John 3:16 is one of the most beloved and well known Bible verses, but there’s more to it than you think.
John 3:16 is one of the most beloved and well known Bible verses, but there’s more to it than you think.
John 3:16 is one of the most beloved and well known Bible verses, but there’s more to it than you think.
Some see the preaching of the gospel to the lost is like preaching to the dead, but there is power in God’s Word to bring them eternal life.
The Walking Dead might be a syndicated show, ad nauseam by now, but it’s a pretty good picture of you and I before we knew Christ. Scripture says that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2). By the way, that was all of us at one point. We all “once walked according to the course of the world.” All of us were “following the prince of the power of the air.” We were all as dead as Lazarus…four-days-dead! So what happened? It was only because of “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5). You and I provided the corpse; God quickened it. Just as the Prodigal’s father said, he could say about us: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:24). So did the angels in heaven, I’m sure (Luke 15:10).
The Word of God has power. It will accomplish what God sends it out to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). There is also power in Jesus’ words. Think about this: Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3). The Word of God also cuts, but it cuts in order to heal. We also know that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). It gets down to where we live because “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). This means that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20), so for certain, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).
When you share Christ with the lost, it might seem that you’re preaching to the dead. That’s because “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). It doesn’t matter. We still must “preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Thankfully, it doesn’t depend on us to save anyone. When people are exposed to the Word of God, and they understand it by the Spirit of God, they can finally see Who Jesus is; the Son of God, however, before conversion, we were all in the flesh, and “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7). Those who have trusted in Christ “are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9). If there is no Holy Spirit residing inside a person, there can be no regeneration. That means, they do not belong to Christ, but “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).
You may not understand it…and you may not even like it, but there is only one way to the Father and into the kingdom, and that is through Jesus Christ. You and I must realize “that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19). There is no other way to be redeemed than by Jesus’ and His blood, shed for you and for me. Jesus is He whom “God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom 3:25). Propitiation means “to gain satisfaction,” and God was satisfied in Christ and His work at Calvary. That’s good news for us, but we must be ready for His return, which could be at any moment. Already, millions of the saints “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). What about you? Have you repented and put your trust in Christ? Today is the best of days to do that (2 Cor 6:2). Tomorrow may come too late, particularly if you were to die (Heb 9:27) or the Lord would return. Trust in Christ today and you can be born again, from above (John 3:3-7).
What’s it like to walk out of prison and reenter the world?
If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, you might remember Brooks Hatlen. He was terrified at the thought of being released, and he’s not exception. It had been a lifetime since Brooks had lived as a free man, but after decades of incarceration, time had changed everything…including the people. It was a world he clearly didn’t fit it in with, and tragically, in the movie, he ended his own life. Even though this is a fictional account, this really is repeated over and over again, and all over the world. For most of these men and women, being incarcerated for decades, is like being Rip Van Winkle. They wake up to a world that has changed so much that it’s too overwhelming. Many want to go back, and a substantial number do, but there is a Helper, and those in the Body of Christ that have often stepped in can help, but not everyone has access to such resources.
Most states do not have half-way houses or transitional housing for every inmate that’s released. In one prison, a man is given a little a $500-value card, but the card has to be activated over the Internet or by use of a phone, and few have access to either after their release. When a person’s released from prison, and they have no one on the outside to pick them up (occurs with frequency), they’re usually escorted to the end of the prison property, and then watched until they disappear from sight. Maybe they wish them good luck, I don’t know, but beyond that, they’re pretty much on their own. And they’re at risk for becoming homeless? Finding someone to rent to someone on parole is hard enough, but try coming up with the money for them to pay a deposit on the house/apartment, plus the other deposits for the other utilities? The state requires them to have a permanent address so that their parole officer can keep track of them, but if their county has no homeless shelter, where are they supposed to go? What address can they use? It’s like an episode of survivor, gone bad. The parole officers expect them to have a permanent address, but some homeless shelters require a state issued ID before they can admit them. The problem is, the state won’t issue them a state ID without their having an address or place of residence. It’s a classic setup for failure, but how so many prisoners still manage to negotiate through this dangerous maze is beyond me. It’s to their credit that so many do survive and pick up their life again, but even here, it will never be the same. There is no “normal” anymore…only, different…everything’s different.
Recently, I took a man shopping who had just been released from prison. To me, it’s an easy task for me to find what I need, but for someone who’s been in prison for years, just a simple experience like shopping becomes a mass of confusion. The aisles, products, displays, arrangements, and locations of things are not the way they remember, if they remember at all. Everything’s changed. The name brands have changed, the packaging, the prices, and now there are so many choices…but there is so little money (just over $500 dollars). And the little money they do have, goes quickly. For them, money talks, but it mostly says, “Bye, bye.” It is times like this when they remember Jesus’ words, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they” (Matt 6:26)? Undoubtedly, many do believe they’re more valuable than many sparrows, but the world doesn’t think so. At least most don’t, but those who have taken up Christ’s command have reached out and given a present help in time of need. The number of faith-based shelters for released inmates easily outstrips those of the private sector, and they don’t require that you believe in Christ to receive shelter…they do expect them to abide by the rules, but even these rules are in their best interests, so for some, there is hope. As Andy Dufresne (on The Shawshank Redemption) said, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” The hope these men and women have is in Christ is a good thing. They know that even if they die, they will live in again (John 11:25-26), but this time, it’ll be in the presence of God. They will see His face for the very first time (Rev 21:3; 22:4). That hope helps many of these men and women endure what we ourselves probably couldn’t!
