How do I overcome doubt? Part 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

5. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

7.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

9. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How do I overcome doubt? Part 3

“The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I WILL NOT BELIEVE.’ ” John 20:25 (Emphasis added)

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Let’s remember that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus for everlasting life (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5) when he struggled with doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. Likewise, as believers in Jesus, we will all have doubts in our lives. There are many different kinds of doubts that we will face. 1

One kind of a doubt is what is called the sudden kind of doubt. You are driving down the highway and all of a sudden this thought jumps into your mind that says, “None of these things about Jesus are real.” Or, “No one is really going to heaven. What if this is all a lie?”  Have you ever had those kind of thoughts? Where do those thoughts come from?  They come from Satan, the evil one. These kind of thoughts will just pop into your mind. You can just throw them out like trash as quickly as possible. Don’t be concerned about these. 

But another kind of doubt is called circumstantial doubts. These doubts come into our lives because of certain circumstances that we face. Doubts that come because of certain relationships or disappointments. These are longer lasting doubts. They come into our lives when circumstances do not turn out like we expected God was going to do.

When these circumstantial doubts take place, we have to decide how we are going to deal with them. How are we going to trust God in this? The way to do this is the same way Thomas needed to do it.

Thomas was not among the disciples the first time Jesus appeared to the ten disciples the day He rose from the dead (John 20:19-23). After Jesus’ appearance to them, the disciples came to Thomas, saying, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas then said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). The disciples are encouraging Thomas to have faith that Jesus is alive. But Thomas says, “I will not believe.”

Thomas is telling us, “I am choosing not to believe.” He is making a choice not to believe Jesus is alive. It is a matter of his will. Those who deny that faith is a choice are ignoring the truth of the Scriptures. God makes it very clear that faith is a matter of the will.

Jesus amplifies this when He comes to His disciples eight days after His resurrection. 26 Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ 27 Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ ” (John 20:26-27). Although the doors were locked, Jesus materialized in front of the disciples and said, “Peace to you.” Then Christ turned directly to Thomas, as if He had come for his sole benefit. Knowing full well the struggles going on in Thomas’ heart, Jesus invites him to explore with his hands (“Reach your finger here”) and his eyes (“look at My hands”) the reality of His resurrection body.

When Jesus said, “reach your hand here, and put it into My side,” he was referring to a literal hole in His side that was left by the spear. It had healed over but it left an obvious impression. Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his unbelief. He didn’t say, “You should not ask questions like that Thomas!” Christ gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He rose from the dead to answer his objection and then invites him to believe.

Christ began with Thomas’ objection and then gave him evidence. Peter taught the same thing in principle when he wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (I Peter 3:15).

When sharing the gospel with an intellectual skeptic, they may say to you, “Where did Cain get his wife?” The answer is he married his sister. But we can go beyond that and show the reasonableness of that answer. Granted, there are some problems with that answer. The first problem is we know that Adam had sons – Cain, Abe, and Seth (Genesis 4:1-2, 25), but we cannot name any of his daughters. Now if Adam did not have any daughters, how could Cain marry his sister? The answer to that difficulty is that Adam did have daughters. Genesis 5:4 says, “After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters.”

But this brings up a second problem. Today we cannot marry a sister because if a brother marries his sister the mathematical possibilities of the weakness of their genes coming up in their children is great. That is why this is called incest and is forbidden today.

The only way to solve that problem is to have genetically perfect parents. That is exactly the case with Cain and his sister. Adam and Eve were created directly by God so Cain and his sister had perfect heredity. Their children would have had few harmful mutations. When sin entered the world at the fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12), it brought with it mutations in the DNA resulting in disease, death, and destruction. The gene pool would gradually become corrupt. At first no harm would result from marrying a brother or sister, but as generations passed harmful genetic mutations along, those harmful mutations and defective genes would increase and accumulate. Eventually, it became too dangerous to marry a close relative because of the increased likelihood of inherited disease. This is why God forbid marrying a close relative in the time of Moses, about 2,500 years after the creation of Adam and Eve (Leviticus 18:6-8).

But there was no prohibition against marrying a close relative in the beginning because there was no need for it. So the point is that there is a reasonable answer to the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?”

Some of us may conclude that we could never witness because we will not be able to come up with all those intellectual answers. But often times, non-Christians do not ask the questions Christians ask. Those of us who are believers in Jesus hear the Bible discussed and explained and we expect non-Christians to ask the same questions we do. But more and more non-Christians in the world are biblical illiterates. They usually don’t ask the questions we do.

Most non-Christians ask very basic questions: What about those who have never heard? Is Christ the only way to God? How can you be sure Jesus is God? Why do the innocent suffer? How can miracles be possible? Isn’t the Bible full of errors? Isn’t the Christian experience psychological? Won’t a good moral life get me to heaven?

Rather than worry about non-Christians asking difficult questions, simply share the gospel with those who will listen. If you do not know the answer to their questions, be honest and tell them you do not know. I find it helps to say to them, “Thanks so much for a great question. I do not have an answer to that right now, but I will do some research and get back to you with an answer.” The internet has many helpful Christian websites that can help you answer tough questions. 2 Ask your pastor for some help if you don’t find any on the internet.

When an intellectual objection is given to you by someone, start out by giving a reasonable answer to the stated objection. Some people do have honest intellectual questions. They want answers. They will usually accept reasonable answers, or at least the reasonableness of an answer.

But when a person objects to Christianity and does not accept the reasonableness of an answer, his or her problem is moral, not intellectual. These people tend to argue rather than listen to the reasonableness of your answers. So pursue the moral issue.

Perhaps they are struggling with guilt. For example, an evangelist was having a rap session with high school teenagers. One girl who sat in the back had been quiet. Near the end of the session, she said, “The Bible says God loves everyone. Then it says God sends people to hell. How can a loving God do that?” The evangelist gave reasonable answers but she kept coming back with arguments. He didn’t convince her nor did she convince him. Soon the session was dismissed.

Afterward, the evangelist approached the girl and said, “I owe you an apology. I really should not have allowed our discussion to become so argumentative.” Then he said, “May I share something with you?” “Yes,” she said. So he began to present the gospel to her. When he got to Romans 3:23, he said, “We are all sinners.” Then she began to cry. She then admitted to having an affair with a married man. The one thing she needed was forgiveness. After the gospel presentation, she trusted Christ alone for the forgiveness of all her sin and received the gift of eternal life. The reason she had not believed in hell was because she was going there. Rather than face her guilt, she denied there was any future hell.

