I John 2 – Part 3

“He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” I John 2:10

When we first returned to the USA from the Philippines in February 2020, the Coronavirus was not the only pandemic to deal with. There was also a pandemic of hate emerging.

People expressed extreme dislike toward those who differed with them about COVID-19 and how to manage this public health crisis (i.e., mask wearing, contact tracing, whether to get a vaccine, etc.). Could people trust scientists and policy makers to make decisions based solely on facts? The erosion of trust fueled pandemic frictions.

Racial tensions escalated after the tragic murder of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers in May of 2020. 1 While most of the protests associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement (and others) following Floyd’s murder were peaceful and nondestructive, several protests involved destruction of property, looting, arson, and the death of innocent lives across the country. 2

With it being an election year, more hatred was expressed toward those with differing political views. This growing hostility toward political opponents focused on their moral repugnance, not their different views on the economy, foreign policy, or the role of social safety nets. 3 Violent political protests in America not only destroyed property, but human lives as well in the name of politics. 4 Other countries also experienced substantial political unrest including Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, Sudan, Uganda, and Venezuela. 5

Those of us who spend a lot of time in church might say, “Well, that is the world. We can expect such things from the unsaved population. But surely hatred is not experienced in the church, right?” 

As I read the book of I John, I believe the apostle John would say that even Christians can get caught up in hating one another. We may not destroy one another’s property, but we can destroy each other’s peace of mind and reputation. And while the average Christian may not admit to having any hatred toward a fellow believer, I believe the apostle John would say that hatred toward another Christian can be one of the greatest barriers to our fellowship with God and one another.

All sin is a barrier to fellowship with God. But hating another Christian is one of the most difficult sins to deal with for the following reasons:

1. Satan targets the relationships of Christians because he knows that Christians living in unity with one another is one of the powerful expressions of the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; John 17:20-23; Ephes. 2:14-18; 3:1-7; 4:1-32). The Devil seeks to deceive Christians to deny their hurts and refuse to forgive one another (cf. 2 Cor. 2:10-11; Ephes. 4:25-32). As the father of lies (John 8:44), Satan tells an offended believer, “Good Christians don’t get angry, they just get even,” and other lies to keep them from being reconciled. If we are going to overcome hatred toward other Christians, we must realize our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with Satan and his demonic armies, and therefore we must wear the whole armor of God (Ephes. 6:10-18).

2. Christians have higher expectations of other believers and themselves. As a believer in Christ, you may not expect non-Christians to act like Jesus, but you do expect other followers of Christ to act more like Him since they have God the Holy Spirit living in them and His Word to direct their lives. But when they don’t resemble Christ (or your image of Christ), you can easily get angry with them. Or you can take advantage of them, thinking they will easily forgive you or accept you if you do mess up. Either way, this can create more tension between fellow believers in Christ. The higher our expectations of one another, the more likely we are to be disappointed or offended. This can also make it difficult to admit when we are offended or have offended someone. We don’t want to be vulnerable with other believers because there is more risk involved. What will they think of me if I tell them I was offended by them? Can I trust them to keep this confidential? Will they think I am too sensitive or ungodly if I talk to them about my hurt feelings or my anger? A third reason why resolving hatred toward another Christian is difficult is because…

3. Hatred toward other Christians is easy to justify. After all they hurt me unjustly. There is no defense for what they did. The Christian father abused his child. The believing husband selfishly deserted his wife and kids. The Christian partner cheated his brother out of the company. The Christian sister lied to others about her conflict. Carrying the burden of hatred toward other Christians is not the way God wants us to live on earth. We can choose to live with hatred or with healing. But if we choose to hate another brother or sister in Christ, we cannot claim to be close to God. 6

In I John 2:3-6, the apostle John emphasized obedience to Christ’s commands as a test of intimate fellowship with the Lord. It is natural to ask what commands did John have in mind? In verses 7-11 the apostle will answer this question.

“Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.” (I John 2:7). John wrote that if a believer claims to “abide in“ Christ, he must live as Jesus did (2:6). When speaking of God’s commandments and a Christlike walk, John was not speaking of anything new. This is not a “new commandment” but an “old commandment” which his readers “heard from the beginning” of their Christian experience.

The “old commandment” was taught by Jesus years before when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34). 7 To walk as Jesus walked is to walk in love toward other believers. It is “old” in the sense of being no new responsibility and having no new content. Whatever new interpretations the antichrists (I John 2:18-19) were trying to add to Jesus’ original command to love one another, John reminds his readers that their responsibility was to obey the original command they “heard from the beginning” of their Christian experience (I John 2:7). 8 Throughout the centuries, people have tried to add “new” ideas or meanings to God’s Word to avoid responsibility. But Christ’s command has not changed since Jesus first spoke it.

From another point of view, the commandment spoken of in verse 7 as being “old,” can also be called a “new commandment.” John writes, “Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” (I John 2:8). Loving one another as Christ loved us is “new” because it belongs to a new age that “is already shining.” Christ’s incarnation brought a light into the world which can never be extinguished 9 (John 1:4-5 9; 8:12).The phrase “is passing away” (paragō) is also used by John in I John 2:17 which speaks of the darkness of the world being morally at odds with God the Father. Thus, John is saying the “old” moral darkness of this world is temporary. The “new” reality that will replace it is “the true light” which “is already shining.” This truth was fully revealed through Christ’s love for the world (John 3:16) and is being revealed today through the love of Christians for one another. But the day is coming when this love will shine forth without any hindrance in Christ’s coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Peter 3:13). 10

As Christ’s disciples (including us) obey the command to love one another as Jesus loved us, this command has the character of “truth” both “in” us as we do it and “in” Christ Who gave it. This “truth” was manifested “in” our Teacher (Jesus) as He obeyed His heavenly Father and now “in” those who obey Christ. When we love one another as Jesus loved us, we give others a glimpse of the new age of love to come which is in stark contrast to “the darkness” of hatred all around us. The world does not know this love. It is not a sign of a Christian’s salvation, but of his or her fellowship with Christ, because Jesus said, By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Loving one another as Christ loved us is a condition for discipleship, not salvation. 11 It is necessary to have fellowship or closeness with Christ.

The world does not understand the love of Jesus Christ. It is a love that offers forgiveness instead of vengeance when you are wounded. Christ gave us this command “in a Middle Eastern world which only understood an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They had been taught to love their neighbors but hate their enemies. The concept of turning the other cheek and loving their enemies was completely foreign to them.

“The modern problem between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel did not begin with the Jews taking the lands from the Arabs in 1948. At first the Jews tried to purchase land. Sir Moses Montefiore bought land in 1855 for Jewish settlers at Safed, just north of the Sea of Galilee. Then in 1884 Sir Rothschild bought more land for the S. Russian Jews near Ekron. The Jews were trying to escape false accusations brought against them in Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria that they were using the blood of Christian children in their Passover bread. But before 1900 ever rolled around there were attacks against the Jews by the Arabs in settlements around Jaffa and Tiberias.

“Larry Collins’ book O, Jerusalem, tells how the hatred between these groups escalated until wholesale slaughters of Jewish and Arab villages took place, with raping and castrating on both sides in order to increase the humiliation of the victims. The conflict which continues today knows nothing of the love of Christ. It is a land controlled by Satan and his minions of darkness. Their only hope is the love of Christ.” 12

As we see the pandemic of hate increasing around the world today, Christ’s love can shine brightly through Christians who love one another as Jesus loved them. But why is it so seldom we see this kind of love? It is because Christians, like the world, can be vulnerable to the darkness of hate.

John writes, He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.” (I John 2:9). The Christian who says, “he is in the light” as God is in the light (1:7) “and hates his brother, is” living “in darkness.” One cannot be sharing “the light” with God if he is hating his Christian “brother.”

“The opposite of love is hate. The opposite of light is darkness. Just as loving each other opens the floodgates of fellowship, so hating one another closes them. Thus, the biggest barrier to deep fellowship with God is to hate one’s brother.” 13

Those who think I John provides tests for eternal life would say this person who hates his brother is not even a true Christian because loving your Christian brother is proof that you are saved. This understanding is unacceptable for the following reasons:

1. The book of I John provides tests for a Christian’s fellowship with God (1:3-7). The proof that we are in fellowship with God is our love for one another (2:3-11).

2. The phrase “his brother” (2:9, 11) could refer to an unsaved person hating his physical kin, but since he has no spiritual kin, he cannot hate his spiritual “brother.” It is more consistent with John’s purpose in writing I John (fellowship with God and other Christians) to understand that he is talking about a Christian’s love for another Christian “brother” (cf. that you also may have fellowship with us” – 1:3; “we have fellowship with one another” – 1:7).

