Clarifying the Good News of Jesus in an Age of Ambiguity
If you were asked to join them for dinner would you be inclined to join them?
Could you see yourself doing anything special to prepare to meet them for dinner?
Would you talk to them once you sat at dinner with them and listen intently when they spoke to you, or would you just sit and stare into the distance appearing to be bored?
As a nation we are entering into an important election cycle. There will be two main candidates on the ballot for election in November this year. But no one has asked me to meet any of the candidates in the race. No one has asked me to join a candidate for dinner so we can become better acquainted. I do not expect that will ever happen. I am not saying it will never happen from an attitude of sour grapes about politicians or from dismay. A politician is not looking to make me a friend and close companion. They are looking for me to agree with their position about certain policies for this nation in hopes that I will vote for them. They are not asking for my friendship, they are asking for my vote. All I have to go on is what they speak broadly to everyone who will listen to them. If you ask me if one of them is my friend or how well I know them I would have to say not on a friendship basis and I know very little other than what they’ve been willing to say in order to secure my vote or discourage it.
I have never been formally introduced to them and even though I can read things about them and hear them interviewed about the issues of day, and I could even have done lots of research about them from multiple reliable sources, but I still do not really know them.
When it comes to the gospel, if the best you have to offer someone is statements about how to be rescued from sin, or to escape the judgment of hell and get a free pass to heaven while living a better life now here on earth, you have a short sighted gospel message at best.
These ideas pertaining to the rewards that come to someone from knowing Jesus are true. Our sins are taken away and forgiven completely by coming to Jesus, we do escape hell by coming to Jesus, we do get to live in the promise of heaven by belonging to Jesus, but these are not the primary reason Jesus gave His life on the cross. They are an important part of the good news concerning Jesus but they do not strike at the most significant part of His purpose in coming to earth and dying on the cross.
Shall we lay a little ground work from the Scriptures today? Open your Bibles to the Gospel of John. Let’s read John1:1 – 5
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
I want you to notice how the Holy Spirit puts a spotlight on the relationship between the Son, who is referred here to as the Word of God, and the Father.
The picture that is portrayed for us here is one of total unity. Nothing gets done without the involvement of the other. The Father and the Son work together in creation, they flow together, they share the same goals and purpose. They are one. Together they are one God even though they are two persons. The Son is described here as the one who gives life and is the light of men. He is described here as being more powerful than any darkness as His light will dispel darkness when it shines.
It is interesting to think about darkness and light scientifically. Light requires energy to exist whereas all darkness requires is the absence of light. Anywhere light does not exist there is darkness automatically.
If you know anything at all about what the Bible says to describe the creation it says that darkness covered the earth and God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Jesus the Son was the one that made all that and brought the light.
An Old Testament Prophet spoke of a time when the people of Israel would be visited by the Messiah and he said in Isaiah 9:2
2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.
But amazingly not all saw the light just as today not all see the light. Let’s read John1:10 – 14
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Here’s where we discover the primary purpose of His coming.
As many as received Him! He gave them the right! What right? To escape hell? To have their sins forgiven and forgotten? To live a different life that is better than before? All of these benefits as glorious as they can be, are byproducts of what is being spoken of in this passage. They are not being spoken of by the Holy Spirit here as being the reason Jesus came to His own.
The reason stated here is that He gives us the right to become children of God! How does this happen?
It’s what happens when we truly believe! You see genuine faith leads to being born. That is what it says here. Those who became the children of God did so because they believed in Jesus name. The term Jesus name can be confusing at times. In Jesus name as it is used here in the Greek means all that He says He is, and all that He does to secure promises and enact a legal everlasting covenant. It’s not agreeing that Jesus was His name. It is believing in all that He is and has done.
This kind of belief results in one being born of the Spirit. It says very clearly here that we are not born of blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God!
What is the primary purpose revealed here? To become a child of God! Contrary to this worlds warped idea that all human beings are God’s children, we find here that the ones in darkness who do not receive are not His children because they have not been born of Him.
