoticed by the guests. No one except for the groom was allowed to go near the bridal chamber. When the ‘friend of the groom’ heard the groom’s voice, he stood aside. His joy was complete when the groom arrived.” [17]

With this comparison in mind, John rejoiced fully in Jesus’ success. John was simply the “friend of the bridegroom,” but Jesus is “the bridegroom.” [18] In effect John says, “When I see crowds of people leaving me and going to Jesus I am thrilled because Jesus can do for them what I could never do. For their sakes and His, I rejoice!” He says, “It fills my heart with joy to see them leaving me and going to Jesus.” And a heart full of joy has no room for jealousy. [19]

3:30:  Some have misunderstood this verse to mean that you must die to yourself and that there be less and less of you so that there can be more and more of Christ in you. But in the context, what John means here is that Jesus “must increase” in popularity and he “must decrease” in popularity. After all, John was the forerunner; Christ was the promised Messiah-God. If he was preparing the way for the Messiah, then surely the Messiah would need to be better known than the forerunner.

“John was simply the opening act, expected to warm up the crowd and then get off the stage. Jesus was the main event, the star attraction. John’s job was to point to and glorify the Messiah. And that’s our job too. John was content with and grateful for his role. Are you?” [20]

Don’t we want to see this where we live? Don’t we want to see Christ grow in popularity in our communities? Don’t we want to see more people in our community talking about Jesus Christ and what He is doing in and through our churches? Don’t we want to hear our neighbors and co-workers talking more about Jesus? Are we willing to set aside our own preferences to attract more unbelievers to Jesus? With God, all things are possible. The third way Jesus can become more popular where you live is to…

REVEAL JESUS’ GREATNESS TO OTHERS (3:31-36). The reason why Jesus must increase in popularity is because He is far greater than any other person who has ever walked on this earth. HIS GREATNESS IS SEEN IN…

1. HIS ORIGIN. 3:31: The apostle John’s purpose in writing his gospel was to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31) partially by emphasizing Jesus was “from above.” Being born “from above” (3:3, 5-6) can only take place by believing in Jesus (3:15-16) Who is “from above.” [21] Christ comes “from heaven.” His origin was heavenly. Finite people like John the Baptist have an “earthly” origin. They can only reveal things about their experience on earth. But Jesus can reveal things about His experiences in heaven because that is where He is from. Every human teacher has limited knowledge about heaven, but Jesus knows all about heaven and how to get there because He lived there before coming to earth. Because of His heavenly origin, Jesus is “above all” others. Other religious leaders and teachers are trying to tell us how to go where they have never been. But Jesus is unlike any other teacher – He has lived in heaven and can teach us about it as we shall now see…

2. HIS TEACHING. 3:32: Jesus can teach with authority about heaven because He has firsthand experience and observation of it. He teaches what He had previously “seen and heard” while fellowshipping with God the Father in heaven, and therefore His teaching is trustworthy. In a court of law, second and thirdhand information is not nearly as reliable as firsthand information. But even though Jesus’ teaching is reliable, “no one” from the Jewish authorities who came to question Jesus “receives His testimony.” [22]

But some people did receive Jesus’ message. 3:33: Every time someone “received” Christ’s (God’s) “testimony,” they have “certified” or attested that God’s Word is reliable and “true.” The verb translated “certified” (esphragisen) is used of seals in John’s day.

“Seals indicated a personal guarantee, as well as denoting ownership (cf. 6:27). They also made secure (Matt. 27:66) and concealed (Rev. 22:10) things. Jesus so exactly revealed God’s words, that to believe Jesus is to believe God, and to disbelieve Jesus is to disbelieve God (cf. 1 John 5:10).” [23]

The reason the words Jesus spoke were “true” and trustworthy is given in the next verse. 3:34: Jesus is referred to by the apostle John as the One “whom God has sent.” Thirty-nine times the gospel of John refers to Jesus being sent from God [24] to demonstrate that Jesus is God and has a heavenly origin. [25]

In the past, God’s messengers had a limited “measure” of God’s Spirit. “Old Testament prophets had the Spirit only for limited times and for limited purposes.” [26] But God has given Jesus “the Spirit” without limits which guarantees that Christ’s words are precisely “the words of God.” [27]

“The Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism and remained on Him (1:32-33; cf. Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1). God gave His Spirit without measure only to Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4- 11).” [28] Hence, Jesus’ words are God’s words and therefore they are authoritative and trustworthy because He has the full endowment of the Spirit.        

Historian Philip Schaff described the overwhelming influence which Jesus had on subsequent history and culture of the world.  “This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Muhammad, and Napoleon; without science… He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.” [29] There has never been a greater teacher than Jesus Christ. Christ’s greatness is also seen in…

3. HIS GIFT. Why has God the Father given Christ the Spirit without limit? 3:35: Because “the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” The Father’s love for His Son which was declared at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:17), guarantees Jesus’ authority to give eternal life. Because of the exalted position (“whom God has sent… given all things”) and Person (“from heaven… above all”) of His Son (3:31-35), the Father expects people to believe in Him, and when they don’t, the consequences are permanent.

 3:36: We see two very different eternal destinies in this one verse. Those who “believe in the Son” have “everlasting life.” Those who do “not believe the Son shall not see life.” What does it mean to “believe”? The word “believe” (pisteuō) means to be “persuaded something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.” [30] Are you persuaded that John the Baptist was speaking the truth when he said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him”? If you now believe in the Son, Jesus Christ, then according to God’s Word, you now have “everlasting life.” You can experience “life”with Jesus both now and forever.

The phrase “he who does not believe the Son,”[31] could also be translated,“he who does not obey the Son.” [32] Refusal to believe the Son’s testimony about Himself is a refusal to “obey” the Father Who sent Him and Who expects people to believe in Him. To disbelieve God’s Son is to disobey the commandment to believe in Him (cf. I John 3:23a). “One cannot refuse the testimony of an Exalted Person like Jesus without rejecting the very words of God.” [33] Disobeying God’s command to believe in His Son for eternal life is the only unforgiveable sin and therefore deserves the greatest consequence – God’s “wrath” (orgē) or anger abiding on him or her forever.  

“A God of love must also have the capacity for anger. However, the wrath of God is not the kind of bellowing anger we have come to associate with abusive people. Paul described the Creator’s response to sin using the Greek word orgē, which means ‘upsurging.’ When used to describe wrath, it is a passionate expression of outrage against wrongdoing. In this context, it pictures the passionate righteous anger of God cresting the walls of heaven and spilling over onto earth. And while it is indeed a passionate, upsurging response, it is completely consistent with God’s character, which is also love. Without question, His wrath is fearsome, yet it is also controlled, deliberate, measured, and utterly just. His wrath is nothing less than a reasonable expression of His righteous character and His unfailing love when confronted with evil.

“No Jew would admit to disbelieving God. However, because Jesus is the Word of God, failing to trust Him is the same as choosing to disbelieve God. And Hebrew history is replete with warnings and illustrations of people falling under the wrath of God for failure to believe. John said to his students, in effect, ‘Don’t forget that this “Rival” you are prepared to oppose is none other than God in human flesh; to oppose Him is to rebel against the Almighty.” [34]

A few years ago when we were living on the south side of Des Moines, I spoke with a friend’s neighbor. He told me that several months ago they discovered a massive tumor attached to his heart and the doctor recommended surgery. Did he accept as true that the doctor could remove the tumor? Yes. But he did not believe or trust the doctor to remove the tumor until he climbed up on the operating table. Christ is asking us to come to Him as sinners, recognizing that He died for our sins and rose again, and then believe or trust in Him alone to get us to heaven. Christ is not inviting us to depend upon our good life, religion, or prayers to get us to heaven, but to depend on Him alone to get us there.

Think about this incredible gift that Christ wants to give us – this eternal life. This is life with God that never ends. What makes eternal life so amazing is that it is absolutely free because Jesus Christ paid the full price when He died in our place on a cross and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Trusting Christ alone, we are forever accepted by God, not based on what we have done or will do for Him, but based upon what He has done for us.

This concept of a free gift is often compromised today. Some say God only gives eternal life to those who obey God or promise to obey. Others say eternal life is given only to those who prove they are Christians by their works. These faulty concepts about eternal life rob God of all the glory because if we can get to heaven based on our obedience or works, then we have something to boast about. But if eternal life is absolutely free (and it is), then all the glory goes to God, which is where it belongs (Ephes. 2:8-9).

Jesus’ gift is eternal, and it is absolutely free. So, if my wife, children, close friends, co-workers, and neighbors have believed in Christ, we are going to live together forever! What could be a better message than the one surrounding this gift?

The Bible is telling us that Jesus Christ is the only One who has the ability to give us the greatest gift imaginable – eternal life. Therefore, we must do whatever it takes to tell others about Christ and what He has done for them so they can believe in Him alone to get them to heaven. After all, since eternal life is the greatest gift, why not pass it on to others? According to 3:36b, what happens to those who don’t believe in Jesus? They “shall not see life.” They won’t be with Jesus in heaven because God’s “wrath” will remain on them in a terrible place of suffering called the lake of fire (cf. Mark 9:47-48; Rev. 20:15).

If you had the cure for cancer and didn’t share it, would that be criminal? Yes. If you had the cure for HIV or AIDS and didn’t share it, would that be criminal? Yes. If you knew the only way to get to heaven and you didn’t tell it to the people who lived by you, would that be criminal? Yes. A thousand times YES!!! The Bible says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all.” (2 Cor. 5:14).  Circle “Christ’s love.” God has never made a person that He didn’t love. Everybody matters to God. And because God cares about people, we must care, too.  Doesn’t this compel you to tell others? It does me. How much more should we want to share the greatest gift of all with others? But you may say, “Well I don’t know how or I’m afraid.”

Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19). About a year after believing in Jesus (cf. Matt. 4:12; John 1:35-4:35), Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, are casting their fishing net into the sea when Jesus approaches them (Matt. 4:18). Christ invites them to follow Him and promises that He will make them fishers of men. How could Jesus use these men with no formal education or ministry experience to make a difference for eternity? Simple. Their responsibility was to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility was to make them fishers of men.

Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

When we examine the gospels, we see that Jesus did not have one standard approach to evangelism. He simply started wherever people were at. When He was with the Samaritan woman at the well, He talked about living waters (John 4:1-26). When He was with the fishermen, He talked about fishing for men (Matt. 4:18-20). When He was with farmers, He talked about sowing seed (Luke 8:4-15). In other words, Jesus was being relevant to the people He was with. He used methods and words they would understand and value.

If you have ever fished for an entire day, you know that sometimes you must change bait as the day progresses. What bait worked in the morning may not attract the same fish in the afternoon or evening. Likewise, some Christians and churches are failing to reach the unchurched in the twenty-first century because they are using the same bait that worked in the 1950s and 1960s. The problem is the unbelievers are not biting on that bait any longer. We cannot expect to reach the lost if we are not using methods that best ministers to their needs.

God wants to see Jesus become more popular where you live.  He wants to see Jesus’ name become more famous than our names. God may be placing something on your heart right now that He wants to use to increase Jesus’ popularity in your community or around the world. Your first response may be, “Lord, I can’t do that.” You are right, you cannot, but God can do it through you if you will respond in faith instead of fear. With God, all things are possible. And it starts when you respond to God’s blessing on others with humility, then rejoice in attracting others to Jesus even at your own expense and reveal Jesus’ greatness to others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this planet is Your stage to show Your grace and truth off. Please forgive us for wanting the attention that belongs only to You. Thank You for the grace that enables us to be Your voices with the understanding that You are the living Word Who changes peoples’ lives. Nothing is more thrilling than seeing people come to You in faith for Your incredible gift of everlasting life. You are the most amazing Person in the universe! Please show us today how we can make You more well-known in this fallen world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Mark H. McCormack, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School (London: Profile Books LTD, 2014 edition), pg. ?  

[2] Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187. Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 110.

[3] Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 110.

[4] Chuck Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 79.

[5] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 128 cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 2 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953), Vol.1, pg. 147.

[6] Edward Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 568.

[7] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 110 cites Tenney, “John,” in John—Acts. Vol. 9 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pg. 52.

[8] Ibid., pg. 110 cites Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Vol. 2 (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912), pp. 767-769.

[9] Ibid., pg. 111 cites Beasley-Murray, John, pg. 52.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 568.

[12] Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 129.

[13] Ibid.; Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 111.

[14] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187.

[15] Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Study Commentary, pg. 2209.

[16] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 79.

[17] Ibid., pg. 80.

[18] Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 569.

[19] J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 86.

[20] Evans, The Tony Evans Study Commentary, pg. 2210.

