Revelation 3 – Part 1

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5

Jesus now addresses the fifth church in Asia Minor. “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” ‘ (Revelation 3:1). Sardis was located a little over thirty miles southeast of Thyatira and was a glorious city in the past. In the sixth century BC it was considered one of the greatest cities on earth and was ruled by the wealthy King Croesus (called Midas by the Greeks because of his golden treasures). But by the time John wrote to the church there in the first century AD, the city’s greatness lay in the distant past. Unfortunately, the church at Sardis had the same problem—a great past but dismal conditions in the present. So, the Lord gives this church the steps they need to come alive again as well as a warning if they fail to do so.” 1

When the ascended Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the seven Spirits of God,” He is telling this church that He knows their true spiritual condition because He possesses the all-knowing Spirit of God(cf. Revelation 1:4b-5a). 2 Nothing escapes the notice of our Lord. Christ also “has the seven stars” or seven angels of the seven churches (cf. 1:20) to remind them of His Lordship over the entire church.

Although they had a good reputation among other churches for being “alive,” the Lord Jesus knew their true condition. This was the kind of church about which people today might say, “They have great music, great preaching, great outreach, a great children’s ministry, and beautiful buildings.” But because Jesus knew their “works,” He could say they were “dead” inwardly without any spiritual life (3:1b). “They were merely playing church.” 3

Like the Pharisees, their outer appearance was a facade hiding their lack of life (cf. Matt. 23:27-28).” 4

“Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the ‘monument’ stage, but there was still hope!” 5

The remedy for this condition is given by Jesus in the next few verses. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” (Revelation 3:2). The city of Sardis had fallen into enemy hands more than once, due to the carelessness of sentries who had relied too much on the town’s natural fortifications. 6 The Lord now commanded the church to “be watchful [alert] and strengthen” the areas of weakness in their church “that are ready to die.” The Lord wants His people to be diligent in protecting every element of good that remained in their church. They were not to be careless about this or allow any  more of the good that was still in existence to be cast aside as it had been in the past. 7

The Lord Jesus did not find their “works perfect [complete] before God.” The believers in Sardis tended to begin things but never finish them as God desired (cf. Acts 14:26). Do our churches resemble the church at Sardis? Does our outward appearance hide our lack of spiritual life? Did we start out strong for the Lord only to weaken over time and lose the vitality that once was so contagious? Have we held fast to the gospel of grace that transformed our lives, or have we turned away from the “faith alone” gospel to a “faith plus” gospel that promotes reformation instead of transformation?

Jesus then says, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:3). To overcome their spiritual deadness, these believers needed to “remember” the biblical instruction they “received and heard” from their spiritual leaders. Sound doctrine is always the foundation of a church that brings honor and glory to God (cf. Titus 2:1-15).” 8

They were also to “hold fast” to this instruction and “repent” and change their attitudes that led to their spiritual deadness. If they did not arise from their spiritual deadness, the Lord would “come upon” them “as a thief,” swiftly and unexpectedly to discipline them for their carelessness and superficial spirituality.

Jesus held out eternal rewards for the faithful “few” in Sardis. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4). The all-knowing Judge knew of a “few names… in Sardis who” had “not defiled their garments” and “shall walk with” Christ “in white” because they are “worthy” or deserving. This cannot refer to salvation because no one deserves to be saved from hell. The Bible clearly says that salvation is a free gift apart from any works (Romans 6:23b; 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:6; 22:17).  Instead, walking with Christ in white is a privilege reserved for the faithful believer who is undefiled in his Christian life.

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5). The risen Lord Jesus promises to the “overcomer” who is “worthy” (3:4) to be honored, the following eternal rewards:

– “Clothed in white garments.”  “White garments” are symbolic of one’s works (cf. 19:8) and are pure and free of defilement (cf. 7:9, 13; 19:14; Matthew 22:11-12). “In the ancient world, white robes also connoted festivity and victory.” 9 “Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs.” 10 Only the believers who remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth could enjoy His intimate fellowship in His coming Kingdom (“walk with Me”; cf. 7:14; 22:14). 11

Wilkin provides a helpful insight about this reward. “Keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Himself will be clothed in dazzling white garments that will outshine all others. His glory will be supreme.

“When at the Mount of Transfiguration He appeared in His glory, ‘His clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2). Special clothing is not insignificant, because it honors a person. The more glorious the garments, the more honor to the wearer.

“Like the sun, the Lord’s garments will have maximum radiance. The garments of great servants like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Deborah, Esther, and Mary will surely glow brightly. But theirs will be reflected glory, like the glory of the moon that reflects the glory of the sun.

“Would you not want to be identified as closely as possible with the Lord Jesus and glorify Him, even in your clothing? The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.” 12

– An honored name that is supremely secure. When Jesus says He will “not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” Armenians teach that Jesus is saying a non-overcoming (unfaithful) believer can lose his salvation. 13 But this would be contrary to Jesus’ teachings in John’s writings elsewhere. For example, Jesus taught, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith “shall never hunger” or “thirst” for eternal life again because the need He met can never reoccur. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we are unfaithful to Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).

Christ also said, 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:38-39). Jesus came down from heaven to do His Father’s will which was that all whom the Father had given Him should lose nothing, including their salvation. If Jesus failed to keep believers from losing their salvation, He would have failed to do His Father’s will. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God. But Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father.

