How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 4

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” John 10:17-18

We can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when we INITIATE OBEDIENCE TO HIM (John 10:17-18). Jesus said,Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.” (John 10:17a). God the Father has a special love for His Son who sacrificially obeyed His will. Jesus did not mean that the Father’s love resulted from the Son’s performance. The Father’s love for Jesus would still have existed if Jesus had failed to obey Him completely. The Father loved the Son unconditionally in eternity past (John 17:23-24). However, the Son’s full obedience to the Father’s will resulted in the Father having a special love for the Son that obedience under testing brought out.

Likewise, God loves all believers unconditionally, but when they obey Him, they enjoy an intimacy with Him that only obedience can produce. Christ said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” For Christ to disclose or “manifest more of Himself to a believer, the believer must be trustworthy and obey Him. Intimacy or friendship with Christ is conditioned upon obeying Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). This friendship refers to Jesus disclosing His thoughts to those who obey Him. Thus, Jesus’ friends are those to whom He entrusts Himself. Intimate fellowship with Christ requires obedience to Him. When believers initiate obedience to Christ, they draw closer to Him and experience an intimacy with Him that is absent among disobedient believers.

Some people may ask, “If Jesus is God, how can He die? God does not die.” I like to respond to this question by asking a question. “When humans die, do their spirits or souls stop existing?” They respond, “No our spirit or soul does not die,” to which I reply, “So even when we die as humans, it is the body that dies, not our spirit or soul. We do not stop existing altogether.” The same is true of Jesus. Though His physical body died on the cross, He did not stop existing as God. Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then “He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). John writes, “bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit went to His Father in heaven when He died. Therefore, He did not stop existing as God.

Then Jesus said to His Jewish audience, “I lay down My life that I may take it again.” (John 10:17b). The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rise again, enriched with resurrection power. From Jesus’ perspective, death was only the beginning, not the end. Christ knew He would not remain dead. Christ said, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:18). We see that Jesus’ death was voluntary (cf. John 10:11, 14, 17-18). Jesus was under no obligation to sacrifice Himself for sinners. That’s why it’s called grace.

Although the Jews would hand Him over and the Romans would crucify Him, this was only possible because He let them (cf. John 19:10-11). An unbelieving observer may conclude that Jesus was overpowered by the Jewish authorities and crucified. But Jesus makes it clear that no one took His life from Him. He chose to lay it down. He also had authority to lay down His life and take it up again. Christ had the power to call upon thousands of angels to destroy His enemies and deliver Him from death (Matt. 26:53), but He chose to endure the cross out of love for us and His Father (Romans 5:8; Philippians 2:6-8). The Father commanded Jesus to lay down His life and take it up again and Jesus submitted to His Father.

Anyone can lay his or her life down in death sacrificially, but only Jesus Christ could “lay it down” and then “take it [up] again” in resurrection! This is what separates Jesus Christ from all other religious leaders and founders. All other religious leaders and founders in history are still dead in the grave. But Jesus Christ is the only One who had the authority to take up His life in resurrection, proving that He is God (Romans 1:4) and that He has defeated sin, death, and the Devil (cf. Romans 6:5-14; 8:11; I Corinthians 15:54-57; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15). The New Testament writers attributed Jesus’ resurrection to all three members of the Trinity: the Father (Romans 6:4), the Son (John 2:19), and the Spirit (Romans 8:11).

The One Who voluntarily laid down His life for us and took it up again in resurrection loves each of us very much. He wants to give us the same power that raised Him from the dead to enable us to live a life that obeys and honors Him (cf. Ephesians 1:18-20)! The more we give Him our obedience, the more He will reveal Himself to us in intimate ways.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is no one like You. You loved me so much that You voluntarily laid down Your life for me and took it up again in resurrection to honor Your Father’s will. Your obedience to the Father reminds me that when I give You my obedience, You will reveal more of Yourself to me. Right now my Lord and my God, I want to give You everyone and everything I have. I look forward to what You are going to teach me about Yourself today. In Your everlasting name I pray. Amen.

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 2

“If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” John 7:17

The second way to major on the majors is to ASCERTAIN GOD’S WILL BY DOING IT (John 7:17). “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (John 7:17). If anyone was willing to do God’s will, not just to know God’s truth, God would enable that one to believe that Jesus’ teaching came from heaven. The most important thing then is a commitment to follow God’s will. Once a person makes that commitment, God begins to convince him or her of what is true. Faith must precede reason, not the other way around.

Although this promise applies to all that Jesus taught, it especially applies to what a person must do to have everlasting life. Everyone who is willing to do what God says will discover that anyone who believes or trusts in Jesus alone has everlasting life. Jesus said, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:40). Unfortunately, many of Jesus’ listeners did not want to do God’s will, so they never discovered the free gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus. Instead, they wanted to kill Jesus and bring His teaching to an end (cf. John 7:19-20).