[21] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 114.

[22] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187.

[23] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 114; cf. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 980.

[24] John 3:17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 28-29; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44-45, 49; 13:16, 20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21.

[25] Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 570.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The phrase translated “for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (ou gar ek metrou didōsin to Pneuma), “does not mean that all believers are equally gifted or equally spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-15; 12:1-31). Rather, it means that if God is speaking through someone (a true prophet), then whatever he says is absolutely true. There is no such thing as a person who speaks falsely under the power of the Spirit.” (Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187).

[28] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 115.

[29] Sujo John, Do You Know Where You Are Going? (New York: Lantern Books, 2002), pg. 98.

[30] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 816-817.

[31] ho de apeithōn tō Huiō

[32] The verb apeithōn means “to disbelieve, disobey” (Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 99). 

[33] Zane C. Hodges, Faith in His name, pg. 72.

[34] Swindoll, Insights on John, pp. 80-81.

John 3 – Part 3: “How Can A Loving God Send Anyone to Hell?”

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18

As I have shared the gospel with others one of the disturbing questions among non-Christians is how can a loving God send anyone to hell? To many people this seems like a major contradiction. One minute, preachers will talk about God’s love and forgiveness. Then they turn around and talk about hell – a terrible place of torment and unending fire where people want to die but they are unable to. How can God claim to be such a pro at love and forgiveness and then turn around and send someone to such a terrible place of agony and suffering?

How do you respond to this question? Let’s turn in our Bibles to John 3:16-21 where Jesus is having a conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus. We have been doing a verse-by-verse study of the gospel of John. This book helps us see the major emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. While Christ was on earth, He was not scaring people out of going to hell with bad news; instead, He was inviting people to heaven with good news. Jesus spoke more about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, but that was not the major emphasis of His ministry. He did not earn His reputation as a “friend of sinners” by being harsh. He earned it by being loving and kind and extending His love and forgiveness to people like all of us. Jesus’ message and ministry were not trying to scare people out of hell; but inviting them to receive the gift of eternal life so they could live with Him in heaven.

GOD’S LOVE WANTS ALL PEOPLE TO LIVE WITH HIM IN HEAVEN (3:16-17). 3:16: We looked at this verse in the last chapter. God loves the entire world – over 8 billion people! How do we know this? Because He “gave” His only perfect Son to die on a cross. Why did Jesus have to die? Because God is holy and perfect. The fact that God is holy and perfect demands that He must punish sin (Ps. 5:4-5; 11:5; 45:7; Prov. 6:16-19; 8:13; Isa. 6:1-5; Rom. 6:23b; Heb. 1:9). A “slap on the wrist” is not enough. Due to its awful nature, sin is punishable by death. Not physical death – but eternal death or separation from God (Mark 9:43-48; Rev. 20:15).

Fortunately for us, God let His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who never knew any sin – no wrong thoughts, bad words, unkind attitudes, or evil actions – die on a cross where you and I should have been punished (2 Cor. 5:21; I Pet. 3:18). Christ took our place on a cross. The nails that should have been driven through our hands and feet, were, instead, driven through His. Keep in mind, Christ didn’t have to suffer for your sin – He loved you enough to do it. When God brought His Son up from the grave on the third day, He was providing proof that He could now extend forgiveness and eternal life to “whoever believes in” Jesus. There is no sin that Christ cannot forgive and no person that He will not accept if he or she comes to Him on His terms.

The word “should” communicates the fact that the verbs “perish” (apolētai) and “have” (echē) are in the subjunctive mood, which expresses a condition. [1] Christ is guaranteeing that “whoever believes in Him” will “not perish” in hell but “have everlasting life” both now and forever.

3:17: This is the heart of God. God the Father’s purpose in sending “His Son into the world” was not to “condemn,” but that the world might “be saved” through Jesus. Condemnation and salvation in this verse are parallel to perishing and everlasting life in 3:16. The salvation and condemnation Jesus speaks of here are eternal. [2]

Some people confuse Christianity with religion. They think God sent Jesus to earth to make us miserable. They think Christianity is a bunch of dos and don’ts. “Don’t drink… don’t cuss… don’t smoke… don’t chew… and don’t run around with girls who do.” They perceive God to be sitting up in heaven just waiting to hit them with His holy hammer when they mess up. But this verse tells us the very opposite. God did not send His Son into the world to “condemn” us, but to cleanse us. He did not come to rub our sin in, He came to rub it out.

Imagine for a moment one of your children when they were small, playing in the road. You see a fast-moving car approaching. You know you can’t reach them in time. Running toward them you yell, “Get out of the road and come here!” It is important at that moment that your child trusts you and responds. Are you trying to ruin their fun? No, you are trying to save their life. God knows that we are all in danger. We are in danger of spending eternity separated from Him. The Bible calls it the second death and it is racing toward all of humanity (Rev. 20:6, 11-15). For that reason, God sent His Son to die on a cross, as a sacrifice for our sins. He has paid our penalty if full (John 19:30). All He asks in return is that we believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life.

God doesn’t want any human being to spend eternity in hell. In fact, Jesus tells us that hell was intended for the devil and his fallen angels: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41). Since God did not want us to spend eternity in hell, He sent His Son to die in our place so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

I like how author Max Lucado describes God’s love: “One of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because He is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you are the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while… If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and He chose your heart. And the Christmas gift He sent you in Bethlehem? Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you!” [3]

If God is so crazy about us, then why would He send anyone to such a horrible place as hell? Please hear this – God doesn’t send anyone to hell. People send themselves there.

GOD’S LOVE ALLOWS PEOPLE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL (3:18). 3:18: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (emphasis added). Three times Jesus uses the word “believe” in this verse to indicate that believing in Him is all that is necessary to escape eternal “condemnation.” No other condition is required to be rescued from this everlasting condition. Why then do Christians so often teach that more is required? Do they know better than the Lord Jesus Christ about what it takes to escape such a horrendous fate!?! Of course not. But Satan knows his fate and he wants to deceive as many as possible to join him in the lake of fire forever.

A person “who believes in Him is not condemned” now or in eternity because Jesus took his or her condemnation when He hung on a cross. The believer “shall not come into judgment” because Christ already took the judgment of God on Himself when our sins were placed upon Him (John 5:24; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; I Pet. 3:18).

When a person refuses to believe in Jesus Christ, they are rejecting God’s offer. They are condemning themselves. [4] When a person refuses to believe in Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life, they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let us pay for our own sin through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell or the lake of fire (Mark 9:43-48; Rev. 20:15). Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.

Suppose God blessed you and your spouse with a little boy. You love that little boy so much that you would do anything for him. Forbid the thought, but suppose that when your little boy is twenty-one, he begins a wayward life and eventually murders someone. Your state sentences him to die by lethal injection. Suppose that you could walk into his cell the morning he is to be executed and offer to take his place. That’s how great your love is for him. In so doing, you explain that he can be a free and forgiven man. Much to your surprise, he pushes you aside, walks to the table, and receives the punishment for his horrible crime himself. Did you not love him enough? Would you accept the accusation, “If you really loved your son, you wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”? Hardly! You did not reject him; he rejected you.

This is why the Bible puts the responsibility where it belongs when it says, “He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (3:18b).

Salvation from sin and judgment is free for the taking. But if you reject the miracle cure that the doctor offers you, don’t blame him when you succumb to your fatal illness.” [5]

Why would someone reject Christ’s free offer of everlasting life? Why would someone choose hell instead of heaven? The answer is in verses 19-20:

PEOPLE LOVE THEIR SIN MORE THAN THE SAVIOR (3:19-21). Jesus explains. 3:19: “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” The presence of God’s light – His truth- forces people to make a choice – to either believe in Christ or reject Him. The reason people reject Christ’s offer of a free gift is because they love their sin more, and they want to stay in the darkness because it hides their sinfulness.

Let’s be honest – sin is fun. Sin feels good. Sin initially appears attractive. But sin is like a black widow spider. The bite of the female black widow spider can be deadly to humans. But the black widow gets its name because after the male has mated with the female, she kills and eats him. Sin has somewhat of the same effect on us. It is attractive and pleasurable, but in the end, it can devour us forever.

For example, suppose a person is unwilling to come to Christ because he is afraid of what God might do with the sins he enjoys? If that man so enjoys his immorality or drug abuse or overeating and, in fear of what God might do, is unwilling to come to Christ, he needs to examine Jesus’ words: 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”(Matt. 5:29-30).What does Jesus mean here?

Let me explain where I’m at in my understanding of this passage. Alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and sexual addiction are examples of sins which dominate the lives and thinking of millions upon millions today. People turn to such things because of inner pain. The sinful addiction provides a temporary distraction. However, it does not eliminate the pain. In fact, it takes more and more of the addictive behavior to keep masking the pain.

People can also turn to things like sports, work, home decorating, shopping, recreational activities, and hobbies to distract them from inner pain. These things, although morally neutral in moderation, can so dominate a person’s time and attention as to become idolatrous and sinful. Evangelist Larry Moyer writes: “Have you ever met a man whose hand was so involved in business that there was no time to think about spiritual things? Or a woman whose eyes were so focused on a neat or new home that she neglected spiritual matters? Christ’s warning to a person in that position was: None of those are worth eternal separation from God. Such a person would be wise to cut off the hand with which he works or to pluck out the eye with which she focuses on a new home.” [6]

No one can come to faith in Christ unless they see their need for Him. People with sinful addictions often cannot see that need unless they hit bottom and give up the addiction. Turning from sins is not a condition of salvation. However, for some it may be a practical necessity – not to clean up their lives, but to be able to see their need and come to faith in Christ. Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5:29-30, that nothing is worth going to hell over. What your “hand” touches and what our “eye” sees – does it keep us from believing or trusting in Christ alone for eternal life? We would be wise to cut off the “hand” or pluck out the “eye.” It is far better to be here with “one… hand” or “eye” than separated from God in hell with two hands or eyes.

Some people won’t let God love them because they will be exposed for what they really are – sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness. This is especially true with religious people like Nicodemus. They live their lives being basically good, but if an invitation to trust Christ alone for salvation is given, they won’t respond because they are afraid their image will be shattered. They will be exposed and that is just too much to risk. But friends, love is risky. We take a risk receiving God’s love through Jesus Christ and we take a risk expressing our love back to Him.

3:20:  The words “everyone practicing evil,” can apply to Christians and non-Christians. [7] The phrase “come to the light” is a flexible expression that refers to association with the light. Even unbelievers can associate with the light. John 6:60-64 states that some of His disciples did not believe in Him. They came to Him and followed Him, but they did not believe in Him.” [8]

Non-Christians who refuse to come to the light offer many excuses for not believing in Christ. “Some cite the presence of hypocrites in the church. Others claim inability to believe some of the truths about Christ or the gospel. [Many say that they cannot accept the fact that God permits so much suffering in the world.] These are merely attempts to conceal a heart in rebellion against God. The ultimate reason people do not come to Christ is that they do not want to.[9]

Both Christians and non-Christians “will only come to the light if they are willing to allow the light to expose their evil deeds. This happened often as Jesus preached to crowds. He revealed wrong attitudes and wrong actions. People would not come to hear Him if they were unwilling to have their evil exposed.” [10]

We all dislike being shown that we are wrong. I feel that way myself. I don’t like to admit I am wrong. This verse is saying that this normal human reaction is part of our sinful nature. That is why nobody wants to change. Nobody wants to admit he is wrong. When the Republicans are in power, they try to convince the Democrats they have been wrong, but they won’t admit it. When the Democrats are in power, they try to convince the Republicans they have made the wrong choices, but they won’t admit it either. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong. That is why it is so hard to change.

If you are a Christian and you have drifted away from God, you don’t like to be around believers who are walking with the Lord because it exposes your sinfulness, and you start to feel uncomfortable. That is the Holy Spirit convicting you. It is not the committed Christian doing that. It is God inside of you nudging you to come back into the light. So, what do we do? We withdraw from committed believers and hang out with those who have no commitment to Christ. One of the ways we can tell that we are walking in darkness is by our lack of time with committed Christians. At first, we miss a Sunday. And then another and another. We don’t want to be exposed to the light of God’s Word because then we will have to face our sinfulness.

One night, after he had gotten ready for bed, Beverly Dillard’s husband went out to the driveway to retrieve some work papers from his car. Since it was dark, he figured no one would see him make the quick run in his underwear. And he probably would have made it, too—if not for the motion-sensor light, which illuminated him, just as he reached the car door. Christian, you may try to live in the dark for a time, but eventually the light of God’s Word will detect your sinful activity and expose it. Don’t get caught without the covering of God’s forgiveness. Be honest with the Lord and confess your sin so you can resume walking in the light with Jesus without being afraid of exposure (cf. I John 1:9).

