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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

4. Ibid.

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

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

7. Ibid.

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

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

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

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 4

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

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

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

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

The fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).

This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”  (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.

When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1  So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).

The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.

It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26). 

The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5

John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6

The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began. 

Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.

The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as. 

The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.

So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.

When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.

The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.

The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.

They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome. 

Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross.  Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime. 

As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.

John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….

“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?

“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?

“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partially true. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.8

The Bible tells us, 13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).

Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…

“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9

Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11  Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.” 12

The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.” You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.

What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).

Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.

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

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.

5. 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. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.

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

7. Ibid.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.

9. Ibid., pg. 34.

10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.  

11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.

12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.

How can we overcome fear in evangelism? Part 2

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8

After Jesus forewarned His disciples of the world’s coming hostility and persecution of them (15:18-16:4), He began to encourage them with the Holy Spirit’s ministry that would take place while He was gone. Last time we learned that we can overcome fear in evangelism when we GRASP THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE WHEN WE WITNESS (John 16:5-7) because God the Holy Spirit permanently indwells every believer in Jesus.

The second way for us to overcome fear in evangelism is to GIVE UNBELIEVERS THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL AND LET THE HOLY SPIRIT CONVINCE THEM IT IS TRUE (John 16:8-11). In John 15:27, Jesus told His disciples to “bear witness” about Him. However, He also told them it would not be easy. Some would put them out of the synagogues and even kill them (John 16:2). In the midst of this distressing news, He offers them encouragement by introducing them to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:8). What does the word “convict” (elegchei) mean? It means to “convince someone of something.” 1  John is using this word in a legal sense here. When a prosecuting attorney presents his case in such a way that demonstrates that something is true, he convicts his listeners. However, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit forces someone to believe something is true. A person can hear compelling evidence that something is true and still reject it. 2

The Holy Spirit assists people in coming to faith in Christ. It is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to convince non-Christians in three areas. What are they? “Of sin… righteousness and judgment.” Notice the implied tenses of these nouns: past “sin,” present “righteousness,” and future “judgment.” 3  When the gospel is preached, it is the Holy Spirit Who convicts people of their “sin,” and that they need God’s “righteousness” through faith in Jesus, because without it, they will face certain “judgment” without hope of anything but eternal condemnation.

Beginning in verse 9, Jesus explains why the Holy Spirit convicts the world in these three areas. “Of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” (John 16:9). The word “sin” (hamartias) means “to miss the mark or standard.” 4  All people fall short of God’s perfect righteousness because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) against God through their thoughts, words, actions, and motives.

Yet the world tries to persuade people that they are not sinners. Many secular scientists and psychologists seem bent on destroying peoples’ awareness of sin. They may say that all people are inherently good. As a result, many people have a difficult time admitting they are guilty of sin. Oh, they may admit that they make mistakes or have failures and vices, but it is very difficult for them to admit that they have sinned against God. Even some churches say that people are not that bad and because God is love, He will accept everyone into heaven. 

But the ultimate proof of the world’s sinfulness, Jesus says, is that “they do not believe in Me.” A court of law can convict someone of murder or theft, but only the Holy Spirit can convict someone of unbelief toward Christ. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their individual sins they have committed, but people can clean up their own lives and still go to hell. It is the sin of unbelief toward Jesus Christ that condemns people to an eternity in hell (John 3:18). 5  That is why the Bible says that “Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast in to the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will not have their names written in the Book of Life.

Unbelievers are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-13; cf. Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40), not their eternal destination. But their condemnation and placement in the lake of fire is because of their unbelief toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:15; cf. John 3:18).

So we see first, that the Holy Spirit wants to convict non-Christians of their sinfulness because they refuse to believe or trust in Jesus Christ alone as their only way to heaven. Because faith in Christ and His full payment for sin on the cross (John 19:30) is the only solution to our sin problem, the Holy Spirit wants to convict people of their sinful condition, so they can see their need to believe or trust in Jesus alone. The Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney who presents God’s case against sinful humanity. He creates an awareness of sin so that it cannot be dismissed or excused or evaded by taking refuge in the fact that “everybody is doing it.” When we are convicted of our sin, we admit to God that we have been wrong in our unbelief toward Jesus and then we believe or trust in Him alone, so we can approach God the Father in heaven.