Others we may witness to may struggle with bitterness. Many non-Christians have been turned off by Christians or Christianity. They have had Christianity crammed down their throats or they have been stabbed in the back by a Christian. Their response was bitterness. They have been wounded and they are hurting. They need to hear and see the grace of Jesus Christ.

Another moral issue that can hinder a non-Christian from hearing reasonable answers to their questions is a sinful self-will. After hearing the gospel presentation, one student said, “I can’t answer your presentation, but it is reasonable. It is just that I refuse to accept it.”

This is what kept many religious leaders from believing in Jesus when Christ walked the earth. Christ said to those who refused to believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God, 39You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40). These religious leaders devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures “which testify of” Jesus, but they never found Him. Why? Because they were “not willing to come to” Him that they “may have life.” They were unwilling to believe in Jesus even though the Bible testifies of Him from cover to cover.

When witnessing to intellectuals, we must avoid two extremes:

1) Anti-intellectualism which says, “Don’t bother me with intellectual questions. Just let me present the simple gospel.” The result is the thinking non-Christian will conclude that his honest questions have no answers and he won’t listen to the gospel.

2) Intellectualism that says answers will win the person to Christ. So we rely on intellectual answers and not on God. Keep in mind that it was not the disciples who convinced Thomas (John 20:25a), it was Jesus Himself who convinced this skeptic. Giving people the gospel will often do what all the intellectual arguments fail to do – break down the barriers. There is only one way to God – the gospel or good news of Jesus and His death and resurrection. But there are many ways to the gospel. The road may be straight, or it may contain curves. You have to travel the road the person is on when you find him or her. No matter where you find him or how many roads he takes, or how many rest stops he insists on, guide him gently toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rely on the Holy Spirit instead of reasonable answers to persuade the person to believe in Christ alone as his or her only hope of heaven.

After Jesus gave Thomas the evidence to answer to his objection, Christ commands him, Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 3  It is a matter of the will. It is a choice to stop doubting and to believe.

When Thomas said, “I will not believe” (John 20:25b), in the Greek language he used a double negative. 4  Literally, he is saying, “I will no not believe.” We might translate it, “I will positively not believe.” At least Thomas is being honest. He is making it clear that the reason he will not believe Jesus is alive is because he has made the choice not to believe it. He is choosing not to believe.

Some people think that having faith is a matter of the intellect or logic. Others view faith as being based on emotions. So which is it? Logic or feelings? Neither is true. Faith is volitional. It is not based upon the intellect or feelings. It is based upon the will.

There are people who are waiting for their mind to inform them or their emotions to lead them into the kind of faith in God that they see other people having. It is not going to happen. Yes, information or emotions can influence our decisions. But simply having enough information in our minds or enough emotions in our hearts is not going to automatically give us faith in God. Faith is a matter of the will.

When I choose to believe, then my emotions will follow and my mind will start to understand more and more of Who God truly is. It is a matter of the will.

When Jesus told Thomas, Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27b), He was telling him to choose to stop moving in the direction of unbelief and to decide to start moving in the direction of belief. So the third way to overcome doubts is to REDIRECT OUR WILLS TOWARD BELIEVING (John 20:25b-27). We are either moving in the direction of belief or we are moving in the direction of unbelief. We either decide to accept God’s Word is true or we decide to reject His Word is true. We either decide that God is a Promise-Keeper or God is a Promise-Breaker. We decide that God is either a Truth-Teller or a Liar.

Please understand that Thomas still had eternal life even though he had doubts. When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you can never lose eternal life. That is why Jesus says you “shall never perish” after you believe in Him (John 10:28a). The word “never” means forever. If you could “perish” in hell after believing in Jesus, then Christ told a lie in John 10:28a. But Christ will not break His promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him because He is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and is “the truth” (John 14:6). He always keeps His promises.

But you may ask, “If I doubt my salvation, does that mean I am not saved?” It is possible. Those who doubt their salvation fall into one of three categories: 5

– You may be a doubter 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 will 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.

– You may not understand the gospel and are not saved. Perhaps you are trusting in Christ plus your works or just your works alone, instead of trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross (John 3:15-16; 19:30). Therefore, you don’t have any certainty of going to heaven. Or you may have been taught that if you cannot remember the date you became a Christian, then you are not saved. So you wonder, “Could that mean I’m 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.

– You have trusted Christ and are saved, but you have confused entering the Christian life (John 3:16; 5:24) with living it (I John 1:4-10; 2:3-6; 3:6-15; 4:20:21). When a believer takes his or her focus off of Christ and His promise of eternal life, he or she may begin to doubt their salvation. When you listen to teaching that confuses entering the Christian life with living it, you are going to have doubts that you are saved.

For example, a few years ago I listened to a famous preacher on the radio in America 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 keep God’s commandments?… do I love other Christians?…  am I overcoming sin?” If you couldn’t answer “yes” to all these questions, then he said you cannot be certain you are saved.

But this preacher failed to observe the purpose of I John is not to tell you how to become a Christian or how to know you are a Christian. First John was written to tell us how to have fellowship (closeness) with Christ or how to know you have fellowship with Christ. The author of I John, the same author of the gospel of John, writes, 3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”  (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. 6  The book of I John tells us how to get close to the One you have believed in, using the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times. 7

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 are a Christian is not 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.

Losing your assurance of salvation is not the same as losing your salvation. As we have seen in the gospel of John, when you believe in Christ for eternal life, you are eternally secure at the moment of faith because of Christ’s performance and promise (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; 19:30), not your performance or feelings.

However, being certain of your salvation can waver if you start looking to someone or something else other that Christ and His promise of eternal life. If you doubt your salvation, ask yourself: 8

Do I understand the simplicity of the Gospel? Since Christ paid the full penalty for my sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6), God can now forgive me based on what He has done for me, not what I do for Him (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14).

– Have I 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, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). The word “believe” means to place our trust in Christ alone as our only basis for living eternally with God. If you are trusting Christ alone to get to heaven, you are forever God’s child regardless of when or where that occurred.

Am I taking God at His Word? Once you trust in Christ, you must trust His Word. That means accepting God’s promise that, having trusted Christ, we are forever His. Jesus assures us: “And I give them  eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28).