The next verse is not distinguishing believers from non-believers as many mistakenly assume. It is distinguishing believers who confess Christ openly, like John the Baptist (3:22-36), and secret believers, like Nicodemus (3:1-20). [11] 3:21: The phrase “comes to the light” refers to the person “who does the truth.” He comes to the light “that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God,”meaning that they have been produced by God.” This verse is referring to Christians. [12] Verse 20 referred to both Christians and non-Christians. But this verse refers specifically to believers. And it is saying that if we will do (not just say the right words but start doing) the right things, despite our dislike of being shown to be wrong – if we are willing, in other words, to begin to obey the truth even though it means we have to admit we have been wrong – then we will find ourselves being drawn to Jesus, for He is the Light. And if we are doers of the truth of God’s Word, then we will openly identify with the light of Jesus Christ so that our works can be seen as being produced by God’s grace working in our lives.

When we are living the way God wants us to live, we will have more boldness to openly confess Jesus Christ before others whether they know the Lord or not; whether they are receptive to Christ or not. But when we are not living in a way that pleases the Lord, we are less likely to openly identify with Him because we are feeling guilty and ashamed.

John the Baptist is a believer who “does the truth and comes to the light” by boldly expressing his convictions about the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:15-18, 29-34; 3:22-36). Jesus is warning Nicodemus, who came “by night” (3:2), to come to Him “by day” now [13] by boldly confessing Christ which would be contrary to many of the other believing Pharisees (cf. 12:42-43).

TO SUMMARIZE: How can a loving God send anyone to hell? He doesn’t. People send themselves to hell by rejecting God’s free offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they love their sin more than the Savior.

Some of you reading this may be afraid to come to Jesus Christ because of mistakes in your past that still haunt you. You are afraid He will condemn you instead of cleanse you. There is no wrong too great for Jesus Christ to forgive. When I came to Christ as a filthy sinner back in 1979, I was met with compassion, not condemnation. Christ forgave me and accepted me as His own when I believed in Him for His gifts of eternal life and forgiveness. And He helped me to put all my wrongdoings behind me. For the last forty-four years, I’ve been living in forgiveness. If He forgave me, He will forgive you, too. One of the most exciting things about the Christian life is not simply knowing I have been forgiven and I am going to heaven, although that is enough. But since I have come to Christ, I know He is with me all day every day. Disappointments don’t seem nearly as big, and bad days don’t seem nearly as bad with Him there.

Years ago, a young man had a verbal argument with his father and left home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother, and wanted very badly to come home for Christmas, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he didn’t feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white rag on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there was no rag, it would be better if he went on.

So, the young man started home. As the train drew near his home; he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, “I can’t bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I’ll tell you what the tree looks like and you tell me whether there is a rag on it or not.” So, his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, “Oh yes, I see the tree.” The son asked, “Is there a white rag tied to it?” For a moment, the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a very gentle voice said, “There is a white rag tied to every limb of that tree!”

That, in a sense, is what God is saying to us in John 3:16-21. God has removed the condemnation and made it possible to come freely and openly home to Him. Will you come home to the Lord now? God does not want any human being to spend eternity in hell. He loves us too much to send us there. We send ourselves to hell by refusing to believe in Christ to get us to heaven. We can run every stop sign, ignore all the warnings, discount all the pleas to change our minds about whatever is keeping us from trusting Christ, and we can choose the path toward destruction. Sunday School teachers can tell us, TV evangelists can preach to us, pastors can warn us, Christians on social media can share with us, the Bible on a hotel nightstand can inform us, but it is our choice to ignore every warning, or we can take them to heart.

My friend, it is still not too late. You can settle this issue right now. Simply take God at His Word when He says, “He who believes in the Son is not condemned” (John 3:18). If you are persuaded that Jesus was speaking the truth in this verse and is therefore worthy of your trust, you can tell God this through prayer. But remember, praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing in Christ alone for eternal life gets you to heaven. This prayer is simply a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for showing me that my sin created a barrier between You and me. Thank You for loving me so much by sending Your only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer the penalty of my sin by dying in my place on a cross and rising from the dead so that barrier could be permanently removed. As best as I know how, I am now believing or trusting in Jesus alone (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to forgive all my sins and rescue me forever from eternal condemnation. Thank You for the forgiveness and freedom from eternal condemnation I now have. In Jesus’ mighty name, I pray. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 186.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll, Anne Graham Lotz, Henry & Richard Blackaby, The Glory of Christmas: Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pg. 55.

[4] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 74.

[5] Evans, The Tony Evans Study Commentary, pg. 2209.

[6] Larry Moyer, The Toolbox, Aug-Oct 1989.

[7] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 108 cites The Nelson Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), pg. 1764.

[10] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187.

[11] Zane C. Hodges, “Coming to the Light—John 3:20-21,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:540 (October-December 1978):314-22.

[12] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 187.

[13] Hodges, Faith in His Name, pp. 65-66.

John 3 – Part 2: “Everyone Needs John 3:16”

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

The world often evaluates people by their outward appearance. When we become Christians, God wants us to start to look more at the spiritual part of people rather than how they look on the outside. After all, that is how God looks at us. The Bible says, “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Sam. 16:7).

We are to be more concerned about where people are going to spend eternity. As we grow in the Lord, we start thinking, “I wonder where this person is at spiritually? I wonder if he or she knows Jesus?” Let me ask you, “Do you see yourself as an ambassador for Christ or a customer for Christ? Do your see yourself as a giver or a taker?” God wants every one of us who are believers to give others the best news on planet earth regarding His Son, Jesus Christ. 

We meet different kinds of people every day, don’t we? There are boxing, basketball, and volleyball fans. There are little, big, older, younger, middle-aged, married, single, and divorced people. There are educated, illiterate, working, and unemployed people. There are farmers, businessmen, housewives, or househusbands. There are black, brown, and white people – all these many kinds of people in the world.

Some of you can talk computers, internet, Facebook, blogs,  Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Skype, Google Chat, etc. Others of you can talk guns, hunting, and fishing. Some of you can talk cars and mechanics. Some can talk agriculture or administration, schools and education, healthcare and insurance, music and sound equipment, fashion or health foods, basketball. You can talk to your friends and peers. Some of you like to talk about the good ole days when you grew up. And on and on and on. I cannot talk intelligently about all those subjects. A couple of them, yes. But not all of them. But many of you can and do. This is why it is so important that you realize that God wants to use you in those people’s lives to help populate heaven.

Every Christ-centered church supports missions. When I speak of missions I am referring tothe sending of authorized believers to people of non-faith or other faiths for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”Why does a local church have missions? Let’s look at John 3:16. This is one of the most familiar verses in all the Bible. It has been used by God to lead millions of people to Christ. It has sparked revivals around the world.

This verse falls in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a religious ruler named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus thinks the way to heaven is by living a good life. But Jesus confronts him with the truth that he must be born again by believing in Christ alone for eternal life. It is not what you do or don’t do that gets you to heaven, it is what Christ has already done for you on the cross and simply believing or trusting Him alone to get you to heaven. Jesus explains further.

3:16: We are going to break this verse down to look at the individual parts to show WHY EVERYONE NEEDS JOHN 3:16. Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us) that the first reason we need John 3:16 is because GOD LOVED EVERYONE. “For God so loved the world…” The first two words, “For God,” refer to the Creator of the heavens and earth (Gen. 1:1), the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8, 17; 22:13), the Great I Am (Exod. 3:14), the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod. 3:6) – “so loved the world.”

No one has ever loved to the degree that God has loved. Look at the extent of His love. He loved “the world.” God did not limit His love to one country, culture or color. His love extends beyond Filipinos to Americans, Africans, Australians, Chinese, Russians, Europeans, and Brazilians.

God loved everyone. Red and yellow, black and white, we are all precious in His sight! No one can love like God loves. His love is unlimited. His love is no respecter or rejecter of persons. He loves black skin as much as white skin, tattooed skin as much as freckled skin, shaven as much as bearded, long hair as much as no hair, poor as much as rich, boxing fans as much as basketball fans, rap music fans as much as ballroom dancing fans.

This first phrase, “For God so loved the world…” has motivated people to leave their families and their homes to share God’s love on the other side of the world. Why? Because God loves everyone. His love cannot be earned. God loves us now, not when we get better. He loves us regardless of what we have done or not done. Do you realize that nothing you do can make God love you any less? He loves us even when we offend Him. God has designed us to be loved by Him. Only His love can meet our deepest needs. Unfortunately, we often look in the wrong places for this love, don’t we? We look for it in our occupation, a paycheck, in athletics, a bottle of booze or a dose of drugs, on a computer or phone, or in a brief romantic relationship. God’s love isn’t found in these things. His love is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The second reason why everyone needs John 3:16 is because GOD GAVE HIS ONLY PERFECT SON FOR EVERYONE“that He gave His only begotten Son.” God’s love gives. It doesn’t take. It gives sacrificially. What did He give? He gave what was most precious to Him – His only begotten Son to die in our place on the cross.

The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents, as many false religions teach today. The compound Greek word translated “only begotten” is monogenē, which literally means “one (monos) of a kind (genos).” [1] Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind. He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14). There has never been anyone like Him nor will there be. This is the message of the gospel of John.

Could you kill your only child to save others? Our love is pale compared to God’s love for us. Somebody might say to you, “I love you. Here’s my house. I’ll give it to you.” But how do you know that person doesn’t own ten homes so that giving up one is no sacrifice? Another person could say to you, “I love you. Here’s a million dollars.” But how do you know he does not have a billion dollars? When God says, “I love you. Here’s My perfect and only Son,” that is love. The greatest proof of His love is that He would allow His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place for our sins (Rom. 5:8; I John 4:9-10).

Did Jesus die for one country, culture or color? No! Did He die only for the elect? No! His death was for “all” nations of the world and “all” people (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15; John 1:29; 4:42; I Tim. 2:3-6; I John 2:2). Jesus died for all people groups everywhere. Does that include drug addicts and prostitutes? Yes. Does that include Atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants? Yes.He died for the worst of people and the best of people, and everyone in between. Jesus died for all of them, including you and me!

The third reason everyone needs John 3:16 is because HIS INVITATION IS FOR EVERYONE“that whoever…” When we hear that God loves the world we may think, “Wow, that’s over 8 billion people according to the United Nations.[2] God may lose sight of me among that many people in the world today.” “Sure,” we say, “God loves the world in general, but what about me? What’s to keep Him from forgetting about me?” This is why God has placed the word “whoever” in this verse. When God looks at the world, He sees individuals, including you and me. Thank God for that word “whoever.” If this verse read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that when Jeff Ropp believes in Him, he should not perish, but have everlasting life,” I might be inclined to think He was talking about some other Jeff Ropp, because this Jeff Ropp is such a filthy sinner; but “whoever” means this Jeff Ropp and that Jeff Ropp, and all the other Jeff Ropps in the world, and everyone else, whatever his or her name may be. This invitation is for everyone.

When Jesus says “whoever,” does that include Manny Pacquiao, and other professional athletes? What about billionaire Henry Sy and everyone like him? ISIS and all other terrorists? Does Jesus’ invitation include evangelist Billy Graham and other dedicated servants of God? President Marcos or President Biden? Pope Francis? Actress Kris Aquino? Or rock star Marilyn Manson and everyone like him?  When Jesus says, “whoever,” does He include Ellen DeGeneres and others like her? What about Adolf Hitler and other leaders who have tortured and killed millions of people? Yes. His invitation is for everyone, including you and me. What is Jesus inviting everyone to do?

This leads to the fourth reason why everyone needs John 3:16: Because EVERYONE NEEDS SUCH SIMPLICITY. Jesus said, “believes in Him.” He is inviting us to believe in Him for everlasting life. Yet, we are notorious for taking something simple and making it confusing. For example, if you ask someone from China for some tea, within five minutes, he will bring you a simple cup of hot tea. But if you ask an American for some tea, he will ask you several questions. Do you want hot tea or cold tea? Sweetened or unsweetened tea? Do you want sugar or Sweet and Low? Do you want one teaspoon or two? Do you want it with lemon or without lemon? A person from China said, “Those Americans are so confusing. They first boil their tea to make it hot, and then they put ice in it to make it cold. Then they put sugar in it to make it sweet, and then they put lemon in it to make it sour.” We take simple things and make them complicated.

But God is an Expert when it comes to keeping things simple. He simply says, “Whoever believes in Him…” This is so simple even children can understand this and believe it.

