EQUAL IN GIVING SPIRITUAL LIFE – John 5:24-25

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INTRODUCTION:

When we talk about the quality of physical life, we often use phrases like “in the prime of life”, “the good life”, “barely alive”, “in the peak of health”.  When we answer the question, “How are you?”, we may have responded with words such as “fine”, “OK”, “still kicking”, “so-so”, “could be better”, “could be worse”, “hanging in there”, “not very well”, “fantastic”, “doing well”, and a host of other descriptions.  There are many possible and reasonable answers to that question.

When we speak of physical death we sometimes use phrases like “deader than a doornail”, “deader than a doorknob”, “deader than a doormat”, “as dead as can be”.  But think about that logically.  When you’re dead, you’re dead, right?  You can’t get any deader than that!  If you’ve ever watched the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”, you may remember that Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked Witch of the East.  After the Munchkin coroner examined her body, he gave his professional conclusion very clearly and succinctly.

“As coroner I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her;
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead.”

I think he got the point across very clearly, don’t you?  There aren’t degrees of physical death because it’s not a comparative term;  it’s a once-and-for-all term, with a few rare exceptions given in the Scriptures.  A mortician/embalmer may do such a masterful job of preparing the person’s body for viewing that everyone at the funeral service believes that the dead loved-one is only sleeping.  But even a “total makeover” is not going to bring that person back to life.

This passage of Scripture we are studying deals with spiritual life and spiritual death.  There is a basis for comparison here.  A spiritually lost sinner is as spiritually lifeless and helpless as a dead person is physically.  He cannot save himself and he cannot give himself spiritual life.  In this passage of Scripture, the Lord Jesus is telling His listeners that He not only has the power to give physical life, but He also has the greater power to give spiritual life with all its benefits, and to remove spiritual death with all its consequences.

I.  SPIRITUAL REGENERATING (verse 24)

Verse 24 begins with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you.”  Jesus is once again telling them that He is speaking from personal knowledge and experience, therefore what He has to say is true.  To put it into our manner of speaking, Jesus is saying something like “Pay close attention to what I am about to tell you.”  “It is very important information.”  He continues by saying, “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  This verse of Scripture has a lot to say to us.

The phrase “He who hears My word” is often misunderstood.  In this case, as well as in many other New Testament scripture passages, the word “hear” conveys the idea of listening, being receptive, and responding in obedience.  There were many who heard Jesus speak, in the sense that they were in “earshot” of Him and heard the words He said.   There have been many over the centuries since that time who have “heard” the gospel message with their ears, but with no concern or response.  It was “in one ear and out the other” so to speak.  When correcting a child, a parent might sometimes use the words, “Do you hear me?”.  Does the parent mean, “Did you hear the words I pronounced to you”?  No!  When I’ve heard those words spoken, the parent meant, “Are you going to do what I just told you or are you going to face the consequences!

There are some Old Testament scriptures that may give us a better perspective on this phrase, “He who hears my words”.  You will find that I often go to the Old Testament to seek a basis for the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:  how He said them, where He said them, to whom He said them, and why He said them.  There is a reason why I spend a great deal of time seeking answers to those questions in the Old Testament scriptures.  I am personally convinced that the Lord Jesus is often tying His words to the words God spoke to His people through the prophets.  He is thus reminding them that this isn’t the first time that similar words have been spoken to them,  He’s also implying that He is the “Prophet who is to come” – the Messiah.  I think we miss much of what Jesus is saying to His people if we fail to make that connection.

In this case, when the Lord Jesus says, “He who hears My words”, scripture passages galore should have come to the minds of His listeners.  Jesus is in Jerusalem, speaking to the leaders of His people, the Jews.  Do the words, “Hear the Word of the Lord” sound familiar to you?  If they do, imagine how familiar and convicting they would have sounded to the Jewish leaders standing before Him.  Moses, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah, used those words when prophesying to the people of Israel and Judah, and usually those words were an indication of an impending judgment by God upon His people.