“If John thought that no Christian could hate another Christian, there was no need to personalize the relationship with the word ‘his.’ But the opinion, held by some, that a true Christian could never hate another Christian is naive and contrary to the Bible and experience. Even so great a man as King David was guilty of murder, which is the final expression of hate. John was warning his readers against a spiritual danger that is all too real (cf. 1:8, 10). And he was affirming that a Christian who can hate his fellow Christian has not genuinely escaped from the darkness of this present passing Age. To put it another way, he has much to learn about God and cannot legitimately claim an intimate knowledge of Christ. If he really knew Christ as he ought, he would love his brother.” 14

“If the Bible taught that feelings of hatred were a sure sign of an unsaved condition, then virtually no one in the whole church would be saved! But the Bible does not teach this.” 15

3. In the context of I John 2:3-11, John has in mind Christ’s command (2:5-8) to love one another as He has loved them as a proof of discipleship (John 13:34-35). John’s focus is on Christians loving one another (see especially I John 4:20-5:1). The term “his brother” must also be understood in this Christian sense. 16

The phrase “until now” (2:9) implies that this condition can end. 17 A Christian does not have to live in the darkness of hate. He or she can return to the light of God’s love. Look what happens when a Christian loves another Christian: “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (I John 2:10). First, we see that when a Christian “loves his” Christian “brother” he “abides in the light” of fellowship with God. So, he is not just “in” the light, but he “abides” there. We learned last time that the Greek word for “abides” (menō)is a favorite term of John’s for fellowship with God and other Christians. By loving God and others as Christ loved, he is walking “as He walked” (2:6). The loving Christian is living “in the light” of the new Age which has dawned in Christ (2:8). He is enjoying close fellowship with God and other believers.

Second, the loving believer has “no cause for stumbling in him.” When a believer abides in Christ by obeying His command to love one another, he does not trip himself or other Christians up to fall into spiritual danger. This suggests that hatred is a kind of internal stumbling block that can lead to disastrous spiritual failures. 18 Grudges hurt us more than anyone or anything else. The word “stumbling” (skandalon) refers “to a trap or a snare…  whatever ensnares a person in sin. In the person who loves his brother there is no such trap. This does not mean that this person is sinless (see 1:8), but rather that in walking as Christ walked, he does not create an inner spiritual condition by which he can be ensnared in sin. 19

Hatred sets us up for the entrapment of sin. Sinful words or behaviors can often spring from hatred. Such disastrous results are avoided by the believer who loves his Christian “brother.”

“But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (I John 2:11). Living in the darkness of hate produces terrible consequences for the believer in Jesus Christ which include:

  • “is in darkness.” The unloving Christian is in spiritual darkness. His fellowship with God is broken. He is living in a sphere where God is not (1:5).
  • “walks in darkness.” He is living in darkness and is unable to see the obstacles ahead of him. He may not see the damage and division his hatred will cause in his relationships with others.

      “Like a man wandering aimlessly in the dark, he faces potentially grave dangers.” 20

  • “does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Living out of fellowship with God results in a loss of direction. Our hatred blinds us to where our lives are going. The farther we move away from the Lord, the less awareness we have about the direction our sin is taking us. For example, in 2 Samuel 11 when King David sought to cover up his sin of adultery by trying to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to sleep with her, Uriah would not go down to his house. Then David made him drunk. But still Uriah would not sleep with his wife. So, David finally had him killed in battle. Each step that David took led him farther and farther away from the Lord. Sin blinds us and makes us unaware of where our lifestyle will lead us. This is especially true of our hatred for other Christians.  

Back in the 1990’s when we were living in southern Kansas, my family and I went to northern Oklahoma to the Alabaster Caverns. When we took a guided tour into one of the caves, at about a quarter mile inside they turned off the lights so we could experience total darkness. I think (please don’t quote me on this) the tour guide mentioned that a person who lives in total darkness for three days will be almost totally blind when he first comes into the sunlight. But eventually his eyes will adjust back to living in the light. If you go to an afternoon movie matinee for a couple of hours and then walk back into the sunlight outside, it is painful at first to be in the light.

The longer we live in sin, the harder it is to get back in the light. We may not want to let go of our bitterness and resentment toward another Christian who has deeply hurt us because then we will have to face our responsibilities to heal and grow.

You may wonder what is this hatred of which John talks about? How do I know if I have it? Anderson lists the different looks of hatred: (bold print added). 21

1. Cold Indifference—this is what we do to people who hurt us. We give them the cold shoulder. We have no intention of giving them the time of day until they come to us and seek an apology for what they have done to hurt us…

2. Vengeance—oh, we have lots of ways to do this, don’t we? Often this manifests itself in Christians as passive-aggressive behavior. She hurt me, so I won’t take out the trash, help with the dishes, or give her any verbal or physical affection.

3. Unforgiving Spirit—how easily this barb gets under our skin. Have you been hurt? Has someone in your past rejected you in such a way that you still hurt when you think about it? Do you become critical of people in your past the minute their names are mentioned? Have you worked hard all your life not to become like your parents? Are there people in your past upon whom you would enjoy taking revenge? Have you made a pastime out of scheming about how you could get back at them or embarrass them publicly? If you can say yes to any of these questions, then you wrestle with an unforgiving spirit. 22

4. Bitterness (Heb 12:15)—usually beneath an unforgiving spirit is a root of bitterness which Hebrews warns can defile many of those around us and keep us from enjoying the forgiving grace of God. Robert Lewis in his series called Quest for Authentic Manhood challenges every man to look for what he calls the Father Wound and the Mother Wound. According to him an early wound in our lives often explains much of the dysfunction in our adult lives when it comes to personal relationships. 23

5. Hatred has any number of different looks. These are just a few. John makes this much clear. A believer cannot know God’s will for his life while he walks in hatred. He is blind to God’s path for his life. He must be, for God’s path leads him to the brother/sister he hates. Forgiveness leads him back to the light. Indirectly, that’s what verse ten is telling us.”

How does a Christian return to the light if he has been walking in the darkness of hate? God gives us advice on how to resolve our anger in Psalm 4:4-5. The apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 4:4a when he writes, Be angry, and do not sin.” (Ephes. 4:26) when he is talking to believers about not grieving the Holy Spirit with their communications toward one another (cf. Ephes. 4:25-32). Psalm 4:4-5 teach us some important principles for dealing with our anger that will help us return to the light:

1. Admit and feel your anger (“Be angry and do not sin” – 4:4a). Anger is usually a secondary emotion. The primary emotions anger seeks to protect us from are fear or hurt. For example, when Jesus was “grieved” (hurt)by the religious leaders’ hardness of heart toward a man with a withered hand, He responded with anger toward them (Mark 3:5).

The feeling of anger is not wrong in and of itself. Even God feels anger (cf. Exod. 4:14; Num. 11:10; Deut. 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 12:19; Col. 3:6; Heb. 3:11; 4:3; Rev. 6:16; 19:15; et. al). What we do with our anger can be sinful. When we admit our anger, we begin to take control of it.

It is important to use “I feel…” statements which take responsibility for our own anger. Example: “I feel angry when you…” But spiritual perfectionism says, “I’m not angry.” Somehow Christians are not comfortable admitting their deep hurt and anger. Perhaps it is due to the perfectionism that is taught in churches today.

Shame-based statements use the word “You.” Example: “You make me feel so angry!” The last two examples do not honor what God is saying here – “Be angry and do not sin,” because they do not acknowledge or take responsibility for one’s own anger. You could insert any emotion for the word “angry” in this verse. When we admit our hate or hurt, we begin to take control of it. If we do not face our pain in full, we cannot be fully healed. A superficial acknowledgment of our pain will only lead to a superficial forgiveness and healing of our wounds.

But if we are to be more like Jesus Christ, we can learn to admit our anger and release it to God, so He can use it the way He intended – to accomplish His righteousness (cf. Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; James 1:19-20). If we refuse to address our anger God’s way, it will result in more brokenness in the body of Christ because we are giving the devil an opportunity to lead us into greater sin (cf. Ephesians 4:26-27). We are walking in the darkness which will lead to more destruction in our relationships with others. But if we do deal with our anger God’s way, we can experience what David did, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

2. Talk to the Lord until you can be still (“Meditate within your heart on your bed and be still” – 4:4b; cf. 4:3). After we have identified our anger, we can process it by talking to the Lord. The word “meditate” (’im·rū) means “to utter, say” (4:4b). 24 In the context David is talking to the Lord (Psalm 4:3). As we talk to the Lord, He can help us identify the source of our anger. Is it our own selfishness, hypersensitivity, or perfectionism? Or is it because we have been wronged?