Jesus said, 2And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29). Christ gives eternal life because it is a gift from Him. We do not earn it. Secondly, He also guarantees that a believer “shall never perish.” Eternal life is God’s life. You can no more perish in hell than God can perish in hell. If a believer in Jesus could lose his salvation, then Jesus just told a lie. Jesus also promises that “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Because Jesus securely holds each believer in His hand and no one – not a lion, wolf, thief, bandit, false teacher, popular speaker, demon, devil, not even you yourself – are strong enough to snatch (John 10:12) them out of His hand. The word “snatch” (harpasei) means “to snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly or vehemently.” It is impossible for even one sheep to be removed from the hand of our Good Shepherd. And no matter how strong or persuasive they are, not one of His sheep can wriggle out of His grasp.

If you are still not convinced that a believer in Jesus is secure forever, Christ adds, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” The hand of Jesus holding the believer is secure in the hand of God the Father. And no one is strong enough to snatch a believer from the hand of God the Father. In other words, the believer is doubly secure.

If a believer ever lost his or her salvation, Christ would have failed to keep these promises and many more. To properly understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:5), it is important to answer an important question.

What is the Book of Life? There appear to be several “books” or records that God keeps in heaven (cf. Revelation 20:12). Since God is all-knowing, “He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a ‘book’ is an example of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand.” 14  

There is the “Book of the Living,” namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exodus 32:32-33; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3). 15 To have one’s name removed from this book refers to physical death. But the “Book of Life” in Revelation refers to all those who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27). 16

It is best to understand Jesus’ words, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5), as another litotes (cf. 2:11) 17 which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. Jesus is saying, “If you remain undefiled to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure.”

Dillow writes, John is saying that, even if we are ridiculed and ultimately killed for our faith here on earth so that our name is dishonored and forgotten, we will, if we persevere, enjoy a heavenly reputation for all eternity. Our name will never be blotted out in heaven. No Christian will ever have his person blotted out of the book of life, even carnal ones. The overcomers are being reminded that, even though others can destroy them on earth, they cannot ruin the believer’s heavenly name.” 18

Such an honored name will be forever cherished by Jesus throughout eternity, which leads to the third reward.

– Christ said, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5 cf.Matthew 10:32-33; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:8; 19:17, 19). Only worthy or faithful believers will have their name publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels.

Only those Christians who acknowledge Christ now will be acknowledged by Him then. Only those Christians who are overcomers now will have their names acknowledged before the Father and His angels (Revelation 3:5). But having one’s name ‘acknowledged’ [confessed] is not the same as being declared saved. Rather, it refers to the public testimony by the Son of God to the faithful life of the obedient Christian. Conversely, not having one’s name acknowledged is to forfeit the Master’s ‘Well done.’” 19

This confession is functionally the positive idea implied in the litotes (no erasure of his name means a magnifying of his name, i.e., magnification by Christ’s personal acknowledgement before the Father and His angels).” 20

The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus during this church age will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards according to their works (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12) during the Tribulation period. Believers who lived in disobedience and failed to grow spiritually, like the believers in Sardis, “will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). Although they have eternal life by believing in Jesus, they will suffer the loss of rewards and be denied the praise that Christ could have given them before His heavenly Father and the holy angels if they had been faithful to the Lord’s calling in their lives.

Christ concludes, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:6). Not all Christians will be overcomers by remaining faithful to Jesus to the end of their lives. Only those who have “an ear” and “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promises and live as “overcomers” so they may receive these glorious eternal rewards.

Imagine being on the new earth with King Jesus in the future, and He publicly honors you by acknowledging your name before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. If you are the kind of person who likes to receive approval, praise, and recognition before others, this acknowledgement or confession of your eternally honored name in the future by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, will greatly motivate you to persevere in faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus now, no matter what the cost. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our hearts and what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him, even when people dishonor or forget our names on earth now.

In summary, Christians who watch expectantly for Christ’s return and live undefiled Christian lives will receive a three-fold reward consisting of dazzling eternal clothes, an eternally honored name, which will be publicly praised before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity (3:1-6).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, only You are qualified to judge Your church. Thank You for warning the church in Sardis (and us) of the danger of looking good on the outside to hide the lack of spiritual life on the inside. Thank You for warning us of the loss of reward and for giving us the remedy for our spiritually immature condition. Lord Jesus, we do not want to compromise our faith and waste our Christian lives by living selfishly. Please help us to stay spiritually alert and remember what we have been taught by godly teachers in the past. Thank You for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by You before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to You now no matter what the cost. To hear Your praise, Lord Jesus, in eternity, is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us so You will receive maximum honor and glory in eternity. In Your mighty and most honorable name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; 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), pp. 1509-1510.

2. Ibid., pg. 1510.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

4. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 46 cites, Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 577.  

6. Constable, pp. 46-47.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1510.

8. Ibid.

9. Constable, pg. 47 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 155.

10. Constable, pg. 47 cites R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 1, International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg.  78.

11. Constable, pg. 47.

12. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 46.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 684 cites J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (Scottsdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961), pp. 329-331.

