How can we respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ? Part 2

“ ‘While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ ” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.” John 12:36

In our study of the gospel of John we have come to Jesus’ final words to the public before His death on the Cross. The people to whom He spoke had important decisions to make before Christ left them. In John 12:23, 32-33, Christ said that the “Son of Man” was to be lifted up on the Cross rather than be lifted up as a Ruler over the nations. This confused many of the people of Israel. We are looking at how Jesus responds to them to learn how we can respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ. Last time we learned to challenge them to seek God while there is still time (John 12:34-35). The second way we can respond to them is to COUNSEL THEM TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST ALONE WHILE THERE IS TIME (John 12:36).

Jesus said to the crowd, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36a). These people needed to “believe in the light,”Jesus Christ, as soon as possible (“while you have the light”), before the Cross. After the Cross, when the Light was no longer with them, it would be more difficult for them to believe. No person is promised tomorrow on earth, so it is important for them to respond in faith to Christ while they still have time.

Notice that Christ says they can become “sons of light” simply by believing or trusting in Him alone for His gift of salvation. This verse does not say they become “sons of light” by going to church, being baptized, confessing their sins, keeping the commandments, or praying. The only condition is to believe in the light which is Jesus Christ.

How often today do you hear a Christian use the word “believe” when inviting a non-Christian to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ? It rarely happens. Search the internet and see how many Christian churches and organizations use the word “believe” or its synonym “trust” in their plan of salvation as the sole condition for obtaining eternal life from Jesus Christ. It is very seldom. Instead they use unclear clichés and phrases such as “accept Jesus, give your life or heart to Jesus, ask Jesus into your heart, repent or turn from your sins, confess Jesus as Lord, or submit to Jesus as your Lord.” Lost people are being told to do everything but believe in the Lord Jesus for eternal life. I am convinced that the greatest need in evangelism today is for Christian workers to return to using the words that God uses most in evangelism – the words believe and faith.

Some people confuse the use of the word “believe” in the Bible with common uses of the English word “believe.” For example, we may hear people say these common phrases in English:

– “I believe it is going to snow today.”

– “I believe I voted for the wrong candidate.”

– “I don’t believe voting makes any difference.”

– “I believe I gave her the wrong directions.”

So when people hear us use the word “believe” in relation to Jesus Christ, they may think it only conveys speculation. But the use of the word “believe” in the Bible communicates absolute certainty. When Christ says, “believe in the light” (John 12:36a), He is inviting people to be convinced that He is God Who is “the light,” and then to trust in Him alone. John writes in his epistle, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (cf. I John 1:5). There was no darkness or sin in Jesus Christ because He is God (I John 5:20; cf. Hebrews 1:8; 4:15). Therefore, only Jesus could give them life that never ends. Jesus does not direct unbelievers to the Father to receive everlasting life. He directs them to Himself for this gift (John 5:21, 40; 6:40, 47). Christ proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).

Sometimes I will encounter non-Christians who think they must do something in addition to believing or trusting in Christ alone to give them everlasting life. For example, when I ask a person, “What does God say you must do to get to heaven?” He or she responds, “I must believe in Christ and … be baptized or live a godly life or love others or take communion or confess all my sins.” And the list goes on and on and on. But is that what Jesus says?

Christ said to a religious leader named Nicodemus, 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. 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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 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.” (John 3:14-18).

According to John 3:14-16, who has everlasting life? The one who “believes in… the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ, Who was “lifted up” on a Cross (cf. John 8:28; 12:23, 32-33). According to John 3:17, Who is the one Person by which one must be saved? “Through Him,” God’s only begotten “Son,” Jesus Christ. According to John 3:18, what is the basis upon which a person is condemned or not condemned? Belief or unbelief in God’s “only begotten Son,” Jesus Christ.

It does not matter what your religion or denomination or pastor or priest teaches. What matters is what Jesus Christ taught. Repeatedly Jesus teaches that believing in Him alone is the only condition for everlasting life (cf. John 3:14-18; 5:46; 6:29, 35-36, 40, 47; 7;38; 8:24, 45; 9:35; 10:37-38; 11:25-26; 12:36, 46; 13:19; 14:1, 11-12; 16:9; 17:20; et al.).

When Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word translated “finished” is tetelestai. It means “paid in full.” Receipts in New Testament times were stamped with this word which meant that the debt had been paid in full. Christ did not make a down payment for our sin when He died on the Cross so that we must pay the remainder of our sin debt to God. God does not accept us on the basis of our good life, our keeping of His commandments, our water baptism, or the sacraments we have taken. We are accepted by God on the basis of the full payment for our sin debt to God when Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf. God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for our sin. The verb tetelestai is in the perfect tense. This means Christ made the full payment for our sin debt when He died on the cross and it remains paid in full to the present.

When we communicate the gospel with non-Christians, we must be clear that all people have sinned against God and deserve to die forever in the Lake of Fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). No amount of our good thoughts, words, or actions can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Because Jesus finished paying the penalty for our sins when He died in our place, that means we do not have to work for our salvation (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). All God asks of us is to believe in Jesus alone and His finished work on the Cross as sufficient payment for our sins (John 3:14-15; 19:30). When we do, He gives us everlasting life and forgives all our sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Those who are trusting in their good works or in Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, are telling God the Father that Jesus’ death on the cross failed to pay their sin debt in full. However, since God was forever satisfied with His perfect Son’s payment for the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:2), we must also be satisfied with what satisfies God. God cannot accept anything we do as payment for our sins because He has already accepted His Son’s complete payment for all of our sins when He died in our place on the Cross.

Those who “believe in the light [i.e., in Jesus]… become sons of light” (John 12:36; cf. Ephesian 5:8). Every believer in Jesus is defined by the “light” of Jesus Christ instead of by their sin or shame. Christ, Who is Light, lives inside us now (John 8:12). Our sinful hearts have been made new and are good and noble (Luke 8:15). God says, “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. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

We have been given a new identity and a new nature defined by Christ’s light. A passion resides deep inside us that can be stronger than our passion for sin when we yield to the Holy Spirit inside us (Rom. 7:21-25; 8:1-7). It is a passion to love God and walk in His ways, just as Christ did. Because we are defined by the light of Christ, it is important to pay attention to the God-given passion He has given us to live for Him.

When Christ finished speaking He “departed, and was hidden from them” (John 12:36b) supernaturally. He seems to have vanished, reminding us that He is in control. His death will take place in God’s time. This departure of Jesus was an example of what He had just predicted (John 12:35) and should have motivated them to believe in Him while there was still time.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please give me Your clarity and wisdom when communicating Your gospel message to non-Christians. So many people today are confused about what they must do to get to heaven.They are being told to do many different things in addition to believing or trusting in You alone for Your free gift of everlasting life. Satan is such a deceiver. He is not against any religion that leaves out a Christ-alone salvation because he knows it will lead them into an eternal hell. By Your grace, please bring all Christians back to Your basic promise that “whoever believes in Him [Jesus] should not perish but have everlasting life.” The more clearly we communicate Your gospel message, the more people can understand and believe in You alone for Your free gift while there is still time. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for making this message so clear and simple. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.  

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 5

25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ ” John 11:25-26

As we are studying the historical record of Jesus’ seventh miraculous sign in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44), we are learning reasons why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned that the Lord does this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

The fifth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DISCLOSE MORE OF CHRIST’S IDENTITY TO US (John 11:17-27). The scene now shifts from the region of Bethany in Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28) to the Bethany in Judea (John 11:18). Both towns became locations where people believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.” (John 11:17). When Jesus arrived in Bethany of Judea, He found that Lazarus had “already been in the tomb four days.” It was the custom of Jews in general to bury their dead on the same day that the person died because embalming was not practiced by the Jews 1 and because of the warm climate which would contribute to a rapid rate of decay. 2  The dead body would be washed, anointed with perfumes, and wrapped in a white cloth.

“Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.” (John 11:18). Jesus and His disciples traveled about forty miles from Bethany of Perea to Bethany of Judea. John informs us that Bethany of Judea was “two miles away” from Jerusalem, perhaps to explain why so “many of the Jews” from Jerusalem were there to comfort Mary and Martha (John 11:19) and  to witness Jesus’ miracle (cf. John 11:45-46).  

“And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.” (John 11:19). It was expected of Jews to console the bereaved. In the Jewish culture, the period of mourning for the dead lasted thirty days. The first three days, no work was done, only weeping took place. Dr. Tom Constable writes, “Jewish rabbis believed that the spirit of a person who had died lingered over the corpse for three days, or until decomposition of the body had begun. They believed that the spirit then abandoned the body because any hope of resuscitation was gone.” 3 The rest of the first week there was deep mourning. The remaining thirty days involved lighter mourning.