3.  Do what is right which includes forgiving others and yourself (“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness” – 4:5a). Sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament as a means of forgiveness (cf. Hebrews 9:22). As God shows us the source of our anger, we can seek forgiveness if we were being selfish or perfectionistic (I John 1:9) or we can extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus taught, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people in the present.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. 25  God invites us to release “from the heart” the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. 26 God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

I am learning that there are three things that can hinder me from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. 27When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. We may judge their motives and try to read their minds. We tell ourselves, “He or she is evil, selfish, and does not care about me or love me.” Christ warns us about making such judgments (Matthew 7:1-2). These judgments can cause heart wounds that keep us from healing and growing. When we refuse to forgive that person, we can bind ourselves to the person we are judging and become more like that person. It is important to repent of our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. 27

Not only do judgments about our offenders hinder us from forgiving them, but so do the vows we make. Jesus opposed the practice of distorting vows so they could convey or conceal a lie (Matthew 5:33-35). We can make inner vows to survive the hurts we have suffered. For example, when a person I trusted hurts me, I may make an inner vow that says, “I will never trust anyone again!” Or “If I need others, they will take advantage of me!” These types of vows can become self-curses that result in isolation and loneliness, which cause us even more pain. These inner vows can often become subconscious and do not disappear with time. They are like a contract that must be renounced or broken.  It is important to ask God to forgive us and break these vows we have made.28

False beliefs or lies can also prevent us from forgiving others. We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just (Romans 12:19). Or “If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.” The truth is that just because you forgive them does not mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

If you are struggling with hatred because of unforgiveness, take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. You may want to start with those closest to you (e.g., a parent, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, etc.). What wound did he or she cause to you? (e.g., abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, neglected, rejected, etc.).

What are the judgments or things you believe about them? (e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matthew 7:1-2).

What vows did you tell yourself to survive the wound? (e.g., “I don’t need or trust anyone,” or “whatever I do, it won’t be enough,” or “all men/women are ______,” etc.). Renounce and repent of these vows, asking God to forgive you and to break them.

What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? (e.g., anger, addiction, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.).

What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? (e.g., apologize, change their behavior, justice, make restitution, money, repent or seek your forgiveness, etc.). Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt.

What false belief or lie is keeping you from forgiving them? Say the following false beliefs below to yourself to see if they feel true. If they do, then focus on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true.

False belief: If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.

True belief: Only God know what is just (Romans 12:19).

False belief: Forgiveness means I must pretend that nothing ever happened.

True belief: Forgiveness is not denial. You must tell yourself the truth about what they did and how it affected you to really be able to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35; John 8:32).

False belief: If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.

True belief: Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

False belief: My unforgiveness punishes them and is justified because I am right; they will never see their wrong and repent if I let go.

True belief: The truth is, it is God’s mercy and kindness that leads us to repentance. Only He knows what will change them (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:24-32).

If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness:

Father God, Your Word says that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And so, I come to You in the name of Jesus, in obedience and love, and I bring (name) _____ before You. I cancel _____ debt to me (e.g., apology, change of behavior, humiliation, repentance, suffering, etc.). I choose to forgive this hurt against me, and I ask that You not hold these sins against _____ on my account. I release _____ from any desire on my part to see _____ punished. In fact, as You have told me to do, I bless _____ in Your Son’s name, Jesus. You know _____ desires, needs, and hurts. You know what would bless _____. And so, I ask that You pour out Your love and healing to _____ and bring _____ Your highest good, because Your name is Good and Love, and You are not willing that any should perish. Now also, Father, please heal my heart and set me free to love _____ as You do. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

4. Trust the Lord with the situation (“And put your trust in the Lord” – 4:5b). Many believers struggle with the first two steps the most and skip right over them to forgive and trust the Lord without acknowledging or processing their feelings. But if we do not admit our anger or hurt and turn it over to the Lord, it is very difficult to forgive “from the heart” (cf. Matthew 18:35).

5. If possible, sit down with the one who hurt you and explain what you have been holding inside, and tell them you would like to forgive them.

6. If you cannot sit down with them, forgive them as Christ has forgiven you (Ephes. 4:32). “In Him” is the key. God forgave you “in Him.” You can forgive your brother because of your common position in Him.

7. Don’t confuse forgiving with trusting. You can forgive in a moment based on your common position in Christ, but trust must be rebuilt over time. This distinction has tripped up many people. A Christian wife is commanded to forgive her wayward husband (or vice-versa), but she is never commanded to trust him. He needs to earn her trust. 29

In summary, when a person first gets saved by believing in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:15-16), he can enjoy fellowship with God in the light by being open and responsive to what God reveals to him (I John 1:5-2:2). As he learns God’s commands, he can abide in Christ by keeping those commands (I John 2:3-6), especially the command to love one another as Jesus has loved him (cf. John 13:34-35). Failure to obey God’s known commands breaks his fellowship with God and others, plunging him into darkness where God is not (I John 2:7-11).  

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your love for us which You demonstrated by giving Your only perfect Son to die in our place on the cross for all our sins so we could receive eternal life freely the moment we believed in Him. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us a new commandment which is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as You have loved us, extending forgiveness to one another as You have forgiven us. Forgive us for the many times we have been less than loving to one another. Please keep us from the darkness of hate so we may enjoy sharing the light with You and grow to know You more intimately. Please align our thoughts with Yours so Your radical love for us can flow through us to the children of God. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Retrieved from Wikipedia article on November 3, 2022, entitled, “2020-2022 United States racial unrest.”

2. Ibid.; cf. May 25, 2021, article retrieved on November 3, 2022, entitled, “A Year of Racial Justice Protests: Key Trends in Demonstrations Supporting the BLM Movement,” from acleddata.com.

3. Retrieved on November 3, 2022, from the October 29, 2020, article entitled, “Why Hatred and ‘Othering’ of Political Foes Has Spiked to Extreme Levels,” at sceintificamerican.com.

4. Retrieved on November 3, 2022, from Lois Becketts’ October 31, 2020, article entitled, “At least 25 Americans were killed during protests and political unrest in 2020,” at theguardian.com; cf. Mike Gonzalez’ November 6, 2020, article entitled, “For Five Months, BLM Protestors Trashed America’s Cities. After the Election, Things May Only Get Worse,” at heritage.org.

5. Retrieved on November 3, 2022, from Benjamin Press and Thomas Carothers’ December 21, 2020, article entitled, “Worldwide Protests in 2020: A Year in Review,” from carnegieendowment.org.

6. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 85-86.

7. Ibid., pp. 86-87; Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pp. 39-40; Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 591.  

8. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3634.

9. Ibid., Kindle Location 3643.

10. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.  

11. Anderson, pg. 87.

12. Ibid., pp. 87-88.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3652.

15. Constable, pg. 41 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God’s Love (Irving, Tex.: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999), pg. 87.

16. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

17. Constable, pg. 41.   

18. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3660.

19. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

20. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3664.

21. Anderson, pp. 89-91.

22. Ibid., pg. 90 where Anderson acknowledges some questions were taken from Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pg. 23. Anderson, pg. 90 cites Robert M. Lewis, The Quest for Authentic Manhood (Little Rock, AK: Fellowship Bible Church, n.d.), pp. 10-11.

24. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon OFTHE OLD TESTAMENT at https://biblehub.com/hebrew/559.htm.

25. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124.

26. Ibid., pg. 124.

27. Ibid., pp. 126-131.

28. Ibid.

29. Steps 5 – 7 are adapted from Anderson, pg. 91 who acknowledges Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness: Put the Past Behind You and Give… (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 169-170.

I John – An Introduction

When God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and joined them together as husband and wife, the Bible tells us, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25; cf. Mark 10:6-9). To be “naked” and “not ashamed” suggests something more than not wearing any clothes. These words describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and with one another. They were able to be completely open with the Lord and each other without holding anything back or hiding their true selves. Adam and Eve were fully known by God and each other and they were okay with this. This enabled them to experience uninhibited intimacy with God and with one another. 1 They knew that they were totally accepted and loved by God. There was nothing to fear and nothing to hide from the Lord and each other.

Prior to the Fall, they did not experience any self-consciousness regarding the uniqueness of their personhood as man and woman. For example, Adam probably did not doubt his masculinity or his ability to impress Eve as a man. He was not concerned about his biceps being big enough or being a good enough lover for Eve. Nor did Eve wonder if her beauty was enough to attract Adam or if her ideas were as significant as his. With an unwavering assurance, both knew that who they were and what they offered to one another was more than just good enough – it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 2

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

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

But their sin and shame also adversely affected their closeness with God. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Instead of being open and vulnerable before God, they now hid themselves from His presence when He pursued them. God is presented in this verse as pursuing His fallen children by walking in the garden in the cool of the day as if this was something He had always done to connect with them. We might assume that God came to them to punish and shame Adam and Eve for the wrong they had done but notice that God does not seek to shame His fallen children. He seeks to restore them. “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). Why would an all-knowing God ask Adam a question to which He already knows the answer? Because the Lord wanted a confession from Adam. “Where are you in relation to Me?” God asks. God knew where Adam was, but did Adam know where he was in relation to the Lord? Do we know where we are in relation to God?

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

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

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

We learn from the first man and woman, that intimacy with God and one another is broken when we sin against God or each other. Instead of love characterizing our relationships with one another, fear and shame disrupt the closeness we once enjoyed.

As a result of the Fall, all people are now born with a sin nature which creates huge barriers to love and intimacy (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12-21). Dr. David Anderson identifies two of those barriers in his book Maximum Joy:

“It is selfishness. Selfishness focuses on getting, not giving. Love, by definition, is giving, but the sin nature grabs and gets. People often confuse love and lust, but the main difference between the two is selfishness. Love asks, ‘How can I meet your needs?’ whereas lust asks, ‘How can you meet mine?’ So, the sin nature works against intimacy because it is selfish.