14. Constable, pg. 48.

15. Ibid.

16. Dillow, pg. 685.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1511; Constable, pg. 49; Dillow, pg. 687 cites Martin Loyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), pp. 314ff.

18. Dillow, pg. 687.

19. Ibid., pp. 687-688.

20. Vacendak, pg. 1511.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 6

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” John 21:10

After Jesus miraculously enabled the disciples to catch a net full of fish, John recognized it was the Lord on the shore, so Peter dove into the sea to swim over to Jesus and the other disciples rode on their little boat to shore (John 21:6-8). When they arrived on shore, they saw Jesus cooking fish and bread over a fire of coals (John 21:9). John then informs us, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” (John 21:10). Even though there was already one “fish” 1 on the fire (John 21:9), Jesus instructed the disciples to “bring some of the fish” 2  that they had “caught” (John 21:10). Why doesn’t the Lord miraculously multiply the one fish to feed these disciples? Why does He invite them to bring some of their own fish?

There are several attempts to explain this invitation. Some suggest Jesus did this because He wanted His disciples “to feel they had contributed in some way to the meal. Most dinner guests like to contribute a dish to the meal, and Jesus may have simply been sensitive to this need.” 3  Others say “this was all symbolic of how Jesus would carry out His mission through His disciples in the future, compared with how He had done it during His pre-cross ministry.” 4 Another says, “I believe our Lord’s object was to show the disciples that the secret of success was to work at His command, and to act with implicit obedience to His word.” 5  The explanation I like the best is that Jesus simply wanted them to enjoy His company so He invites them to bring some of their fish and have a meal with Him. 6  

Some people think the resurrected Lord Jesus is a phantom or a figment of their imagination. But John is telling us in this last chapter of his gospel that the resurrected Lord Jesus is real. He has built a fire for His disciples who are tired and hungry. He is cooking some fish and bread and invites them to join Him. He is sitting around the fire with His close friends to enjoy a delicious meal while they fellowship with one another. I can just imagine them talking with Jesus about their all-night fishing expedition with nothing to show for it and then suddenly, after they cast their net on the other side of their boat, they catch so many fish they cannot even haul it into their boat. This is a real relationship with the resurrected Christ. And this is what Jesus invites us to enjoy. So our sixth lesson is this: ACCEPT JESUS’ INVITATION TO ENJOY HIS COMPANY (JOHN 21:10).

There are people who think their relationship with the resurrected Christ is so spiritual, it is not real. It does not fit into their everyday life. They can experience the resurrected Lord Jesus at church when they are singing with other believers, but it is extremely difficult for them to experience Him on Monday morning. But these verses in John 21 are telling us how we can have breakfast with Jesus on a beach in the real daily experiences of our lives. We can experience a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord Jesus.  

These seven disciples returned to fishing while they waited for Jesus to meet them in Galilee. But Jesus was there on the shore. He knew they had been fishing all night without catching anything. He knew where the fish were so He instructed them to cast their net on the other side of their boat and they caught so many fish they could not haul them all into their boat. When they arrived on the shore, He invites them to bring some of their fish to enjoy with Him.

What I believe God is saying to us is that through His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us no matter where we go or what we do (cf. John 14:16-18). And He wants to be part of our daily lives. He wants us to experience His presence whether we are up in the mountains or out on a lake. He wants us to experience His presence in the city or out on a farm. When we realize that Jesus’ presence is everywhere we don’t have to fit Him into certain places at certain times. He can be part of every moment of our lives.

Christ wants to hang out with His disciples. He wants to spend time with His best friends. He wanted to eat a meal with them and He had some things to share with them. And He wants to do the same with you and me.

When is the last time you hung out with the risen Lord Jesus just to hang out? Unfortunately for many of us, we are so focused on our growth and ministry for Christ and making an eternal difference for Him in the world, that we don’t just hang out with Him. Every time we relate to Him we talk about some big problem or some issue that is so huge that it tires us out spiritually.

But when is the last time we simply hung out with the risen Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, I am so glad You are here!” If you are like me, you don’t do that often enough. It feels so calming just to enjoy the company of the risen Lord Jesus. He delights in us. He celebrates us. We do not have to perform or try to be someone or something we are not.

Some of us may think that sounds really strange. After all, Jesus is up in heaven and we are down here on earth. What exactly are you talking about? But that is not completely true. Remember, since Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), His presence is everywhere through God the Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus lives in each of us who believe in Him (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-47; Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus is here. He wants to say something to our hearts and minds. Have we learned to relax in the presence of our risen Lord Jesus Christ? If not, it is one of the key lessons of the Christian life – to relax in His presence. Have you learned to let Him “cook breakfast” for you? To provide for your needs?

All of us get invitations in our email inbox. With some of those invitations, when we open them up, we say, “No way am I going to that event! That is the last place in the world I want to be!” A second kind of email invitation is when we open it up, we think, “If nothing else is going on, maybe I will go to that. If I’m not too tired from work that day, I may go to that event.” Then there is a category three kind of email. When you open it up and look at it, you say, “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am going to be at that event for sure! I am really looking forward to this!”

Every invitation from the risen Lord Jesus needs to be in category three. “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am pumped to hang out with Jesus!”