When someone dies, it is so encouraging to see an entire community show support to those who are left behind. This support make take the form of a sympathy card, a visit, a meal, a cry with the bereaved or a tender hug.

“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.” (John 11:20). Everyone deals with death differently and that is okay. The personality differences of the two sisters are seen here in their response to Lazarus’ death. Martha is active and assertive going out to meet Jesus. She seeks Christ in her grief. Mary, on the other hand, is quiet and contemplative, sitting at home. Jesus consoles each sister differently, taking into consideration their differing personalities.

“Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:21). Martha is saying, “Lord, You could have prevented this. We sent word to you before Lazarus died. You could have come immediately and prevented his death. But no! You waited two more days and Lazarus died. We needed You, Lord. Why didn’t You come?!” Notice that Martha’s faith was limited to whether Jesus was there.

But Martha did not let her anger and disappointment cut off her relationship with the Lord. She said to Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22). She still believed Jesus could meet her need.

Jesus reassures her. “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23). He is referring to what He is about to do. He does not rebuke her for expressing her anger or disappointment. Jesus understands our humanness and the need to deal with feelings when faced with a loss. He dealt with losses, too. He had already lost John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 14:10-13).

Martha responds to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24). Martha did not realize that Jesus was talking about raising Lazarus from the dead immediately. She thought He was referring to the final resurrection when the Messiah-God comes to set up His Kingdom (cf. Job 19:25-27; Daniel 2:44-45; 7:9-14, 26-27; 12:1-3).

Have you ever felt like Martha did near the grave of a loved one? You are angry with God for letting your loved one die. Maybe you prayed to God to save your spouse or child from death, and God let him or her die. Your heart was broken in two. It felt like God punched you in the gut! You were so overwhelmed with sadness and then anger. Why would God let this happen? What might Jesus say to you near your loved one’s grave? I believe He might say the same thing He said to Martha.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25). This is the fifth “I AM” statement by Jesus in the gospel of John (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 14; 11:25) whereby He claims to be the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). Jesus is the Guarantor of both resurrection and life.

As “the Resurrection” (John 11:25), Jesus guarantees a future resurrection to all who believe in Him. The person who believes in Christ “shall live” again physically through resurrection even “though he may die” physically. As “the Resurrection,” Jesus guarantees a future bodily resurrection to all who believe in Him. When Jesus comes back for His Church, all believers in Him will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will be free from sin and death (cf. I Corinthians 15:35-56; I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Next, as “the Life,” Jesus guarantees that “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26a). This phrase, “shall never die,” is extremely powerful. Christ guarantees that all who believe in Him shall “never” experience eternal death or separation from God. How long is “never”? It is forever. The moment a person believes in Jesus, he or she receives “life” from Him that can “never” be taken away from him or her.

Jesus had made similar promises in the gospel of John which include “shall never hunger,” (John 6:35), “shall never thirst” (John 4:14; 6:35), “shall never perish” (John 10:28), and “shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24). Christ guarantees that the moment a person believes in Him for everlasting life, he or she is secure forever!!! What this also means is even though Lazarus had died physically, he was still alive spiritually because he had believed in Jesus.

Jesus makes this promise to “whoever lives and believes in” Him. We may be surprised to see the words “whoever lives.” Usually Jesus says, “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:15-16; 4:14). Why does Jesus add the words “whoever lives” as a condition for this promise? Dr. Bob Wilkin explains, “Jesus only offers His life to living human beings who believe in Him. He does not extend eternal life to nonhumans (Satan, fallen angels, demons); nor does He extend eternal life to humans who die in unbelief.” 4 Christ does not offer eternal life to people after they die. The Bible says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances to get to heaven after we die. This life is the only opportunity people have to get right with God through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Reincarnation is not found in the Bible. Jesus’ promise is made to living human beings (“whoever lives”), not to those who have died.

Let’s look at Jesus’ evangelistic invitation to Martha. He said to her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Christ is asking Martha (and us), “Do you believe I guarantee a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?” This question is rarely asked of non-Christians today by Christians who practice evangelism. Instead, they ask the non-Christian questions like…

“Have you turned from your sins?”