If I were to ask you whose child you are, you would say, “I am the child of …” You have proof that would stand up in a court of law – a birth certificate. A piece of paper assures you that you are their child. 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 when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

In closing, Jesus looked at Thomas and said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27b). This meant it was a matter of Thomas’ will. This was something he could choose. And Thomas did. His decision teaches us our next way to overcome doubt. But that is for our next time together.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for showing me that it is my decision to move toward doubting or believing. I cannot blame my doubts on my circumstances, my past, my parents, my personality, or my peers. I am responsible for whether or not I choose to doubt or believe. Simply having more information in my mind or more emotion in my heart is not going to automatically give me faith in You. It is a matter of my will. This day I am deciding to move in the direction of believing, not doubting. Whether I feel like believing or not, I will choose to move toward believing. Whether I have more or less information, I will decide to move toward believing. When I doubt my salvation, I will refocus upon You and Your unchanging promises. Please help those who doubt Your resurrection to realize it is their choice to do this. Just as You gave Thomas evidence to answer his objection, please give others what they need to come to faith in You. They can choose to believe or not believe. The choice is theirs. But that choice has eternal consequences. In Your name I pray, my Lord and my God. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. See www.answersingenesis.org ; www.josh.org ; www.probe.org ; www.carm.org ; www.christiananswers.net .

3. The verb (ginou) in the phrase, “do not be unbelieving” (mē ginou apistos) is a present imperative.

4. Ou mē pisteusō.

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

6. In the Greek Majority Text John uses the word for “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times: John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36; 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, 40, 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).

7. In the Greek Majority Text, John uses the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times: I John 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 24(3), 27(2), 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 24(2); 4:12, 13, 15, 16 (3).

8. Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said, pp. 81-83.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 7

“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” John 19:23

We are discovering lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Thus far we have learned the following:

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

Today we discover in the seventh picture the apostle John presents to us, that JESUS’ GARMENTS WERE REMOVED SO WE COULD WEAR THE GARMENTS OF SALVATION (John 19:23-24). The words “when they had crucified Jesus” (John 19:23b) refer to the time when they nailed Jesus to the crossbeam and set the cross in place. 1  While Jesus is writhing in pain on the cross, John informs us, “Then the soldiers… took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” (John 19:23a, c).

Four Romans soldiers under the leadership of a centurion were assigned to each person being executed. “It would be the privilege of the soldiers conducting the execution by crucifixion to divide the personal property of the crucified among themselves. In keeping with custom therefore, the four soldiers took Jesus’ garments and divided them into four parts among themselves.” 2

It is significant to note that the Greek word for “garments” (hamatia) is plural. “When this word occurs in the singular it refers to the outer robe that most Jews wore. Here, because he used the plural, John evidently had in mind all of Jesus’ ‘outer garments,’ including His robe, sandals, belt, and head covering.” 3

The “tunic” (chitṓn) that was also removed from Jesus “was a garment worn next to the skin, but it was not what we would think of as underwear. It was more like a long shirt.” 4  The Jewish historian, Josephus, used this word to describe the high priest’s tunic that was woven in one piece (Antiquities 3.161). 5 This undergarment “was without seam, woven from the top in one piece,” and therefore, was more valuable. Not wanting to tear this expensive article of clothing, the soldiers “said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be.’ ” (John 19:24a). What a contrast between the innocent Lamb of God who was nearly stripped naked before a watching world to bear the shame of all our sin while Roman soldiers ignore Him because they were more concerned about accumulating wealth.

The Bible often describes our behavior as the clothes we wear. For example, Peter encourages us to be “clothed with humility” (I Peter 5:5). King David writes of the wicked person, “As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment.” (Psalm 109:18). Garments represent character, and like His tunic, Jesus’ character “was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” (John 19:23a, c). Christ’s life was like His tunic: “uninterrupted perfection.” 6

When John says Jesus’ tunic was “woven from the top,” Lucado suggests it means  “Jesus wasn’t led by his own mind; he was led by the mind of his Father. Listen to his words: ‘The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise’ (John 5:19 NRSV).

“’I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge’ (John 5:30 NRSV).

“The character of Jesus was a seamless fabric woven from heaven to earth… from God’s thoughts to Jesus’ actions. From God’s tears to Jesus’ compassion. From God’s word to Jesus’ response. All one piece. All a picture of the character of Jesus.” 7

But when the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, Christ took off His tunic of seamless perfection and put on a tunic of shame. Imagine what it was like for Jesus to be stripped down to a loin cloth in front of His own mother and loved ones. He was shamed before His family.

Jesus was also shamed before His accusers. While Jesus hung on the cross for a few hours, it seemed as though the religious leaders were the winners, and Christ was the Loser.

Worst of all, Jesus wore the shame of sin. Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (I Peter 2:24a). He not only was shamed before His family and before His accusers, He was shamed before heaven. Although Jesus had never murdered anyone or committed adultery, He felt the shame of the murderer and adulterer. Though He never lied or gossiped about anyone, He experienced the disgrace of the liar and the gossiper. Though He never lost control of His anger, He experienced the embarrassment of those who do. Though He never had any pride or selfishness, He felt the shame of the proud and the selfish. Because He became our Substitute, He felt “the collective shame of the world.” 8

Jesus experienced the shame of all our sin while hanging on that cross in our place. Why? So we can wear the garments of salvation. His garments were removed so we can wear the robe of His righteousness. Only those who believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life can say, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10).

The Bible tells us,But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). God clothes with His righteousness the person “who does not work.” Getting right with God is not based upon our works. It is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If our works could gain us the robe of God’s righteousness, then there was no need for Jesus to remove His garments and die in our place.

God puts His robe of righteousness on the person who “believes on Him who justifies the ungodly.” Getting right with God is not based upon behaving, but upon believing in Jesus Christ “who justifies the ungodly.” It does not matter how well you have behaved, you are still “ungodly” before a holy God. You may say, “Well, I’m not as bad as him or her.” You need to understand that God is not comparing your life to other sinful people. He is comparing your life to the only perfect Person who has ever lived on earth – Jesus Christ. And the Bible says, we  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). We all fall short of the seamless perfection of Jesus Christ.

The fact is that all people are “ungodly” sinners who deserve to be separated from God forever in a terrible place called the “lake of fire” (Romans. 3:9-23; Revelation 20:15). But the moment you believe in Jesus Christ alone, God gives you a right standing before Him as “your faith is accounted for righteousness.” He clothes you with His righteousness so that when He looks at your life, He sees the seamless perfection of His Son.