Here in verse 24, however, we have participles instead of verbs in the Greek text.  The beginning of the verse is literally saying, “The one hearing My word and believing the One having sent Me”, and the result is positive rather than negative.  It’s as if the Lord Jesus is showing them a contrast between those words of impending judgment, spoken by the prophets to their ancestors, and the words of pardon and eternal life that He is about to offer them.

Jesus refers to His Father as “the One who sent Me“.  He used that phrase several times while He was on this earth.  Does that sound impersonal to you – to refer to His Father in that way?  It did to me at first, but after doing some research, I think I understand why Jesus uses those words at times when referring to His Father.  Whom did God “send” in the Old Testament scriptures?  He sent Moses to lead the people of Israel and be His spokesman.  He sent the prophets to declare His words to His people and speak of things to come.  He also sent “the Angel of the Lord” to protect and defend His people.  Earlier in his Gospel, the apostle John said, in chapter 3, verse 17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  The apostle Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son . . .”.  By using the words “Him who sent Me”, Jesus is telling His listeners:  “You can’t believe the Sender and not believe the One who was sent.”  To put it another way, “You can’t believe in the One who sent His Son without believing in the Son Whom He sent.”

The Lord Jesus is telling His listeners, and each of us, the relationship between hearing and believing.  Both knowledge and faith are involved in salvation.   The apostle John’s thinking about faith is unique to the New Testament.  Faith is based on the testimony of historical witnesses.  At that particular point in time, Jesus was giving a testimony about Himself, and that testimony was authenticated by the Father.  Eternal life was the result of listening to that testimony and choosing, by God’s enabling, to believe Him by putting their trust in Him as their Messiah, the Son of God, sent by the Father.  At that moment eternal life began.  The focus of Jesus Christ in verse 24 is on the object of one’s faith.  The Lord Jesus has just been telling them that He is equal to the Father in working (verse 19), in knowing (verse 20), in resurrecting (verse 21), in judging (verse 22), in honor (verse 23), and now in regenerating (verse 24).  They have received Jesus’ testimony concerning Himself.  Now He is inviting a response from them.  Only faith in Him as the Son of God and the Father’s Representative results in “eternal life, no judgment, and passing from death to life”.  No One else and nothing else can bring those gifts as a result.  Only Jesus Christ is equal to the Father in regenerating – giving spiritual life.  As Jesus said in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand”.  “Following” is the outward evidence of genuine belief.

You and I have saving faith when we understand what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, and when we act upon that truth by putting our trust in Him as our Lord and Savior.  When that happens, events occur in heaven and in your lives.  It will be a life-changing event, as the Lord Jesus begins to conform us to His image and as we take delight in spending time with Him in His Word and prayer.  So the words “eternal life”  also refer to a change in the quality of our lives while we are on this earth.

Dr. H.A, Ironside, the famous Bible expositor and pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago a generation ago, said that a friend of his preached on a similar passage of Scripture, John 3:36.  At the close of the meeting, his friend went down to the church door to greet people as they were leaving.  A lady who was troubled about her soul came by the door and the preacher looked at her and said, “Well, how is it with you tonight?  How is your soul; have you been born-again?  Are you saved?”

She said, “I don’t know, sir.  I hope so.”

He said, “Well let me go over that text with you again.  It says, he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.  Do you believe in the Son?”

She said, “Oh yes, I do sir.  I believe in Jesus Christ.”

He said, “Well, do you have everlasting life?”

She said, “I hope so.”

He said, “Well, let’s look at the verse again: he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.  Do you believe in the Son?”

She said, “Yes I do.”

“Do you have everlasting life?”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Well, read it again”

And so they went through the same thing again, and finally he said to her, “You know, when you were a little girl they spelled very differently from what they did when I was a boy.”

She looked at him and said, “What do you mean; I’m not so much older than you.”

He said, “Well, evidently when you were a girl, H-A-T-H spelled hope.  When I was a little boy, H-A-T-H spelled hath.”