We are not talking about an email invitation from Jesus or a Facebook invite. Jesus invited His disciples when He said, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” How do we hear invitations from the risen Lord Jesus now? And if we have heard them, how will we recognize them as being from Him? How do we know if Christ is inviting us? He is not going to show up physically on a seashore and speak audibly to us so it must be an invitation that takes place in our hearts and minds. How do we know if the risen Lord Jesus Christ is saying something to our hearts and minds?

First of all, when Jesus speaks to us it is always consistent with His Word. God the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Jesus identified Himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Hence, the Holy Spirit communicates “truth” about Jesus. Jesus identifies the truth as the Father’s “word” in John 17:17. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth about Jesus through God’s Word (John 15:26; 16:13). It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit tells us what to do. He does not speak audibly to us, He speaks through the truth of the Bible. He will always “testify of” Jesus (John 15:26) and teach us what He “hears” Jesus say (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit is not going to teach something contrary to what Jesus has already taught. He will give us the ability to do what the Word says as we depend upon Him. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep Jesus’ commands (John 14:15).

Here are some ideas about how this works. Any time you have a desire to worship God, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus. It is consistent with His Word (Psalm 22:27; 29:2; 95:1, 6, 9; John 4:23-24; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:2-5:14; 7:11; 14:7; 15:4; 22:9), so accept it.

Whenever you have a desire to pray about something, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:44; 6:5-7, 9; 9:38; 26:41; Luke 11:1-2; 18:1; Colossians 4:2-3; I Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Accept it.

When a thought pops in your mind and you want to do something good for another person, that may be an invitation from Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16, 44; Galatians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; 6:5-9; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:22-24). Accept it.

Or when your heart is burdened to share the gospel with someone, it is probably from the risen Lord Jesus (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 8:26-39; 2 Timothy 4:2). Accept it.

Maybe some of you are naturally good and you always think of prayer, worship, doing good things for others or sharing the gospel with them because you are such a “good” person. But I am not that way. The truth is, without the risen Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would not do those things. It is only when Jesus says, “Why don’t you worship or pray, and why don’t you do something good or share the gospel with that person?” that I have learned to do those things. Those types of thoughts are not from my “good” human nature. I have learned when those thoughts come into my mind they are from the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we have these thoughts, accept them. Accept invitations from Jesus Christ any time they come. That will be the greatest thing you have ever done. It will be the greatest party that you have ever attended. Have a real relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us that You are not some phantom or figment of the imagination. You are a real historical Person Who is alive today and wants to have a real personal relationship with each of us. Thank You for speaking to our hearts and minds through the Bible and Your Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Your voice of truth and rely upon Your Spirit to accept Your invitations whenever they come to us. Saying, “Yes,” to You, Lord Jesus, is the greatest decision we could ever make! Thank You for this adventure with You called the Christian life. I look forward to hanging out with You today. Being in Your presence is so much better than life itself. I love You, my Lord and my God. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Greek word for “fish” is opsarion which is singular.

2. The Greek word for “fish” is opsariōn which is plural.

3. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 376-377.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.

5. Ibid., pg. 392 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 313.

6. The next several paragraphs are adapted from Tom Holladay’s September 4, 1996 message entitled, “Resurrected Purpose: John 21:1-24.”

How will you respond to Christ crucified? Part 3

“Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” John 18:40

In John 18:28-19:4, we are looking at different responses to Christ crucified. So far we have learned that …

– Like the Jewish leaders, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because of our self-righteous religious pride (John 18:28-32).

– Like Pilate, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because we are too busy with life to truly live (John 18:33-38a).

The third possible way we might respond to Christ crucified is the best way. SIMILAR TO BARABBAS, WE TRUST IN JESUS’ DEATH IN OUR PLACE FOR OUR SINS (John 18:38b-40). When Pilate declared to the Jews, “I find no fault in Him at all” (John 18:38b), it was a reminder that Jesus would die like a Passover lamb, a male in its prime without blemish (cf. Exodus 12:5; 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).

Pilate said to the Jews, 39 But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews? 40 Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:39-40). Rather than releasing Jesus on the basis of His obvious innocence, Pilate sought to avoid insulting the Sanhedrin by appealing to the Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner during their Passover feast. Pilate’s main concern was to minimize trouble rather than secure justice. If He pronounced Jesus innocent, he would offend the Jewish leaders. But if he pronounced Jesus guilty, he would offend Jesus’ followers. So he tries to satisfy everyone by implying Jesus’ guilt and releasing Him on the basis of the Passover custom. 

Pilate puts forward Jesus, whom he rightly calls “the King of the Jews,” and a notorious “robber” named “Barabbas.” Pilate is thinking that this crowd that had just days before spread palm leaves on Jesus’ path and shouted “Hosanna” as He passed (John 12:12-15; cf. Luke 19:28-38) would select Him to be released. But John tells us, “Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ ” (John 18:40a). Barabbas was more dangerous to people than to property. He committed murder in connection with insurrection (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19). Barabbas did what Jesus refused to do – take the lead in an armed revolt against Rome. The Jews ignored the obvious innocence of Jesus and freed a murderer. “Don’t miss that the leaders preferred a criminal who had fought for physical deliverance from Rome because that’s all they cared about. They wanted political deliverance from Gentile rule, when what they needed was spiritual deliverance from sin.” 1

Barabbas’ freedom was at Christ’s expense. That is the gospel message. The guilty is released and the innocent is condemned. The Jews were so hostile toward Jesus that they ignored His innocence. Their minds were so made up that the facts about Jesus’ innocence did not matter. Christ did not deserve this condemnation, yet He willingly subjected Himself to it for our sakes (cf. 2 Corinthians  5:21; I Peter 2:22-24; 3:18).