We see this happening often today. The reason people do not discover the freeness of everlasting life through faith alone in Christ alone is because they are not willing to do God’s will. They are committed to doing their own will instead of God’s. Hence, they embrace a “faith plus” gospel that emphasizes good works to get them to heaven. But because this is their will instead of God’s, they are convinced that this is the right way to heaven. It is not until they are willing to do what God says that they discover that everlasting life is a free gift through believing in Jesus Christ apart from any works (John 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).

The reason why so many people reject that Jesus is God is because they are not willing to do God’s will. If they were willing, God would enable them to believe that Jesus is the true God and eternal life (John 1:1; I John 5:20). Spiritual understanding and growth begins with our willingness to do what God says.

But those who do believe in Christ for salvation must be willing to apply what they know to grow in their faith. We learn by doing. For example, we can know how to share the gospel, but we will not grow in evangelism until we start sharing Christ with non-Christians. Likewise, you can know the steps to forgiveness, but you will not grow in forgiveness until you choose to actually forgive the people who have hurt you. You may be able to quote 1 Corinthians 13, but until you choose to work at loving your enemy and those who are difficult to love, you inhibit your ability to grow in love. You can know how important discipleship is, but until you begin carving time out of your schedule to study God’s Word and teach it to others, you will not grow further in discipleship.

With every act of obedience, the truth of what Jesus says becomes more and more persuasive to us. We know it is true, because God proves Himself true every time. This explains why some new believers learn and grow with incredible speed. They become grown up, mature believers, in a matter of months, while others who sit under the teaching of the Word for years hardly seem to grow at all; they are still Kindergarten Christians. Why is this? It is because they are not doing what they hear. Those who put into practice the truth they hear begin to grow immediately. They move beyond spiritual infancy and enter the spiritual infantry of Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, salvation and spiritual growth begin with my will. If I am not willing to do what You say, I will not discover the reality of everlasting through faith in You alone. If I am not willing to do Your will after I am saved, I will not grow in my relationship with You. Lord God, I want to become a doer of Your Word and not merely a hearer. Please help me to grow beyond where I am today by taking that first step of obedience to Your will. Every time I obey You, the truth of what You say becomes more persuasive to me. I grow spiritually by doing what Your Word says, not by hearing. I pray Your church will be filled with followers of Christ who are growing exponentially as doers of Your Word and not hearers only. As a result, You will receive more glory and the world will be a much better place to live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I be Jesus’ friend?

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” John 2:23-24

During the week-long feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus did many miracles. As a result, many people believed in Christ for eternal life. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.” (John 2:23). Some argue that these people were not truly saved because their faith was based on miraculous signs and because Jesus did not entrust Himself to them as we shall see in a moment. However, the reasons for understanding that these people are genuinely saved are as follows:

  1. The phrase “believed in His name” is always used of people trusting Jesus to get them to heaven in John’s writings. This phrase “believed in His name” in John 2:23 is used in John 1:12-13 to refer to saving faith. Those verses prepare the reader to understand John 2:23 in the same way. Grounds for condemnation are based on the fact that one has not “believed in the name” of the Son of God (John 3:18). In John 20:31, a believer may have life “in His name.” Thus, there is nothing in John’s usage of “believe in the name”to suggest that the faith in John 2:23 is not saving faith.
  2. The “believe in” (pisteuō eis) construction is a common Johannine expression for saving faith (John 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:30; 9:35, 36; 11:25-26, 48; 12:11, 37, 42, 44, 46; cf. I John 5:13). Nothing in John 2:23 suggests a different understanding.
  3. Nothing in the gospel of John suggests that belief based on Christ’s miracles is unsaving. Jesus even taught unbelievers to believe in Him because of the works or miraculous signs He did (John 10:38; 14:11). John finds fault with those who fail to believe in Christ after observing His miracles (John 12:37). John recorded Jesus’ miraculous signs to elicit saving faith in the Person of Christ (John 20:31). The miracles Jesus did in John 2:23 fulfilled the very purpose for which they were recorded. However, it is true that a saving faith based on visible miraculous signs is not as noble as a saving faith based on God’s Word (cf. John 20:28-29; cf. 4:1-53)

“But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” (John 2:24). Since these people are saved, then what does it mean when Jesus refused to “commit Himself” or “entrust Himself” to these new believers? Keep in mind that although the main theme of the gospel of John is how to get to heaven, a sub-theme is discipleship or intimacy with Christ. Jesus entrusts Himself to new believers who are ready to be His friends. For Christ to disclose more of Himself to a believer, the believer must be trustworthy and obey Him. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). Christ “manifests” or discloses more of Himself to the believer who “has…and keeps” His commandments.

Friendship with Christ is conditioned upon obeying Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14).  This friendship refers to Jesus disclosing His thoughts to those who obey Him. Thus, Jesus’ friends are those to whom He entrusts Himself.