She said, “Oh!  I see it!  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life!”

It makes you wonder how many truly born-again Christians are still hoping for something that they already have!  I say that because, on the night I believed in Jesus Christ, after having the Gospel message presented to me, and all my questions answered, I memorized several verses on assurance of salvation, including John 5:24, before going to bed that night.  The concept and the promise were so amazing to me that I needed to go over and over that realization in my mind so that I could remove all doubts and enjoy what was now mine.

The promise of the Lord Jesus in verse 24 not only includes the free gift of eternal life which we do not deserve; it also removes the judgment that our sins really deserve.  The believer “does not come into judgment”.  A poll conducted for the Times Mirror Company in 1993, revealed that more than four out of every five Americans agree that “we all will be called before God, at judgment day, to answer for our sins.”  I was surprised to find that figure to be so high, only because I wasn’t expecting people to be so honest and willing to admit their own accountability to God.

Dr. H.A. Ironside said that one of the first illustrations that ever made a real impression upon his young heart was a simple story which he heard a preacher tell when Harry was less than nine years old.  It was of pioneers who were making their way across one of the central states to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading. They travelled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow.  One day they were terrified to note a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dry grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly.  They had crossed a river one day before but it would be impossible to go back to that before the flames would be upon them.  One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done.  He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them.  Then when the space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it.  As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror.  “Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?”  The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has already been!”

What a picture of the believer, who is safe in Christ!

“On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place.”

The fires of God’s judgment burned themselves out on Him, and all who are in Christ are safe forever, for we are standing where the fire has been.(H.A.Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth).

Verse 24 ends with the words, “but has passed out of death into life”.  The Lord Jesus is saying that those who believe in Him immediately pass from spiritual death and judgment into spiritual life, never to be condemned.  The only way this could be possible would be for Jesus to be judged in our place and pay the penalty Himself, which He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary (Philippians 2:5-8).  For those of us who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, our judgment is now in the past, paid-in-full, and God the Father has signed off the debt.  It’s written in blood – the blood of His Son.  A change of reservations was made.  Your reservation for hell was immediately cancelled and your reservation for heaven was immediately written down in the book compliments of the Owner (your Heavenly Father).  You have first-class accommodations awaiting you, and you will be treated like family forever because you’re a child of God!

Looking at verses 24-29, I personally observe five resurrections mentioned by Jesus.  In each case, the resurrection came to pass as a result of the words of Jesus.  In verse 24, we have already looked at the first resurrection – the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of all who hear Jesus’ words and believe.  At the moment of genuine belief in Him as Lord and Savior, one has eternal life, release from the condemnation for one’s sin, has passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, and has a changed life.  The second resurrection is given in verse 25.  I believe that Jesus is referring to the physical resurrections from the dead that He is going to perform while on this earth.  At that point in time the Lord Jesus hadn’t performed any resurrection miracles yet, but they were soon to come.  There were three of them recorded in God’s Word, and in each case the resurrections occurred at the voice of Jesus.  The third resurrection is given in verse 26, and I believe that Jesus is referring to His own physical resurrection from the dead in fulfillment of His words.  The fourth resurrection, in verses 27-29a is the resurrection of life – the call of believers to the judgment seat of Christ.  The fifth resurrection, mentioned at the end of verse 29, is the resurrection of unbelievers to judgment and condemnation.  In this sermon we are studying the first two resurrections and will save the other three for the next construction project.  There is much yet to learn from verse 25.

II.  RESURRECTIONS TO PHYSICAL LIFE (verse 25)

In verse 25, the Lord Jesus makes the same oath again, saying “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  I take those words to mean that Jesus is about to say something different; that He is attesting to something else that He is going to do.  He says, “An hour is coming and now is.”  There are things that are going to be happening, and they are just about to happen.  What is it that’s about to occur?  The Lord Jesus continues, “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.”  My conclusion is that Jesus is talking about those people whom He is going to physically raise from the dead while He is here on this earth.  He has not performed any physical resurrection-miracles yet, but it’s going to start happening very soon.

