Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, Oct. 27, 2002
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, RSV).
Monday morning, when I asked the Lord what Sunday's topic was to be, I heard, "Eternal life." It's a huge subject, but that's all I heard. On Monday night, we had an e-mail from a reader I'll call "Doug" (not his real name), which sparked me because I knew his comments were no coincidence, but planned by the Father.
He wrote, "John 3:16 is indeed a wonderful verse. But for me, some of its real beauty I think is somewhat hidden, or at least has been up until lately. The idea of "believe" or "belief" has always more or less escaped me as far as being actually able to precisely understand what the words are meant to imply in the New Testament. Some of this is partly due to the fact, I think, that I got the idea when being raised in church that I was somehow responsible for whether I "believed" or didn't. No doubt I was always very willing to "obey" the "commandment" to believe. Its not that I had to be convinced that I needed to believe... I simply didn't know how to go about it.
"Anything that I perceived God wanted me to do, I was most willing to do. I learned from teachers that "faith" came by hearing...the word of God, that is, reading the Bible. So I read the Bible, but was not really aware of being more able to "believe," whatever that meant, than before.
"One thing I AM sure of is that I cannot by my own effort come to "believe." It must be given to me from God. When John said "whosoever believeth," I am leaning toward the idea that he may have intended the emphasis to be placed on the "whosoever," thus declaring universality. If we "need" to believe, God will take care of that. And so everlasting life has been assured for the entire world." End Quote.
Doug came out of the same denomination that I did, and I concur that it is an impossible burden to bear IF our ability to receive eternal life, salvation, the Holy Spirit or any other gift of God depends upon OUR ability to believe, OUR faith, as this church and many others teach. There's no peace or comfort in the concept that our eternal destiny rests upon our shoulders alone. My experience is that such a demand brings up anxiety and a certain fearful dread of the judgment of God, because any honest person knows that it is impossible to make yourself believe something you have not seen for yourself, as Doug's e-mail confirmed. Therefore, his statement, "It must be given to me from God," is the only possible answer to the dilemma, but does the scripture support this?
Indeed, it does. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter's sermon ended with this bold statement: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38,39, NIV). For years, I failed to see that God's promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is for all whom the Lord calls to him. The divine initiative is quite plain there, but it took me decades to move beyond the instruction to repent and be baptized, and get to the real reason I was compelled to do so: the Lord had called me to it! This is the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy, "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (drag) all men to myself" (John 12:32, RSV). Jesus was lifted up on the cross, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2). Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that in Christ, God calls and reconciles the whole world, all men to Himself. There's no time parameter given for this calling, nor any limitation about whether it occurs in heaven (spirit), on earth (living now) or under the earth (the dead). (See Phil. 2:10-11.) The Apostle Paul speaks plainly of this calling, drawing, or dragging process: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:18,19, NIV). This passage is the nugget of gold found in the gospel. God is the one who calls us, the one who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Additionally, He gave us the ministry of reconciliation. To me, this is the great commission, the highest calling of a son of God. What greater privilege could He have bestowed upon us than to call us ministers of reconciliation. We are to carry the bread of life to the hungry world.
Dear ones, the world is waiting for the "Sonrise," the revelation of Jesus Christ through His sons. The heathen are waiting for words of peace and the comfort of knowing that the Father has gifted them eternal life. Too long, over eager preachers have threatened sinners with hell fire, trying to scare them into repenting. Scare tactics are only marginally successful. They work for a short while, long enough to get someone up front to the altar, to make a public confession of Christ, be baptized and added to the congregation, but if fear is the only motivator, it soon burns out, leaving the penitent son frustrated and confused. You can frighten someone into the waters of baptism, but fear will never translate him from the kingdom of darkness (life in the flesh) into the kingdom of God (eternal life). It is impossible, because, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us" (I John 4:18-19, NIV). It is the love of God which woos us, calls us into His embrace. The Lord showed me years ago that when I am afraid, it is because I am not perfected in love. So, when I feel afraid, I don't bind, cast, or plead the blood, I go to Him who is love and say, "Father, you have not loved me perfectly, because I am afraid. Perfect me in your love." He has never failed me, and gradually, over the years, the fears and phobias which plagued me as a youth, have been loved away.
There is no fear in eternal life, because God's perfect love has swallowed it up. It was His love of the world, indeed, His entire creation which moved Him to give his only Son, that "whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life!" John the beloved gives us a glimpse into the relationship between Jesus and His Father: "After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:1-3, NIV). Eternal life is IN CHRIST, and as we see ourselves in Him, we relate to the Father in the same way that Jesus did. In that relationship there IS eternal life NOW.