But let’s not overlook how this must have impacted Barabbas. Imagine Barabbas waiting on death row in a Roman prison for the verdict knowing that he could be executed any day. Prisoners didn’t have any rights in those days. It was over for him. There was no hope. He was a murderer who deserved death, and deep down he knew it. Each passing day was one day closer to certain death. He may have been imagining it—the flogging, mocking, and eventual death. It was coming.

And then the day comes. He can hear the shouts ringing throughout the courtyard: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Perhaps he was thinking to himself, “They are coming for me.” The guards open the door to his cell and drag him outside. But then something amazing happens. Everyone is celebrating his new freedom. His chains are released, and he is set free. The murderer is set free.

Put yourself in his sandals for a minute. You are walking to your death in chains and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, you are a free man. Then you hear the words begin: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13-14; Luke 23:21). And you see another man walking by. Those chants are not for you. The guards are dragging another man to his death – Jesus of Nazareth. He is beaten and flogged and is forced to carry His cross to His death. It’s the very cross you had imagined yourself carrying only moments earlier. You think to yourself, that’s my death He’s dying. Barabbas is the one person in history who could say that Jesus literally carried his cross. Jesus took his death, and Barabbas was given the freedom Jesus deserved. Jesus bore the guilt and shame and curse and disgrace and death that Barabbas deserved. Barabbas received the release, the freedom, and the life that Jesus deserved. It was an incredible scene. 2

And the truth is, Barabbas represents all of us. 3  He should have been on the cross instead of Jesus because he was guilty and deserved to die. You may protest, “But I’m not a robber!” But we have all robbed God of His rightful glory and control over our lives. You may come back, “But at least I’m not a murderer!” But Jesus said that if we are wrongfully angry with our brother, we are guilty of murder in God’s sight (Matthew 5:21-22). “But,” you still protest, “I’ve never led an armed rebellion against the government.” True, but we are all rebels against the King of the universe. We have all sinned against God and His rightful rule in our lives.

Also, Barabbas did nothing to earn his pardon. He wasn’t pardoned because of his good behavior or promises to change. If anything, he was pardoned because of how notoriously evil he was. He couldn’t brag after he got out about how he deserved to be pardoned. He couldn’t claim that he was pardoned for his exemplary behavior. In the same way, the Bible says that God justifies the ungodly not through their good works, but by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:4-5). None of us can boast in ourselves when Jesus saves us because our salvation is based on His finished work, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Jesus died in Barabbas’ place. Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father,” should have been on the cross that day. Instead, the One Who is the eternal Son of the eternal Father hung there in Barabbas’ place. Jesus died in his place – and in your place and mine.

Let me ask you something. Suppose you were a pilot of a plane that became disabled. Your course is headed straight toward a residential area as the plane descends. You have a parachute and could jump to safety, but you must do it at an altitude allowing the plane to crash and kill many. Your other option is to fly the plane and guide it toward a vacant area, but there would be no time to jump to safety. You would die, but others would be spared. Which would you do? Let me tell you what one man did.

Twenty-four-year-old Vinson Kyle Perdue, a United States Air Force pilot, died when his disabled warplane crashed. Instead of parachuting to safety, Perdue apparently stayed with the plane to steer it away from a residential area.

Amy White, who lived near the crash site, was quoted as saying, “I know he went down with that plane so it wouldn’t hit anyone’s house. It would’ve hit my house if he didn’t maneuver that plane.” (Adapted from Dallas Times Herald, August 26, 1981). 4

Jesus Christ could have parachuted and jumped. In other words, He could have escaped His persecutors and refused to die for Barabbas and for us. Instead, He took the punishment for our sins and died so that we could live. He substituted His life in our place.

But Barabbas’ pardon was not automatic. He could have spit in Pilate’s face and said, “I don’t need your pardon! Crucify me!” And, he would have been crucified, while a different prisoner would have been released. In the same way, the pardon that Christ offers to all is only applied to the person who receives it by faith. Jesus promises, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.(John 3:16). Like Barabbas, the guilty rebel, you have got to appropriate by faith the pardon that Christ’s death offers you.

Some people use the word “believe” in our English sense of the word. They mentally assent to the fact Christ died and arose, but they are still depending on their works to get them to heaven. The word “believe” in the Bible means that if a person mentally assents to the fact that Christ died for his or her sins and arose, they trust in Christ alone to get them to heaven. 5

Let me share an illustration. “Picture a luxury liner cruising in the Pacific Ocean. It begins taking on water and lifeboats become a necessity. Three passengers find themselves in different situations. The first has no knowledge that lifeboats save and therefore never steps into one. The second understands that lifeboats save but for some reason refuses to step into one. The third passenger not only understands the ability of a lifeboat to save, but accepts as being true that the lifeboat has the ability to save. The passenger therefore steps into the lifeboat and in so doing relies upon it as the means of salvation.