Before we look at the resurrection-miracles of Jesus, let’s first look at the physical resurrection-miracles in the Old Testament so that we can use them as a basis of comparison.  In I Kings 17, the son of the widow at Zarephath dies, and we see Elijah’s response and God’s answer:  “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him’.  And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” (I Kings 17:21-22).  The restoration to physical life came as an answer to prayer.  God was the One Who resurrected the child, not Elijah.

The second resurrection-miracle is found in II Kings 4:32-35.  The Shunammite’s son dies and Elisha’s response is similar to that of Elijah.  “So he entered and shut the door behind them both, and prayed to the Lord.  And he went up and lay on the child . . . and the flesh of the child became warm . . . and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.”  Once again God restored life in answer to prayer.

By contrast, when Jesus raised the dead, He didn’t pray or apply “life-saving techniques”.  He spoke or gave the command and the person was instantly restored to life.  “Talitha Kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41).   “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Luke 7:14).  “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43).  They came back to life as a result of hearing His voice.  God alone can do that – give life and restore life by just saying the word!  In the account of creation in Genesis we find God saying, “Let there be” , . . “and there was”.  Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”   The patriarch Job said, “The breath of the Almighty gives me life.”   Jesus’ resurrection-miracles, and the way in which they were performed, were irrefutable proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  The people who watched those miracles occur could come to no other rational, logical, or Scriptural conclusion!  They already believed that God is the Creator, and the only Creator and Controller of the universe.  Therefore Jesus Christ must be God.

The Jewish leaders, as well as all of the Jews, revered Elijah because of his amazing miracles, especially the raising of the widow of Zarephath’s son.  But as you can see, the Lord Jesus is infinitely greater than Elijah, and Elijah would wholeheartedly agree.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

Jesus claimed the power to raise people from the dead.  Did you notice that the dead always responded to the voice of the Lord?  What about the living?  How did they respond?  That’s a different story, isn’t it?  Very few of those who heard the words of Jesus and saw His signs, even His resurrection of people from the dead, responded in faith and followed Him.  But did that stop Jesus from continuing to declare Who He was, or from explaining God’s plan of salvation?  Not at all!

I may have shared a principle with you before, but it bears repeating because I have observed that Jesus followed this principle during His ministry on earth.  Here is the principle:  “Expose people to as much truth over as long a period of time as they will allow you.”  It’s important that we understand the first word in that quote.  The rest of the words are evident.  The word “expose” means to communicate, not only by our words but also by our lives.  People are looking for truth, and most of them not only want to see it in writing and hear it spoken, but also to observe it being lived out in a person’s life.  People want truth that will set them free from their hopelessness and emptiness, and bring purpose, meaning, joy, and direction into their lives.  If we are truly Christians, indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God, our lives will be evidenced by a love for God and His Word, a love for people, a hope for the future, and joy in spite of circumstances.  Is that a description of you?  If so, don’t become discouraged in your witness.  Keep growing in your walk with the Lord and faithfully being a witness for Him by word and by life.  The Spirit of God is working in the lives of people.  Many of those who may be silently watching you and questioning the things you are saying, may later want what you have and be ready to know the Giver of life eternal.  Nothing we do in obedience to the Lord is without reward in this life and the next.

If you are not a Christian, are you willing to give more thought and consideration to the One who raised the dead by just saying the words?  If Jesus Christ can have such power over physical life, and can give eternal life, imagine what He can do in your life if you put your trust in Him.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

There are also over 100 completed sermons on this website and it’s always “Open House” here.  Please take a look around the block!  There are sermons from  Philippians, James, Jonah, the Gospel of John, and other seasonal and assorted messages.   Thanks for taking a look, and may the Lord bless your time in His Word.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “RECEIVE CHRIST”? – John 1:12-13

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Many different answers have been given to the question, “What does it mean to ‘receive Christ’.”  Many passages of Scripture have been used and many interpretations have been given.  Many illustrations have been used to try to visualize and explain what these two verses are saying.