The reason why the Holy Spirit convicts the world in the area of “righteousness” is explained in the next verse. “Of righteousness, because I go to the Father and you see Me no more.” (John 16:10). The Holy Spirit convicts the world “of righteousness,” because Jesus would suffer and die for our sins and rise from the dead and “go to” His “Father” in heaven, proving that He was the perfect Son of God. Had Jesus not been the perfect Son of God, the Father would not have received Him in heaven. Because God has no sin, Jesus could not enter into His presence in heaven if He were not righteous. For people to be accepted by God and able to enter into His heaven, they must measure up to Christ’s righteousness. No human being can accomplish this on their own. 6

This is why the Holy Spirit wants to convict the world that their righteousness before God depends not on their good works, but upon the finished work of Christ on the cross for them. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven prove that He was the perfect Son of God. Christ’s righteousness is what satisfied God’s holy demand to punish sin, not our own righteousness. 

When sharing the gospel with the unsaved, they may respond by saying, “I’m not as bad as him or her” or “I have not murdered anyone or committed adultery like so and so…” But God is not measuring our righteousness based on what other people have done or not done. He is measuring our righteousness based on what His Son, Jesus Christ, has done, and all of us fall short of Jesus’ perfection (Romans 3:23). Jesus never, ever told a lie. But we lie to ourselves and others daily. Christ never had one unkind thought. But we average a minimum of five a day. God’s Son never hated His enemies. But sometimes we can’t even stand the person we are married to or live with. So when it comes to behavior, in God’s eyes, we do not measure up. All of us fall short of Jesus’ perfection. Christ is the only Person Who never sinned (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). Therefore, we must trust in Christ alone to be declared totally righteous before God.

“But to him who does not work, but believe on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). When you trust in Christ alone for His gift of righteousness, God looks at your sin as covered by Jesus’ shed blood on the Cross. He takes the righteousness of His Son and places it on you. Therefore, you can stand before a holy God with the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

Henry Ironside shares a helpful illustration about what it means to be justified before God. One morning on his way to a sheep ranch, he noticed a very peculiar sight. He saw an old ewe loping across the road followed by the strangest looking lamb he had ever seen. It seemed to have six legs, and the last two were hanging helplessly as though paralyzed. When one of the sheep ranchers caught the lamb and brought it over to Ironside, the rancher explained that the lamb did not really belong to that ewe. She had a lamb that was bitten by a rattlesnake and died. This lamb that Ironside saw was an orphan and needed a mother’s care. But at first the ewe refused to have anything to do with it. She sniffed at it when it was brought to her, then pushed it away, saying as plainly as a sheep could say it, “That is not my lamb!” So the ranchers skinned the lamb that had died and covered the living lamb with the dead lamb’s skin. When the covered lamb was brought again to the ewe (see above photo), she smelled it once more and accepted the lamb as her own as if to say, “That is Mine!”

Like that orphan lamb, all people are born as outcasts, separated from God because of their sin. But God’s only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead, so that when we believe or trust in Him alone, we are clothed with His righteousness. God can accept us into His family now because He sees the righteousness of His Son instead of our sin. He can say, “That is Mine!”

“Of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11). The reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world “of judgment” is “because the ruler of this world [Satan] is judged” already in heaven by God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19), and will shortly be judged at the cross (cf. John 12:31; Colossians 2:15), and later confined to the lake of fire at the end of the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:2, 7-10). The word “judged” (kekritai)is in the perfect tense and passive voice which means Satan was judged by God in the past and remains condemned today. Like a convicted criminal, Satan awaits his execution when he will be cast into the lake of fire to “be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:7-10).  