Just because a statement someone makes can make you feel good in the moment, it does not make that statement true. If all human beings are children of God Jesus would have lied to say in John 8:42 – 45
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.
So the old saying, “We are all children of God.” May have a sentimental ring to it, but it is far from the truth.
Notice how in John’s gospel becoming a child of God by being born of God is not talking about a physical birth. That is what is meant by the language, “Not of blood.” It was not something anyone can do in their own strength and power. That is what is meant by the language, “Nor of the flesh.” It was not something someone can just will to do on their own. That is what is meant by the language, “Nor of the will of man.”
Only God makes this happen. Just as little babies have nothing to do with choosing their parents and placing themselves in the womb of a mother as it is all determined by the parents, God determines our heavenly birth. This ties right in with what it says in Ephesians 2:1 – 9:
1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
In John’s Gospel we read that Jesus was full of grace and truth and here in Ephesians we discover that it is by grace we are saved. Verse 8 of Ephesians 2 reiterates for us that we had nothing to do with it, it was all God’s doing and it is a gift! So none of us can boast about being His child in a way that implies we had anything to do with it. We didn’t get clean enough for God to accept us. We didn’t work hard to get His attention. He made us aware of Himself. So approaching God through moral objectives in the hope that your own attempt to be righteous will move Him to accept you and allow you into heaven has nothing to do with the true gospel of Jesus and will not save you. Look at what we the Holy Spirit says in Romans 10:3
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
Interestingly, in most of Scripture, the reasons for removing our sin is not so we can become deserving of heaven, rather it is so we can experience relationship with God the Father through Jesus. The only righteousness acceptable to God is His own anyway so He made a way for us to experience it. It is from a place of faith in who Jesus is and what He accomplished that we become the righteousness of God in Christ. This is made most clear for us in 2Corinthians 5:21
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
When I spoke of short sighted gospels earlier I was talking about how often it seems there are people shining a light on the byproducts and benefits of salvation as though they are the primary reason Jesus came. An unbalanced focus has the potential to make us self centered in our understanding of being saved and can hinder us from seeing the primary and most glorious reason of all.
To shine a spot light on byproducts and benefits while leaving the issue of genuine full on healthy and alive relationship in the shadows is presenting a short sighted gospel message.
To treat the beauty, and privilege that it is to truly know God through Jesus as something lesser than the byproducts and benefits that accompany it, is to miss the greatest part of the good news of Jesus. The greatest reality of salvation is the blessing of knowing God as Father and being introduced to Him as a real person through the real person of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle John moved by the Holy Spirit captures this beautifully in 1John 3:1
1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
There’s something vastly different about being identified as a child rather than a welfare participant.
God is not a politician who needed our vote and therefore made certain promises to care for us and therefore owes us.
We are not entitled to anything, but we are loved and therefore wonderfully cared for.
He is our Father and we are His children and He loves us in a very personal way because of Jesus in us! The idea of earning anything from Him presents Him as being a manager or benefactor who must be paid in full at some point for all His help.
What child who has a loving Father thinks in terms of owing their Father for the things they receive?
Relationship of Father and child operates differently from societal caregiving and recipient type relationships. The fact is no one ever really taps fully into what can be experienced until they enter into full on relationship with the Father the way it is intended to be.
Full on relationship with God as Father changes everything in our lives. It changes how we see and understand the everyday matters of life and where we run to for help and endurance. With this in mind let me close by asking some questions to get us to think about this.
- Have you come to know the person who is God the Father?
- Have you been born from God?
- Are you a consumer Christian or a relationship driven believer who knows their Father?
- Did you come to Jesus for an introduction to the Father, or for what you could get for yourself?
- Do you struggle to receive from God because you feel unworthy?
In light of what we have heard today about relationship with the Father and considering the questions I just asked, ponder what Jesus said in Mark 10:15
15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”