As we begin our study of John 1:12-13, let’s lay aside previous building materials for now.  Let’s start anew by clearing the land and digging deep to lay a firm foundation based upon the Person of Jesus Christ and the words that the apostle John is saying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s keep his purpose for writing in mind, as well as his reading-audience:  their culture, historical background, and belief-system.  By God’s grace let’s turn this plot of ground into a work of art that is straight and true, well-defined, attractive, and above all, glorifying to God.

I.  THE TRANSITION:

Verse 11 sounds like a sad ending to a story, doesn’t it.  “The world did not know Him” and “His own did not receive Him.”  John’s approach seems to be:  “First the bad news, then the good news.”  Verse 12 begins with the little word “but”.  John Phillips calls this little three-letter word a “hinge”.  The door to this conversation may seem like it’s shutting but that “hinge” keeps the door open to even greater truths, revealing the power and sovereignty of God.  What John said in verse 11 may have been true of “the majority”, but it was not true of “the totality”!  We are seeing a shift from the unbelievers to the believers.

John now tells us who are invited to receive Christ.  He uses the Greek word, “hosoi”.  I personally like the translation “whoever”.  Every person, without exception and without distinction, is invited to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.  That includes both Jews and Gentiles.

I.  THE PROCESS (verse 12)

The word translated “receive” in verse 11 is a different word from the word translated “receive” here in verse 12, though the two words are similar.  Here in verse 12 the Greek word is “lambano”, whereas the word in verse 11 is “paralambano”.  The word ‘para” means “beside” or “alongside”.  We get our English word “parallel” from that word.  For example, parallel lines go alongside each other and do not intersect.  Why the use of this form of the word?  It reveals a major reason why the Jews at the time of Christ did not receive Him. The apostle John will be sharing more examples of this failure to receive Christ on the part of the religious leaders and their followers as we study his Gospel.  Literally, verse 11 is saying “His own (people) did not take Him alongside”,  That doesn’t make any sense unless we realize that, over the years before the Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth, the rabbis had been putting their studies of the Law of Moses, along with their interpretations and applications of that Law into written form.  They also added personal practices that became traditions.  These writings and traditions, such as the Talmud, had become more important than the Law of Moses .  They were often used to interpret the Law of Moses, and were sometimes used in place of it.  They could not “take Jesus alongside” these traditions because He intersected with them, and this led to a growing opposition to Christ.  I hope this explanation adds clarity rather than confusion.

Before we seek to determine what it means to personally receive Christ, let me present you with a situation which should be seen as a stark contrast.  I rented a private room and bath in a private residence for a couple of months and learned the meaning of an “owner-tenant relationship”.  The rules included paying the rent on time, keeping my goods in my assigned places in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinet, staying in my own area and common areas, cleaning up after myself, and not playing the music too loud.  There were parts of the house that were understandably “off-limits”.  As I hope you realize, receiving Christ is not the beginning of an owner-Tenant relationship (notice where I put the capital letter).  Such a person has a misunderstanding of the meaning of these two verses, and Jesus Christ does not enter our lives under our terms and conditions.

In my quest to gain a better understanding of the word “receive” in verse 12, I’ve been refreshing my knowledge of Greek grammar.  I believe that a basic lesson in Greek grammar will benefit us all.  There are significant differences between Greek and English.  In the English language, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb usually refers to the time of the action of the verb (past, present, or future time).   In Greek, however, the primary consideration is the kind of action that the verb portrays.  For example, the aorist tense conveys a simple occurrence in the past.  It is like a snapshot because it captures an action at a specific point in time.  The imperfect tense denotes continuous, ongoing, or repeated action in the past, like a motion picture or video tape.  The perfect tense depicts a completed action in the past with results continuing into the present, somewhat like a snapshot which is followed by a video.

The word translated “receive” in verse 12 is the Greek word, elabon, the aorist tense of the word “lambano”.  Therefore it conveys a “one-time, individual, personal-decision”.