“But there is something else contained in the sin nature which is a block to intimacy, and that’s fear. Fear is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to opening up. You can’t be intimate with someone if you don’t open up. You can’t be close to someone if you don’t share the things which are close to you. But we are afraid to do that. We are afraid to let the other person see what is deep down inside. We are afraid they won’t like what they see. We are afraid they will simply reject us.

“This fear of rejection keeps us from opening up and getting close. But there is good news. God has given us I John to show how to have intimacy after the fall, to show how we can have our most fundamental need for love met even though there is sin in the world, in the universe, and resident within us. That’s why I John was written.” 3

Not everyone agrees with this understanding of I John. There are several popular preachers and teachers who believe I John was written to provide tests to see if you are genuinely saved and going to heaven when you die.

For example, one popular author and speaker wrote a book entitled Saved without a Doubt. 4 He argues that I John provides eleven tests which can help you determine if you are a genuine Christian on your way to heaven:

1. Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and with the Father?

2. Are you sensitive to sin?

3. Do you obey God’s Word?

4. Do you reject this evil world?

5. Do you eagerly await Christ’s return?

6. Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life?

7. Do you love other Christians?

8. Do you experience answered prayer?

9. Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

10. Can you discern between spiritual truth and error?

11. Have you suffered rejection because of your faith? 5

When I read this list of questions, they raised more questions than answer. What if I could only answer “yes” to five of those questions and not all eleven of them? Does that mean I am not a Christian? How much fellowship must I enjoy with Christ and the Father? How do I measure that? How sensitive to sin must I be? How much of God’s Word must I obey to know I am truly a Christian? Must I obey His Word perfectly or most of the time? Do I have to obey all of God’s commands or just the major ones? 6 No one can obey all of them or they would be perfect, and the Bible says that does not happen in this life (I John 1:8, 10). So, who determines how much obedience is enough?

What if I became a Christian when I was nine years old, but I fell away from the Lord when I was a teenager and lived a wayward life for the next ten years? During those ten years I could not answer “yes” to any of those questions. Does that mean I was never saved to begin with, or I lost my salvation during those years? There are different groups who would say I was never saved, or I had lost my salvation during those wayward years. 7

The point is that these kinds of questions do not give us the certainty we are saved without a doubt. They only increase the doubts of an introspective or thinking person. They increase one’s fear or guilt. 8

As we approach the book of I John, it is important to understand that the apostle John 9 is writing to Christians (2:12-14) prior to 70 A. D. 10 fromJerusalem (2:19) 11 so they could experience the joy of intimacy or closeness with God and other believers (1:3-4). While the gospel of John was written primarily to non-Christians to tell them how to receive the gift of eternal life simply by believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), I John was written to believers in Jesus so they could experience the joy of fellowship or closeness with God (I John 1:3-4).

John is writing to this community of believers because their fellowship with the Lord Jesus (1:3, 7) was being threatened by false teachers whom he calls antichrists (2:18-26). Hodges observes that these antichrists:

a. Thought physical contact with a divine being was impossible (1:1-4). They believed spiritual things (soul, spirit) are divine and good, but material things (body) are created and evil. Therefore, what you did with your body was irrelevant.

b. May have taught that good and evil, light and darkness, originated from God; therefore, to fellowship with God involved participation in good and evil (1:5-6; 2:29; 3:6-9).

c. Undermined John’s readers assurance of salvation (2:25-26) to entice them into a worldly (2:15-17; 3:4-10a) and unloving lifestyle (3:10b-4:21).

d. Were probably believers who defected from the Christian faith (2:19), denying that Jesus was the Christ come in human flesh (2:22-23; 4:1-3). Believed Jesus was only a man and the divine Christ descended on Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion (5:6-8).

e. May have practiced idolatry (5:21), including immorality with temple prostitutes. 12

Anderson emphasizes the importance of understanding I John from the backdrop of the gospel of John. He observes that the outline of the gospel of John is parallel to the temple or tabernacle (see diagram 1). 13

The first twelve chapters of the gospel of John focus on evangelism. John presents seven miraculous signs of Jesus so his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so they may obtain eternal life (John 20:31). “John’s signature phrase for a new believer is the Greek construction pisteuō eis (believe in). This phrase is found nowhere in Greek literature outside the New Testament, and of the thirty-four uses in John, thirty of them occur in the first twelve chapters.” 14

But when we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift in John’s presentation. Instead of focusing on sharing the gospel with non-believers, John addresses believers about discipleship. This is why Judas, who is not a believer (John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), must be sent out of the room as one of two steps to prepare Christ’s believing disciples for the intimate truths of discipleship (John 13:1-30). 15

The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believing disciples. Since Judas was not a believer, he did not belong in this setting. Non-believers had to come into the temple/tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truths Jesus wanted to share in the Upper Room were intended for believers. But even they needed to be cleansed daily of their sins to enjoy fellowship with God. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they wouldn’t be able to absorb the truth He wanted to impart to them. 16

The truth Christ gave to them involved Positional/Relationship Truth and Practical/Fellowship Truth. Christ presented this symbolically as taking a bath (Positional Truth) and foot washing (Practical Truth). When Jesus bent down to wash the feet of Peter, Peter resisted (John 13:5-8a). When Peter submits, he asks Jesus for an entire bath (John 13:9). Jesus explains that Peter is already “completely clean” because he already had a complete bath (John 13:10). All he needs now is to have his feet cleansed. If Christ doesn’t wash Peter’s feet, Jesus said Peter would have no “part” (fellowship) with Him (John 13:8b). 17

Hodges states, “This truth, of course, is more fully elaborated in I John 1:5-10 where fellowship is related to the question of the believer’s walk’ (which one’s ‘feet’ suggest) and it is conditioned on the cleansing that comes in response to confession of sin (I John 1:9).18 Peter could not have fellowship with the Lord until He was willing to receive His cleansing ministry.

How is it possible for Peter to be completely clean and yet need to have his feet washed? This is where we see Positional/Relationship Truth combined with Practical/Fellowship Truth. Peter had already received Jesus’ gift of eternal life early in Jesus’ ministry (John 1:35-2:11). Therefore, Jesus said Peter had already been “bathed” (John 13:10). In the first century, there were no bathing facilities in small houses. So, a person had to go to a public bathhouse to bathe. When invited to a meal, a person would first go to the public bathhouse and bathe, and then put on clean clothing, anoint himself with fresh oil, and proceed to the home where he would be served a meal. On the way from the bathhouse to the home, the guest’s feet got dirty. Hence, the host provided a basin of water so that the one who already had a bath and cleansed his entire body could sponge the dirt off his feet. 19

Jesus is referring to two types of cleansing in John 13:10. The first type of cleansing refers to the complete cleansing of regeneration or salvation which takes place at the moment of faith in Jesus (cf. Titus 3:5; Revelation 1:5). This is seen in the word “bathed” (louō) which refers to bathing the entire body. 20 This verb is in the perfect tense which conveys the idea of a permanent cleansing. A person only needs one complete bath spiritually. This is a one-time experience. The Holy Spirit performs this complete cleansing at the moment of faith in Jesus for eternal life. Some believers think they need to be totally bathed repeatedly. They fail to understand that God’s water or soap is guaranteed for eternity. Have you experienced this one-time permanent cleansing? If not, Christ invites you right now to believe or trust in Him alone. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Once you believe in Christ, you will need the second type of cleansing that He speaks of next.

This second type of cleansing refers to daily forgiveness to have fellowship or closeness with God. This cleansing is represented by the word “wash” (niptō) which means to wash parts of the body. 21 This fellowship forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 11:4) is based upon the confession of sin (I John 1:9). So, Christ is saying in verse 10, “He who is bathed [Positional/Relationship Truth] needs only to wash his feet [Practical/Fellowship Truth] but is completely clean.” Every bathed person (Christian) needs daily cleansing of his dirty feet to have fellowship or closeness with Christ.

Peter and the other ten believing disciples needed cleansing of their pride. They had been arguing among themselves at the Lord’s Supper about who would be the greatest in Christ’s future kingdom on earth (cf. Mark 10:35-44; Luke 22:24). So, these eleven disciples did not need a bath (Relationship Truth), they needed their feet and hearts cleansed (Fellowship Truth). Once Christ cleansed their feet and demonstrated what true greatness was (humble servanthood), their hearts were ready to hear Him share truths about loving Him and He them (John 14:21), how to stay close to Him so He could produce fruit through them (John 15). He also prepared them for future suffering and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16). 22

Anderson writes, “Again, the tabernacle may well have been in John’s mind when he structured his gospel. It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So, if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believer through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than just intercede in prayer. He actually becomes our mercy seat (Romans 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus, in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Now Jesus leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21).