What does it mean to believe? The word “believe” (pisteuō) means to be “persuaded something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.” [3] The moment you are persuaded Jesus was speaking the truth in John 3:16 and is therefore worthy of your trust to give you eternal life – you have eternal life. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult.

Jesus says the person “believes” and “have.” You have what you take, correct? Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

For example, if I were to say to you, “This $100 bill is yours if you will take it.” You cannot enjoy that $100 until you take it from my hand. If you take it, you have believed my promise to give it to you. Jesus asks us to take by faith the eternal life that He is freely offering to us. The moment you believe His promise to give everlasting live to all who believe in Him, you “have” everlasting life. Jesus guarantees that you will “not perish” in hell, but “have” everlasting life both now and forever. This is so simple that children often believe it much sooner than adults.

Jesus is saying, “I love you. I died for you and rose from the dead. Will you trust Me to give you the never-ending life I bought for you with My own blood?” This is an invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and Him alone – not ourselves, our good works, or some mystical new age Christ. But to believe in the Jesus of the Bible.

Jesus did not say, “Whoever is a committed Catholic” or a “behaving Baptist.” No, He says, “Whoever believes in Him.” That means, whoever believes or trusts in Christ alone to get them to heaven, “shall not perish” in hell “but have everlasting life” both now and forever!

Jesus is not asking you, Have you lived a good life?” because the text does not say, “Whoever lives a good life should not perish.” He is not asking, “Have you been baptized with water?” because the text does not say, “Whoever is baptized with water should not perish.” Nor is Christ asking, “Have you turned from your sins?” because He does not say, “Whoever turns from his sins should not perish.” Jesus is not asking, “Have you asked me to be the Leader of your life?” because He does not say, “Whoever asks Me to be the Leader of his life should not perish.” Christ is not asking, “Have you taken the sacraments offered by your church?” because the text does not say, “Whoever takes the sacraments should not perish.” He is not asking, “Have you prayed five times a day facing the east?” because the text does not say, “Whoever prays five times a day facing the east should not perish.” Nor is Jesus asking, “Do believe there is a God?” because the text does not say, “Whoever believes there is a God should not perish.”

Instead, all Jesus is asking is, “DO YOU BELIEVE IN ME?” Because the text says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God cannot make it any simpler than that! Every person in the world needs such simplicity!

But someone may say, “But Pastor Jeff, believing in Christ is not enough because even the demons believe in God, and they will not be in heaven because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him (James 2:19).” It is important to understand the following simple observations about James 2:19: [4]

1. THIS VERSE IS NOT ABOUT SALVATION FROM HELL BECAUSE JESUS DID NOT DIE FOR DEMONS, HE DIED FOR PEOPLE (Rom. 5:8; Heb. 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isa. 14:13-15; Ezek. 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matt. 25:41; cf. Matt. 8:29; Jude 1:6). This is why demons “tremble” when they think about God. Their trembling has nothing to do with lacking  insufficient faith. Jesus’ work on the cross did not save demons. His work on the cross destroyed the devil and his power (Heb. 2:14-15). Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.

 2. BELIEF THAT GOD IS ONE IS NOT SAVING. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons really do believe there is only one God which is monotheism. But believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. Therefore, this verse is not to be used evangelistically. There are many world religions (Islam and Judaism, etc.) that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, Who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Cor. 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.

3. SINCE THE WORDS OF JAMES 2:19 BELONG TO A SKEPTIC, THEY SHOULD NOT BE USED TO PROVE SUCH AN IMPORTANT THEOLOGICAL POINT. Bing writes, “a quick survey of commentaries shows the difficulty of properly interpreting this verse in the context of James 2:16-20. At question is when James’ words end, and the objector’s words begin and end. If, as some argue, verse 19 is spoken by an objector to James, should it be used to prove a crucial theological point? Also, if it is from such a difficult passage to interpret, should it be used as a primary text to prove or disprove anyone’s salvation? Much clearer passages dismiss works as necessary for obtaining eternal salvation (e.g., Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-5).” [5] Using this verse to redefine the meaning of the word “believe” or to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication.

 The fifth reason everyone needs John 3:16 is because EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE RESCUED. Jesus says that the person who believes in Him, “should not perish.” When we believe in Jesus, He guarantees the greatest rescue. The word “perish,”[6] refers to eternal destruction, ruin, or condemnation in hell or the lake of fire (cf. John 3:18, 36). [7] When Jesus speaks of perishing, He is not talking about physical death or temporary suffering. He is talking about eternal suffering because he is talking about eternal consequences (“perish” vs. “everlasting life”), not temporal ones. All of us are sinners who deserve eternal punishment. When a person refuses to believe in Jesus, he not only misses the joy of being with God forever, but he will be tormented forever along with the devil and his companions: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

The Bible is clear, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). Eternal condemnation in the lake of fire is not based on a person’s behavior, but on whether his or her name is written in “the book of life.” Those who believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will be found to have their names written in the book of life permanently (cf. John 3:16, 36; 5:24; et al.). [8] They have been credited with God’s imputed righteousness because of their faith in Jesus, not because of their good works (Rom. 4:5). No one will receive eternal life based on what is written in a book of deeds because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). [9] Hence, all nonbelievers, will not have their names written in the book of life because they were never saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone for His gift of salvation (Ephes. 2:8-9).

Many people don’t believe in hell today, but they need to realize that Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible (cf. Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8-9; 23:14-15, 33; 25:41, 46; Mark 3:29; 9:43-48; 12:40;  Luke 12:5; 16:19-31; 20:47; John 3:15-18; 5:29; 10:28; et al.). For example, Jesus said, 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— 48 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48). In these two verses, we learn the following from God the Son: [10]

1. JESUS CONSIDERED HELL TO BE A REAL PLACE, NOT A FIGMENT OF ONE’S IMAGINATION. He spoke of the reality of being “cast into hell fire.” Many people today deny the existence of hell, but their claims are contrary to the authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ.

2. HELL IS A PLACE OF AGONIZING SUFFERING, BOTH INWARDLY AND OUTWARDLY. We must remember when nonbelievers are resurrected prior to standing before the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:5, 11-15), their resurrection bodies will be indestructible which means their agony and suffering will never cease. Just as our earthly bodies are suitable for our current temporal existence on earth, so our resurrection bodies will be suitable for our eternal existence whether it be in heaven (cf. John 5:28-29a; I Cor. 15:35-58; Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:2-3) or in hell (cf. John 5:28, 29b; Matt. 10:28; Mark 9:43-48; Rev. 20:5, 11-15).     

The “worm” signifies the source of the internal pain – like the gnawing of a parasite within one’s body. Imagine being eaten from the inside out forever! The “fire” symbolizes the source of the external suffering, whereby one’s flesh burns forever without any decrease in the excruciating pain. A person’s bodily tissue in hell would be perpetually burning and regenerating to be burned again without any loss of sensitivity to pain (cf. Luke 16:23-25). The agony and torment of such an eternal existence is unimaginable to our finite minds.

3. CHRIST ALSO TEACHES THAT HELL IS ETERNAL. Some teach that nonbelievers are “annihilated” after death, but Jesus says their “worm does not die” and “the fire is not quenched.” The torment of hell, therefore, is never-ending. What makes the good news of Jesus Christ so good is that the bad news of hell is so bad!

The reality of hell is not only based on what Jesus said, but also on what the apostles said about it (James 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 1:13; Rev. 14:9-11; 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). In addition, the reality of hell is also based on the reality of sin and death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). Death is the consequence of humanity’s sin. Physical death is the temporal consequence of sin and eternal death in hell is the eternal consequence of sin.

Those who say that eternal punishment in hell is contrary to the love of God, are defining the love of God on their terms, instead of God’s terms. The fact that God is love is why you and I have the freedom to choose heaven or hell. God has warned us about how He has provided an escape from hell through the death and resurrection of His Son, so you do have a choice. You can choose to believe in Jesus Christ and escape hell (John 3:36a), or you can choose not to believe in Jesus Christ, and go to hell (John 3:36b). The existence of hell does not violate the love of God. It is actually the logical reality based on God’s love. We must also understand that God‘s love is not His only attribute. He is also a God of holiness and justice which demands that sin be punished. But out of love God sent His Son to take our punishment, so that those who believe in Christ will not face that eternal punishment.

Those who deny hell’s existence better be sure they are right because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. When you believe in Christ, you are rescued from eternal punishment. Everyone needs to be rescued because “all have sinned…” (Rom. 3:23).

A famous story is told of an old man who was walking along the beach at dawn and noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked him what he was doing. The youth replied, “I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. They will die from the heat of the morning sun if left up here.” “I understand,” the old man replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast? Can’t you see that you can’t possibly make a difference?” The young man smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied. “Made a difference to that one!”

Some people may say I can’t possibly make much difference in a world of over 8 billion people, since I am only one person. But as long as there is at least one person without Jesus in the world, I must do whatever it takes to reach them with the gospel.

The sixth reason why everyone needs John 3:16 is because EVERYONE NEEDS TO HEAR THIS ETERNAL CONTRAST“but…” This is the greatest difference. This little word “but” contrasts eternal death and torment with eternal life and enjoyment. Jesus is acknowledging that there is a place of eternal ruin where people will be in agony forever. “But,” He says, “You can have the opposite of death, agony and torment – you can have eternal life.” All people exist forever, the question is where will you live when you die – heaven or hell?

The seventh reason everyone needs Joh 3:16 is because EVERYONE NEEDS THE GREATEST CERTAINTY. Jesus says, “have…” Jesus did not say, “might have” or “may have” or “hope to have.” He simply says, “have,” which expresses absolute certainty. You can be absolutely sure about possessing what Jesus offers. And in a postmodern world which denies absolute truth, that is refreshing. Let’s realize that the denial of absolute truth has infiltrated churches around the world. There are many people in churches today who are not 100% sure they are going to heaven. Many people in churches today doubt their salvation. 

WHY DO PEOPLE DOUBT THEIR SALVATION? [11]

1. THEY’RE DOUBTERS AT HEART. In other words, some people doubt everything. They doubt whether their mates love them or whether their children respect them. They doubt they’ll reach the age of retirement, or that their plane will reach its destination. Such people have issues they must deal with that are far different than eternal salvation.

2. THEY CAN’T POINT TO A SPECIFIC TIME AND PLACE WHEN THEY TRUSTED CHRIST. They know that Christ alone is their only way to heaven, but they don’t remember the exact moment they met their Savior. They wonder, “Could that mean I’m not saved?” They may have been told, “If you don’t know the date you were saved, you’re not saved.” Let me ask you, did Jesus say, “Whoever believes in Him and knows the date they were saved has everlasting life?” No. The real question is, “Whom am I trusting right now to give me eternal life?” Our salvation is established by WHOM we place our trust in, not WHEN we trusted Him.

3. THEY ARE VICTIMS OF TEACHING THAT CONFUSES ENTERING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE WITH LIVING IT. For example, a few years ago I listened to a preacher on the radio say that the book of I John was written to provide tests to see if you are saved. He said to ask yourself, “do I have fellowship with the Father… am I abiding in Him… do I practice sin habitually … do I love other Christians…  am I overcoming sin?” If you couldn’t answer “yes” to these questions, then he said you cannot be certain you are saved.

The purpose of I John is NOT to tell you how to become a Christian. Rather, it tells us how to have fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:3-4). The gospel of John tells you how to receive the gift of eternal life, mentioning the word “believe” ninety-nine times (see comments on 1:7b). The book of I John tells us how to get close to the One you have believed in, using the word “abide (menō) – which means “to remain, stay, dwell, continue” [12] in fellowship with God – twenty-four times in I John (2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24 [3], 27 [2], 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17 24 [2]; 4:12, 13, 15, 16 [3]. Therefore, closeness to Christ is discussed in I John, not salvation. People who don’t act like a Christian or a disciple may not be a believer. But to use characteristics of a disciple to determine if you’re a Christian isn’t helpful. Some people might live a good moral life without being a Christian. It could be that those people are trusting in their works instead of Christ’s finished work on the cross to get them to heaven.

What, then, should a doubter do? [13] IF YOU DOUBT YOUR SALVATION…

1. ASK YOURSELF, “DO I UNDERSTAND THE SIMPLICITY OF THE GOSPEL? Since Christ made the full payment for my sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30), God can now forgive me based on what He has done for me, not what I do for Him. His forgiveness isn’t based on anything we have done for Him. As sinners, we must recognize that He alone is the only basis upon which God can receive us.