– “Have you been baptized with water?”

– “Have you surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus?”

– “Have you given your life to Christ?”

– “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”

– “Have you confessed Jesus as your Lord?”

No mention of the word “believe” is made in these common invitations. This is not what Jesus did with Martha. If we want to become more like Jesus, we must evangelize the lost the same way that He did. He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” that I am the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?

Look at Martha’s response. “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). She did not say “I think I believe…” nor does she say, “Maybe I believe…” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” Martha was convinced that Jesus was the Christ – the One who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. Could Martha believe that Jesus was the Christ without realizing she herself had eternal life? No. To believe that Jesus was the Christ was to believe His guarantee of eternal life. To doubt His guarantee of eternal life was to doubt Jesus as the Christ. If a person does not believe he or she is eternally secure the moment he or she believes in Jesus for eternal life, then he or she has not understood Jesus’ offer.

Some people think it is not enough to believe in Christ for eternal life. They think you must also turn from your sins, confess your sins, invite Jesus into your heart, surrender to the Lord, be baptized, continue in good works, obey all of God’s commands, and the list goes on and on and on. But this is foreign to the gospel of John which was written specifically to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31). Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in his gospel. 5 If we want to become more like Jesus, we must use the word that God uses the most in evangelism – “BELIEVE”!!!  

Many people today make a distinction between head faith and heart faith. They have told us that we can miss heaven by eighteen inches because we have believed in Jesus with our head but not with our heart. But where does the Bible make this distinction? It does not. Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish head belief from heart belief. All belief is belief. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.”(John 6:47).

To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. Either I believe Christ’s promise or I do not. If I do, I have eternal life. If I do not, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one has “heart belief” instead of “head belief.” Saving faith is the conviction that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, and then believing or trusting in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but Whom your faith is in and What your faith believes. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life to every believer by Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:1-8; et al). Therefore, those who refer to “head belief” or “heart belief” are reading into the word “believe as the Bible neither does, nor provides basis for doing.

When Martha answered Jesus’ question with, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27), neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, Who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in his purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.

Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a statement? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because as long as any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.

What would Martha’s faith be like if Jesus had not delayed, and hence, had not raised Lazarus from the dead? Her understanding of Christ’s Person and power would be less. But because Jesus did not get there in time to heal Lazarus, Martha came to know that Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

One of the reasons God allows our situations to worsen after we pray about them is so He can reveal more of Himself to us. So instead of getting discouraged when God is silent, we can expect Him to reveal more of Himself to us.

The story is told of an atheist who was spending a quiet day fishing on a lake when suddenly his boat was attacked by the Loch Ness monster. With one easy flip of his tail, the beast tossed the man and his boat high into the air. Then the Loch Ness monster opened his mouth to swallow both the atheist and his boat. As the man sailed head over heels, he cried out, “Oh, my God, help me!” At once the ferocious attack scene froze in place, and as the atheist hung in midair, a booming voice came down from the clouds saying, “I thought you didn’t believe in Me?” The man pleaded, “Come on, God, give me a break. I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness monster either.”

Even when a person is facing death, God can reveal more of Himself to that person so that in the case of the atheist, he can believe in the Lord. Maybe you have been praying a long time about a situation and it seems to get worse and worse. Take heart, God may be about to reveal more of Himself to you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may be standing beside the grave of a loved one right now. And like Martha, we may be disappointed or even angry with You for allowing our loved one to die after we prayed to You to save him or her from death. Thank You for reminding me today that You know how it feels when a loved one dies. You wept when You saw the grief that was caused by Your dear friend’s death (John 11:35). You sometimes delay Your answers to our prayers to reveal Yourself to us in a deeper and more powerful way like You did with Martha. You showed Martha (and us) that You are “the Resurrection and the Life” by raising her brother from the dead so that she could know that You have the power to provide a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in You alone. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for reminding me that all I must do to receive a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life is to believe in You alone. Please help me to be clear when I share this message with non-Christians. Thank You for reminding me that I need to use the same word You used the most in evangelism – BELIEVE. In Your holy and precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 207.

2.  Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 202.

3. Ibid., pg. 201.

4. Dr. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (pg. 507). Grace Evangelical Society. Kindle Edition.

5. John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).