“Which of the three is saved? The answer is obvious. The last passenger had knowledge and used it. A person is saved when he or she understands the ability Christ has to save and acts on that knowledge by trusting Christ. That is saving faith. One is not saved by simply understanding that Christ died and arose or even mentally assenting to that being a fact of history while depending on one’s good life for salvation. One is saved when as a sinner deserving of hell, one has trusted Christ alone for salvation.” 6

If you have never understood this before, and now you are transferring all your trust onto to Christ alone Who died in your place for all yours sins, you may tell God this through prayer. Keep in mind that praying a prayer is not what gets us to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Christ alone gets us to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I realize that I am like Barabbas. I was hopelessly condemned. I deserved to die on that cross because I have sinned against You with my thoughts, words, and actions. But Your love broke through for me when You bore the curse, the disgrace, the guilt, the shame, and the death that I deserved when You took my place on that cross. You were completely innocent, yet out of love for me, You took the abuse, the beating, the insults, and humiliation that I should have received. Thank You so much for dying in my place and rising from the dead. I am now trusting in You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You for the forgiveness and eternal life I now have. Thank You that I am now free from eternal condemnation and slavery to sin. Use me as You deem best to fulfill Your purposes for Your glory. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please download our digital “Pressing On” discipleship training materials (see above) to go through with others who do not know Jesus as their Savior.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1821.

2. Dave Furman credits this descriptive scene in his article on March 28, 2018 entitled “We Are Barabbas”at https://www.crossway.org/articles/we-are-barabbas/ to Timothy J. Keller, Mark 15:1–15, King’s Cross: The Gospel of Mark, Part 2: The Journey to the Cross” (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, March 11, 2007).

3. Adapted from 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.

4. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012) pg. 235.

5. R. Larry Moyer, Free and Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), pg. 41.

6. Ibid.

Keeping our faith alive in uncertain times

Inspired by a true story, the movie Rugged Gold is about a pregnant newlywed named Martha Martin who is separated by an earthquake from her son and miner husband in 1950s Alaska. This is a story about survival – staying alive under horrible circumstances. Martha Martin overcomes severe injuries, delivers her own baby, faces off with a Grizzly and wins, and endures a brutal winter with the hope of being reunited with her son and newlywed husband. Martha did everything she could to keep herself alive.

As we face all kinds of challenges this year including COVID-19 and social unrest revolving around the color of a person’s skin, it is essential that we as Christians be willing to do whatever it takes to keep our faith alive.

But how does a Christian do this? How does a believer in Jesus Christ keep their faith alive and energized? Turn to James 2:14-26 and find out. Many people have understood James 2:14-26 to teach that good works are necessary for eternal salvation. These verses are misunderstood by some to be written to professing Christians whose faith must be tested to see if it is genuine. But James is not addressing the eternal destiny of his readers because they are genuine Christians. James describes them as… “brethren” (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; et. al.), those who are “born from above” (James1:17-18), and those who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). James understands, however, that it would be easy to downgrade works where it was taught that justification before God was by faith alone in Christ alone.

Although these were genuine Christians, they were immature and disobedient (cf. James 3:1-5:6), and they were in danger of experiencing both the damaging consequences of sin now (James 1:15-16, 21; 5:19-20) and an unfavorable evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future (James 2:12-13; 5:7-9). To preserve their souls/lives from the ruin of sin now and a negative assessment at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future, they are to obey God’s Word (James 1:21-25). So James is writing to them to help them put their faith into action – to keep their faith alive.

How do we keep our faith alive in these uncertain times?

1. GET INVOLVED WITH OTHERS (James 2:14-17). “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). This verse has caused a lot of concern for many people over the years. Martin Luther was so distraught over this verse that he wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible because he felt it contradicted the great truth that led to the Reformation – Paul’s justification by faith alone apart from works. Clearly, James makes works a condition for salvation as the question, “Can faith save him?” (James 2:14b) expects a negative answer. “Of course, faith without works cannot save him.” James says a faith without works cannot save you.

But the apostle Paul says a faith with works won’t save you. “Now to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul and James seem to contradict each other. James says you cannot be saved without works. Paul says you cannot be saved by faith with works.

The reason James and Paul differ with each other is because they are talking to two different groups.  When Paul is talking to sinners about how to become a saint, he says it is by faith alone apart from works (Romans 4:5-6). But notice who James is talking to. Christians or non-Christians? “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Notice the phrase,  “My brethren…” These people are brothers in Christ. They are saved from hell. So when James talks to saints about how to experience the God who has already saved them from hell, he says it by faith with works (James 2:14-26). If you want to know how to get to heaven, read Paul. If you want to know how to bring heaven to earth because you are already saved from hell, read James.

So do works have any part in getting us to heaven? No. Faith in Christ alone is the only basis of eternal salvation from hell. Eternal salvation is a gift, not of works lest anyone should boast. No person can take credit for his salvation from hell because it is apart from works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6). If works are made a condition for getting to heaven, then eternal salvation can no longer be said to be attained by grace. So James cannot be talking about eternal salvation by grace because God’s Word does not contradict itself.