2. ASK YOURSELF, “HAVE I BELIEVED OR TRUSTED CHRIST ALONE FOR MY SALVATION?” We appropriate Christ’s death on the cross by coming to Him as sinners, recognizing that He made the full payment for sin on our behalf, and “believing.” Jesus promised, “Whoever believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The word “believe” means to be persuaded that Jesus is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of our trust (see comments on 1:5). If you are persuaded Jesus is speaking the truth in John 3:16, and are trusting Him alone to give you everlasting life, you are forever God’s child regardless of when or where that occurred.

3. ASK YOURSELF, “AM I TAKING GOD AT HIS WORD?” Once we trust Christ, we must trust His Word. That means accepting God’s promise that, having believed in Christ, we are forever His. If you were to ask me whose son I am, I would say, “I am the son of Allen and Shirley Ropp.” I have proof that would stand up in a court of law – a birth certificate. A piece of paper assures me that I am their son. God has given us a piece of paper – the inspired Word of God, the Bible. It assures us that once we have believed in Christ, we have everlasting life. We are His forever. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God Who cannot lie.

The eighth reason everyone needs John 3:16 is because EVERYONE NEEDS THE GREATEST POSSESSION “everlasting life.” Eternal life is defined by Jesus, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ forever. It is not knowing about them; it is knowing them personally. Eternal life begins when you believe in Him… not when you die or after you die. We can enjoy eternal life three hundred sixty-five days a year, seven days per week, and twenty-four hours per day! What could possibly be greater than that?

Some Bible interpreters insist that the present tense of “believes” (pisteuōn) means a person must continue to believe in Christ until the end of life to go to heaven. If at some point in time they stop believing in Christ, they lose eternal life. But this is not supported by the Greek grammar. [14]

For example, Moulton and Turner state, “Thus in Greek, one seldom knows apart from the context whether the present indicative means, I walk or I am walking.” [15] Often the present tense has a punctiliar meaning. “For example, Matthew 5:22, 28; 9:2 (‘Your sins are forgiven’); 14:8; 26:63; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:8; 12:44; John 5:24; 9:25; Acts 8:23; 9:34 (‘He heals you,’ not ‘is continually healing you’); 16:18; 26:1).” [16]

“Moulton and Turner call attention to the fact that the personal present articular participle ‘the one who believes’ is often used ‘where we would expect aorist.’” [17] “When used that way, they say ‘Action (time or variety) is irrelevant, and the participle has become a proper name.’” [18] “Wallace illustrates from Matthew, ‘Thus, for example, in Matthew 5:28, ‘everyone who looks at a woman’ with lust in his heart does not mean ‘continually looking’ or ‘habitually looking,’ any more than four verses later ‘everyone who divorces his wife’ means ‘repeatedly divorces!’” [19]

Dillow continues by saying, “Perhaps 1 Thessalonians 1:10, ‘Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come,’ is relevant here. The intent is to describe deliverance from the tribulation wrath. He is not saying that Jesus is the One who continually delivers us from the tribulation wrath. A deliverance once accomplished does not need to be habitually repeated.” [20]      

Even if you stop believing in Christ, it does not result in the loss of salvation because that would be contrary to the nature of God’s gift. If everlasting life could be lost, it would no longer be everlasting. The results of believing in Christ are permanent. This is why Jesus said the one who comes to Him or believes in Him “shall never” hunger or thirst for everlasting life (John 6:35). The one who comes to Him in faith “shall be no means be cast out” by Him (John 6:37). Jesus came down to earth to do “the will of Him who sent” Christ (John 6:38). The will of God the Father is “that of all” the believers “He has given” to Jesus, Jesus “should lose nothing” (John 6:39). If any Christian lost his or her salvation, then Jesus would have failed to do His Father’s will. Staying saved is a matter of Jesus doing the Father’s will, not a Christian doing God’s will. The one who believes in Him “shall never perish” nor shall “anyone snatch them out of” His or the Father’s hands (John 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that those who believe in Him “shall never die” (John 11:26). How long is “never”? It is forever. Jesus makes it very clear that the result of believing in Him is permanent. It cannot be undone. If any believer in Jesus Christ ever lost eternal life then Jesus would be a liar.

Dillow illustrates what Jesus is saying in John 3:16: “We might say, ‘Whoever believes that Rockefeller is a philanthropist will receive a million dollars.’ At the point in time a person believes this, he is a millionaire. However, if ten years later, he ceases to believe, he is still in possession of the million dollars. Similarly, if a man has believed in Christ, he is regenerate and in possession of eternal life, even if he ceases to believe in God in the future.” [21]

The Bible assures us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). God remains faithful to His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus, even if they stop believing or become “faithless.” Why? Because God “cannot deny Himself.” Christ is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot deny what He has already promised. To do so would make Him a liar. “His promise is independent of our continued faith or of anything we may do or not do.” [22]

When a person believes in Christ for eternal life, God the Holy Spirit places him or her into the body of Christ the Church, via Spirit baptism (Acts 10:43-48; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; Ephes. 1:13-14). Hence, Jesus will never deny or reject His own body (cf. John 6:37). Our placement in the body of Christ is permanent.

Charles Stanley writes: “Faith is simply the way we say yes to God’s free gift of eternal life. Faith and salvation are not one and the same any more than a gift and the hand that receives it are the same. Salvation or justification or adoption- whatever you wish to call it – stands independently of faith. Consequently, God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved-only an act of faith… You and I are not saved because we have an enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord. [23]

Charles Peace was sentenced to die for being a career criminal. On the morning of his execution, a group of prison officials met at Charles’ cell to take him on his final walk to the gallows. Among them was a sleepy prison chaplain whose job it was to prepare the condemned man’s soul for the hereafter. But the chaplain didn’t say a word to Charles. He just yawned and mumbled as he read a religious book.

Charles then tapped him on the shoulder and asked him, “What are you reading?” “The Consolations of Religion” he replied. Charles: “Do you believe what you are reading?” Chaplain: “Well, yes, I guess I do.” Charles stared at the chaplain stunned. Here Charles was going to his death, knowing that his earthly deeds utterly condemned him before the Ultimate Judge, and this chaplain was mouthing words about heaven and hell as if they were a boring chore. Charles said to the chaplain, “Sir, I do not share your faith. But if I did – if I believed what you say you believe – then although England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would crawl the length and breadth of it on hand and knee and think the pain worthwhile just to save a single soul from this eternal hell of which you speak.[24]

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” If we believe this verse is true, what are we willing to do to place it in the hands of those who are perishing without Jesus Christ? Are we willing to do whatever it takes for others to trust in Jesus for eternal life?

Prayer: Father God, thank You for John 3:16. Truly everyone needs this one verse because with great simplicity and power it addresses humanity’s greatest needs. Make me willing to do whatever it takes to get this one verse to those who don’t know You so they can enjoy eternity in Your presence forever. In Jesus’ mighty name, I pray. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 658.

[2] Taken from http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ on July 2, 2023.

[3] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 816-817.

[4] Adapted from Charlie Bing, “Demon Faith and the Misuse of James 2:19,” GraceNotes – no. 47 at gracelife.org.

[5] Ibid.

[6] apolētai

[7] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 116.

[8] Some interpreters believe Revelation 3:5 teaches that unfaithful believers will have their names erased from the book of life. Since Jesus taught that eternal life can never be lost when we believe in Him (cf. John 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; et al.), it best to understand the phrase “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” to be a figure of speech called a litotes which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. A litotes cannot be read in reverse. That is, if a Christian does not remain faithful to Christ, this statement by Jesus does not mean they would lose their salvation. Christ is speaking about eternal rewards for the faithful Christian. In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you remain faithful to Me to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure and confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. See “What does Revelation 3:5 Means?” or “Revelation 3 – Part 1” at www.seeyouinheaven.life for more detailed explanations.

[9] Evans, The Tony Evans Study Bible, pg. 2419.

[10] Adapted from Evans, The Tony Evans Study Bible, pp. 1611-1612.

[11] Adapted from R. Larry Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said: Correcting Our Misconceptions About Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004), pp. 79-81.

[12] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 630-631.

[13] Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said, pp. 81-83. 

[14] Dillow, Final Destiny, pg. 390 cites Fred Chay and John P. Correia, The Faith That Saves: The Nature of Faith in the New Testament (Haysville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co.), 2008, pp. 45-53.

[15] Ibid., cites James H. Moulton and Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Volume 3: Syntax, reprint ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), Vol. 3, pg. 60.

[16] Ibid., footnote 1330.

[17] Ibid., cites Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, pg. 150. See especially Mark 5:15-16, ho daimonizomenos, even after his healing.

[18] Ibid., cites Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, pg. 150 and states in footnote 1332: “See also Philippians 3:6 and Hebrews 7:9. Moulton and Turner cite several examples of this aoristic punctiliar used of the articular present participle: Matthew 26:46; 27:40; Mark 1:4; 6:14, 24; John 1:29 (the sin bearer); 6:63; 8:18; Acts 17:17; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 4:28; Galatians 1:23).”

[19] Ibid., cites Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), pg. 616. In footnote 1333, Dillow states, “In spite of Wallace’s recognition that with gnomic present articular participles ‘we would be hard-pressed to make something more out of them – such as a progressive idea,’ he allows his theology to intervene in the case of ho pisteuōn in John (see Wallace, pp. 616, 620-621).”

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Robert N. Wilkin, J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad,Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; “2 Timothy,” The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 492.

[23] Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1990), pg. 80.

[24] Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997, 2009), pg. 251.

John 3 – Part 1: “Reaching the Religious”

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:14-15

After a long illness, a woman died and arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the Gates. She saw a beautiful banquet table. Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her. They saw her and began calling greetings to her:

“Hello. How are you? We’ve been waiting for you. Good to see you.” When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him, “This is such a wonderful place. How do I get in?” “You have to spell a word,” Saint Peter told her. “Which word?” the woman asked. “Love.” The woman correctly spelled “l-o-v-e,” and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven.

About two years later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day. While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived “I’m surprised to see you,” the woman said. “How have you been?” “Oh, I’ve been doing pretty well since you died,” her husband told her. “I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a big mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation, and I went water skiing today. I fell, the ski hit my head, and here I am. How do I get in?” “You have to spell a word,” the woman told him.

“Which word?” her husband asked. “Czechoslovakia…” [1]

We have all heard jokes about people showing up at the Pearly Gates seeking entrance into heaven. While many of these jokes bring a smile to our faces, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something to get into heaven. It is shocking to people to hear that they can’t do anything to earn entrance into God’s heaven. God’s grace goes beyond human comprehension. By our nature, we want to earn God’s favor.

Have you ever talked to someone about the Lord and have him tell you how religious he is? Or did you ever witness to someone and have the person inform you that he felt he had to work his way to heaven by being good? How do you respond to that? Or did you ever present the gospel to someone only to have them say, “I believe all of that,” even though you sensed he didn’t really understand?

How are we to reach a religious person who thinks he is already saved when he is not? Jesus teaches us by example in John 3:1-15. In this passage, Jesus speaks with a person who had a difficult time understanding the truth of free grace salvation. His name was Nicodemus, and as we move through our text, we will discover that Nicodemus was a very religious man who had a hard time realizing the difference between religion and relationship. Let’s listen in on his conversation with Jesus.

The first way to approach a religious person about Christ is to CONFRONT HIM WITH THE TRUTH (3:1-12). 3:1: In John 2:23-25 we saw new believers whom Jesus did not entrust Himself to at first because they were not trustworthy. They were not willing to openly confess their relationship with Jesus like some of the believing Pharisees in John 12:42-43. It is reasonable to conclude that the apostle John is now going to tell us how one of those Pharisees comes to faith in Jesus. [2]

“John skillfully repeats the word man in 2:25 and 3:1. Immediately after the words, ‘He knew what was in man’ (2:25), John says, ‘Now there was a man…’ (3:1). The new believers in 2:23 were like the man who came to Jesus under the cloak of darkness (3:2).

“John the Baptist is the paradigm of the open believer (cf. 3:22-36); Nicodemus is the paradigm of the secret believer (3:1-21). Every time John mentions Nicodemus, he writes that he came to Jesus by night (3:2; 7:50; 19:39). Night is a symbol of darkness and of secrecy. There are hints in 7:45-52 and certainly in 19:38-42 that Nicodemus believed in Jesus, though without openly confessing Him.” [3]

He was “a man of the Pharisees,”a very religious man. Many religious people believe in God. Many believe in angels. Many of them believe Christ was raised from the dead. Like many religious people today, the Pharisees believed the Old Testament, angels, and the resurrection. They were conservatives. They had points to ponder in their head, and a passion in their hearts. They possessed a tremendous zeal for the law. The Pharisees gave their lives to studying and obeying the Law and traditions. Like the Pharisees, many religious people in the world today share our presuppositions – there is a God, the Bible is inspired, Jesus is the Son of God. But they don’t have a relationship with the Lord.