Even though it seemed like Jesus Christ had been defeated by wicked men as He suffered on the cross, John then reminds us that God is still in control when he writes, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.” (John 19:24b). The soldiers’ dividing of Jesus’ garments and casting lots for His inner tunic fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 22:18. Satan has not won a victory here. God used the wicked actions of wicked people to provide for our salvation. 9

Even though Jesus was shamed before His family, His accusers, and before heaven, He did not let this shame keep Him from finishing His work on the cross. Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus “endured the cross” by “despising the shame.” The word “despising” comes from a compound Greek word, kataphronéō, which means “against, down” (kata) and “to think” (phronéō).” 10  Literally it means “to think against” or “to think little of.”

Jesus was able to endure the embarrassment or humiliation of the cross and the sins He bore by “despising the shame” associated with them. He simply did not pay attention to that shame because it was not His and it was contrary to God’s original design for humanity (cf. Genesis 2:25). This shame was of little consequence compared to the surpassing “joy that was set before Him” when He would sit “down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ endured the pain and shame of the cross because of the joy that awaited Him on the other side when He would sit down on His everlasting throne next to His heavenly Father (cf. Hebrews 1:8-9).

Christ endured being abandoned by His closest friends, being falsely accused, being beaten, mocked, spit upon, stripped down to His undergarments in public, and nailed to a cross like a terrible criminal to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Matthew 26:47-27:44; John 19:1-24). Worst of all, Jesus endured being rejected by His own Father in heaven when the sins of the world were placed upon Him because God is holy and righteous and cannot be around sin (Matthew 27:45-46). Did Jesus enjoy this shameful treatment associated with His crucifixion? No!!! He despised or looked down with contempt toward the shame associated with His sufferings and our sins. Jesus is showing us that just because something bad happens to you does not make you bad.

Like Jesus, we may have experienced shame by being falsely accused. During our childhood we may have been told, “You are no good.” “You cannot do anything right.” “You will never amount to anything.” Or like Jesus, some of us have been abandoned by those closest to us. Perhaps a parent abandoned you physically at an early age or they abandoned you emotionally. They lived in the same house with you, but they did not provide the emotional nurturing and support you needed. Like Jesus, you may have been beaten physically by those in authority over you. As a result, the voice of shame told you that this happened to you because you are bad. You may have been mocked and verbally mistreated and the voice of shame said you deserved this. Like Jesus, we may have experienced the humiliation of being put on display with minimal clothes on (or no clothes on) in front of others.

Or may be you have been shamed because of your commitment to follow Jesus. Perhaps you have been abandoned by those closest to you, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of your love for Jesus. Please realize that Jesus understands how you feel because He has been through something similar (cf. Hebrews 4:15). Knowing He understands and sympathizes with us can embolden us to approach Him in prayer for His supernatural assistance. So instead of looking to our own shame whether it is based on our actions or the actions of others, we are to look to Jesus who despised the shame when He endured the cross on our behalf (Hebrew 12:2).

Prayer: PreciousLord Jesus, thank You for loving us so much that You were willing to have your garments removed so our shame could be replaced with the garments of salvation the moment we believe in You. Thank You for enduring the cross by despising the shame associated with it and the sins You bore, so we could be clothed with Your robe of righteousness. Knowing that You understand how we feel when we are abandoned by those closest to us or falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of our love for You, emboldens us to approach You in prayer for Your supernatural assistance to keep running the race You have set before us. We love You our Lord and our God. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 560.

2. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 482.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 354 cites Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1 (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912), pg. 625.

4. Ibid.

5. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 347.

6. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 73.

7. Ibid.

8. Adapted from Max Lucado’s He Chose The Nails, pg. 74.

9. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 347.

10. https://biblehub.com/greek/2706.htm.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 1

“Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ ” John 19:4

The cross or crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the two most important events in human history. The other most important event, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place three days after His death on the cross. The cross of Christ is central to what it means to be a Christian, especially a committed Christian who follows Jesus. Although Jesus’ death took place nearly 2,000 years ago, it has implications for every day of our lives. Even though the cross was such a huge and powerful event in history, it also applies to the parts of our lives that are mundane and routine.

My prayer for us is that as we look at the last day of Jesus’ life leading up to His crucifixion and the crucifixion itself, we will discover that this is not only something that happened 2,000 years ago, but it is something that impacts our lives today. I pray we will not only see this as an historical event from the first century, but also as an historical event which applies to our lives today and tomorrow.

In John 19:4-42, the apostle John has recorded different pictures containing lasting lessons from the last day of Jesus’ life before the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb containing His dead body. John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. He does not include everything that happened to Jesus on that day. When Luke wrote his gospel he wanted to make sure he included as much as he could (Luke 1:1-4). But since John already knew that Luke was written, he did not include everything. What John did include are some of the pictures we all need to know about when it comes to Who Jesus really is and who we truly are in light of this.  

Before we look at the details of what John wrote, we need to understand a couple of things: the person writing and his purpose for writing. When we understand the person who was writing and the purpose for which it was written, it magnifies the power of what we are going to read. The person writing says, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.” (John 19:35).

First, we see that “he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true.” He knows that he tells the truth. John, the writer of this gospel, was close to the cross. The other disciples, except Peter, fled when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56). Peter was close and then he denied Jesus and fled (Matthew 26:57-58, 75). But John the Apostle ends up being the one apostle that was there at the cross. 

The person writing is an eyewitness (“he who has seen has testified, and his testimony …”). This is an eyewitness account of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is different from any other gospel because of that. Matthew was an apostle of Jesus but he was not there at the cross. He talked to a lot of people who were there and wrote down what happened. But he was not there at the cross. He was an eyewitness of the resurrection. But he did not see with his own eyes what had happened at the cross. Mark and Luke compiled records from others, but they were not present at the cross. But John was there. 2  

So we have an eyewitness who was actually there sitting down to write down for us the images of what he saw that day Jesus died. When you think about it, that is amazing! Two thousand years later we can pick up what he wrote and look at this eyewitness account of what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life before the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb containing His dead body.

The second thing was the purpose for which it was written. This is not just historical details. John testified “so that you may believe.” John recorded these details to enable us to believe. When we look at the pictures that John is going to show us about the cross, the result that is intended to take place in our lives is not pity for Jesus. It is not a deeper interest in history. It is belief or trust. Belief in our lives towards the One Who loves us the most. Believing in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 20:31). The cross is intended to enable us to believe in Christ more and more and more in our daily lives, no matter how difficult or mundane those days are.

We already looked at how Jesus was brutally flogged and then mocked by the Roman soldiers (John 19:1-3). Now we see Jesus standing before Pilate and a hostile crowd. The first lasting lesson we will learn from this, is, LIKE PILATE, WE CAN AVOID DOING THE RIGHT THING BECAUSE OF THE COST INVOLVED (John 19:4-7).

“Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ ” (John 19:4). After severely injuring Jesus through scourging, Pilate came out of the Praetorium to speak to the Jews. He announced that he was presenting Jesus, beaten and mocked,as innocent when he said, “I find no fault in Him.” Pilate was saying that Christ deserved nothing more than ridicule. There was no criminal basis for further legal action.

“Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ ”(John 19:5). When we first read that as believers, we may think, “What an awesome thing Pilate just said. He brought Jesus before those who were taunting Him and said, ‘Behold the Man!’ We may read that to mean, “Here is the most amazing display of what a man could be, because He was God and man at the same time!”

But upon further study, I believe Pilate’s words were spoken in a manner intended to elicit pity. He was attempting to demonstrate to the Jews the absurdity of executing such a weak and unintimidating man. Christ probably looked pathetic – bruised, bloodied, and disfigured from the flogging and crown of thorns pushed down into His scalp with blood flowing down His face (cf. Isaiah 53:2b-3). When Pilate said, “Behold the Man!” he was saying, “What’s to be scared of in this man?” Of course Pilate was scared. They all were scared. He knew even his words were wrong. 3

I also believe it is possible that Pilate is also trying to honor Jesus. “Probably Pilate intended to appease the crowd, and John and the Holy Spirit intended the reader to see the deeper significance. Ironically, ‘Behold the Man!’ is the answer to Pilate’s own question, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38). Jesus is the truth (John 14:6). 4

“Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’ ” (John 19:6). Pilate hoped the spectacle would quench the crowd’s thirst for blood, but it only seemed to whet their appetite for more as they cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” For the third time Pilate affirms Jesus’ innocence when he said, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him” (cf. John 18:38; 19:4, 6).

John is portraying Jesus as the innocent Passover Lamb of God without blemish (Exodus 12:5; cf. John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, would die for you and me so we would not have to die forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). But we must come to Jesus on His terms which means believing in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life to escape the eternal punishment of the lake of fire (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15).

What an amazing picture John presents to us. Can you imagine John sitting down to write those words of Pilate before a hostile crowd? Here is Jesus standing before them in His bloodied purple robe with a crown of thorns that the soldiers put on His head. The priest are ridiculing Him and Pilate is shouting, “Behold the Man!”

When you compare all the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – you find that Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent seven different times (Matthew 27:24; Luke 23:4, 14, 22; John 18:38; 19:4, 6). Seven times he said, “I don’t find any guilt in Him. He has not done anything wrong. He is not the guilty one here. Why don’t we let Him go?” Some way or another Pilate said, “He has no guilt.” If he is the Roman governor and he has the power of life or death in Jerusalem and he said seven different times there is no guilt in this man, why didn’t Pilate release Jesus?

I believe the reason was more than politics in this case. The primary reason that Pilate did not release Jesus is it did not cost him anything. What do I mean by this? As we said in previous articles, Pilate created much antagonism between himself and the Jews on a number of occasions.

“He was a weak leader who made some serious blunders early in his rule. He had his soldiers march into the temple area with shields bearing the image of Caesar, which to the Jews was idolatrous desecration. Caiaphas called out 2,000 Jews who surrounded Pilate’s house in protest. He foolishly threatened to slaughter them, a threat that politically he couldn’t carry out. When he had to back off, he lost face and undermined his leadership.

“Later, he built an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem, but he used funds from the Jewish temple tax to pay for the project. The Jews rioted and this time Pilate did slaughter many of them. The Jewish leaders protested to the Emperor Tiberius, who issued a scathing rebuke to Pilate for his poor leadership. Since Tiberius was notoriously paranoid and had executed many for trivial reasons, Pilate couldn’t risk another complaint to Rome by his subjects. He hated the Jews, but he knew that they held the upper hand over him.” 5

So Pilate did not want to cause further tension with the Jews who might quickly notify the Emperor and put Pilate at risk of losing his position as governor. Pilate did not want to risk his political career by releasing Jesus.

After Pilate affirmed Jesus’ innocence again (John 19:6b), the Jews took a different approach to persuade him to grant their illegal wish. “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’ ” (John 19:7). Earlier the Jews had tried to kill Jesus by stoning Him when He claimed to be equal with God the Father (cf. John 10:27-33). They considered it blasphemy for a human being to claim equality with God. 6  Even though Jesus had not violated the Roman law, the Jews thought perhaps Pilate could be persuaded to enforce their Jewish law by appealing to the Mosaic law which called for the death penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).

Now Pilate is afraid! “As a superstitious Roman, he believed that sometimes the gods came incognito to earth. If you treated them well, they would look out for you in the future. But if you treated them badly, they would make life miserable for you.” 7  To increase Pilate’s fear, his wife sent word to him as he examined Jesus and said, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19).

It may be easy for us to criticize Pilate in this situation. Granted, he was morally weak and self-serving. He was not a strong or wise leader. But let’s put ourselves in his place for a moment. Would you risk losing your job, your comfortable way of life, and perhaps your life to defend an innocent man? Have you ever avoided doing what is right because of the cost involved?

For example, have you ever compromised your integrity at work to keep your job? The boss asks you to falsify some records and lie to cover his wrongful actions. When you hesitate, he suggests that if you don’t comply, he can find someone else to take your job who will comply. What do you do?

Pilate didn’t have anything against Jesus and he thought that Jesus was innocent of the charges; but to do the right thing and free Jesus would have cost Pilate dearly. So he rejected Christ, thinking that he was protecting his own interests. 8  But in reality, he lost his peace of mind by condemning an innocent man to death!

Whenwe avoid publicly identifying with Jesus Christ as our Lord at our school or at our work to avoid rejection or conflict, we are behaving like Pilate did. If we are saying to ourselves in any situation in life, that we cannot let other people know that Jesus is our Lord, then we are thinking about the cost. What is it going to cost me in my job or in my school or even in my family? We must be honest with ourselves. We can show the same weakness of Pilate in our lives. The key is, are we willing to admit this? If not, we are making ourselves more susceptible of repeating the same mistake that Pilate made.

Prayer: Lord God, there is such a contrast between the innocent Lamb of God and the selfish and self-serving governor named Pontius Pilate. But are any of us really any different than Pilate? If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we, too, have refused to do what is right to avoid the cost involved. We have denied any association with You in public to avoid conflict or persecution. We have compromised out integrity at work, at school, or even in our families to avoid loss of some kind. Lord Jesus, You already know these things about us and yet You still love us. In fact, You died for these wrongful things we have done. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for being so merciful and gracious with us. Please grant us the power to do what is right no matter what the cost. May our desire to please You override any tendency to compromise what is right in Your eyes. You did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. May that spirit manifest itself in everything we do. For Your name’s sake we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 557.

5. Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)” at www.Bible.org.

6. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 557.

7. Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus?

8. Ibid.

Lesson 1 Part 2 – Sharing the Gospel (Video)

This video provides practical instruction on how to share the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ with those who do not have Christ in their lives. If you are eager to introduce people to the Savior of the world, this video will equip you to do just that! This video is also great for those who do not know for sure they will go to heaven when they die. The contents of this video will clearly show them from the Bible what they must know and believe to go to heaven.

How can we endure difficult times? Part 6

“Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him.” John 18:12

In the first twelve verses of John 18, we are learning how to endure difficult times. So far we have discovered we can do this when we…

– Learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a).

– Look to the Lord in prayer (John 18:1b).

– Lean on the power of Christ (John 18:2-8a). 

– Listen to the command of Christ (John 18:8b).      

– Let Christ protect us now (John 18:9-11).

The sixth and final way to endure difficult times is to LET CHRIST HAVE YOUR BURDENS BECAUSE HE UNDERSTANDS (John 18:12; cf. Hebrews 4:15). The apostle John writes, “Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him.” (John 18:12). Although the disciples were not arrested, Jesus was “arrested… and bound.” The word “arrested” (synelabon) means “to grasp together or seize.” 1 Since Jesus offered no resistance, it is not clear why they “bound” the Lord. Perhaps they were afraid Jesus might use His supernatural powers and attempt to escape.

This verse is especially powerful for those who are incarcerated. They have been arrested. Jesus was also arrested. Christ was arrested even though He was innocent. There are some in prison today who were arrested even though they were innocent. Jesus was falsely accused. Some prisoners may have also been falsely accused. Christ has much in common with those in jail or prison. As some of you reading this article know, being arrested is not a pleasant experience, especially if you are innocent. Christ understands what it is like to be arrested. He knows what it is like to be falsely accused. He understands how you feel, and He wants to help you. He has a greater capacity to care for you because He understands what you have gone through (cf. Hebrews 4:15).

The Bible says, 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7). Christ cares more for you than any other person in the universe. Let Him have your burdens and worries. 

John wrote his gospel so non-Christians “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). As you read this, you may not know for sure that you will go to heaven when you die. We have learned several truths from John 18:1-12 about Jesus that compel us to believe in Him for everlasting life:

1. Believe in Jesus because He loves you and paid the full penalty for your sins (John 18:1a; 1:29; 19:30). When Christ crossed over the Brook of Kidron which was soaked with the blood of the Passover Lambs, He was reminded that as the Lamb of God, He would be sacrificed on a cross for the sin of the world (John 1:29). Christ could have turned around and run to safety. But He did not. Why? Because of His great love for you and me. Jesus continued up to the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that He would be arrested and crucified for you and for me. That’s how much He loves us! Christ loves you and me whether we are a good moral person or a person who has spent more time in jail than out of jail. Even when we are at our worst, God still gives us His very best. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Jesus loves us and wants to begin a forever relationship with us. Believe in Him.

2. Believe in Jesus because He has prayed for you (John 18:1b; cf. 17:20-26; Luke 22:39-43). When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was thinking of our sins being placed on Him when He would die on the cross. This is why the Bible tells us that  “He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.” (Matthew 26:37). Christ was overwhelmed by the thought of being separated from His Father in heaven as our sins would be placed upon Him. Yet Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup [of suffering] away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Through prayer, Jesus submitted to His Father’s will which included dying for our sins in our place.

3. Believe in Jesus because there is power in His name to give you eternal life and keep you secure forever (John 18:2-8a; cf. 10:28-29; 20:31). Since Jesus has the power to make an army fall down before Him, He also has the power to give us eternal life which can never be lost. The Bible tells us, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). “No other name” – not Muhammed (Islam), Buddha (Buddhism), Confucius (Confucianism), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah Witnesses), Ellen G. White (Seventh-Day Adventist), Theophilus Lindsey (Unitarianism), Rubin Ecleo (PBMA), Apollo Carreón Quiboloy (Restoration Church/ Kingdom of Jesus Christ), Felix Manalo (Iglesia Ni Cristo), Eli Soriano (Ang Datin Daan) – nor any other religious founders can save us from our sins. Only Jesus Christ can save us from our sins because He paid our sin debt in full when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:1-8), proving that His claim to be God is true (Romans 1:3-4). Believe in Him.

4. Believe in Jesus because He has the power of command (John 18:8b). When the Roman soldiers and temple guards came to arrest Jesus, Christ tells them what to do and they follow His orders. They don’t arrest any of His disciples because He has the power of command. If we are going to go to heaven when we die, we must listen to and obey the command to believe in Christ for everlasting life. “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ…” (I John 3:23). There are many religious leaders commanding us what to do to go to heaven – pray toward the east five times a day. Go to church. Turn from your sins. Confess your sins. Meditate. Pray every day. Be baptized with water. Give to the poor. Keep the Sabbath. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But none of these are things Jesus commanded us to do to have everlasting life. What did Jesus say to do to have everlasting life? “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Do you believe this? If you do, Jesus guarantees that you now have everlasting life.

5. Believe in Jesus Who will protect you forever (John 18:9-11). Just as Jesus protected Peter and the other disciples physically from the well-armed soldiers and guards, He will also protect us spiritually forever the moment we believe in Him (John 10:28-29). No one will be able to overpower Christ and take His eternal life away from us. We are secure in His hands forever.

6. Believe in Jesus because He understands your need for eternal life (John 18:12; cf. Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). All of us deserve to be in a spiritual prison forever in a place called hell because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:23; Revelation 20:15). Our sin separates us from God because He is holy and righteous and cannot be around our sin (Isaiah 59:2; 64:6; Romans 6:23). Just as Jesus understands what it is like to be arrested and falsely accused, He also knows how it feels to be separated from God because the sin of the world was placed on Him when He died on the cross, causing Him to be temporarily separated from His heavenly Father (cf. Matthew 27:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Christ does not want you to die forever in hell (I Timothy 2:3-4). This is why He died in your place and rose from the dead – so you could live with Him forever in heaven. All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47; cf. John 4:10-14; 11:25-26; Romans 6:23b).