I’ve been working on an illustration to describe what it means to “receive Christ”, but I’m having some difficulty fitting all the pieces of the illustration together.  I just realized why I can’t describe it to you yet:  In order to understand what it means to “receive” Christ, we must first understand what it means to “believe in His name”.. As verse 12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (NIV).  The believing comes before the receiving, even though the wording of the text seems to imply that the two responses occur simultaneously.

Now I’ve come to a potential “bend in the road”, so to speak, in this construction project.  I’ve reached a point in my study of verse 12 where I’m asking myself questions about the term “receiving Christ”.  Is it Biblically correct to use the term “receive Christ” or “accept Christ” when sharing the gospel message?  What is the biblical justification for the use of those words?  Can the use of these words be misleading and give a wrong understanding of what it means to become a Christian?  Is praying a prayer and asking Christ to come into your life what the gospel message is all about?  I’ve used John 1:12 almost every time I’ve shared the gospel message, and it was a verse that was used when I became a Christian.  The reason I’m asking myself these questions, and sharing them with you, is that I’ve just come to the realization that the term “receive Him” is used only here in the New Testament.  The context of verse 12 is the nation of Israel.  The nation as a whole did not “receive Him”, that is, “welcome Him as their Messiah”, but there were exceptions among His own people who did welcome Him.  We don’t find those words used again in John’s gospel, the other gospels, or the epistles.  There is some question whether I John 5:11-12 or Revelation 3:20 might communicate that concept and I will be studying those passages also.  The Scripture puts the focus on “believing” (repentance, trust, and commitment to Christ as one’s Lord and Savior).  I invite you to consider these observations and questions also.  Let’s get to the heart of the gospel message and follow the scriptural guidelines for communicating it.  I do know that there are thousands of people who have “prayed a prayer to receive Christ” and their lives have not changed.  I believe the greatest danger in evangelism today is not over-stating the gospel message, but diluting it.  I also believe that in most cases it is being done unintentionally, but that is no excuse for continuing to dilute it.

With that in mind, let’s leave the word “receive” and study the word “believe” here in verse 12.  The word is a participle, “believing”, and it defines and explains the word “receive” which came before it in the sentence.  “Believing in His name” identifies the Object of faith.  “His name” is not referring to the name Jesus.  That was His earthly name.  His eternal name is Lord (Yahweh, Jehovah), the Lord of heaven and earth.  As the apostle John says near the end of his Gospel, “. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The word “believe” is a word of complete trust and commitment to Him as Lord, because that is Who He is.

I think that the following two illustrations, when seen together, give us a picture of belief in the sense of trust and commitment.

During the terrible days of the Blitz (WW II), a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb.  In the front yard was a shell hole.  Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow.  Terrified, yet hearing his father’s voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”  The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you.  Jump!”  The boy jumped because he loved and trusted his father, and landed in his father’s arms.  (shared by Donner Atwood)

An evangelist was trying to help a woman understand John 1:12 and what it means to receive Christ.  “Your last name is Franklin, isn’t it?” he asked.  “Yes”, she said.  “How long has it been that?”  “Ever since my husband and I married 30 years ago”.  “Tell me”, he said, “How did you become Mrs. Franklin?’  She paused, and then the realization came.  “It was at the wedding.  The minister said, ‘Will you take this man to be your lawful, wedded husband . . . ?  And I said, ‘I will’.” (Our Daily Bread) 

I hope that these two illustrations, taken together, have given you a clearer understanding of the word “believe”, as the apostle John uses it in this passage of Scripture.  Of all the illustrations I read, these were the ones that communicated trust and commitment most clearly to me.

Here in the United States of America we need to have this concept of belief explained to us clearly because we usually don’t understand the cost of making that decision to commit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ until later on.  We don’t comprehend the cost to Jesus’ disciples when they made the decision to follow Him.  In many other countries of our world, making the decision to believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him is a very costly decision in terms of the personal sacrifices that are made.  When they choose to believe, they are counting the cost of the things they will probably lose:  their jobs, their families, even their own lives.