Nicodemus was also a “ruler of the Jews.”He was a member of the Sanhedrin, [4] which “served as Israel’s Parliament/Congress and Supreme Court.” [5] The Sanhedrin was “a ruling body among the Jews consisting of scholarly scribes, elders, and the priestly aristocracy. According to the Mishna (Sanhedrin 1:6), there were seventy-one members in the Sanhedrin. It was empowered to preserve the Torah and served as the final court of appeal in matters of debated interpretation. The Sanhedrin was authorized to excommunicate any persons in violation of Jewish law and to conduct trials of false prophets and rebellious elders. This body retained power in religious and limited civil jurisdiction until the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans (A.D. 70).” [6]

“He would have stressed the careful observance of Israel’s laws and the traditions of the elders. Obedience to these was the way of salvation for Pharisees.” [7]

From a Jewish perspective, Nicodemus had it all. He was wealthy, well-respected, and admired among the Jewish people.

3:2a: This is where Nic at Nite comes from. [8] There has been a lot of speculation as to why Nicodemus came at “night.” Rabbis studied at night. He did this to avoid the crowd or so their conversation would not be interrupted. Perhaps he was afraid to be seen with Jesus by his colleagues, especially in light of Christ’s recent cleansing of the temple. [9] In John’s gospel, darkness opposes light. Perhaps the mention of the fact it was night symbolizes the darkness of sin and shame that shrouded Nicodemus’ heart and soul. [10]

Some of us may be like Nicodemus who tried to medicate his brokenness and shame with religion and did not even realize it. We may see God as a perfectionistic deity that we must appease with our religious performance. And yet, no matter how hard we try, we cannot measure up to His standards which causes us to have more shame. And so, we work harder, trying to please Him. And it is difficult for us to experience Christ’s love and forgiveness for us.

But for whatever reason, Nicodemus comes at night in hopes that this miracle worker can answer some of his spiritual questions. He was a seeker.

3:2b: Nicodemus also has a deep respect and interest in Jesus. His designation of Jesus as “Rabbi” shows great admiration for Christ as a teacher. [11] After all, he is a trained religious ruler and Jesus is only a commoner. Nicodemus even recognizes Jesus’ divine origin. “We know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” The miraculous “signs” of Jesus were accomplishing in Nicodemus’ life what John wanted them to do in the readers of his gospel (cf. John 20:30-31). They were persuading this religious man to consider Christ’s origin and identity. [12]

“By the way, the gospels present no one, friend or foe of Jesus, ever doubting that He performed miracles. They were so clearly miraculous that everyone acknowledged Jesus as a miracle worker.” [13]                    

“Since Nicodemus could be faulted for approaching Jesus secretly, one might think that Jesus would censure him before he could even say anything. However, instead He listens and then responds with a clear presentation of the message of life.” [14]

Jesus welcomed this seeker and did not criticize him for coming to Him at “night.” Nor will Jesus be harsh with us when we come to Him in our shame. Christ did not find fault with Nicodemus for his association with a corrupt religious establishment. Christ, being a Friend of sinners (cf. Matt. 9:10-11; 11:19; Luke 7:34; 15:1-2; et al.), welcomed the opportunity to visit with a lost religious leader. [15] In doing so, Jesus provides a great example for us to follow when we share the gospel with the religious leaders of our communities.

Remember in John 2:25 John told us that Jesus “knew what was in man.” Well, here is “a man” (3:1) and Jesus “knew” what was on his mind. So, He says to him: 3:3: Jesus supernaturally knows why Nicodemus is there, so He immediately challenges him with the truth. Pharisees believed they could get to heaven by their good works and/or heredity as children of Abraham. But Jesus emphasized the inability (“cannot”) of Nicodemus to “see the kingdom of God.” The Greek words translated “cannot” [16] (literally is not able) [17] are a “a verbal link” between Nicodemus’s comment and Jesus’ answer – “no one can” versus “he cannot.” (3:2-3). This Greek verb dunatai occurs six times in Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus (3:2-9) and is an indication of the theme of the whole passage. [18] “John, by his careful repetition of this word and the negatives and interrogative particle used with it, is focusing on man’s inability to bring about his own salvation/new birth” [19] regardless of his religious dedication and devotion. Jesus makes it very clear that no amount of religion or piety can remove our shame and get us to heaven.

Like Nicodemus, many people in the world today believe the way to heaven is by living a good life or being born in a “Christian home.” Jesus says that the way to heaven is by being “born again.” [20] What Jesus is talking about here is a supernatural event which God must do in a human being’s life. It can also be translated as born “from above.” The meaning of “born again” incudes both these aspects and could be translated “born again from above.” [21] It is a second (“again”) birth that is spiritual in contrast to a physical birth.

Just as we cannot conceive ourselves and we cannot become ready for physical birth, so we cannot bring about our spiritual birth. It must be done on our behalf by another. [22] And this new birth comes only from heaven “above.” To be born again is to be made new by the Spirit of God. Jesus is telling this respected Jewish scholar, that he cannot “see” God’s kingdom unless he is born again.

Christ’s reference to “the kingdom of God” only occurs twice in the gospel of John (3:3, 5)compared to many references to this term in the Synoptic gospels (Matt. 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31; 21:43; Mark 1:14-15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14-15, 23-25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 12:31; 13:18, 20, 28-29; 13:29; 16:16; 17:20-21; 18:16-17, 24-25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; et al.). “This can be explained by the emphasis in John on eternal life as the present possession of all who believe in Jesus. In these verses John reveals the future aspect of regeneration, the kingdom of God which Jesus will inaugurate when He returns.” [23]            

The apostle John informs us in the book of Revelation that “the kingdom of God” is the literal reign of King Jesus on the current earth for one thousand years after He defeats His enemies at the end of the seven-year Tribulation period (Rev. 19:11-20:6).  

“All of the Jews were longing for the kingdom of God, for that day when the Messiah would come, vanquish Israel’s enemies, and bless God’s people. Jesus’s first disciples recognized Him as the ‘Messiah’ and the ‘King of Israel’ (1:41, 49), but Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that entering into the kingdom required an individual to be spiritually reborn. As the apostle Paul explains it, all people are dead in their trespasses and sins, and only God can give us spiritual life (Eph. 2:1-5). Nicodemus needed a spiritual rebirth; simply being a religious leader wouldn’t cut it.” [24]

But Nicodemus thinks Jesus is talking about physical birth – 3:4: Christ is speaking on a spiritual level and Nicodemus is hearing on a physical level. How can I be born again? Are there any women here who want to give birth to a 200-pound man? Jesus explains further. 3:5: Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Some think Jesus was referring to water baptism as a sacrament that is necessary for salvation with the phrase “born of water.” [25] This cannot refer to water baptism for the following reasons:

1. THE CONTEXT WILL NOT ALLOW IT: Jesus is trying to take Nicodemus from the physical birth he had in mind to the spiritual birth Christ had in mind. The context favors the view that the water to which Jesus referred was the water of physical birth. Christ explains in the next verse what is meant by the phrase “born of water.” 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh” refers to physical birth. For example, before a baby is born what breaks? The pregnant mother’s water breaks, right? The amniotic fluid that the baby floats in during pregnancy is expelled during delivery. So being “born of water” refers to physical birth which is linked [26] to “that which is born of the Spirit” or spiritual birth. Physical birth or ancestry are not sufficient for obtaining eternal life. [27] One must also be “born of the Spirit.”

Some teach that because God loves everyone, all people will go to heaven. But this is contrary to what Jesus is saying. Christ makes it clear that you must have two births to “enter the kingdom of God”: physical birth (“born of water”) and spiritual birth (“born of the Spirit”). Everyone reading this chapter has been “born of water.” All of us have been born physically. But have we been born spiritually? 

2. DROP DOWN TO 3:16 and observe what is the one condition for being “born of the Spirit” or receiving eternal life: Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (3:16). To “have everlasting life” or be to “born again,” one must “believe in Him.” Jesus is not asking us if we have been baptized with water because He does not say, “Whoever is baptized with water should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is asking us, “Do you believe in Him?” because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The way to be born again is to believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life.

3. THE BIBLE DOES NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF. The apostle John makes it clear that the only condition for eternal life or a forever relationship with Jesus (John 17:3) is belief in Christ alone. Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in His gospel (cf. John 1:7, 12, 50: 2:11, 22-23; 3:12, 15-16, 18, 36; 4:21, 39, 41-42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46-47; 6:29-30, 35-36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 48; 8:24, 30-31, 45-46; 9:18, 35-36, 38; 10:25-26, 37-38, 40, 45; 11:15, 25-27, 40, 42, 45, 48, 12:11, 36-39, 42, 44, 46-47, 13:19; 14:1, 10-12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30-31; 17;8, 20-21, 35; 20:8, 25, 29-31). The clear must always interpret the unclear.

3:7-8: Being “born of the Spirit” (3:7) is like “the wind” (3:8a). We “hear” it, but we cannot see it. We cannot control it; all we can do is see its effects (3:8b). The same is true of everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8c). God’s Spirit invisibly does its work inside the human heart when we believe in Jesus. We cannot see it happening. All we see are the results. [28]

Nicodemus is still confused. 3:9: When Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” he seems to be asking, “How does this spiritual transformation take place?” Christ confronts this teacher of Israel’s ignorance of the Old Testament Scripture. 3:10: When Jesus asks, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” He is saying, “Nicodemus, you are one of the main teachers of the nation of Israel. You have given your life to the study of the Scriptures, and yet you are ignorant of this very basic spiritual truth of being born of water and the Spirit? You don’t know what it means to be born from above?” Jesus’ use of the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” should have sparked Nicodemus’ remembrance of a familiar Old Testament passage which spoke of “water” and “the Spirit” involved in giving a “new heart” to someone making it possible for them to enter God’s future kingdom (“dwell in the land”) on earth: [29] 24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” (Ezek. 36:24-28; cf. I Sam. 10:6, 9; Isa. 44:3; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 11:19; Joel 2:28-29). The reference to sprinkling “clean water” on them most likely refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit which John the Baptist referred to earlier(John1:33; cf. Tit. 3:5).

3:11: When Jesus says, “We know,” He was deliberately repeating Nicodemus’s first words to Him in verse two to express a mild rebuke of him and his Jewish colleagues. [30] Jesus states that His teaching about new birth can be relied upon because it is based upon the “witness” of both Him and His Father in heaven as evidenced by His use of plural pronouns in this verse (“We speak… We know and testify… We have seen… Our witness”). Christ is claiming to speak the truth about new birth as an Eyewitness with His Father in heaven, but Nicodemus and his people (“you” is plural and may refer specifically to Nicodemus and his religious colleagues) do not “receive” Their “witness.”

“The real struggle for Nicodemus and the people he represented was their refusal to affirm the truth of eyewitness testimony. In the ancient world, there was no stronger evidence than the corroborating testimony of multiple witnesses.” [31]

Jesus goes on to say, “I should not be shocked…” 3:12: Jesus is asking Nicodemus and his people (“you” is plural) how they will “believe” the “heavenly things” (3:12b) He is about to tell them (i.e., Jesus’ descent from heaven, His being lifted up on the Cross, and the response of believing in Him for eternal life for the new birth by the Spirt to occur – 3:13-15), [32] when they do not “believe” the “earthly things” He just spoke about concerning new birth as a condition for entering God’s kingdom on earth (3:3-8)? In other words, it should come as no surprise, Nicodemus, that your sinful mind does not grasp this spiritual truth. Only the one born from above can understand God’s truth.

Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that the first thing we need to do when sharing the gospel with the religious person is CONFRONT HIM OR HER WITH THE TRUTH OF THEIR NEED FOR THE NEW BIRTH.

“Arthur Pink pointed out that Jesus skillfully responded to Nicodemus’ statements by using many of the same words. Thus, Jesus met Nicodemus on his own ground, and ‘made his own language the channel of approach to his heart.’ This approach provides a good example for personal evangelists.” [33]

Nicodemus’ StatementsJesus’ Responses
“We know that” (3:2)“We speak what We know” (3:11)
“You are a teacher come from” (3:2)“Are you the teacher?” (3:10)
“Unless God is with him.” (3:2)“Unless one is born again” (3:3)
“How can a man be born” (3:4)“Unless one is born” (3:5)
“Can he enter” (3:4)“He cannot enter” (3:5)
“How can” (3:9)“How will” (3:12)
“These things be” (3:9)“These things” (3:10)

From Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, we learn the following:

BEING BORN AGAIN IS NOT ABOUT HUMAN EFFORTS. If anyone “deserved” eternal life, Nicodemus had all of the right qualifications. He seems worthy of eternal life. But this conversation reminds us that salvation is not about human effort or merit.