When you believe in Jesus for His gift, Christ gives you everlasting life starting at that moment of faith (John 6:47). How long does everlasting life last? Forever! Does eternal life ever end? No. So even if you sin tomorrow, next month, or next year, do you still have everlasting life? Yes, because Jesus remains faithful to His promise of everlasting life (John 3:16; 6:47) even if we are unfaithful to Him (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).

The Bible also says that when you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you become a member of God’s family forever. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” So if you believed in Jesus for eternal life, God is now your Father and you are His child forever. If God is your Father and He is my Father, what does that make you and me? Brothers and sisters in Christ because we now have the same Father in heaven. It does not matter what color of skin you have or what culture you are from. If you believe in Jesus, we are family because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The color of His blood is the same as yours and mine.

And when you believe in Jesus, He comes to live inside you (Galatians 2:20) through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13-14). And He promises never to leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). So if Jesus always lives inside you, do you ever have to feel lonely? No. You may feel lonely at times, but your feelings can lie to you. Focus on the truth of God’s Word instead of your feelings.

The Bible also says that when you believed in Jesus, you now have a future home in heaven (John 3:16; Revelation 21-22). So there is no need to be afraid of death. Even if people threaten to kill you for sharing Christ, you do not need to be afraid because Christ guarantees to take you to heaven the moment you take your last breath (John 11:25-26; 14:2-3; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23).

If you have never understood and believed this before today, but now you do – you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life gets you to heaven. This prayer is simply a way to tell God you are now trusting in His Son. If you would like, you can say to God:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died in my place on a cross and rose from the dead. I am now trusting in You alone, Jesus (not my prayers, my religion, or my good life), to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You, Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.”

Diagram 1

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus Christ, please download our free digital discipleship materials on this website (see diagram 1) to go through with other people who are seeking to know Jesus. Thank you, and may Jesus richly bless you.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 776; Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V: John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 286.

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).

Is water baptism necessary to go to heaven?

Some students of the Bible do believe that water baptism is necessary for eternal salvation. They refer to six debatable verses to argue that one must be baptized with water in order to go to heaven. But this assertion clearly contradicts the New Testament teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. For example, if water baptism is necessary to obtain eternal life, why didn’t Jesus say, “He who believes in Me [and is baptized] has eternal life” in John 6:47? Why didn’t Luke write, “[Be baptized and] believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” in Acts 16:31? Why didn’t the apostle Paul say, “For by grace you have been saved through [baptism and] faith” in Ephesians 2:8? If water baptism is necessary for salvation, why did the apostle Paul say that preaching the gospel was more important than water baptism when he wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17)? Paul makes it clear that water baptism is not part of the gospel message. Paul did not baptize many people because water baptism is not necessary for salvation from hell (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16).

Obviously God did not intend for us to let six unclear verses interpret the over 200 clear verses that teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). So if these six verses are not referring to salvation from hell, then to what are they referring?

– “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4

John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a call for the nation of Israel to change their mind about their sin and the Person of Jesus Christ. The word “repentance” is from the Greek word metanoia, a compound word from meta, “after,” and nóēma, “thought.” Together it means to an after thought or a change of mind. John was calling the nation of Israel to change its mind because the Messiah God was coming from heaven to set up His Kingdom. John says they need to repent and change their mind about their own condition and/or the coming Messiah so they can trust in Him as their Savior and He will set up His kingdom. This was a self-righteous nation that needed to recognize its own sinfulness and need for a Savior.

John the Baptist’s baptism had no saving value. It was designed to prepare the Jewish people to place their faith in the coming Messiah according to Acts 19:4: 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.’” Those Jews who were baptized by John realized their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves. John’s baptism initiated them into the community of people who anticipated the coming Messiah, Who alone could save them from their sins.

– “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

Water baptism in Mark 16:16 cannot refer to salvation from hell because this would contradict over 200 clear verses in the New Testament which teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). God’s Word will not contradict Itself.

Jesus used the word “believe” three times in Mark 16:15-17. Notice that failure to believe results in condemnation, not failure to be baptized which is consistent with John 3:18. If water baptism is necessary for salvation, we would expect the Lord to have said, “He who does not believe [and is not baptized] will be condemned.” But He does not say this because water baptism is not a condition for salvation from hell. What this means is even if a person is baptized with water but does not believe the gospel, he or she will still be condemned to hell. Clearly, the only condition for condemnation is failure to believe, not failure to be baptized with water.

It is better to understand the word “baptized” as a reference to Spirit baptism which takes place the moment a person believes in Christ for the gift of salvation (Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). In Mark 1:8, John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This is supported further in the context of Mark 16:16. Christ said “these signs will follow those who believe” and then He lists the miraculous signs that will accompany the preaching of the gospel to “confirm” the message (Mark 16:17-20) and the apostolic messenger (2 Cor. 12:12). These miraculous signs accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the early church (Acts 2:1ff). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual baptism. It places believers into the body of Christ forever and joins them spiritually to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ the moment they believe the gospel (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:11, 13). Water baptism is necessary for discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20), but not for salvation.

– “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ ” John 3:5

When Jesus refers to being “born of water” He is speaking of physical birth. Christ explains this in the next verse. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Christ is saying that a person must first be born physically before he can be born spiritually. So to be “born of water” refers to the amniotic fluid which breaks when a baby is delivered. To be “born of the Spirit” refers to our spiritual birth into God’s family the moment we believe in Christ (John 3:15-16; cf. John 1:12). The Bible does not contradict itself. John makes it clear that the only condition for eternal life is belief in Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-27; 20:31). The clear must always interpret the unclear.

– “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

After preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem (Acts 2:22-35), the apostle Peter informed them “that God has made this Jesus, whom” they “crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36). When these Jews felt sorrow or regret about what they did to their “Lord and Christ,” they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter told them to “Repent” (metanoeō) or change their mind about their wrong view of Jesus and then believe in Him for salvation from Hell (2:38a). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

Acts 3:19-4:4 also supports this usage of the verb “repent.” After Peter and John healed the lame man (3:1-10), Peter preached the death and resurrection of Christ to his Jewish audience (3:11-18) and invites his audience to “repent” or change their view of Christ and see that He is the Messiah. His Jewish audience was thinking, “If Jesus is the Messiah, then where is His Messianic Kingdom?” Peter explains that if they would “repent” and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, His Messianic Kingdom would commence (3:19-26; cf. Mark 1:15). How did these Jews respond? “Many of those who heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4). 