“The importance of seeing the parallels between the structure of John and tabernacle cannot be overstated. With this visual aid we can see that a major portion of John does not focus on evangelism or relationship. The focus of Jesus’ words in the upper room is on intimacy or fellowship. As we look at I John we will see that it is this theme of the Upper Room Discourse that is repeated over and over in this short letter. In fact, as noted in the diagram above, all the major elements of the tabernacle (blood, fellowship, confession, light, intercession of the High Priest) are also found in I John 1:5-2:2.” 23

It is with great anticipation we will begin to discover the joy of intimacy or fellowship with God and one another as we embark on this journey through I John. I hope you will join me in the weeks to come, Lord permitting, to grow closer to our God and to one another.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the book of First John which You have given to us so we may develop a deeper intimacy with You and Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please open our eyes and hearts to the wonderful things You want to show us. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 68.

2. Ibid., pg. 69.

3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 14.

4. Ibid., pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992).

5. Ibid., pg. 15 cites MacArthur, pp. 67-91.

6. Ibid., pg. 15.

7. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

8. Ibid., pg. 16.

9. The ancient Greek manuscripts name the author of I John to be the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, who also wrote the gospel of John. The style and vocabulary of 1-3 John appear to come from the same author of the the gospel of John. See Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2329 and Zane Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 587.

10. Hodges, pg. 587.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., pp. 587-588.

13. Anderson, pg. 16.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

16. Ibid., pg. 17.

17. The word “part” (meros) is a term for fellowship (cf. Luke 10:42) in the New Testament. See Zane Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers – John 2:23-25,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978), pg. 147; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 326, 353, 401,593-594; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 215.  

18. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers,” pg. 147.

19. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 429.

20. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 603.

21. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 238-239.

22. Anderson, pg. 18.

23. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

How Can I Overcome Loneliness (Video)

This is the fourth video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible several transforming principles for overcoming loneliness.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from FreeBibleimages.org, Goodsalt.com, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org or they are creative common licenses.

Two Christmas Seasons

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

You can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day by hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus talks about two Christmas seasons in one of the most familiar verses of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

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

The first Christmas season is seen in the first part of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” No one has ever loved to the degree that God has loved. He loved the world. He did not limit His love to one country, culture, or color. God loved everyone.

Because God loves everyone, His love cannot be earned. God loves us now, not when we get better. He loves us regardless of what we have done or not done. Do you realize that nothing you do can make God love you any less? God has designed us to be loved by Him. Only His love can meet our deepest needs. Sadly, we often look in the wrong places for God’s love, don’t we? We look for love in – a cell phone, a job, money, sports, alcohol, a computer, drugs, or a brief romantic relationship. God’s love isn’t found in these things. His love is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How did God express His love for us? “He gave His only begotten Son.” The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents. The word translated “only begotten” (monogenḗs) literally means “one of a kind.” Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind because only He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14).

Over two thousand years ago, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger on the earth even though He pre-existed as God. He loved you and me so much He was willing to become a helpless baby. Here He was, the Creator of the universe, lying in the arms of a woman that He created! God sent Jesus so you could know what He is like (John 1:18). If God wanted to communicate to birds, He would have become a bird. If God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. But God wanted to relate to you and to me, so He became a human being without ceasing to be God.

You may be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, or an atheist. It does not matter what your religious background is because Christ did not come to give us religion, He came to give us a relationship. Christmas is God saying, “I want to relate to you. I want you to know Me as much as I know you.”

Because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:23), we deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But Jesus came that first Christmas season to die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Christ paid for the gift of eternal life.

When you receive a gift, do you have to pay for it? No, of course not. Why? Because it is already paid for. Eternal life is free to you and me (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9) because Jesus already paid for it when He died on the cross (John 19:30) and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today! So, the first Christmas season was when Christ came to us.

The second Christmas season is now when Christ invites us to come to Him. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). Does the word “whoever” include everyone? Yes. It includes the best and worst of people and everyone in between.

Christ invites everyone to believe in Him for His free gift. He did not say “whoever behaves…” Jesus simply says, “whoever believes…” Receiving Christ’s gift of eternal life is apart from any good works we might do.

Jesus is not asking you, “Do you do good in the community?” because He never said, “Whoever does good in the community should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking you, “Did you live an obedient life?” because He never said, “Whoever lives an obedient life should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking, “Do you have religion?” because He never said, “whoever has religion should not perish but have everlasting.”

Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does it mean to believe? To believe simply means to trust or depend upon. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says you “believe” and “have.” You have what you take, correct?

What do you like the most about Christmas? Most people will say, receiving gifts, right?! To enjoy a gift, what must you do? You must receive it.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger and died on a cross so we could receive eternal life as a free gift. We cannot trust our obedience to God’s commands, our good life, our religion, or our prayers to receive eternal life. Instead, we must believe or trust in Christ alone to receive His gift of eternal life and live with Him forever in heaven. The moment you trust Christ, Christmas will never end for you. What makes Christmas lasting is knowing you will live forever in God’s presence. Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

Christ promises that when you believe in Him you “should not perish” in hell. When you believe in Christ, He promises you will be rescued from eternal punishment. When Jesus speaks of perishing, He is not talking about physical death, He is talking about suffering forever and ever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; 20:15). Many people don’t believe in hell today, but they better be sure about it because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. Everyone needs to be rescued because “all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).

The word “but” contrasts eternal death and torment (“perish”) with “eternal life” and enjoyment. Jesus is acknowledging that there is a place of eternal ruin where people will be in agony forever. “But,” He says, “You can have the opposite of death, agony and torment – you can have eternal life.” All people exist forever, the question is where will you live when you die – heaven or hell?

When you believe in Jesus, He promises that you can be sure that you “have everlasting life.” Jesus did not say, “might have” or “hope to have.” He simply says, “have,” which expresses absolute certainty. You can be one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life because Jesus promises it to all who believe in Him. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

Eternal life is described in John 17:3 as knowing God the Father and God the Son personally forever. Eternal life begins when you believe in Jesus, not when you die or after you die. What could possibly be greater than that? If you have not believed or trusted in Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life, why not do so right now? This is how you can tell God in prayer what you are doing:

“Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. Nothing I am or do makes me deserving of heaven. I now understand that Jesus Christ, the One born in a manger, died for me on a cross and rose again. I place my trust in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I have just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, He came to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). You can get to know Jesus better by talking to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and by listening to Him as you learn to read and apply the Bible to your life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Find a church where you can worship God with other like-minded Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Tell others about Jesus and what He can do for them (Matthew 4:19).

To learn more about how you can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day of your life, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about.

A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

How can I ever change? Part 3

“So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ ” Genesis 32:27

We are learning from Jacob’s interaction with the Angel of the Lord how God wants to change us from the inside out. Thus far we have discovered that we can change when…

– God uses the process of a crisis (Genesis 32:24).

– God uses the process of commitment (Genesis 32:26).

After an all-night wrestling match, the Angel of the Lord said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” Jacob replied, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:24). Before the Angel of the Lord would bless Jacob, “He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ ” (Genesis 32:27). Why did the Angel of the Lord ask Jacob this question? Didn’t the Lord already know the answer? He asked this question to get Jacob to confess his character by stating his name, which had basically come to mean a “cheater” or “schemer.” Jacob remembered the heartache he had caused by scheming against his brother Esau, so when the angel asked, “What is your name?” He was asking, “What are you really like?” Jacob admitted, “I am a cheater and a schemer.” He was honest about his character flaws.

The third way for us to change for the better is when GOD USES THE PROCESS OF CONFESSION (Genesis 32:27). This is an important process when it comes to God changing us from the inside out, because we never change until we honestly face and admit our need to change. We need to come clean with God about our sins, faults, and weaknesses. God is not going to go to work on our problem until we admit that we have a problem.

There is a part of our brain that is designed to help us survive by storing the memories of experiences that created intense pain or fear. When we are wounded, the best defense is to create a wall – a form of protection to keep us from being hurt that same way again. These walls become “protective personalities.” These personalities usually represent the opposite of who we really are, because it is in our true identity that we can be most wounded. This “protective personality” shows itself as a part of you that everyone else can see or sense, but which remains out of your own awareness. This sometimes is referred to as a “blind spot.” 1

The protective personality is there to protect us from trusting, being vulnerable, and subsequently being betrayed and hurt by others. It pushes others away and communicates that you don’t have problems or need anyone, making it difficult or unsafe for them to tell you the truth. The thing you need the most (connection with God and others) is also the thing you fear the most. This “protective personality” is a means of not needing God and others, remaining invulnerable, avoiding risk and pain. Most of the time these personalities were formed when we were very young, as a protective mechanism. Their job is to keep us safe. They have worked successfully throughout our lives or they wouldn’t still be around! 2

Jacob’s protective personality was the Deceiver or Schemer. He tried to protect himself through manipulation and trickery. God’s wrestling match with Jacob had brought him to the end of himself. Jacob could no longer control the situation like he had done in the past. His protective mechanism was no longer working. It was time for Jacob to identify his protective personality and come clean with God. And he did.