I became a Christian while stationed in Thailand in the Air Force.  While in Thailand I had the privilege of sharing my testimony at a Thai church.  I learned that these Thai Christians were disowned by their Buddhist families who had a funeral service for them and considered them dead.  Most of these Christians lost their jobs also.  But I was so amazed and impressed by their joy, their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for one another.  They shared that what they gained by believing in Christ was much greater than any of the things they lost.

II.  THE RESULT (verse 12)

The result of salvation, given here in verse 12, tells us more about what true belief encompasses.  When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord we are entering into a relationship where we become “children of God”.  The Greek word, tekna, refers to “little children”, children who are still totally dependent on their parents.  That is the relationship we are entering into when we become children of God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NIV)  As God’s little children, we will always be dependent upon our heavenly Father for everything, just as Jesus was totally dependent upon His Father while He was here on this earth.  True belief means a commitment to exchange your life of independence for a joyful life of complete trust and dependence upon God for everything.  I know that this biblical perspective has not been communicated very clearly in my presentation of the Gospel message.  How about you?  Is this your understanding of saving faith?

III.  THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE (verse 13)

In verse 12 the apostle John has given us a glimpse of the faith-process and its result.  He will be giving much more detail, and has recorded many examples of people who responded to Jesus Christ by placing their faith in Him.  Here in verse 13, John wants us to understand the new birth from God’s perspective.  The new birth through faith in Jesus Christ is a work of God from beginning to end.  He uses a series of negatives in order to emphasize his point.  Then he ends the verse with the only true source of the new birth in Christ.

not of blood” – the new birth is not based on human descent.  Just because my parents are God’s children does not make me one of God’s children.

not of the will of the flesh” – it’s not based on human desire.  No amount of wishful thinking can make me a child of God.  I might wish I were the child of a millionaire, but wishing doesn’t make me one.  I may even live in a fantasy world where I convince myself that I am a child of a millionaire, but it’s still a lie.

not of the will of man” – it’s not based on human methods.  My parents may have me baptized as a baby, but that does not make me a child of God.  I may try with all my might to live a good life and perform my religious duties, but those things, no matter how earnestly and fervently they are performed, will not impart new life.

but of God” – We must be “born of God”.  We must come to Jesus Christ on His terms, as He has told us here in His Word.  Genuine repentance, acknowledgement of Christ as our Lord, and placing our trust in Him and our lives in His hands are all spiritual miracles of God, and the resulting changes in our lives mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually are all evidences of those miracles (Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:8-10; II Corinthians 5:17; and many other passages of Scripture).

THE APPLICATION TODAY:

As was the case with many of the Jews during the lifetime of Christ on this earth, many people in the world today do not want to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and follow Him.  They are either in love with their sins and don’t want to change, or, in their pride, they think they are good enough to go to heaven and don’t want anyone to tell them otherwise.  But there are people today whom the Spirit of God has convinced of their sinfulness and need for a Savior.  Maybe you are one of those people.  Don’t put it off!  Admit your sin and your helplessness to God.  Decide to turn from your sinful ways.  Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the God-man, the Lord of Heaven and earth, trust Him with a child-like faith and let Him take control of your life and change your life more and more into His image and likeness.  Only then will you experience the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of being a new person and having a new life.  Only then will you experience what it’s like to be a true child of God.

If you are a Christian, please don’t give up on people.  Even if others criticize or make fun of you because of your faith in Christ, continue to pray for them and let the light of Christ shine out unhindered by you.  When you have the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with others, make sure you clearly explain from the Scriptures what it means to “believe”, and let the terms “accepting Christ” or “receiving Christ” be dependent upon genuine belief and be the result of belief (John 3:14-15; 11:25-27; I John 5:13).

Let’s reflect upon the words of the apostle John in I John 3:1, and be amazed and forever grateful:  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).