Several factors must be taken into consideration to properly understand Acts 2:38: 

1. Throughout the book of Acts we see that salvation is byfaith alone in Christ alone as taught by Philip (8:12, 37), Peter (10:43; 15:7-11), and Paul (13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31). God’s Word does not contradict itself, so Acts 2:38 must be talking about something more than salvation from hell. 

2. The distinction between regeneration and forgiveness. Regeneration is imparting the very life of God at the moment of faith in Christ to the believer (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1). Therefore, it is judicial and cannot be changed. Forgiveness, on the other hand, involves the restoration of harmony between God and believers (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). 

The Bible speaks of two types of forgiveness: Positional forgiveness involves the pardon of past, present and future sins at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14). This is a one-time event and cannot be changed. Fellowship forgiveness involves closeness to God, and it can be lost and restored repeatedly throughout a Christian’s life (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). For example, when you are born into your earthly family you will always be your parents’ child no matter what (regeneration), but closeness with your parents can be broken by your disobedience and restored by confession and forgiveness (fellowship). The same is true in our relationship with God. 

3. The meaning of repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means “to change one’s mind.” Whenever this word is used in a salvation context, it means “to change your mind about whatever is keeping you from trusting Christ and then trust Him to save you” (cf. Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). 

4. The book of Acts is dealing with a transitional time in God’s program. The birth of the Church takes place in Acts 2. For a brief period of time after the birth of the Church, people were not baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13) at the moment of faith in Christ. For example, Samaritan believers (Acts 8:12-17), disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2-6), and Saul (22:1-16) received the Holy Spirit after they were baptized with water. But Cornelius and his family all received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43-48) which is the normative experience for believers today (cf. Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 19:5; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). Why the difference?

Palestinian Jews who had helped crucify Christ had to be baptized to be placed in the Church and have fellowship with God. That is, in order to enter into closeness with Christ, they had to publicly identify with Him through water baptism because they had earlier rejected Christ publicly when they participated in His crucifixion. This is why Gentiles in Acts 10:43-48, who had no part in Christ’s crucifixion, received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ and were baptized later. 

So when we come to Acts 2:36-38, Peter says to his Jewish audience, “’36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (2:36-37). Peter has just preached that Jesus, whom His Jewish audience had personally helped to crucify, was both Lord and Christ (2:22-26). Peter replies, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

The forgiveness spoken of in Acts 2:38 is fellowship forgiveness, just as we see in I John 1:9. For these Jews guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they had to be baptized and receive forgiveness for this sin of rejecting Christ in order to have fellowship with God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without water baptism they would still have eternal life because they believed in Jesus (Acts 2:41, 44; 4:4; cf. John 3:16;  I John 5:1), but they would not escape the temporal judgment coming upon their sinful generation for crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:40). 

– “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16

This verse is parallel in thought to Acts 2:38. Saul of Tarsus was saved on the road to Damascus, as seen in Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul said he received his Gospel directly from the Lord Jesus and not from any man. Paul must have been saved on the Road to Damascus because this is where Jesus spoke directly to Paul (Acts 9:3-6). In the above verse, Ananias commanded Saul to be baptized so that he might receive the forgiveness of his sins or the same fellowship forgiveness seen in Acts 2:38 and I John 1:9. Paul was regenerated on the road to Damascus, but received fellowship forgiveness for persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4) when he was baptized three days later by Ananias (Acts 22:16; 9:17).

This explains why Ananias called Saul, “Brother Saul,” (Acts 9:17; 22:13) and why he didn’t command him to believe in Christ. Saul already believed in Christ for eternal life on the road to Damascus. The demand to be baptized for forgiveness of sins was imposed upon Palestinians who had openly rejected Christ and is never directed toward Gentiles (Acts 8:36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). Therefore, these accounts in Acts 2 and 22 are the exception, not the norm.

There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21

Before we can properly understand this verse, we must look at the preceding verses: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). Christ took our place and punishment when He died on the cross and was made alive by the Spirit (3:18). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ preached through Noah to the unbelievers (“spirits”) of Noah’s day (3:19-20).

Why refer to Noah in this context? Because Noah’s deliverance is a picture (“antitype”) of the kind of baptism mentioned in verse 21 – Spirit baptism. The water did not save Noah and his family. The ark saved them. Just as the waters of God’s judgment fell upon the ark and not Noah, so God’s eternal judgment fell upon Christ and not us (3:18). Furthermore, just as Noah and his family escaped God’s watery judgment by being placed in the ark, likewise Christians escape God’s eternal judgment by being placed in Christ through Spirit baptism the moment they believe in Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27). When Noah came out of the ark, he entered into a new life – a world that had been cleansed of sin. Likewise, Spirit baptism places us in a new relationship to Christ so we can experience a new kind of resurrection life (Romans 6:3-5).

Spirit baptism not only saves us from Hell, but it also saves us from the power of sin. Peter says that this baptism is not a physical cleansing (“the removal of the filth of the flesh”), but a spiritual cleansing (“the answer of a good conscience toward God”). Spirit baptism gives us a good conscience regarding our past sin and guilt and enables us to live victoriously now in the power of the resurrection.

Some people will ask “What about infant baptism?” To make a disciple you need first a person who has believed. Infants are not able to understand their need to believe in Christ. Therefore, parents should wait until their child is old enough to believe and understand the true meaning of baptism before he or she is baptized.

Some churches practice infant baptism as a means of committing the child to be reared in the church under the influence of spiritual teachers (Pastors, Sunday School teachers, etc.). This can be called a “baptism of confirmation” for children. This ceremony is intended to be a covenant between the parents and God on the behalf of the child. The parents promise to raise their child in the faith until the child is old enough to make his own personal confession of Christ. This custom began about 300 years after the Bible was completed. It is not in the Bible. This is different from the baptism talked about in the Bible which was only for those old enough to believe. Some churches do provide Baby Dedications whereby the child is committed to the Lord and the parents publicly confess their commitment to raise the child according to the principles in the Bible.

Conclusion: Water baptism is not a necessary for salvation or going to heaven. Only believing in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead is necessary to go heaven (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 8:12, 37; 10:43; 15:7-11; 13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31; Romans 4:5; I Corinthians 15:1-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). However, water baptism is a condition for discipleship (Matthew 28:19) and is to be done as soon as possible after a person believes in Christ for His gift of salvation (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:6-13, 36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). When a believer is baptized with water, he is telling God and those who witness his baptism, that he desires to follow Jesus as His disciple no matter what the cost (cf. Matthew 10:16-39; 28:19-20; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8).