When Lazarus died, Jesus purposed to wait two days before going to His friend. Clearly, He knew the man was dead, and understood that His Father intended to raise him up again. When He got to Bethany, Martha couldn't resist laying a little guilt on Him by saying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." But then she added, "And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you" (John 11:21-22). When Jesus assured her that her brother would rise again, she gave the theologically correct answer for her paradigm, her religious upbringing. She said, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (Vs. 24). Martha could have been a member in good standing of most churches today, because this appears to be the only expectation of victory over death that many have. Jesus promised that we would do greater things than He did, and He raised the dead. I never go to a funeral and view a body in a casket but what I ask, "Are you going to raise him up Lord?" So far, He hasn't done that, though we know a man through whose prayer God raised the dead. Still, it is understandable that people don't expect it, because resurrection from the dead certainly is not the norm today.
And yet, Jesus dismissed Martha's theologically correct answer with this tremendous statement: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26, NIV). One thing about Jesus that thrills me over and over is that He always spoke with power. Accordingly, He went to the tomb and called Lazarus, who came forth, still wrapped in his grave clothes. The man had been dead for four days, and yet, he came back to life at the Master's command. "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord. We believe, help us with our unbelief." What did He mean that He IS the resurrection and the life? Why do most people think they have to wait until the Judgment Day or the Second Coming to receive eternal life? What is eternal life anyway?
Jesus already gave us the definition of eternal life when He said, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Knowing God is a journey rather than a destination. It may take a lifetime of traveling with Him to know Him, to see Him as He is, but to me, this is what eternal life is about. It is holding God's hand as we journey along The Glory Road, which leads us through cactus patches, valleys deep and mountains high, and sometimes, the road is more gory than glory, but through out the journey, He sustains us. Listen to Paul's experiences on this road which He called "The Way.": "I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches" (II Cor. 11:26-28, NIV). I would guess that his angst over the churches may have been the worst of all, but suffice it to say, he experienced far more trouble because of the cross of Christ than most of us ever will. Yet, by the grace of God, He could say, "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil. 3:8,9, NIV).
By the way, I still notice that unlike Paul, some Christians will never tell you the truth about anything that is wrong in their lives, holding themselves to the impossible standard of always making a positive confession. That really irritates me, I must say, because of the implication, so beloved by the Word of Faith teachers, that we have control of what happens to us, and if we only make positive confessions, then only positive things will happen. What a load of dung that is, as Paul's comments clearly prove! God is the one calling the shots, and He is the one who ordains our journey, and did so before the foundation of the world! (II Tim. 1:9). The next time you are tempted to put a positive spin on some dreadful thing which happened to you, remember that God does not need a press agent, a "spin doctor" to prop up His image. The one who consigned all men to disobedience, did so in order that "He may have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32). When you finally get it that whatever happens to you comes straight from the hand of God, and is sent to you by His grace and for His glory, then you will quit trying to sugar coat God's dealings with you! A man in the Sunday School class said one day to Lenny, "I'd be scared as hell that I would have to go through the same things you have." He does not yet understand that to get to the glory, we often must pass through the gory; if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him (II Tim. 2:12).
The Apostle John said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14-17, NIV). This brings us full circle to the e-mail which we received this week. If God were to have laid belief on us as a condition for eternal life, then we'd all be damned and doomed to fail, because belief is NOT part of the carnal nature. We can no more believe on our own steam than we can save ourselves by our own efforts. We know from Paul's comments that faith/belief is a GIFT of God! (Eph. 2:8). When he and Barnabas went to Antioch, they preached the gospel to a multitude, including Gentiles, which stirred up the Jews to jealousy. He said to the sons of Jacob, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.'" And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:46-48, RSV). Do you see that? As many as were ordained, destined, called to eternal life, believed. Do not despair or fear that you might not be ordained. What God has planned to do, He will do. Paul says that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, that in his seed (Christ) ALL nations would be blessed (Gal. 3:8). The Hebrew writer affirms it: "For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself" (Heb. 6:13, RSV). Nothing is more secure than God's oath that He will bless all nations through Christ. "....so also in Christ shall ALL be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22, RSV).
Rejoice with me that we have eternal life right now, not because of anything we have done, but because of what God, our Father has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. "And this is what he has promised us, eternal life" (I John 2:25, RSV). Whatever God has promised, He will do, for, "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Num. 23:19, NIV). Father, open our eyes to see that, "we are in him who is true, in your Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and ETERNAL LIFE" (I John 5:20). Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"What does faith have to do with it?"
"The Eternal Now"
"Resurrection Life Now," by Lenny
The Glory Road
We enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 10/25/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/12/08