August 17, 2008
This morning we’re on the third “D” found in John 3:16. Can anyone remember the first D? Danger. Yes, danger! The danger was that we are perishing without Christ. Now, who can remember last weeks “D”? Design. Yes, God in His wisdom designed a way out of eternal death and a way into eternal life. Now to keep with the repetitive “D’s”, I’ve called today’s message from John 3:16 “The Duty” – our part, our duty.
But before I start, I don’t want to break with tradition, so let’s begin this morning with the May 19th reading from “Experiencing God Day-by-Day”. It’s entitled, “Obedience Step by Step”.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Take your son,” He said, “your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”—Genesis 22:1–2
Our difficulty is not that we don't know God's will. Our discomfort comes from the fact that we do know His will, but we do not want to do it!
When God first spoke to Abraham, His commands were straightforward. “Go to a land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Then God led Abraham through a number of tests over the years. Abraham learned patience as he waited on God's promise of a son, which took twenty-five years to be fulfilled. Abraham learned to trust God through battles with kings and through the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The pinnacle of Abraham's walk of faith was when God asked him to sacrifice the one thing that meant more to him than anything else. Abraham's previous obedience indicated that he would have quickly and decisively sacrificed anything else God asked of him, but was he prepared for this? God did not ask Abraham to make such a significant sacrifice at the beginning of their relationship. This came more than thirty years after Abraham began walking with God.
As the Father progressively reveals His ways to you in your Christian pilgrimage, you, like Abraham, will develop a deeper level of trust in Him. When you first became a Christian, your Master's instructions were probably fundamental, such as being baptized (as some of you were last week) or changing your lifestyle. But as you learn to trust Him more deeply, He will develop your character to match bigger tests, and with the greater test will come a greater love for God and knowledge of His ways. Are you ready for God's next revelation?
As I ponder Henry Blackaby’s words, I am always led to examine my own walk of faith. I ask myself, “What would you have me learn today Lord?” And as we look at John 3:16 again, ask yourself, “What would you have me learn today, Lord?” Let’s pray - Lord, open the eyes of my understanding today as we examine our duty as Your people, as found in the wonderful nugget in Your Word.
Now, on with today’s message. Please turn in your Bible to John, chapter three, and we’ll read verse 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.
I've tried to structure these messages in a way that will give you a way of remembering what's in this verse and a way of sharing it with others.
Suppose someone says to you, "You're one of those born again Christians, aren't you?" You can say, "I don't know if I fit your category of them or not, why don't we talk more later today?" And later, when the timing is right, you can say, "One way to summarize my faith is with the words of Jesus from the gospel of John, the third chapter and the sixteenth verse: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.'
"In that verse from the Bible, we have already seen Jesus tell us the danger we are in—the danger of perishing. He tells us the design of God to send his Son to rescue us from perishing. He tells us the duty we have to believe in his Son. And he tells us the destiny we have if we believe, namely, eternal life instead of perishing."
I hope all the believers who come regularly to Good Shepherd Community Church will be able to share the good news, the gospel message found in John 3:16 by the time this series is over next week.
Today we focus on the third "D"—the duty that we have to believe. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish." Let me focus our attention on this duty of believing. My first point about believing is that believing is the vital link between your soul and God's rescuing love. Let me repeat that, believing is the vital link between your soul and God's rescuing love
If we don't believe, we forfeit the love of God and remain under the wrath of God. Remember, John 3:36 says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Believing is our link with the love of God. Notice how Jesus speaks of God's love-rescue: God so loved the world so that believers will not perish. One of the ways to express this is that the love of God is sufficient to save the world, and efficient to save those who believe. Efficient means his love actually saves believers. It is effective in saving them from perishing. The love of God does not have this effect in the lives of those who do not believe. They perish.
So believing is absolutely essential. The world divides into two groups as the gospel moves through it. Those who believe and those who don't. Those who believe are vitally linked to the love of God and are rescued from perishing. Those who don't believe remain under the wrath of God. Notice: there are no fence sitters, no spectators in this game of life. You are either on God’s team as His chosen child or you are on the team of the enemy. “Choose this day whom you will serve”, says Joshua 25:15. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Believing is the vital link with the rescuing love of God. It isn't your race; it isn't your IQ; it isn't your church attendance or religious background or how many mortal sins you've avoided. It isn’t how good you’ve been, or whether you were raised by Christian parents; it isn’t how many people you’re helped or how much praying you do. It is whether you believe on the Son of God. Believing links you savingly to the love of God.
And my second point about believing is that believing is ongoing. It is not a one-time act.
The tense of the verbs all through John's gospel makes this plain. " . . . that whoever believes [not believed] on him might not perish." The present tense in Greek is an ongoing, continuous action. John 20:31 tells us why this whole gospel was written and makes the continuousness of believing plain. Turn to it with me now – John 20:31. There are many verse throughout the Scripture that tell you why the Bible was written. This one, John 20:31 is particularly powerful. Let’s read it now. It says, "These have been written that you may believe [aorist tense: come to believe, or some manuscripts have present tense] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [present tense: ongoing believing] you may have life in His name."
Believing is a vital link with the rescuing love of God when that believing is the ongoing condition of the heart for it is that very believing that gives you life in His name. It is very dangerous and unwise to waffle or ponder if you are a Christian or not. The issue is: are you believing in Jesus Christ the Son of God? Is this the ongoing condition of your heart?