The Holy Spirit wants to convince people that if they refuse to believe in Jesus for His gift of righteousness, then they will experience the same eternal “judgment” as the Devil. His judgment is fixed and permanent. Satan’s eternal judgment guarantees that all who are in his kingdom through unbelief will also be condemned. If a person dies without believing in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, their condemnation cannot be lifted. It is permanent (cf. Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances after you die.

Many people today, including Christians, do not believe in hell or eternal punishment even though Jesus and the apostles taught about its reality (cf. Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 13:40-42, 47-50; 18:9; 23:33; 25:46; Mark 3:29; 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; 16:19-31; John 3:18, 36b; James 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4, 17; Jude 1:7, 13; Revelation 14:9-11; 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; et al.). But it is not our responsibility to convince them of the reality of hell. The Holy Spirit will do this as we preach the gospel to a lost world.

It is the Holy Spirit Who can convince a typical non-Christian who has no sense of his own sinfulness, who sees no need for God’s righteousness, and who pays no attention to the warnings of coming judgment. It is not our responsibility to convince people of the truth of the gospel; that responsibility belongs to the Holy Spirit. Our job is to clearly and effectively communicate the truth of the gospel and let the Holy Spirit convince them that it is true.

In February 2017 when I was flying to Northern Samar for a mission trip in the Philippines, I sat next to a Filipino law school student who visited with me about President Trump. She made it clear to me she did not like President Trump and nor could she understand how I could like him. She was getting very angry as I shared my supporting views about the President and his policies. As our conversation progressed, I began praying for the Lord to give me wisdom on shifting the focus from politics to the gospel.

A few minutes later, I said to her, “I really would like to share with you about something far more important than politics.” “Really?!” She exclaimed. “What could that be?!” I said, “How you can know for sure from the Bible how you can go to heaven when you die.” “Oh,” she said quietly. Then I asked her, “May I share from the Bible how you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die?” She said, “Yes.” I then shared the bad news (Romans 3:23; 6:23) good news (I Corinthians 15:1-6; John 3:16) approach with her. Afterward, she indicated she was now trusting in Christ alone as her only way to heaven. Her whole demeanor softened as the gospel was shared with her. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit convicted her of her sin and her need for the Savior, so she could escape the eternal judgment that awaits those who refuse to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of salvation.

When we realize that the Holy Spirit is already at work in the hearts and minds of unbelievers around us to persuade them of their own sinfulness and their need for Christ’s righteousness to escape the eternal judgment of God, we will have more confidence to share the gospel with the unsaved world. Knowing of the Holy Spirit’s convicting work among the unsaved can also give us a greater sense of expectancy as we proclaim the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, inviting the unsaved to believe in Jesus alone as their only hope of heaven.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is with a heap of gratitude that I approach You right now. Without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the world, there would be no reason to expect a bountiful harvest when we share the gospel with the lost. But because the Spirit of God is already at work persuading non-Christians of their sin so they may see their need to believe in Jesus for His gift of righteousness to escape the same eternal judgment as Satan, we can boldly share Christ with them. Please enable us to clearly communicate the truth of the gospel to the lost as we rely on the Holy Spirit to convince them that it is true. In Your precious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 249.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 453.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 298-299.

4. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V: John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 267.

5. Constable, pg. 300.

6. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1187.

Keeping our faith alive in uncertain times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Jesus Christ equal with God? Part 3

28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5:28-29

Jesus not only claims to be equal with God the Father because He is the Son and the Savior, but also because HE IS THE SEPARATOR (John 5:27-30). Jesus will separate believers from unbelievers, and execute judgment on those without eternal life and bless those with eternal life. “…And has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:27). Christ is qualified to judge humanity because as a human being, “the Son of Man,” He can understand the needs and viewpoints of people. Christ knows the pressures and the problems we face, therefore He knows clearly when we have reached the place where we are ready to give up depending on ourselves and are ready to depend on Him alone for eternal life.

