Let’s Keep the Gospel Clear!

“Praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way that I ought to proclaim it.” Colossians 3:3-4

During my drive from Nebraska back to our home in Iowa recently, I noticed a billboard along the interstate that read, “Where are you going? Heaven or Hell?” with a phone number on it to call. I thought to myself, “I wonder what they are telling callers they must do to go to heaven?” Knowing I had about two hours left on my drive home, I knew this would probably be an animated conversation that would keep me wide awake. So, I decided to give them a call. I will try to convey the main ideas communicated in this call, acknowledging that my quotes are not verbatim.

When a young man answered my call, I told him I noticed their billboard sign and wanted to know what I must do to be sure I would go to heaven in the future. Immediately he told me I must repent and then quoted from Matthew 4:17 where Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I asked, “What does it mean to repent?” He said it means to turn from your sin and follow Jesus. To which I replied, “You mean I must turn from all my sins?” “Yes,” he said. “Have you done that?” I asked him. “No,” he responded, “But if I do sin, the Bible tells me I must confess it to the Lord, and He will forgive me.”

In addition, he quoted from Romans 10:9-10 which says, 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” To make sure I understood him, I tried to repeat back what I heard him to say, “So you are telling me that to be sure I will go to heaven, I must repent, believe, and confess Jesus is Lord.” He said, “That’s right.”

Next, I told him my mother taught me John 3:16 when I was a child. After quoting the verse, “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,” I said to him, “Jesus is saying all I must do to have everlasting life is believe in Him.” Quickly he retorted, “We do what we believe, right?” I said, “Of course. But Jesus is saying all I must do is believe in Him for eternal life. So, if I will do what I believe, I will believe in Jesus to get me to heaven, not do good works to get to heaven.”

This man, whose name ironically is John, liked the book of Matthew, so he directed me to Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus said, 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

I said to John, “Christ is teaching that confessing the Lordship of Jesus and doing good works in His name is not what gains entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It is doing the will of the Father. And what is the Father’s will for entering His kingdom? Jesus tells us in John 6:40, ‘And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ According to Jesus, all we must do to enter the Father’s heaven, is see and believe in His Son to receive everlasting life. The apostle John tells us the reason he wrote his gospel is so ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.’ (20:31). Ninety-nine times the apostle John uses the word ‘believe’ in his gospel. He never uses the word ‘repent.’”

The John on the other end of the call said, “Believing is not enough. Listen to what the apostle John, the same author of the gospel of John, writes in I John 3: 4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.’”

I responded by saying, “First John 5:1 says, ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.’ The apostle John makes it clear that believing Jesus is the Christ is all that is necessary to be born of God. “

John responded by turning to I John 1:3-4, 7-10, 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full… 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

I thanked John for turning to these verses because verses 3-4 explain to us that I John was written so we may have fellowship or closeness with God, not salvation. So, when John talks about walking in the light (1:7), confessing sin (1:9), keeping God’s commandments (2:3), abiding in Christ (2:6), not sinning (3:6, 9), practicing righteousness (3:7), and loving others (3:10), he is providing conditions for fellowship or closeness with God, not salvation. The gospel of John tells us that the only condition for entering the Christian life is believing in Jesus for eternal life (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; 20:31; et al.). But I John provides many conditions for having fellowship with God.

I told John on the other end of the call that I was very disappointed that he was preaching a different gospel than what the Lord Jesus and the apostles taught. I quoted from Galatians 1:8-9 which says, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” The apostle Paul made it clear in Galatians that the only condition for being justified or declared righteous before God was to believe or have faith in Christ alone. Paul used the words “believe” and “faith” fifteen times when referring to justification before God (2:16; 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26) in the book of Galatians. He used no other words as a condition for justification. He warned the Galatians not to support or join those who do not preach a “believe/faith alone” gospel (1:6- 9; 4:12, 21-30; 5:1-12; 6:17). It does not matter how kind or helpful a person is who teaches a different gospel. They are “accursed” by God if they preach a different way to heaven other than faith alone in Christ alone.  

When John on the other end of the call tried to interrupt me, I asked him to wait until I was finished explaining the clear gospel. John hung up on me before I finished talking.