So what kind of salvation is being addressed in James 2:14? Faith without works cannot save us from what? The word “save” (sozo) in the New Testament doesn’t always refer to salvation from hell. In fact 70% of the time the word “save” in the New Testament refers to deliverance from circumstances. For example,  when Jesus’s disciples were about to drown in the midst of a storm at sea, they said to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25). They were referring to being saved from physical death. In I Timothy 2, when Paul was talking about the role of men and women in the church, he said, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:15). The context is talking about women being restricted from teaching or leading men in the local church. So Paul is talking about women being saved from this restriction through childbearing, that is,  she is able to teach and lead her children and be fulfilled doing so if her children continue in these godly virtues.

What James is telling us is that faith without works will not save us from what he has already discussed in the book. First, faith without works won’t save us from A LIFE RUINED BY SIN. James 1:19-22 says,19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James tells the saved how to save their souls from a life ruined by sin. They must be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

James warns his readers, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15).  If believers pursue sin long enough and hard enough, it will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them. So the way to be saved from a life ruined by sin is to do what God says to do.

Secondly, faith without works will not save us from AN UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. “12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). The Bible tells us that all Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ after they die or are raptured to have their Christian lives evaluated to determine what if any rewards they will receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11). If we are critical and merciless toward people now, then God will show less mercy to us when He judges our lives in the future. So can faith alone save us? No, James says faith without works cannot save us from a life ruined by sin or from an unfavorable judgment in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

James then gives an illustration of this. 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Just as words of assurance from some ungenerous believer cannot save his naked and starving Christian brother or sister from physical death, so too, faith without works cannot save our lives from the consequences of sin. Correct beliefs, such as Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, or salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, cannot save us from a life ruined by sin any more than warm wishes will save a needy brother from physical death.

You can have accurate theology and be useless to God and others. There are Christians who have sound theology but they are useless to God! They can dot their i’s and cross their t’s but they are not seeing their souls saved from the power of sin. They are not seeing their lives transformed by the grace of God. Why? Because their orthodoxy has not become orthopraxy. Because they are not putting their faith to work. Sometimes we say, “I’m waiting on God.” But could it be that God is waiting on you? If we want to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must go beyond the well wishes and desires to help others and actively get involved with them.

For example, we can say, “I love people of all colors,” but if we are not actively getting involved with people from other cultures or ethnicities, we are not demonstrating the truth of our words. Our faith will not grow in this area if we are merely hearers and not doers.  

Notice that James is talking about helping a needy Christian “brother” in these verses. He is not talking about giving handouts to some stranger who is begging for food or clothing. We are to give priority to believers first. This was especially true in James’s day when Christians were actively being persecuted by the Roman government. We need to balance this with other Scripture. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Free food (or clothing or money, etc.) should not be given to those who can work but choose not to. To do so rewards laziness and irresponsibility. God wants us to get involved in needy peoples’ lives, starting with the church.

If you are feeling down, one of the best ways to get picked up is to focus on the needs of other people. Just talking about it isn’t going to benefit the needy people in your church or community. We must put our faith into action. The more you get involved with needy people, the stronger your faith will become in the Lord.

Look at what James says next, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17).Faith without works is a “dead” or useless faith that has lost its fervor or fire for Christ. Faith without works is dead – useless, unproductive just as idle words are useless to a brother or sister in need.

If all we ever do is talk about reaching and teaching people for Christ, but we never act on it, then our faith becomes useless to others. Reaching and teaching people for Christ is what the United States of America needs more than anything right now in the midst of these troubling times. Until people obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), they are not going to have peace with themselves or other people regardless of the color of their skin (cf. Ephesians 2:8-18).

A dead faith means the believer has lost his fire or fervor for Christ. If I were to visit another church and upon leaving I said to my wife, “This church is dead,” I’m not saying there are no born-again Christians there. I am saying that church is not on fire for Christ. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it.

What does a dead body and a dead faith have in common? Both are immobile and inactive. They also tend to decay and stink. If we fail to do good works, our faith will lose its vitality, it will weaken, and eventually decay and stink. Like a dead car battery, it is useless. It was once alive, but it has become dead or useless due to a lack of use. But the way to jump start a dead faith is to put it to work.

In James 2:18-19, James encounters a skeptic. This skeptic insists that there is no connection between faith and works in order to justify his carnal lifestyle (James 2:18-19). This skeptical person objects to James’s view of faith and works by saying it is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). In other words, this person says, “Let’s say you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and show what it is that I believe.”

Then in James 2:19 the objector tries to illustrate that there is no connection between faith and works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). The skeptic is saying that the demons believe in the oneness of God, the same way James does, who does good, but they only tremble instead of doing good. He is saying that faith cannot be made visible in works! Why would someone argue this way? Because his beliefs are not supported by his behavior. “Faith and good works are not related to each other so don’t criticize me if I don’t practice what I preach.”

Some use James 2:19 to say that believing in Christ is not enough to be saved from hell because the demons believe in God, but are not saved because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him. Let me point out some things to note about James 2:19:

1. Jesus did not die for demons, He died for people (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41), not because they lack insufficient faith. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.

2. Belief that God is one is not saving. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons do really believe there is only one God, but believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. There are many world religions and cults that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Corinthians 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.

3. Since the words of James 2:19 belong to a skeptic, they should not be used to prove such an important theological point. Using this verse to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication. 