What about us? What wall of protection have we created to protect ourselves from being hurt again? Here are some possibilities: Actor, Anger, The Bully, Confusion, Contempt, Control, Crazy, The Critic, Don’t Mess with Me, The Doormat, The Hard Worker, The Hero, Independence, Invisible, The Joker, Lazy, Loser, I’m OK, Mr./Ms. Right, Over-Achiever, Overwhelmed, The Perfectionist, The  Pharisee, The Phony, The Pleaser, The Professor, The Protector, Rescuer, The Scapegoat, The Super Servant, The Victim. 3

What do you think your protective personality protects you from? Does it protect you from trusting and being hurt, betrayed, criticized, humiliated, rejected, shamed, taken advantage of, or looking stupid, etc.?

If we are still in denial about having a protective personality, God is not going to help us. It is when we admit we have created this personality to protect ourselves, that God can go to work. Yes, it is humbling to admit our wall of protection, but once we do, God gives us all the resources and all His power to enable us to change for the better. At that point, we can start becoming the person God has always wanted us to be.

Once we have identified our protective personality, it is important to go to the Lord and confess it to Him. Let’s go to Him right now in prayer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am a lot like Jacob. I have created _____________ (your protective personality’s name) to protect me from ________________ (name what it protects your from). But this has left me more isolated and lonely. The thing I fear the most – connection with You and others – is also what I need the most. I am realizing that I do not need _____________ (your protective personality) anymore. Lord Jesus, I will trust You with protecting me from _______________. I invite You, Lord Jesus, to come and minister to me now. Please show me how You will do this. In Your loving name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Book 1 and 2 Individual Workbook 4th Edition (Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 109-110.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pg. 115.

How much you matter to God – Part 5

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ ” Luke 19:8

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. So far we have discovered…

– No matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a).

– No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:5ab).

– No matter what I’ve done, Jesus accepts me (Luke 19:5c-6).

Today, we discover the final profound truth: NO MATTER HOW MUCH I’VE HURT OTHERS, JESUS CAN RESTORE MY RELATIONSHIPS (Luke 19:7-10). When Jesus gave Zacchaeus attention, affirmation, and acceptance, Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him (Luke 19:5-6; cf. John 1:12). At that moment of faith in Jesus, Zacchaeus was forever changed!

Zacchaeus probably came down out of the tree and began to walk with Jesus to his house. As they are walking along, Zacchaeus overhears the people grumbling right behind Jesus. “But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’ ” (Luke 19:7). When Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the reaction of the crowd was swift and brutal. They are complaining against Jesus because He is going to go and stay in the house of “a sinner.” We can hear their self-righteous anger come out: ”Jesus is going to stay in the house of this corrupt guy? This is absurd!”

When the crowd refers to Zacchaeus as “a sinner,” they are saying he does not appear to be righteous like they are. He doesn’t live his life the way society expects life to be lived. The crowd assumes that Jesus is losing something by accepting Zacchaeus and it disturbs them. “It was as though Jesus had become the guest of a Mafia godfather (cf. 5:29-30; 15:1-2). However, table fellowship implied even more comradeship then, than eating in someone else’s home does today. Staying in a person’s home amounted to sharing in his sins.” 1

But it does not bother the Lord Jesus. He knows His purpose for coming to Jericho (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus, however, is disturbed. He hears the grumbling against Jesus’ association with him and is troubled inwardly. But Jesus just keeps on walking. Christ is delighted that Zacchaeus has received Him as his Savior. But Zacchaeus is bothered and as he hears the crowd complaining against Jesus, he thinks to himself, “Oh my, I am getting the Lord into trouble! These people are turning against Jesus because He has affirmed me and accepted me!” Zacchaeus hears the people complaining about Jesus making friends with him and is troubled by this, so he wants to make things right.

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ ” (Luke 19:8). Notice Zacchaeus says, “I give.” The moment he trusted Jesus as his Savior, suddenly the most greedy man in all of Jericho became the most generous man. What happened? The love of Jesus Christ changed him. When we meet Jesus Christ and believe in Him for salvation, our attitudes change. You start thinking about other people. Why? Because you realize how much you have been given and you want to give back.

Zacchaeus is saying to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, I feel terrible about this. You are spending time with me – a rotten sinner – and these people are turning against You. I just want You to know that as a result of Your love and acceptance of me, I want to make things right for the wrongs I have done to these people.”

When Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor,” the people must have been dumbfounded when they heard this. But it doesn’t stop there. Then he says, “If I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation [and I have], I restore fourfold.” This is an amazing statement! Zacchaeus admits he has stolen from the people by falsely accusing them of withholding their taxes from the Roman government! And now he pledges to give back to them four times what he stole from them!

Zacchaeus serves as a sterling example of the repentance preached by John the Baptist and by Jesus (3:7-14; 5:27-32). In fact, Zacchaeus surpassed both John’s instructions and the OT requirement for reparations—the addition of 20 percent beyond the original value of the stolen goods (cf. Lev 5:14-26). Whereas the narrative of the blind man focused on salvation by faith alone, this story emphasizes repentance. Belief in Jesus and national repentance would have brought about the kingdom and the promised OT blessings. Now, the realization of the kingdom would have to await a future time (see Luke 19:11).” 2

“The Mosaic Law only required adding 20 percent to the amount due when restitution was necessary (cf. Lev. 5:16; Num. 5:7). When a Jew stole an animal that he could not restore, he had to repay about fourfold, but if he was caught with the stolen property, he had to repay double (Exod. 22:1, 4). Zacchaeus’ words were the signs of true repentance (cf. 3:8; 14:33; 18:22).” 3 He went beyond what the law required.

These are the spiritual results of his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the things that came of out of his new relationship with the Lord Jesus who loved him and accepted him. Zacchaeus was a defrauder and a sinner, but he was willing to change his ways as a result of his relationship with Jesus.

“That’s what repentance looks like. Repentance doesn’t merely say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it makes amends for wrongdoing. The crowds had complained that Jesus went to this wicked man’s home. But after Jesus got through with him, Zacchaeus would be a better man for the community and restore what he had taken from them.” 4

Zacchaeus was concerned that the wrong things he had done in the past were now getting the Lord Jesus into trouble with the people around Him. When we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we become more sensitive about how our decisions affect the Lord and the people around us. Is there anything in your life right now that could ruin Jesus’ reputation? Is there anything in your life that a non-Christian could look at and say if that’s what Christianity is about, then I don’t want anything to do with it. Some of us have done things to people that need to be made right because it’s hurting the Lord’s reputation and His church. All of us, including me, need to ask the Lord if there is anything in our lives that is getting Jesus into trouble with others.

Whether we like it or not, the world is watching us to see if we are going to live what we preach. Will we walk the talk? Perhaps we need to go back to people we have offended and we need to make it right with them. Say to them, “I was only thinking of myself back then, but Jesus has changed me and I ask for your forgiveness. I want to make things right with you.” The longer we put it off, the more it hurts the Lord and the testimony of His church.

When Jesus hears Zacchaeus’ pledge to make things right with people, He rejoices. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:9).  Does this mean Zacchaeus received salvation because he would give to the poor and restore fourfold what he had stolen? No, this would be contrary to the emphasis of the New Testament which teaches salvation from hell is based upon faith alone in Christ alone (cf. John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 9:35-38; 11:25-27; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; et al.).

While Zacchaeus was a physical son or descendant of Abraham, he became a spiritual “son of Abraham” through faith alone in Jesus. “Son of Abraham” is a term used by the apostle Paul. Paul and Luke, the author of the gospel of Luke, were traveling companions. So it is likely Luke used this term the same way Paul does. Paul writes, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7). Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because of his faith in the Lord Jesus.

Both ‘son of Abraham’ and the similar ‘daughter of Abraham’ (cf. Luke 13:10-17) describe a justified believer (see Gal 3:1-14). Whereas Zacchaeus’ fellow countrymen would have questioned his fidelity to his physical Jewish heritage, his belief in Jesus (which probably occurred sometime during the course of Jesus’ stay in his home) rendered him a spiritual son of Abraham as well. In fact, John the Baptist minimizes the claim to descendancy from Abraham when not accompanied by repentance. Zacchaeus’ belief in Jesus and his subsequent repentance rendered him a true Jew and Israelite in every sense of the word (cf. Rom 2:17-29; 9:6-8).” 5

Jesus then explains why Zacchaeus came to faith in Him. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Because Jesus, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” He came to Zacchaeus and saved him the moment Zacchaeus believed in Him.

Jesus is the One who seeks and saves. We do not save ourselves. We may think we are seeking God, but the truth is, God is the One seeking us. This is going on today. Our responsibility is to receive the One who seeks us. Christ constantly seeks to love and accept us. We must simply believe in Him to be saved (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). The “lost” refers to anyone who does not have a relationship with the heavenly Father through faith in Christ alone. Jesus does not wait for people to come to Him. He goes to them. He is seeking people who are up in a tree or out on a limb.

Many people today have a misunderstanding about God. We think we have to get our act together to come into God’s presence. We think we have to be worthy in some way to go into Jesus’ presence or to get His attention and acceptance. That is a gross misunderstanding of the relationship Jesus offers. The New Testament tells us that this Son of God seeks sinners. He seeks the helpless, hopeless, and humiliated. He comes to them. He give them attention where they are at. Even if they are up in a tree or out on a limb, He notices every detail in their lives without any conditions. That is the love of Jesus Christ!