The object or focus of your ongoing continuous faith must be in Jesus Christ the Son of God the one and only Son of Father God, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. Jehovah, the Lord God Almighty.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him . . . "—the Son of God sent by the Father.
My third point about believing is sometimes Jesus says that believing on Himself gives life (as we’ve just read in John 20:31) And sometime He directs our believing to the Father who sent him who gives life. Turn now to John 5:24, "He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life." So sometimes Jesus directs our believing to the father and other times to Himself, the Son who gives life: John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life." And John 12:44 gives the reason why both are true: "Jesus cried out and said, 'He who believes in me, does not believe in me but in him who sent me.'"
For Jesus all genuine believing in him is also believing in Father God—that God is his Father and that he was sent by the Father as a revelation of the Father and that to know Jesus is to know God. So the ongoing believing that links us to the love of God is believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God sent by God.
My fourth point about believing is that believing includes agreeing with objective truth about Christ.
Believing is not a merely subjective or emotional thing. It has specific truth content—that is true whether you believe it or not. Christianity stands in diametric opposition to the relativism of our day that says, "It's true for me, but I won't make any claims that it should be true for you." Christ is who he is whether we believe him or not. As C.S. Lewis said, "An insane man in a padded cell screaming that there is no sun, has no effect whatever on whether the sun rises and sets on time."
Truth is truth whether we believe it or not. And genuine believing in Jesus agrees with the objective truth about Jesus. For example, in John 17:8 Jesus prays, "The words which you gave Me I have given to them; and they received them, and truly understood that I came forth from you, and they believed that you did send Me."
They understood objective facts about Jesus—he came forth from God the Father. And they believed in those facts. Believing includes agreeing with objective truth about Christ. Therefore we need know and teach concrete truths about Christ. In this day and age when people have chosen their own truth, it is necessary for us to know what we believe. Can you “accurately handle the word of truth” as 2 Timothy 2:15 tells you to? It says “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” That is why our church supports and teaches the “Truth Project”. We need to know what we believe!
Believing includes heart knowledge as well as head knowledge. This is point 5.
In other words if your believing is only an agreement in the head with facts about Jesus, your faith is no different that the faith of devils—who believe and tremble (James 2:19). Knowing and agreeing with truths is necessary, but it is not enough. It doesn't make you a Christian. Believing means being satisfied in your heart with what God is for you in Jesus.
Consider John 6:35, "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'" Believing in Jesus is a coming to him in a way that satisfies your soul-hunger and your soul-thirst. Believing is a very powerful thing. It renovates the heart with new affections. What once satisfied, is now distasteful. Believing is based on new taste buds in the soul. Once the soul was satisfied—or so it thought—with what the world could offer. Now Christ is so satisfying to the soul that the world is losing its power. The allure of the world is becoming “strangely dim” as the hymn suggests: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” That is true heart believing.
Or consider John 14:1, "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me." In other words, believing in Jesus brings relief to our troubled soul. Believing is not merely an intellectual thing, solving philosophical problems. It is that and more. But believing is also an emotional experience of being relieved of a troubled heart and a hungry soul.
It is coming to Christ and finding him true and satisfying to the deepest longings of the soul.
William Barclay comments, “ All great men have had their favorite texts; but this (John 3:16) has been called "Everybody's text." Herein for every simple heart is the very essence of the gospel. This text tells us certain great things. The following from Barclay was quoted a few weeks ago, but bears repeating.
John 3:16 tells us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes men speak as if they would draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus. Sometimes men present the Christian message in such a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son, and he sent him because he loved men. At the back of everything is the love of God.
It tells us of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the man who loves God and the man who never thinks of him, the man who rests in the love of God and the man who spurns it--all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine had it: "God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love."
To summarize then:
1. Believing is our link with God's rescuing love. There's no rescue without it.
2. Believing is ongoing. It is not merely a one-time act.
3. The object or focus of believing is both Jesus Christ and the Father.
4. Believing includes agreement with objective truths about Christ.
5. Believing includes heartfelt satisfaction with all that God is for us in Jesus.
Finally, my 6th and last point, believing is a work of God, not mere human initiative.
This does not nullify what we have said already—that believing is a human act of the mind agreeing with truth and a human act of the heart being satisfied with Christ. That is true. But the Bible teaches that the human mind is blind to spiritual truth; and the human heart is hard to spiritual pleasures. So how shall anyone be saved?
The answer of Jesus is given in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." In John 6:37 he says, "All the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out." In John 6:65 he says, "No one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (For further stud, check out 1:12–13; 8:47; 10:26; 18:37.)
In other words Jesus' answer to the spiritual blindness of the human mind and the spiritual hardness of the human heart is that the Father draws them. He takes away the blindness of the mind and replaces the heart of stone. He grants us to see the truth of Christ's self-evidencing glory and he gives us a taste for the all-satisfying beauty of the Lord. And as Paul prayed in Ephesians chapter 1 and verse 18 so do I pray. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling.” Or as the New Living Translation says, “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has given to those He called – His holy people who are His rich and glorious inheritance.”
And he does this very simply through the words of truth—like John 3:16 and like this sermon (John 17:20). God is at work right now lifting the veil off your mind and softening your heart. My plea to you is: don't harden your heart. Don't stiffen your neck. Yield to the to the word of the Lord this morning. Believe on Jesus and you shall not perish but have eternal life.