The second way to keep your faith alive in uncertain times is to 2. GIVE GOD YOUR OBEDIENCE (James 2:20-26). In James 2:20-25, James refutes the skeptic’s arguments by referring to two supreme examples of faith’s connection with works. The way to fire up a Christian’s faith is to PUT IT TO WORK like Rahab and Abraham put their faith to work and were justified before men (James 2:23-25). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). James reaffirms that faith without works is dead or useless. The issue is that your faith is unproductive. The Lord is pleading with us in this passage to put our faith in gear and move out! Don’t sit back on the fact that you are saved forever and God’s never going to kick you out of His family, and therefore you become a lazy Christian.

He then states that Abraham was justified by works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). It was well known to James and his readers that Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) about thirty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). His justification before God was apart from works (Romans 4). If Abraham had failed to obey God in offering up Isaac, would he have remained justified before the Lord? Yes, because justification before God is always based on faith alone, not good works whether before, during or after your conversion. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” (Romans 4:5-6).

James goes on to say in “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22). Abraham’s original justifying faith was strengthened and matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac. How? His faith grew from a conviction that God could overcome his inability to have children to the assurance that God could actually resurrect his son’s own body from physical death. Hebrews 11:17-19 says,17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”

James continues, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23). Abraham’s original justifying faith before God was “fulfilled” or “filled-full” of meaning as a result of this act of obedience. His obedience revealed his faith to men. The Scriptures were fulfilled in that Abraham showed his faith by his works. His obedience justified him before men in such a way as to show him to be righteous on a practical level. People could say Abraham was a “friend of God.” Friendship with God requires obedience. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus was speaking to the believing disciples when He spoke these words in John 15. They were already saved. This is why James 2:24 speaks of two kinds of justification.

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). The word “only” is an adverb and modifies the verb “justified” implied in the second clause. Thus it could be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) by faith.” There is a justification by works and a justification by faith. Justification by works is before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Romans 4:2). People can be justified by works, but not before God. Why? Because God can see faith without works. He knows life is there apart from our works. This is why justification before God is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5; cf. Genesis 15:6). But people cannot see faith apart from works. Hence, justification by works is before men, justification by faith is before God. James never speaks of justification by faith and works. He doesn’t say Abraham was justified by faith and works at the same time, nor does he say Rahab was.

“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story is clear. The Israelites were going to take Jericho. The Jewish spies came in to spy out the land. Rahab, “the harlot” – the prostitute, the hooker, the whore – the woman who lived a life of failure – hid them and then secretly sent them out so they could escape. Rahab’s physical life was saved because she had works. God saw Rahab’s faith when she “received the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). But men could not see her faith until she acted on it by “sending them out another way” (James 2:25b). Rahab was truly a friend of God because she was their friend. While all of Jericho perished under God’s judgment, Rahab lived because her faith lived! So yes, faith can be shown to men from our works. Abraham did it and was called the friend of God. Rahab did it by sending the spies away safely.  

We are called to act upon the faith that we have. We can know what is right. We can already be saved from Hell. We can come to church two or three times a week. We can be on our way to heaven and yet not experience heaven as a part of history! Until we act upon the Word of God and start living it out, what does it profit? Faith without works will not profit a brother or sister in need of food or clothing nor will it profit the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26). James compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. When does a human body die? When it loses its spirit which keeps it alive. When does a Christian’s faith die? When he stops using it. Like a muscle, if you stop using it, it atrophies and withers away. You won’t experience the transforming power of God if you stop putting your faith to work! Just as the human spirit gives life to the body, good works give life to your faith (James 2:26). You can have correct belief and lots of Bible knowledge, but if you stop acting on that belief and knowledge, your faith will weaken and become a creedal corpse.

A little girl who really believed in prayer, had a brother who made a trap that caught little sparrows, and she prayed that it would fail. Suddenly, for three days her face was radiant when she prayed and her absolute faith in the futility of the trap was so noticeable that her mother asked, “Julia, how can you be so confident?” Julia smiled, “Because, dear Mama, I went out three days ago and kicked that trap to pieces.” She literally put her faith to work.

If we are going to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must put it to work. Not by kicking traps, but by meeting the felt needs of the people God is calling us to reach – by introducing them to Christ and by discipling them and sending them out to do the same. We can decide today how we will live our lives in these chaotic times. Will you choose to keep your faith alive and vigorous by putting it to work in obedience to God? God wants our faith to thrive, not die. What about you?

Prayer: Precious Lord, this message really cuts deep into my apathetic heart. My knowledge of the truth can grow greatly, but if I do not put it into practice, my faith becomes dead or useless to You and to others. No wonder I have lost my fervor for You Lord Jesus. My head is swollen with Bible knowledge, but my heart is cold because I have not applied what I already know to be true. This world would be a much better place if all Christians would put what they know into practice. Lord, I want to be a part of the solution to the world’s problems by putting my faith to work. It is so easy for me to sit back and criticize others for doing very little while I, too, talk about faith more than I live it out. Forgive me, Lord, for being preoccupied with myself and what I know to be true instead of putting it into practice. Please show me whom You want me to get involved with so they can benefit from my relationship with You and come to know You as their Savior. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

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).