However, many Christians and non-Christians are trying to become worthy to receive the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. They won’t go to God when they are in trouble because they think they have got to get everything together first. “As soon as I get my life together this week, then I will go to God in prayer.” If that happens, tell me how you did it because I have never met someone who has it altogether for God except this One Person named Jesus Christ.

God comes to those who do not have it altogether. He comes to the people who are treed like Zacchaeus, and feel unworthy. He comes to them and accepts them. How many of us have a relationship with Jesus like that? Don’t we want to be with Someone like that? Of course we do! All of us long to be with Someone who loves and accepts us as we are. But when we are in the presence of someone who is harsh, condemning, and unaccepting, we want to run and hide. If we see Jesus that way, we are not going to want to spend any time with Him. And if we are not spending time with Jesus, we are not going to change for the better.

I wonder how many of you reading this do not feel worthy? To be honest, this also comes up in my life in my interactions with others. People think they must be worthy to come into God’s presence. I tell them, “Jesus loves you and He is offering a free gift if you will simply receive it by faith. Eternal life can be yours forever if you simply believe in Jesus for it. You can have new life. You can possess an inward life that is real and can respond to problems and pressures in this life. A life that transforms your life from a hurtful life into a healing life.”  

People then tell me, “But I am not worthy! I have done so many shameful things that you don’t know about.” I say to them, “You are in the best position you could be in if you feel unworthy because Jesus Christ seeks the unworthy. He did this with Zacchaeus and He is doing this with you. In His compassion, Christ comes to the unworthy and accepts them. He is seeking you and wants to save you. Will you climb down out of your tree and receive Him joyfully today? He is waiting.”

Christians can also feel unworthy and refuse to spend time with Jesus. They don’t build a relationship with Christ. They look at their sins all the time while Jesus is saying, “Hey, I came to you when you were an enemy of Mine and now you are God’s child. You were not worthy then and you are not worthy now. But I still love you and want to spend time with you. I still come to you as your Savior and your Lord.  And I love you and accept you as you are. And I also love you enough to change you if you will permit Me.”

How do we view our relationship with Jesus? Do we see Him shaking His fist at us? Do we see Him as a cruel old man leaning over the balcony with a holy hammer, saying, “Hmmmm. Anyone having a good time? Stop it! Pow! Pow! Pow!”

Do we think we must work hard to enter God’s presence? Or is His love and acceptance tugging at our hearts? Is your heart drawn to Jesus Christ? Is there a pull on your heart to draw closer to Jesus? If not, why not? He is the most loving and accepting Person who has ever walked on the earth. He cared so much for you and for me that He let people spit on Him, beat Him, whip Him, and kill Him so He could pay for all our sins. Now that is the ultimate expression of love! Why do we stand off at a distance from Jesus like we cannot approach Him? Like He doesn’t care? Is it because we have a distorted view of Christ!?!

Jesus seeks and saves the lost. If you are saved, He still loves and accepts you. I have just as many problems today as I did forty-two years ago when Jesus saved me. My problems are just in different forms today. And I still need Jesus’ acceptance today, don’t you? I don’t feel worthy. I still need a Lord Who comes to me in my unworthiness and loves me. When I see Jesus like that, I want to spend time with Him and let Him speak truth into my life and work in and through me. Don’t you want that? I hope so.

Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? If not, why not? He loves you and longs to save you. Why not come down out of your tree and receive Him today?

If you already have a relationship with Jesus, are you enjoying your relationship with Him? If not, why not? He wants to build a close relationship with You.

When Jesus saves us, He wants to change us. As we spend time with Jesus, we start to value what He values. We start to seek out the lost and introduce them to Christ. We become more sensitive to the Lord and to others. If we have hurt others, Jesus wants to heal our relationships with them. Will You let Him show You how to do this? He can heal those we have wounded. It is true that hurting people hurt people. But it is equally true that healed people heal people. Our world needs the healing touch of Jesus Christ through those who love and follow Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when we look back on our lives, we realize that we were a lot like Zacchaeus. We had our own brand of selfishness which hurt others deeply. But You sought us out and saved us so Your life could live through ours. Lord, please show us if there are any people in our lives that we have hurt. People who want nothing to do with Christianity because we have wounded them with our words or actions. Show us how we can make things right with them. Lord Jesus, You are the God Who heals. Please heal us so we can be used by You to help others heal. In Your all powerful name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 272.

2. Alberto Samuel Valdés, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 382.

3. Constable, pg. 272.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

5. Valdes, pg. 383.

How much you matter to God – Part 4

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ ” Luke 19:5

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. So far we have discovered…

– No matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a).

– No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:5ab).

Zacchaeus’ appearance made him feel lonely and insecure. His accusers made him feel bitter and resentful. But it was Zacchaeus’ sins, his own lifestyle, his own choices, that made him feel guilty and ashamed. So Jesus Christ did something even more shocking. He didn’t just walk up to the tree and look up and notice Zacchaeus. And He didn’t just call him by name and affirm him as a pure one in front of everybody else who hated him. 

Jesus then said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. This is truly amazing!

Think about this. The Son of God, walked all the way through town to find the biggest scoundrel in town and says, “I’m going to go to your house. I’m going to be your guest. Out of all these thousands of people, I choose you, Zacchaeus.”

This leads us to our third profound truth: NO MATTER WHAT I’VE DONE, JESUS ACCEPTS ME (Luke 19:5c-6) and He wants a relationship with me. This is the biggest mind blower of all. Jesus knew that there was no way that Zacchaeus would ever invite Him to his house because Zacchaeus was carrying a lot of hidden guilt, perhaps like some of us today. Because in his mind, Zacchaeus was thinking, “I’m not good enough to have Jesus Christ at my house. I’m not good enough to have God as my guest. You don’t know the things that I have done. I am not good enough to have a relationship with Him.”

And many of us have felt that way. We say to ourselves, “I’m not good enough. If you knew all the shameful things I have done You could never love me or want to spend time with me.” But we are wrong. Spending time with Jesus is not based on our goodness. It is based on God’s incredible love and grace for us. Regardless of all we have done wrong, Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with us.

So Jesus takes the initiative and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Notice, that Jesus did not say, “I would like to stay at your house.” No, He said “I must stay at your house.” This was a divine appointment. It was a necessary visit. 1  Since Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He obviously knew Zacchaeus. He knew everything about him, but that did not deter Jesus from taking the initiative and inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

The truth is, like Zacchaeus, we have done a lot of things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people with our own brand of selfishness. Sometimes it is out in the open. Sometimes it is in secret. But we have hurt a lot of other people in our lives by the things we have said and done. Our choices have deeply wounded people. But Jesus wants to change us more than condemn us. Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). Christ came into the world to cleanse us, not condemn us. So He looks at you and me, and He says, “I know you, I love you, and I accept you in spite of all that you have done. And I want you to know and love Me and have a relationship with Me.”

Some of us may think, “If I come to Jesus Christ with all the dirt in my life, He is going to condemn me!” If this is how we think, then we don’t understand how much we matter to Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ in faith, no matter what we have done, Jesus still accepts us. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37b). Christ guarantees that when you come to Him in faith, He will never reject you. This may be difficult for us to understand if we have experienced a lot of rejection in our lives.

But there is a big difference between people and God when it comes to forgetting our past. When we sin, people have a tendency to remind us of our past sins. But God forgets! The Bible says, “ ‘16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ 17 then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ ” (Hebrews 10:16-17). God was not teasing when He said He will remember our sins no more. God has a forgetful nature. “Just as it’s against your nature to eat tree or grow wings, it’s against God’s nature to remember forgiven sins.” 2

“You see, God is either the God of perfect grace… or He is not God. Grace forgets. Period. Grace does not judge! He who is perfect love cannot hold grudges. If He does, then He isn’t perfect love.” 3 Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us what we need instead of what we deserve. None of us deserve to be forgiven. None of us deserve to have our sins remembered no more. But God’s grace forgives and forgets!

Think about this. If God did not forget, how could we pray? How could we sing to Him? How could we dare enter into His presence if the moment He saw us He remembered all our sinful past? 4

Let me illustrate this with a $100 bill. If I took a $100 bill and crumpled it up in my hand, would you still want it? Yes. But what if I stomped on that $100 bill with my dirty shoes on? Would you still want it? Yes, of course you would. But why? Because it has not lost any of its value. Yes, your life may be crumpled and stained by sin. It may be a total mess. But your life has not lost any value to God! And, yes, you have blown it but Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with you. 

When we come to Jesus, He accepts us and He will never reject us. No matter what we have done, Jesus wants a relationship with us. Knowing that Jesus notices everything in our lives, He affirms us regardless of what anyone else says about us, and He still wants a relationship with us in spite of the fact that we have rejected Him in the past, how should you respond to Him?