POSITION DOES NOT GET YOU TO HEAVEN. Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisees, one of the seventy-one who comprised the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Supreme Court. He was a part of the religious elite. He had a distinguished religious position. But a certain position does not get you to heaven. Being a pastor, a priest, an imam, a Sunday School teacher, a member of the board at a non-profit organization does not save you. Being born again is not about human efforts. It is not about positions.

POPULARITY DOES NOT GET YOU TO HEAVEN. The name “Nicodemus” [34]  means “a conqueror or victor of the people.” [35] Nicodemus was well liked or popular. Here was a man who won the approval of the people. He was well known and respected in the community. He was popular. He was recognized as a spiritual leader. Mothers pointed to Nicodemus and told their children, “There is a good man. You grow up to be like Nicodemus.” He was extremely popular. But popularity does not save you. Being recognized as a “Christian” person or as a spiritual leader does not save you. Being born again is not about popularity.

PRESTIGE DOES NOT GET YOU TO HEAVEN. Jesus identified Nicodemus as “the teacher of Israel”(3:10).  He was the one to whom people turned for spiritual answers. He was recognized as the spiritual adviser, the religious guru, the one who spent his life studying the Scriptures, but he did not possess eternal life. He knew the Scriptures, but he did not know the Author of the Bible or the Giver of eternal life. Nicodemus was “the” man when it came to religious matters, but he was not saved. He was not born from above because prestige does not save you.

PIETY DOES NOT GET YOU TO HEAVEN. Nicodemus possessed great religious knowledge. As a member of the Pharisees, he knew and lived what was considered right and wrong. Nicodemus’ first words to Jesus were “we know”(3:2), and they expressed a certain level of spiritual knowledge. Yet the reality is that Nicodemus did not “know” of the gift of eternal life nor the Giver of that gift (cf. John 4:10). He was ignorant of spiritual truth. He was religious to the core. The Pharisees went to drastic measures to make sure they obeyed the letter of the law. They fasted and prayed and studied the Scriptures. They lived spiritually disciplined lives, but they were lost. He was religious and lost. Do you know why? Piety does not save.

You can be very God-fearing, devoted to religious doctrine and practices, shun evil and embrace what is good, attend a place of worship often, meditate and pray daily, convert, and teach others your religion, voluntarily serve in your religion, and practice other spiritual disciplines and yet still be lost. You can do all the things that pious people do and be without Christ. Piety does not save. I have heard so many people say, “I live a good life. I try to do what is right. I pray daily. I go to a place of worship often, etc.,” but pious living, good living does not get you to heaven. Why?

The Bible tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Regardless of how good we are, we have stilled sinned. We may have sinned one time or a hundred, but we have still sinned! And sin demands a penalty. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23a). A just God cannot overlook sin any more than a just judge can overlook a violation of the law. When God looks at the good things we think, say, and do, He sees that they are all stained with sin; they are like “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:4). No matter how good you are, you are facing eternal separation from God in a place called hell or the lake of fire (Mark 9:43-48; Rev. 20:15).    

There’s another reason why piety will not get us to heaven. No amount of piety or goodness is as good as God. He is the standard. God is not asking you to be as good as Billy Graham, The Buddha, Confucius, Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Mahatma Gandhi, or even Mother Teresa. He is asking you to be as good as He is. The Greek verb for “to sin” [36] means “to miss the mark.” [37] God Himself is the mark and even the best of men have missed it. You may never have been in jail or even received a traffic ticket, but at best, you are only the highest of all who have missed God’s standard. Even the preacher and the pope do not measure up to Him.

A young boy once came home from school with a most pathetic report card. It appeared the only thing he majored in were football and girls! His father looked at him and asked for a simple explanation of his low marks. The boy’s hopeful response was, “Well, at least I was the highest of all who failed.” That is where you and I stand before God. He is the standard. No matter how good and pious we are, compared to Him, we are at best only the highest of all who have failed. Frustrated? I would think so. In terms of any goodness you have that could get you to heaven, you stand before God naked and hopeless! No amount of good works or human effort will remove our shame and get us to heaven.

So being born again is not about human efforts. It is not about position, popularity, prestige, or piety. Then what is it about? This leads to the second principle. After we have confronted the religious person with the truth, we then CONFRONT HIM WITH GRACE (3:13-15).

3:13: Jesus could speak authoritatively about “heavenly things” (3:12) because heaven is His home. “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” [38] No human teacher had ever “ascended into heaven” and returned to teach about heavenly things before Christ. Jesus was referring to being personally present in heaven since, obviously, many prophets had received visions of heaven (e.g., Isa. 6; cf. 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Rev. 1:10-20). [39] However, the “Son of Man . . . descended from heaven” so He could teach about heavenly things. The apostle John is contrasting no human prior to Christ who could have ascended bodily into heaven with the God-Man Who really did descend from heaven.    

Christ claims to be the Messianic “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13-14) Who had not only come down “from heaven” to reveal God to humankind on the earth (3:13a; 1:18, 51) but at the same time lives “in heaven” (3:13b). How can Jesus descend from heaven to earth and at the same time “is in heaven”? This is possible because as God, Jesus is omnipresent. [40] Throughout his gospel, the apostle John insists on Jesus’ heavenly origin (cf. 3:2, 31-35; 6:32-33, 38, 46, 50-51, 58; 8:42; 9:33; 13:3; 16:27, 30; 18:36-37; et al.). This is one way in which he brings out his point that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:31). Here His heavenly origin marks Jesus off from the rest of humanity as the Messiah-God. [41]

The main point of John 3:13 is substantiating the heavenly origin of Jesus Christ, not the eternal destination of believers. Other Scriptures deal with the eternal destination of believers (John 14:2-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-23; Rev. 4:1-4; 20:4-6; 21-22).  Believers did not ascend to heaven until Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection (Ephes. 4:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-23; Rev. 4:1-4; 19:7-9, 14).

Prior to Christ’s death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven where God lives (2 Cor. 12:1-4; cf.  John 14:1-3; Acts 7:55-59; Ephes. 4:8-10; Rev. 4:1-5; et al.) because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Heb. 10:1-4; cf. 9:11-15). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephes. 1:7; 2:13-18; Col. 2:13-14; Heb. 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thess. 4:14, 16). Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, all believers who died prior to Christ’s crucifixion were released from Abraham’s Bosom and taken up to the third heaven where Christ currently lives (2 Cor. 12:1-4; cf. John 14:1-3; Acts 7:55-59; Ephes. 4:8-10).       

Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus in 3:13 that no one had ascended to God and returned to earth to teach heavenly things before Him. Instead, God had come down to humanity on the earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows best how to get to heaven because He lived there. No one knows better how to get to your home than you. To find out how to get to heaven ask the One who lives there, Jesus Christ. What does He say?

3:14: When Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” He is referring to Numbers 21 when the people of Israel were on the way to the Promised Land after God brought them out of Egypt. They were complaining against God and were dissatisfied with the manna He sent them. To discipline them, God sent poisonous snakes among the people, resulting in many physical deaths (Num. 21:4-6). Moses then asked God to remove the snakes. God told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten when he looks at it, shall live” (Num. 21:8).

In a similar fashion, all of mankind has been struck down by sin. Sin has sunk its fangs in our spiritual souls, and the venom has made its way to our hearts and we are dying in our sins. But God saw our hopelessness and “lifted up” His Son (“the Son of Man”) on the cross to die for all our sins. To be born again and receive eternal life, Nicodemus needed simply to “look and live”as did the Israelites in Numbers 21:8. Christ Jesus explained their “look” as simply believing in Him.

3:15: To Nicodemus, the admonition to look and live would have been both personal and effective. Having fasted, prayed, faithfully attended the synagogue, observed the feasts, and honored the Sabbaths, he was tempted to look at what he had done to give him a right standing with God. Instead, now he discovered he must look to Christ alone for eternal life. Jesus told this prominent religious leader, Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (3:15b).

Being born again is all about a personal relationship (John 17:3) between a holy God and a sinful people. How can this be? How is it possible for a holy God to have a relationship with a sinful people? Because GOD “came down” to earth (3:13). And why did He come down? That He might be “lifted up” on the cross to die for all our sins (3:14), “that whoever” looks up or “believes in Him, should not perish but have eternal life” (3:15). Faith alone in Christ alone gets a religious person (or any person) to heaven.

Have you been born again? Is there anything keeping you from believing or trusting in Christ alone to get you to heaven? Four hindrances almost prevented Nicodemus from coming to Christ. These are four obstacles that can prevent any religious person from coming to Christ:

1. PRIDE. A religious man was told he must be born again. Religious people don’t like to be told this because they want to look to what they have done, not what someone else has done to get them to heaven. When I tell a religious man all he must do to get to heaven is believe in Jesus, he says, “But I’ve lived a good life.”    

2. TRADITION. We often hear a religious person say, “What will my family and friends think” if I go against what we have been taught and trust Christ for eternal life?”  Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, a teacher, a religious leader. He couldn’t trust in this miracle-worker. His colleagues would reject him.

3. IGNORANCE. “No one ever told me this before.” Many religious people have not been told that all they must do is look to Christ alone in faith to get them to heaven.

4. MISUNDERSTANDING. Many religious people have said, “Don’t you think I’ll get to heaven if I believe in Christ plus my good life?” The only condition for eternal life is belief or trust in Christ (period), not plus something else.

I think we underestimate Satan’s strategy. Satan is a deceiver. You won’t recognize him by his dress or conduct. He might even wear the suit of a preacher. He will probably encourage you to be as much like God as possible without being related to God. Satan is on the side of religion; he’s not opposed to it, as long as religion leaves out a Christ-alone salvation. That way, he can deceive people into an eternal hell.

Nicodemus reminds us that THE BEST OF PEOPLE ARE NOT SO GOOD THEY CAN EARN THEIR WAY TO HEAVEN. God takes us to heaven based on His Son’s performance, not ours. He offers eternal life only based on His grace – favor we do not deserve. Grace with anything added to it ceases to be grace (Rom. 11:6). If we trust in anything in addition to Christ for salvation, then we have fallen victim to Satan’s deception. Christ and Christ alone saves us from the penalty of sin forever (Acts 16:31).

When presenting the gospel to the religious, confront them with the truth of their need for a Savior – they are sinners who deserve eternal separation from God. Then share God’s grace with them – that Christ died in their place and rose again so they can have eternal life simply by believing in Christ for it.

Do you have religion without Christ? Why not turn from religion to a relationship with Jesus? Jesus invites you to believe in Him for eternal life. The word “believe” (pisteuō) means to be “persuaded something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.” [42]

Several years ago, a friend of mine visited the Houston Astrodome. Suspended three hundred feet above the playing field was a twenty-seven-thousand-pound gondola. That gondola was held in place by five cables which were each 5/8 of an inch thick. When a newscaster sat in that gondola, he was trusting the cables to hold him. Everything he has done and everything he is means nothing. He must depend on them to hold him.

Christ paid for our sins by dying on the cross. God now comes to you and asks you to believe or depend on Christ alone to get you to heaven. It doesn’t matter if you are a child who is nine or an adult who is ninety. It matters not if you are a morally good person or if you have spent more time inside a jail than outside, you must believe or trust in Christ alone to save you. Perhaps you can identify with Nicodemus – you have always believed the way to heaven was by living a good life or by believing in Christ plus something else. But now you understand you were mistaken, and you want to trust Christ alone to give you eternal life and a future home in His heaven. Christ’s promise is  “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:15). Do you believe Him?

The moment you do, you have eternal life (John 3:15) and a future home in Jesus’ heaven (John 14:2-3; Rev. 21-22). Your sin and shame are forever removed (John 3:15; Rom. 10:11; Heb. 10:1-18; cf. Isa. 54:4)! If today is the day you believed in Jesus for eternal life, then today is your spiritual birthday! According to God’s Word, you were born into His forever family (John 1:12)! You now have two birthdays!

Some Christians have been told that they are not truly saved if they do not remember the exact date of their spiritual birthday when they believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. They wonder, “Could that mean I’m not saved?” Perhaps a church leader or worker told them, “If you don’t know the date you were saved, you are not saved.” Let me ask you, did Jesus say, “whoever believes in Him and knows the date they were saved should not perish but have everlasting life?” No. The real question is, “Whom am I trusting right now to give me eternal life?” Our salvation is established by Whom we place our trust in for eternal life, not when we trusted Him.