28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29). What a marvelous claim! Jesus says there is an hour coming in history when all the dead – the good and the bad – loving and unloving, murderers, rapists – all, shall come forth from the grave. He is going to empty the cemeteries of the world. Christ will ultimately determine the eternal destiny of all people.

What does “those who have done good” mean? Many people take this verse out of context and make up their own ideas about what it means to “have done good.” Some say if the good you have done in your life outweighs the bad, then God will let you into heaven. But that is not what this verse is saying. This is just a few verses removed from what Jesus said about the gift of eternal life in John 5:24. To“have done good,” of course, means to have heard Jesus’s Word and believed in Him who sent Christ. After a person trusts Christ for eternal life, God looks at their life and sees only the good things they have done, not the evil. How can this be? Because God has no charge against the believer (Romans 8:33). The believer is justified (“declared totally righteous”) of all things based on his or her faith in Christ (Romans 4:5). All our sin has been covered by the goodness of Jesus Christ. We are seen by God as completely holy and perfect because of His grace.

“Those who have done evil” – refers to the person who rejects Christ and remains in the sphere of “death.” This dark circle (see diagram 1) represents the non-Christian’s life filled with the darkness of sin. When God looks at the life of an unbeliever, all He sees are the evil things the unbeliever has done. There is no hint of righteousness in the non-Christian. All their good works, thoughts, and words are stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Their condemnation by God is total, just as the believer’s acceptance by God is total. So, when God looks at our lives before we believe in Jesus, all He sees are the bad things we have done.

But the Bible tells us that when a person hears God’s promise of eternal life and believes in Jesus, he is transferred into the sphere of “life” (see diagram 2).  When God looks at our life after we believe in Christ, what does He see? He sees only the blood of His Son and His goodness in our lives. That’s why God can let us into heaven when we die if we have believed in Christ as our Savior.

Some people may object to Jesus’s judgment of the unbeliever. After all, how can a loving God send people to an eternity separated from God? “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:30). There will be no argument against Jesus’s judgment. No one will be able to complain that it is unfair, because it is the work of both the Father and the Son. Jesus does not judge others independently of the Father. He says, “As I hear, I judge.” Christ’s judgment is based upon what He hears His Father say so that His “judgment is righteous.”  Jesus would never make a judgment that is different from His righteous Father’s.

God the Son who came among us and knows how we feel, is both our Savior and Judge. We decide which He is going to be by the response we make to the truth.  It is Christ’s responsibility to determine a person’s eternal destiny. It is our responsibility to direct people to Christ. Hence, Jesus defends His equality with God the Father by making three claims:

He is the Son

He is the Savior

He is the Separator

Do you see Jesus as He is this moment? John is concerned that we have a correct understanding of who Jesus Christ is. From the very beginning of his gospel, he has told us that the Word (meaning Jesus) was God and that the Word became human flesh without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14). Jesus can never be put on a par with Mohammed, Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, the virgin Mary, Moses or any other religious leader. But the truth is, much of the world has an image of Jesus as a good man with good teachings on how we are to get along with each other. If that were true though, He would never have gotten Himself in trouble, and He definitely would not have been crucified. You see, the facts don’t match up with that line of thinking.

What will you do with Jesus now? Perhaps your life is a mess. You have been trying to run your own life and it keeps getting messier. Are you prepared to meet Christ as a Judge or as your Savior? The only way you can face Him as your Savior is by coming to Him as a sinner, realizing He paid for all your sins on the cross and rose from the dead, and then trusting Him alone to save you. Have you done that? If not, is there anything keeping you from trusting Christ as your Savior right now? If not, simply take Him at His Word when He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24).

The moment you hear Jesus’s promise of eternal life and believe in Him for it, you have eternal life. Would you do me a favor? The moment you are convinced you have eternal life after trusting in Jesus, would you let me know because I want to rejoice with you!!! Just send me a message under our “Contact Us” menu.