Unfortunately, what John and others with that ministry are doing to the gospel of grace is not uncommon. Rarely do I hear individual Christians or churches use the words God uses the most in New Testament evangelism – the verb “believe” (pisteuō) 1 and its noun form “faith” (pistis) 2 – as the only conditions for salvation. This is devastating because it dishonors the finished work of Christ on the cross. When we start replacing God’s Word with our own cliches or verses taken out of context, we are making it more difficult for sinners to be saved from hell by our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If John had not hung up on me, I would have told him that he is the one who needs to repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) in the New Testament means “to change one’s mind.” 3 John and others who distort the gospel need to repent or change their minds and return to the original gospel that Jesus and the apostles taught. Jesus said, 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15; cf. Acts 10:43; 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et al.). Jesus Christ was “lifted up” on the cross to finish paying the penalty for all our sin when He died in our place (John 19:30) “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When the apostle Paul instructed the Colossian believers to pray for his preaching of the gospel, he said, “that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4; NASB). If the apostle Paul needed prayer to help him keep the gospel clear, then how much more do you and I need this kind of prayer support from others!?! Satan wants to deceive Christians not to use the words God uses most in evangelism (“Believe” and “Faith”) because he knows that these are God’s terms for salvation from hell (cf. Luke 8:5, 12).

God wants Christians to be clear in the way they communicate the gospel of Christ to non-Christians. If you would like to learn more about how to be more effective in evangelism by avoiding unclear evangelistic invitations, please view our training video at https://www.seeyouinheaven.life/lesson-1-part-5-avoiding-unclear-gospel-invitations-video/.

May the Lord Jesus be glorified as we seek to keep His gospel clear by using the words He uses the most in evangelism: believe and faith.

ENDNOTES:

1. Matthew 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Romans 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Corinthians 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:6, 9, 22; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Philippians 1:29; I Thessalonians 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:12,13; I Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 11:31; I Peter 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

2. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Romans 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Corinthians 15:14, 17; Galatians 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9(2); Colossians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:15; Titus 1:4; Hebrews 6:1;11:31; James 2:1, 23, 24; I Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 1:5; I John 5:4.

3. 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. 640.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When witnessing to intellectuals, we must avoid two extremes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– You may be a doubter at heart. In other words, some people doubt everything. They doubt whether their mates love them or whether their children respect them. They doubt they will reach the age of retirement, or that their plane will reach its destination. Such people have issues they must deal with that are far different than eternal salvation.

– You may not understand the gospel and are not saved. Perhaps you are trusting in Christ plus your works or just your works alone, instead of trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross (John 3:15-16; 19:30). Therefore, you don’t have any certainty of going to heaven. Or you may have been taught that if you cannot remember the date you became a Christian, then you are not saved. So you wonder, “Could that mean I’m not saved?” Let me ask you, did Jesus say, “Whoever believes in Him and knows the date they were saved has everlasting life?” No. The real question is, “Whom am I trusting right now to give me eternal life?” Our salvation is established by Whom we place our trust in, not when we trusted Him.

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

For example, a few years ago I listened to a famous preacher on the radio in America say that the book of I John was written to provide tests to see if you are saved. He said to ask yourself, “do I have fellowship with the Father?… am I abiding in Him?… do I keep God’s commandments?… do I love other Christians?…  am I overcoming sin?” If you couldn’t answer “yes” to all these questions, then he said you cannot be certain you are saved.

But this preacher failed to observe the purpose of I John is not to tell you how to become a Christian or how to know you are a Christian. First John was written to tell us how to have fellowship (closeness) with Christ or how to know you have fellowship with Christ. The author of I John, the same author of the gospel of John, writes, 3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”  (I John 1:3-4).

The gospel of John tells you how to receive the gift of eternal life, mentioning the word “believe” ninety-nine times. 6  The book of I John tells us how to get close to the One you have believed in, using the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times. 7

Therefore, closeness to Christ is discussed in I John, not salvation. People who don’t act like a Christian or a disciple may not be a believer. But to use characteristics of a disciple to determine if you are a Christian is not helpful. Some people might live a good moral life without being a Christian. It could be that those people are trusting in their works instead of Christ’s finished work on the cross to get them to heaven.

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

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

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

– Have I trusted Christ alone for my salvation? We appropriate Christ’s death on the cross by coming to Him as sinners, recognizing that He made the full payment for sin on our behalf, and “believing.” Jesus promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). The word “believe” means to place our trust in Christ alone as our only basis for living eternally with God. If you are trusting Christ alone to get to heaven, you are forever God’s child regardless of when or where that occurred.