The way Zacchaeus did. The Bible says, “So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:6). I think Zacchaeus was saved before he hit the ground. He thought, “This is a deal I am not going to get anywhere else. I am going to take advantage of it right now.” Zacchaeus didn’t just receive Jesus joyfully into his house that day, he joyfully received Jesus into his heart. His heart was filled with joy because no one had ever showed him such love and grace as Jesus just did!

With the God who notices… affirms… and accepts you and is waiting with open arms, give me one logical reason why you should refuse to receive him as your Savior. There is none. It is so simple. The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Believe and receive. Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him. God became His Father in heaven and Zacchaeus became God’s child forever at that moment of faith.

Today I want to invite you, like Zacchaeus, to jump out of the tree you are in or get off the limb you are out on or get out of the dark hole and receive Jesus Christ into your life. How can you do that? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Jesus is the promised Christ, the Messiah-God (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1, 14, 41; 20:31). When you believe this, you are born of God. You are placed in God’s family forever and He will never cast you out (John 6:37).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have done, separate us from God (Romans 6:23a). But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by dying on the cross for all our sins (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again. The Lord Jesus is alive today and He now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

Just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Your good life, religion, or prayers will not save you. Only Jesus can save you. The Bible says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Did you catch that? “No other name under heaven” can save us from eternal separation from God outside of Jesus Christ. Your monk, parent, pastor, peers, politician, priest, prophet, or imam, cannot save you from your sins. You and I cannot save ourselves. But Jesus Christ can.

And the moment you place your trust in Jesus for eternal life, you become God’s child and God comes to live inside you through His Spirit. He can change the way you see yourself.

If you just believed or trusted Christ alone today for His gift of salvation, I would like to give you a chance to tell God what you have done. You can pray this prayer in your heart, keeping in mind that prayer does not save, trusting Christ saves.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for noticing every detail of my life… for seeing my potential in spite of my sin… for wanting a relationship with me in spite of all that I have done wrong. Today I realize there is nothing I can do to deserve heaven. So right now as best I know how, I am trusting You alone, Jesus, to forgive all my sins and to give me eternal life. Thank You for the assurance that I will now be with you in heaven when I die. Thank You for not being ashamed of me. I do not want to be ashamed of You, Lord Jesus. Please help me to see myself as You see me – forgiven, redeemed, and saved forever. Help me to tell others what You have done for me. In Your mighty name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He placed you in God’s family forever (John 1:12; 6:37). All of your sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:13-14). God has forgotten all your sins so you can approach Him with boldness now through prayer (Hebrews 10:16-22). God is now Your Father in heaven and you are His child forever (Matthew 6:9). You now have many brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. And at that moment of faith in Jesus, everything changed in your life just as it did in Zacchaeus’ life. Lord willing, we will discover next time just how dramatically Zacchaeus’ life changed and how Jesus can change our lives too.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. Retrieved from Steve Siemen’s communion meditation at NewLife Church in Pleasant Hill, Iowa on August 8, 2021.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Ibid.

How much you matter to God – Part 3

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab

During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.

Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.

All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.

But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”

From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” Pure or just one!?!  Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him. 

Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.” Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down. 

Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.”  God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.

It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things. 

Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”

We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.

When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).

The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).

Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.

When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).

Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.

We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2;  2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).  

Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 5

“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ ” John 20:29

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

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

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

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

– Renew our confession of faith (John 20:28).

Today we will look at the final way to overcome doubt. RECEIVE JESUS’ BLESSING (John 20:29). After Thomas said to Jesus,  “my Lord and my God,” (John 20:28), Jesus did not correct him for addressing Him as “my Lord and my God.” No, Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship because Christ is Lord and God. Jesus then told Thomas, Because you have seen Me, you have believed.” (John 20:29a). But then Jesus has something to say to you and me two thousand years later, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b).

The risen Lord Jesus is saying to His doubting disciple, “Thomas, I did something special for you. I came and showed you the nail prints in My hands. I showed you the scar in My side where the spear pierced Me. I want you to know the blessing on the lives of those millions of people who are going to believe in Me even though they have not had this experience.”  1

Jesus gave only a small number of people (about 500, 1 Cor 15:6) the privilege of seeing Him bodily after His resurrection. Most who believe do so without benefit of such direct revelation. Thomas and the others saw and heard, and thus their eyewitness testimonies have benefitted many people since then (John 20:30; 21:24-25; 1 John 1:1-3).” 2

Jesus wants you to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life even though He has not personally appeared to you. He wants you to trust in Him alone to give you never-ending life before you see Him work in your life. This is why He said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With these words, Jesus is broadening the object of faith from His resurrection to His promise to give eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. That is the transition John makes in the next two verses (John 20:30-31). 3

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Do you believe this? If you do, Christ guarantees you now have His life which never ends (John 11:25-26). You now have a personal relationship with Him that lasts forever (John 17:3). And Jesus wants to bless you with His remarkable gifts (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus before Christ appeared to him (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Even after you believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the risen Lord Jesus Christ wants to bless your life and work in your life. However, you are going to be filled with doubt if you think, “I’m not a good enough person for Him to bless my life. I will just let Christ give His blessings to somebody else.” Did Thomas deserve what Jesus gave him? Not at all. Thomas had received the eyewitness reports from the women and other disciples who had seen Jesus alive, yet he refused to believe them (Mark 16:10-11, 13-14; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18, 24-25). Even so, Christ graciously appears to him and gives him the evidence he needed to believe Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s blessings are not something we earn. They are gifts He wants to bless you with.

His blessings are part of what builds our faith and keeps our faith growing. Receive His blessing. The result of faith is blessedness. The Bible says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). God rewards those who exercise faith and diligently seek Him.

Jesus is teaching us that those who believe in Him are blessed. Not only are they blessed the moment they believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, but they can continue to be blessed as they learn to live a life of faith. People who believe live a blessed life. This is not a perfect life, nor a life without problems; but a blessed life. The satisfaction and fulfillment that the world longs for can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Later John reminds us that the result of faith is life (John 20:31). When people believed Jesus then and when they believe Jesus now, lives are transformed. There is a new quality of life for us to experience. He says there is “life in His name” (John 20:31b). The kind of life that has the name of Jesus stamped all over it. Every blessing that comes into your life has Jesus’ name on it. The decisions that you make – Jesus’ name is stamped all over them. Your family has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Your job has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Everything about your life is to be lived in His name.  His power, His blessing, His purpose, His character is to be manifested in your life. 

Do you want to overcome doubt and have faith? I will not tell you to just have faith. Instead, I will say here is how to have faith. Here is how to overcome doubt. These are some practical suggestions. You don’t have to do all of them. Just start with one of them this week and see where the Lord leads you.

1. Intentionally connect with other Christians this week. One of the reasons we struggle with doubts is because we are isolating ourselves from other like-minded believers in Jesus. God wants us to connect with one another to receive love and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). Schedule a time this week to get together with a trusted friend who knows Jesus and can offer a listening ear.

2. Write down your doubts on a sheet of paper. You might even be really brave and show your list to someone else. Not to an enemy, but to a trusted friend. Then at the bottom of the sheet of paper write, “Jesus, I ask You to give me Your answers to these doubts.” He wants to do this for you just like He did for Thomas.

3. Then you may need to redirect your will. This week or even tonight, decide to have faith in an area of your life where you have been struggling with doubts. You have been waiting for your emotions to catch up with your faith. Perhaps you have been studying this for months and you think you cannot learn any more. But now is the time to decide to move toward believing. You know what God wants you to do. You know what His Word says to do. It is time to act.

4. For some of us, we may need to renew our confession. Let me encourage you to do this this week if you are struggling with doubts. Start each day with a confession of faith. Use Thomas’ confession every day if you want to – “My Lord and my God.”  Or pick up your Bible and open it to the book of Psalms. Start reading any psalm. You will find two or three confessions of faith in any psalm – “Lord, You are my rock. Lord, You are my fortress. Lord, You are my hiding place.” (Psalm 31; 32; 119). The book of Psalms is just filled with confessions of faith. Find some confessions of faith there and use them to start each day. 

5. Perhaps you need to receive His blessing this week. You might be afraid to think about all the blessings that come from the Lord. You may feel guilty to recognize that God is doing something special in your life. There are times when we may look at our past and conclude that we are not deserving. The truth is, none of us are deserving. I do not deserve God’s blessings and neither do you. We admit that together. We come as undeserving people to God, but because of His grace – His undeserved favor – He gives to us abundantly. This week take twenty minutes and sit down and start to make a list of blessings from God on a piece of paper or on your computer. Since Jesus is in your life now, focus on His life which is stamped all over yours. Write down the different ways He is blessing you.

These are some practical ways that you and I can begin to overcome our doubts and build our faith.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may feel that we do not deserve to be blessed by You. We have been conditioned to believe that blessings must be earned. But Your encounter with Thomas reminds us that none of us are deserving of Your goodness. It is because of Your magnificent grace that we can be in a position to receive Your many blessings. Thank You especially for the gift of everlasting life that is ours forever the moment we believe in You. Please teach us to live a life of faith; A blessed life whereby we diligently seek You because we know that You are a Rewarder of those who do. In Your hope-filled name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 566.

3. Ibid.

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