Notice that the word “commit” in verse 24 is in the imperfect tense. This particular tense speaks only about action in the past, so it leaves open to question what Jesus might do at a later point in time. Hence, Christ could entrust Himself to these believers later should they obey Him. 

When the word “commit” is used in the passive sense (“entrust”) in the New Testament, its objects are: riches (Luke 16:11), Christ (John 2:24), oracles of God (Romans 3:2), stewardship (I Corinthians 9:17), the gospel (I Thessalonians 2:4; Galatians 2;7; I Timothy 1:11), and the preaching of the Word (Titus 1:3). None of these instances suggest a salvation context. These passages suggest that the person receiving the object is regarded as trustworthy. The object is being committed to them in confidence. It follows that Christ refused to commit Himself to those who had believed (John 2:23-24) because He had little confidence in them at this time to be His friends, that is, to obey Him even to the point of publicly confessing Him (John 15:14-17; 12:42-43).

Therefore, the issue is not whether these people are saved or not, the issue for these new believers is whether they are trustworthy. Intimate fellowship with Christ requires obedience to Him. How did Jesus know whether to entrust Himself to these new believers? Look in verse 25.

“And had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:25). Jesus refused to have fellowship with these new believers because He supernaturally knew that their hearts were not ready for intimacy with Him; that is, they were not ready to obey Him yet. They were not ready for a close friendship with Christ.

Part of obeying Christ may involve publicly confessing our faith in Him before others like at work or school. It is possible to have a saving faith alongside a reluctance to express that faith publicly. Thus, these verses introduce the theme of “secret believers” who are genuinely saved, but they are afraid to express their faith openly due to the threat of persecution (cf. John 19:38).

For example, many of the ruling Pharisees had saving faith but were afraid to express that faith to others: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43).

Zane Hodges makes an astute observation when he writes that, “Later in the gospel of John ‘Jesus ‘commits Himself’ very extensively to the men who had accompanied Him to that point in His ministry. He ‘discloses’ Himself in a very intimate way to them….But Nicodemus (whom we shall meet shortly) was not with His disciples in the Upper Room. Why he was not there becomes gradually obvious as the Fourth gospel unfolds. As a result, on the pages of John’s gospel, Nicodemus stands as the prototype of a believer who is hindered from intimacy with Jesus Christ by competing interests.” (see Zane Hodges, Faith in His Name [2015], p. 51. See also, Keith Vande Vred, “A Contrast Between Nicodemus and John the Baptist in the Gospel of John,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Dec 2014): 715-726). Nicodemus is an example of a “secret believer”(cf. John 19:38) who initially came to Jesus “by night” (John 3:2) or secretly and got saved, but was reluctant to express his faith until later in his Christian life (cf. John 3:1-21; 7:45-52; 19:38-42).

Some of us don’t know Jesus any better today than the day we became a Christian. For some of us that may have been years ago. But Christ will not disclose Himself to us if we are not willing to go on and obey Him. Jesus refuses fellowship with Christians who are not ready to obey Him.

For any relationship to grow deeper, there must be mutual trust. I’m not going to be transparent with you until I develop a certain level of trust with you. Likewise, you’re not going to be transparent with me until you have cultivated more trust in our relationship. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus knows our hearts. And He knows if we are ready to obey Him and grow deeper in our relationship with Him or not.

If you have been under the weight of religion (man-made rules), and you are weary – you feel like giving up on God – please know that Jesus fights for you to get you out from under that system, and He wants to heal your hurts. He wants to lighten your load (John 2:12-17).

Jesus also wants His disciples (followers) to take sin seriously in their lives (John 2:18-22). He wants us to trust Him to cleanse our lives of all sin and corruption. He wants us to rely on His resurrection power to help us say “No” to sin and “Yes” to the Savior. Once we begin a relationship with Jesus by believing in Him for eternal life, Jesus wants to reveal more of Himself to us and get closer to us. But for Him to do this, we must be willing to obey Him. We must be willing to surrender control of our lives to Him and let Him start directing our lives. Some of us need to come out of denial and admit that we are addicted to running our own lives. Friends, things are not going to get any better until we give up on ourselves and give in to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the free gift of everlasting life which is received simply by believing in You alone. But to be Your friend and have intimate fellowship with You, I must be willing to obey Your commands. Lord, You know my heart better than anyone, including myself. You know that I like to be in control because I feel so vulnerable when I am not. Because I long to know You more intimately, I want to surrender all control to You. Right now, I voluntarily surrender everything to You my Lord and my God. By Your grace, Lord Jesus, please enable me to walk in obedience to You. Thank You for disclosing more of Yourself to me as I live for You. Although I sin every day, Your shed blood on the cross makes it possible for me to enjoy close fellowship with You the moment I confess my sins to You (I John 1:7, 9). Thank You for Your cleansing truth and grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.