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

If I were to ask you whose child you are, you would say, “I am the child of …” You have proof that would stand up in a court of law – a birth certificate. A piece of paper assures you that you are their child. God has given us a piece of paper – the inspired Word of  God, the Bible. It assures us that once we have believed in Christ, we have everlasting life. We are His forever. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16 when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

4. Ou mē pisteusō.

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

6. In the Greek Majority Text John uses the word for “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times: John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36; 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47,  64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 40, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

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

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

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 2

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” John 12:2

About two to three weeks after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53), He retreats to the eastern slope to Bethany of Judea where He has supper with some dear friends (John 12:1-8). From these verses in John 12:1-8, we are learning how we can honor only Jesus. The first way to honor only Jesus is to serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what he has done (John 12:1-2a). Today we learn that the second way to honor only Jesus is to SPEND TIME WITH CHRIST OUT OF JOY FOR HIS GIFT OF SALVATION (John 12:2b).

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” (John 12:2). As Martha served we are told, “but Lazarus” was reclining at the table with Jesus, the disciples, Simon, and Mary. This is a wonderful picture of fellowship with the Lord and other believers. The guests were laying back on couches with their heads near the table. They leaned on cushions with one arm and ate with the other. Notice the progression in Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus. First, Christ gave him life by raising him from the dead (John 11) so that now Lazarus can enjoy fellowship with Him (John 12). This is a great picture of spiritual birth resulting in fellowship or closeness with Jesus.

Before we became Christians, the Bible says we were “dead in trespasses and sins”(Ephesians 2:1). “Death” in the Bible refers to separation from God. Our sins separated us from the Lord who is holy, perfect, and righteous. God cannot be around our sin. But when we believe in Christ for His gift of eternal life, we are joined by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through Spirit baptism (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:11, 13) so that now we can live a resurrection kind of Christian life and experience victory over sin (cf. Romans 6:4-14; Ephesians 2:4-7).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this is a picture of our conversion. All who believe in Christ for His gift of salvation are raised from the dead spiritually so that now they can walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4). After God saves us, He invites us to enjoy fellowship with Him. The apostle John, who wrote the gospel of John, also wrote First John to explain how believers can experience the joy of fellowship with the Lord. He writes, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (I John 1:3-4). God raised us from the dead spiritually when we were saved by grace through faith in Christ so we can now enjoy fellowship or closeness with Him.

I once heard someone say that “fellowship” is like two fellows on a ship. They are going the same direction together, sharing the same experience together on the ship. When believers are going the same direction as Jesus Christ, they can experience the joy of intimacy with the Lord and His children. In I John, John tells his readers that they can enjoy fellowship with God when they:

“walk in the light as He is in the light.” (1:7)

“confess” their sins. (1:9)

“keep His commandments.” (2:3)

“walk just as He walked.” (2:6)

 “love one another.” (2:10; 3:14; 4:7, 11-12)

“do not love the world or the things in the world.” (2:15)

“let that abide in… [them] which… [they] heard from the beginning.” (2:24)

“abide in Him.” (2:28)

“practice righteousness.” (2:29; 3:7)

“confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” (4:2)

“know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (4:6)

“confess that Jesus is the Son of God.” (4:15)

“keep … [themselves] from idols.” (5:21).

Lazarus could enjoy intimacy with Christ now because Jesus raised him from the dead. Likewise, we can enjoy closeness with Jesus now because He raised us from the dead spiritually the moment we believed in Him for His free gift of everlasting life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9). What a joy to spend time with our gracious Savior who loves us and accepts us no matter what we have done or what others say about us!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, before I believed in You, I was dead in my sins without the life of God. I was in the gutter of my own sin and shame. No amount of my good works or religiosity could give me life or relationship with You. Thank You so much for raising me from the dead spiritually the moment I believed in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Only You could give me life that never ends. What a privilege I now have to spend time with You every day to honor You and You alone. I am so blessed to be able to sit at Your table and feed upon Your goodness and mercy. It is there that I can listen to Your voice of truth and give You my undivided attention. In Your presence I do not have to pretend to be something I am not. You delight in my presence because I am family. I am God’s child and You totally love and accept me as I am. I don’t have to perform to prove my value to You. You have already determined my value through Your shed blood on the cross for me. I praise You for Your love which quiets my soul. Help me to hold on to Your love for me and my love for You. Show me how I can love You and Your children better, my Lord and my God. Use me to introduce others to You so they also can experience the joy of spending time with You, the true God and eternal life. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.