47. Belief & Life

Short Meditations in John 6:  47. Belief and Life

Jn 6:47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life

Go into any good bookshop (and a few remain) and you will see shelves whose books can only be described as ‘self-help’. Thirty years ago those shelves would have been virtually empty. Those shelves today tell us there is a small industry catering for the need that people have to improve themselves, to take control of their lives, make something more of them than they are at present. In some ways it is a healthy sign, that people recognize their present inadequacies. In other ways it is very unhealthy, this belief that if only I can ‘do this’ I will improve and change my life and that is enough.

How short-sighted that thinking is. For some, to give up smoking is a major achievement. For others to control their temper is a great accomplishment. In business to find a new profitable purpose and direction sets goals and gives a sense of achievement. But all these are tiny in comparison to the big questions of life. How can I truly become ‘good’? What will happen when I die? What meaning or purpose is there in this life today?

If God’s plans had slid what happened back two thousand years so that Jesus came into the world today, what would he find? Some enthusiasts energetically following him, but many not. If he spoke today and said (as he still does), simply believe in me and I will give you a new quality of life that will have no ending, yes, that will continue on past death, many would reject him a) because their jaded cynicism of having lived in the twenty-first century and tried it all has left then believing there are no real ‘answers’ or b) because they would prefer to work at it themselves so that they can see clear goals, have clear things to work for and remains masters of their universe.

And so this present verse has two essential components to be understood – belief and eternal life. We have considered a little already recently what believing in Jesus meant, believing that his is the unique Son of God etc., but the big question is, how do you measure someone’s belief? Surely it must be by the effects it has on their life. Surely it must mean that of a person is truly a believer in Jesus Christ, their life will start changing immediately, to conform to the goodness that God has revealed through His design for us seen through all the teaching of the Bible, the Law in the Old Testament, the apostles teaching in the New. Goals become God orientated, God directed, and a new life is revealed, a Spirit indwelt and thus Spirit-empowered life and because of His presence in us, we receive and live NOW this eternal life, a life that started when we came to Christ and will continue on into eternity, believing in Jesus, living with Jesus and for Jesus. Amen.

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40. The Salvation Process

Short Meditations in John 6:  40. The Salvation Process

Jn 6:40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  

Hell or annihilation (depending on what you believe) is the ultimate fear when death is faced – what comes next? One of the things about the whole record of the Bible is this looking towards ‘something next’ after death, and although there are in the Gospels warning against a fiery destruction for unbelievers (e.g. Mt 3:10,12, 5:22, 7:19, 13:40, 18:8,9, 25:41) there are also many encouragements about eternal life (e.g. Jn 3:15,16,36, 4:14,36, 5:24, 6:27,40,47,54,68, 10:28, 12:25,50, 17:2,3). This ‘eternal life’ was often expressed in the terms of ‘being raised up at the last day’ (see also 5:28,29) and thus we now find in v.39,40,44,54 – this reference that Jesus will “raise them up at the last day” i.e. four times in this chapter to make the point.

But this point is, in the light of the complete verse, the last part of a process that takes place, and has to take place, with every fallen sinner who wishes to avoid the destructions warned against above.  The start of this ‘process’ (an ongoing action with a number of elements) is, for the fallen sinner (all of us) turning to Jesus. It is seen in this verse as two stages: a) looking on the Son and b) believing in him. We can see those two stages so clearly in people coming to the Lord.

Initially most are very largely ignorant of Jesus but then as the individual has their attention drawn to the Gospels which they read, or are told about, they become aware of Jesus in a new way. Believing in him really should have three aspects although, as we’ve said before, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord.

We must never see our salvation in mechanical terms, one thing automatically following another. The promise of eternal life is given to the new believer and the indwelling Holy Spirit (who is eternal) is the means of our lives being carried on after death and into eternity. It is because of the work of Christ on the Cross that this becomes possible and so it is Christ (and his Spirt, the Holy Spirit) who will raise us up to be with him in eternity. The reference to “at the last day” which appears in these verses three times, we so often think of as either Jesus’ second coming (see Rev 19:11-) or the final judgment day (Rev 20:11-) but it could also very simply mean the last day of our physical lives. Applying Scripture to this part of our existence is not easy, suffice it to say we are promised a new raised up life that Jesus will enable to happen after our deaths. Hallelujah!

35. Life or Wrath

Short Meditations in John 3:  35. Life or Wrath

Jn 3:36    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

As we come to the end of this chapter, having passed through a number of verses speaking of Jesus as the unique Son of God who had come down from heaven, now the one true witness because he had come from the Father, we now come to the purpose of that coming: to create believers who can inherit eternal life in harmony with God.