Whenever you have doubts about your salvation, look to the unchanging promises of the Lord Jesus. Christ guarantees, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (3:15). The moment you believe this promise, you can be just as certain of living in His presence in heaven as those who are already there.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for confronting me with the truth of my need to be born of Your Spirit to enter Your heaven. I now realize that I have sinned against You in so many ways. I did not want to admit it before because I thought I was good enough to get to heaven on my own. My human efforts, my position, my popularity, my prestige, and my piety, do not change the fact that I am a sinner who needs a Savior. Lord Jesus, I believe You died for me and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my human efforts, position, popularity, prestige or piety), to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You, Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and the future home I will have in heaven. I want to thank You by living for You now. Please use me to share this good news with those who have religion but are perishing without You. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

FOOTNOTES:

[1] http://theromantic.com/humor/heaven.htm.

[2] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 185.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 89.

[5] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 67.

[6] Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 76.

[7] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 89.

[8] Robert N. Wilkin, Confident in Christ: Living by Faith Really Works (Irving: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pg. 17.

[9] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2206.

[10] Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 76.

[11] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 89.

[12] Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 76.

[13] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 91.

[14] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 185.

[15] Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 76.

[16] oudeis … dunatai

[17] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 185.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] gennēthē anōthen

[21] Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 77.

[22] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 68.

[23] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 185.

[24] Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2207.

[25] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 95 cites R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation and Notes, Anchor Bible series. 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966-71)2:139-141.

[26] The construction of the phrase being “born of water and the Spirit” (gennēthē ex hydatos kai Pneumatos) in the Greek text indicates that the preposition “of” (ex) governs both water and Spirit. This means that Jesus was clarifying regeneration by using two terms that both describe the new birth. He was not saying that two separate things have to be present for regeneration to take place. It has but one Source (Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 94).

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 70.

[30] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 186.

[31] Swindoll, Insights on John, pg. 71.

[32] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 186.

[33] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 101 cites Arthur W. Pink,  Exposition of the Gospel of John (Swengel, PA.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 Vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), Vol 1, pg. 123.

[34] Nikodēmos

[35] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 89.

[36] hamartanō

[37] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 49.

[38] The last phrase “Who is in heaven” (ho ōn en tō ouranou) is omitted by older Greek manuscripts but is included here because the vast majority of existing Greek manuscripts contain this phrase.  

[39] Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pp. 101-102.

[40] Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition, pg. 186.

[41] Constable., Dr. Constable’s Notes on John, pg. 102 cites Morris, The Gospel According to John pg. 197.

[42] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 818-819.

Must I Give My Life to Christ to Get to Heaven?

For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” John 5:21

After Jesus healed the lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-15) and referred to God as His Father (John 5:17), claiming to be equal with God, the critical Jewish religious leaders sought all the more to kill Christ (John 5:18). Christ then makes three major claims to establish His equality with God the Father (John 5:19-30). For our purpose in this article, we will only look at Jesus’ second claim which is that HE IS THE SAVIOR (5:21-24). 5:21: One of the “greater works” of Jesus (John 5:20b) is raising “the dead” and giving “life to whom He will.” The Jews understood that only God has the power to give life. But now Jesus is claiming to have the same power as God the Father. Christ “gives” both physical life (John 1:3) and everlasting life (John 1:12; 3:15-16).

“…In a way, Jesus was telling them, ‘You think you’re upset now because I healed a paralytic? You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you see what I do with Lazarus!’ (see 11:1-44).” [1]

Too often I hear Christians telling non-Christians to give their lives to Jesus to get them to heaven. But this is backwards. Jesus “gives life” to the non-Christian when he or she believes in Him (cf. John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 4:10, 14; 5:24; et al.). We don’t give our lives to the Lord for salvation. The issue in salvation is not what we give to God, but what He gives to us. The same author of the gospel of John writes in his first epistle, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (I John 5:11). Who gives eternal life? God does because it is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 2:8-9). Who receives eternal life? We do the moment we believe in Jesus for it.

If we give our life to Jesus to get us to His heaven, we will be eternally disappointed because our lives end at the grave. We need life that lasts beyond the grave. We need Jesus’ everlasting life which we receive by believing in Him alone (John 3:15-16; 11:25-26; cf. I John 5:13). Only those who have Christ’s everlasting life by believing in Him will be able to enter Jesus’ heaven. The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus “gives life” for salvation, we don’t give our life to Him.

I am deeply burdened about this because non-Christians are being misled to think that if they give their lives to Christ, they have everlasting life as a result. This is contrary to Jesus’ teaching! Satan has deceived well-intentioned Christian workers into thinking they are serving God by telling the unsaved to give their lives to Christ to begin a relationship with Him. May God bring these Christian workers to repentance so they can replace this unclear and confusing evangelistic invitation with a clear invitation that uses the words God uses most in evangelism – “believe” (pisteuō) [2] and “faith” (pistis). [3] This will increase the population of heaven because non-Christians are being clearly told what God says they must do to receive His gift of everlasting life.

The Bible says, 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:9-13). According to these verses, what is God’s witness? Does God say you must give Christ your life to have eternal life? No. He says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (5:11). If you carefully read these verses, you will discover that they say nothing about giving your life to Christ to have eternal life. If I were to summarize these verses, I would say this: “The witness of God” says, “Christ gives His eternal life to those who believe in Him,” and “is greater” than “the witness of men” who say, “Give your life to Christ to have eternal life.”  

But someone may respond by saying, Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). Isn’t that the same thing as giving your life to Christ to have eternal life? Great question, but wrong conclusion.

Who is Jesus speaking to when He speaks the words of John 12:25? Jesus is speaking to two of His believing disciples, Andrew and Philip (cf. John 1:35-2:11), who came to Christ to inform Him about certain Greeks at the Passover Feast who wanted to see Him (John 12:20-22). When Jesus hears of the Greeks wanting to see Him, it confirmed that “the hour had come” for Him to “be glorified” through His death on the cross (John 12:23) which Jesus illustrates with a grain of wheat analogy whereby death leads to life (John 12:24). Jesus is the grain of wheat. The word “alone” refers to Christ dealing with Jews alone. It was necessary for Jesus to die to produce life in many others – both Jews and Gentiles (including the Greeks), in one body. Death was necessary for life and fruitfulness.

Since Jesus is talking to two of His believing disciples, He does not reference “eternal life” as a gift to be received by faith alone in Him alone (John 12:25). Instead, He speaks of eternal life as a reward to be earned in the future. [4] The issue here is rewards, not salvation from hell. The believer who “loves his life” by selfishly living for his or herself, “will lose” the fullness of that life both now and in eternity in terms of the loss of rewards. Christ goes on to say that “he who hates his life in the world” by making his or her love and loyalty to Christ a priority “will keep it for eternal life,” that is, they will enjoy a deeper and fuller experience of eternal life both now and in eternity. [5]    

Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b). Eternal life must first be received as a gift through faith alone in Jesus alone – “I have come that they may have life” (John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23; Ephes. 2:8-9) – before we can experience that life “more abundantly”through obedience to Christ (John 8:31-32; John 12:24-26). The word “abundantly” means over and above or overflowing life. All those who believe in Jesus have “life” in His name (John 3:16; 20:31). But only those believers who obey Christ’s word will experience it “more abundantly” both now and eternity.

Therefore, when eternal life is referred to as a present possession in the New Testament, it is always a free gift that is received by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; Rom. 6:23b; 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9; I John 5:11, 13; Rev. 22:17). But when eternal life is referred to as a future acquisition, it is a reward that obedient believers will receive in the future (cf. Matt. 19:29; 25:35-40, 46; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Rom. 2:7; 6:22; Gal. 6:7-9; I Tim. 6:12, 19; Jude 1:21). [6] Eternal life is not static. Believers can experience varying degrees of God’s life as they learn to trust and obey Him.

Those who are dedicated to Christ will “keep” or preserve that lifestyle for eternal rewards (12:25). Our earthly experience becomes a part of “eternal life”in that it contributes to the quality of our future life in eternity. If we put our material things and selfish ambitions ahead of Christ, we will decrease the quality of our life in the world to come. So, the issue is not salvation, but the quality of a believer’s life both now and in the world to come.

This is substantiated further in the next verse when Jesus says, If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12:26). Jesus is referring to self-denying service to Christ. If you want to serve Christ, you must follow Him. He is to be the number one priority in your life. Just as Jesus denied Himself and died for the world (12:27-28a), His disciples are to deny themselves and serve Him. When Christ says, “and where I am, there My servant will be also”in glory and honor is the main idea here as confirmed in the next part of the verse. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” The verb “will honor” [7] refers to honoring faithful Christians with rewards. [8] If you serve Jesus, you will receive “honor” or reward from His Father. If you want to be rewarded in the future, you must earn it by serving Christ now. Rewards are not a free gift. We must work for them to receive them in the future.

We can see then, that giving Christ our lives is a condition for discipleship and is necessary to receive eternal rewards (cf. Matt. 10:32-42; 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26; John 12:23-26), not eternal life or salvation as a free gift.

The claim of Jesus is that “life” belongs to Him and He gives it to whom He will (5:21). This cuts right across the philosophy and the propaganda of our day! Much of our culture tells you that your life belongs to you, and you can do with it whatever you want; it is up to you to make of yourself whatever you desire. That is what is fed to us all the time. But that’s a lie! Your physical life is not yours. You did not invent it; you were given it by Jesus.

If this claim of Jesus is real, and it is, it clearly makes Him the most important Person in anybody’s life. If your very physical existence has come from Him, and your spiritual destiny is in His hands, then He is the most important Person you will ever have to deal with. More than that, He is the most important Person in all the universe!

Because of this, it would be wise for us to keep His gospel message clear. Since the Lord Jesus used the words “believe” and “faith” more than any other words to express what a sinner must do to receive everlasting life (John 3:15-16; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26, et al.), we submit to His Lordship when we use those words when sharing His gospel with the unsaved. It is not submitting to His Lordship when we refuse to use the words He used the most in evangelism and substitute it with words that are more popular with others such as giving your life to Christ to be saved from hell. Our sinful nature does not like someone else to tell us what to do and how to do it. So, when Jesus tells us to use the words “believe” or “faith” when inviting a non-Christian to respond to the gospel, and we use other words or phrases that confuse instead of clarify the only condition for obtaining eternal life, we are saying to Him, “I know better than You, Lord. I will use some other phrase or condition that everyone else is using.” We are refusing to submit to His Lordship when we neglect to use the words He uses most in evangelism. And because of this, we will forfeit eternal rewards, not salvation, at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 3:23-24; Rev. 22:12).

How would you feel when You stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and tell the Lord Jesus that you told non-Christians to give their lives to Christ to get saved, and Jesus rebukes you saying, “Why did you tell them that when I told you to invite them to believe in Me to get saved? I had to send someone else to them to tell them to believe in Me for eternal life because you refused to submit to My instructions.” I believe we would feel shame and regret for disobeying our Lord (cf. Matt. 25:24-30; I John 2:28). It is not too late to change and start using the words Jesus used the most in evangelism – “believe” and “faith” instead of the unclear terminology that the majority of Christians use today.

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, thank You for establishing that the Lord Jesus is equal with You in His deity when He claimed to be the Savior Who gives life to whom He wills. He is as much God as You and the Holy Spirit are. Because Jesus is the One Who gives physical life and eternal life, He is by far the most important Person in our lives. Please forgive us for substituting the words Jesus used most in evangelism – “believe” and “faith,” with unclear words like giving your life to Christ, follow Christ, or turn from your sins as conditions for eternal life. Please enable us to submit to Your Lordship in our lives by using the words Jesus used the most in evangelism because Your approval is far more important than the approval of people. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 2219.

[2] Matt. 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Rom. 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Cor. 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 2:16; 3:6, 9, 22; Ephes. 1:13, 19; Phil. 1:29; I Thess. 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2:12,13; I Tim. 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Tim. 1:12; Tit. 3:8; Heb. 11:31; I Pet. 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

[3] Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Rom. 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Cor. 15:14, 17; Gal. 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephes. 2:8; Phil. 3:9(2); Col. 1:4; 2 Thess. 3:2; 2 Tim. 3:15; Tit. 1:4; Heb. 6:1;11:31; Jas. 2:1, 23, 24; I Pet. 1:21; 2 Pet. 1:5; I John 5:4.

[4] The word translated “will keep” (phylaxei) is in the future tense.

[5] The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1180; Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 2257; Robert Wilkin, “John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 213.

[6] Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 221-232; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 53-68.  

[7] timēsei

[8] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 1004-1005.