Prayer: Father, please make an eternal difference today by convincing those without Christ to trust in Him alone for the gift of eternal life. Thank You, Father… Please help those of us who know Christ to make Him known to others with our lips and our lives. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

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What kind of person does God welcome into heaven?

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5

1. God welcomes into heaven the person “who does not work.” Getting to heaven is not based upon your works. It is not based upon going to church, praying a prayer, confessing your sin, persevering in good works, confessing the Lordship of Christ,  surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, or promising to commit your life to Christ. God does not welcome the person on the basis of his or her works. This is what distinguishes Christianity from world religions. World religions teach that getting to heaven is based upon what you “DO.” Christianity teaches that getting to heaven is based upon what Christ has already “DONE” when He died on the Cross (John 19:30).

2. God welcomes into heaven the person who “believes on Him who justifies the ungodly.” Getting to heaven is not based upon behaving, but upon believing in Jesus Christ “who justifies the ungodly.” It does not matter how well you have behaved, you are still “ungodly” before a holy God. You may say, “Well, I’m not as bad as him or her.” You need to understand that God is not comparing your life to other sinful people. He is comparing your life to the only perfect Person who has ever lived on earth – Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus never told a lie, but you have told many. Jesus loved everyone, including His enemies. But you have days you cannot stand to be with your own family. The good news is that the moment you believe or trust in Christ alone who paid the full penalty for your sin when He died on the Cross and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6), God “justifies” you which means He declares you to be totally righteous as if you had never sinned.  

3. God welcomes into heaven the person whose “faith is accounted for righteousness.” The fact is that all people are “ungodly” sinners who deserve to be separated from God forever in a terrible place called the “lake of fire” (Romans. 3:9-23; Revelation 20:15). But the moment you believe in Jesus Christ alone, God gives you a right standing before Him as “your faith is accounted for righteousness.” 

Conclusion: What kind of person does God welcome into heaven? He welcomes the believing person, not the behaving person. He welcomes the ungodly person who trusts in the only Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. And He welcomes the person whose faith in Christ gives him or her a right standing before a holy God.

Why is being a Nice Person not enough to get you to Heaven?

I have met many nice people in my lifetime. In fact, they put me to shame with their kindness toward others. Instead of being selfish or judgmental, they are quick to help others regardless of their beliefs. Basically they live by the Golden Rule that Jesus taught – “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12). Many of the world’s religions advocate this teaching. But is being a nice person enough to get you to heaven?

God has told us in His Bible that all people have a fundamental problem that separates them from Him. It is called sin.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

No human being is “nice” enough to get to heaven because we all have sinned against God and fall short of His standard for being “nice.” 

“For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23a

“Death” in the Bible means separation from God. Sin separates us from God because He is holy, righteous, and perfect. He cannot be around sin. The only way to approach God is on His terms, not ours. 

God tells us that there is only one way to receive eternal life (access to heaven) and that is “in” Jesus Christ. 

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23b

Notice that eternal life is not in being nice or good. It is “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God loved you and me so much that He was willing to come to earth in human flesh (John 1:1, 14-17) and die on the Cross for our sins and come back to life (I Corinthians 15:3-6) so we could have everlasting life simply by believing in Him (John 3:16).

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

No amount of being nice can take away our sins. 

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6

God looks at the good things we do, such as being nice or good to others, and sees that it is like “filthy rags.” The good things we do are all stained with sin before a holy God. For example, we may be nice to someone with selfish motives such as wanting their approval or wanting something in return from them. God sees our sinful motives even though we or others may not be aware of them.

Being “nice” cannot take away our sins. Only Jesus Christ is qualified as the God-Man to take away our sins (John 1:1, 14-17, 29; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-6). Only Jesus was “nice” or good enough to earn heaven. Believe in Him and God will credit Jesus’ righteousness to your life so He can welcome you into His heaven.

“But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5

Then Jesus will come to live inside of you (Galatians 2:20) through His Holy Spirit (John14:16-17; Romans 8:9) to give you the power to be nice to others as you learn to trust and obey Him (John 15:5; Galatians 5:22-23).