Note how it starts: “whoever believes”. Now this is very important. Life with God starts with belief but it is a belief that has actions. The apostle James understood this when he wrote, You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (Jas 2:19) Demons believe in God but they don’t have a loving relationship with Him. They know about Him but they don’t interact with Him. No, this ‘believing’ is a believing that creates a response, i.e. creates action.

This believing is of the sort that when it hears of Christ, finds something inside reaching out for more but realises it is in a state of need and so falls before God in surrender and receives His forgiveness and His cleansing and His adoption and His Holy Spirit’s presence to dwell within. This believing creates action than enables God to see our heart is true and reaching out for Him and so He gives us His Spirit and thus He gives us eternal life.

The word ‘believe’ occurs over fifty times in John’s Gospel. It is the Gospel all about believing and John is very candid about that: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)  This Gospel, says John, should act as a foundation of belief in Jesus and when you see him as he is and believe you will receive a new life as you give yourself over to the Father.

But every coin has two sides and so on this particular one, on one side is belief and eternal life, and on the other unbelief and God’s anger. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. Anger is instinctive. Anger is passionate displeasure that rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. So what is so wrong about unbelief? Well unbelief is always wilful. If we wanted we could respond to that thing within us (see Eccles 3:11) that wants to seek for the truth – but we don’t. The evidence is all there but we either refuse to go looking for it or we refuse to believe it, as obvious as it is. This wilfulness is wrong, stupidly wrong and incurs God’s anger. Rightly!

7. John’s Recap

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   7. John’s Recap: Picking up the Threads

 

John 3:31,32  The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.

 

The back half of chapter 3 is very much a recap section; it is as if the aged John, being a good teacher, knows that you should go back over the ground again and again to make sure your pupils or disciples have taken it in. The verses that follow the account with Nicodemus, so well known, appear to be Jesus speaking but may be John’s comment: “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.” (Jn 3:16) How we take these for granted but from this new perspective they again reveal Jesus as the one and only Son of God and as the object of our faith and the bringer of eternal life. Twice previously we have seen Jesus proclaimed as the Son of God (1:34,49) and three times Jesus speaking of himself as that prophetic ‘Son of man’ (1:51,3:13,14).

 

These verses accentuate the fact of Jesus being the object of our faith: “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life,” (3:15) and “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (3:16) and “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (3:18) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (3:36) Previously we’ve seen Jesus as the Word, the light-bringing-life, the coming one, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the life transformer and it is now as if John is saying, “I’ve said all this so that you know who you are to believe in: HE is the object of your faith, HE is the means of you being forgiven, cleansed and inheriting eternal life.”

 

But then John picks up a thread from the Prologue where we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood (or overcome)  it.” (1:4,5) Now he adds, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (3:19-21) Jesus’ life so stood out that it was like the light, say, of a lighthouse, that drew men to him. His love, his grace, his goodness, his power to transform lives and bring healing, this had people flocking to him, but the truth also was that those who hadn’t come to the end of themselves and preferred to stick with the evil of their own self-centred, godless lives shied away from him, rejected him and even plotted against him. His life did that; it either attracted you or repelled you, and that all depended on the sort of person you were.

 

So that was one thread from the Prologue but there was another that John now picks up: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (1:6,7) Of course after the Prologue we saw John’s ministry pointing to Jesus and John the writer reverts to that again now to emphasise John’s testimony. Jesus had also been baptizing people with his disciples (3:22) and John was still baptizing not far off (3:23) and his disciples came to him pointing out that Jesus was also baptizing (3:25,26).

 

John’s response was, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.” (3:27,28)  Now this has an echo of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.” (3:12,13).  John said, I can only speak what heaven gives me; Jesus says, I have come from heaven. This will be something that is repeated again and again in John’s Gospel. It doesn’t appear in the Synoptics but John remembered it and realised how significant it was.

 

Previously John had denied that he was the Coming One (1:20,21) and we suggested that the writer was including this to counter the cult of John-followers that was around later in that century. Now John says, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (3:29,30) He can’t make the implication any clearer: Jesus is the bridegroom and I am merely his friend. He’s the all-important one at the  wedding!

 

He speaks again of their origins: “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” (3:31-33) Jesus has come from heaven and so is above all others. I, says the Baptist, am from the earth. He speaks from what he knows of heaven but people don’t understand that but I do and I accept what he says is the truth. Wow! Strong testimony!

 

The chapter concludes with, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him..” (3:36) Jesus is THE object of our faith and he is the one who enables us to receive eternal life.

 

So John has picked up the following threads:

  • That Jesus is the focal point for all belief

 

  • His life stands out like a beacon drawing the hungry and thirsty to him
  • John the Baptist testified to him
  • Jesus has come from heaven and brings a heavenly perspective
  • Believing in him brings eternal life.

These threads or themes are repeated more than once and will come up again in the chapters to come.