Another issue that those released from prison face is that they’re still called felons, or at least treated that way, but that’s not true. They’re felons no longer! They were tried, convicted, sentenced, and have served their time. The state says they are free to rejoin society, but society doesn’t always want to let them. Many experience a double-jeopardy. They’ve served their time and paid the fine, but still considered guilty. You don’t have to imagine someone getting a ticket for parking too close to a fire hydrant. It happens all the time, but if someone pays their fine for parking by a fire hydrant, their friends don’t call, “Fire bug!” the rest of their lives. That fine’s been paid in full. So too have these men and women had their sins paid in full (2 Cor 5:21), as well as their crimes. They are no longer guilty before God or mankind. They stand as having Jesus’ own righteousness. Many of these men I’ve spoken with have told me that years of regret have left an indelible mark upon their hearts; for years and years they’ve relived the moment, over and over again; always dreaming about stopping themselves before it’s too late. Their prison life may have years of, “What if I had done that” or “What would have happened if…” Heartbreaking as it is, their brokenness has made them receptive to God’s Spirit and Word. Their hearts, tilled by the hard years of prison, having made them fallow ground for the Seed of His Word to penetrate. And if the Word of God, shared by a person of God, is moved by the Spirit of God, then they may become the children of God. And of course, this is all for the glory of God (Psalm 115:1; 1 Cor 4:7).
God’s tender words to speak to them: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm103:13). I would ask you to pray with compassion for these men and women who are presently in prison and are believers; for those in prison who have not yet trusted in Christ; and for those who are going to or have been released. They face an uncertain world, and many are immediately placed between a rock and a hard place, and with few solutions, but even so, many have said to me, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3)? Their families might have forsaken them; their friends might have turned their backs on them; and the world look at them as if they’re still guilty, but these men and women are made in the image of God no less than we are (Gen 1:26). They have paid what they owed, so since God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4), let Him use us as a means to comfort others by visiting others (Matt 25:36), just as if we had done it to Jesus (Matt 25:40).
Jesus has said, many are called, but few are chosen, so are there only a few that will be saved?
The religious Jews believed that their entrance into kingdom was associated with obedience to God’s Law, but there is great danger in that because those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9), were self-righteous, and God will not accept their filthy works (Isaiah 64:6). I wouldn’t trust the best 15 minutes of my life to buy me one second in heaven. And more than that, their beliefs are contrary to the gospel which says that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal 3:10). Are you trying to justify yourself by the Law? Repent of this because “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). James’ point is a good one; not one of us could ever keep the Law. So who goes to heaven? Apparently, fewer than most people think because Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Jesus is saying it’s not enough to say, “I know the Lord,” but the question with eternal implications is, “Does He know you?” It’s not enough to know God; it is critical to have God know you, more specifically, Jesus Christ!
Those do the will of the Father’s are known by Him (Matt 12:50; John 6:40), but to show us that it’s not enough to say, “I know the Lord,” Jesus says, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name” (Matt 7:22)? Notice that there were many, and they were busy do many things, but to these same “many,” Jesus says, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). Of course, that’s not what most people expect to hear on the Day of Judgment, especially those who claim to be Christian. That’s rather shocking I know, so it’s not surprising that someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). If there was ever a time where Jesus could have reassured the crowd, this would have been it, but instead, the Lord says we must “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23). Once again, the Lord indicates that “many” will believe they’ll enter the kingdom, and many will say “Lord, Lord,” but these many will be stunned by hearing Jesus say, “I never knew you.” Not, “I didn’t know you well enough,” or “I wished I had known you better,” but “I never knew you,” and noone wants to hear those words.
Entering into the kingdom is only made possible because of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21), but I don’t know of any believers who say that life’s gotten easier since they trusted in Christ. The truth is, for most, it’s gotten a lot harder. The path that leads away from Christ and toward destruction is easy…it’s like taking a 16-lane expressway, and it’s so wide because so many are traversing it. Remember, many are thinking they’re going the right way, but instead, they’re heading down the broad path that leads to destruction. This is why Jesus stressed that we “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14). Interestingly, Jesus Himself is the Gate that leads to eternal life (John 10:9), and those that enter it know that Jesus is the one and only way to the Father (John 6:44; Acts 4:12). The reason the way is so exceedingly narrow is because we must come to the Father through Jesus Christ and Him alone (Acts 4:12), and that decision to turn from our former lives and toward God is agonizing. In fact, the Greek word used for strive means to agonize, so the way to eternal life is not coasting downhill, but agonizing over an uphill battle; a spiritual battle against the flesh, the world, and spiritual forces. The path is so narrow that not even two can enter at the same time, nor can they ride on someone’s coattails like their godly grandmother. From my experience, I find few believers who aren’t striving to live like Christ while living in this world. Any old dead fish can float downstream, and that was us at one time (Eph 2:1-6), but it’s the ones that strive that enter into the next life.
How many are “many?” Jesus said, “many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24b). Many will try, but many won’t be able to, since “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). Many will say, “Lord, Lord,” but these same “many” will be turned away. That’s why it’s critical to make your election and calling sure (2 Pet 1:10), and do it while it’s still called “today” (2 Cor 6:2). Eternity is a long time to be wrong. If you ask the average person whether they’re a good person, they’ll likely say yes, but what happens when they’re exposed to the Word of God that says we’re all liars, but God cannot and does not lie, (Num 23:19; Rom 3:4; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18)? What does the self-righteous (“I’m a pretty good person”) say to the fact that none are good…not even one (Rom 3:10-12); and what can any of us say about the truth that we all fall infinitely short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23)? Since we are all under the condemnation of God, and the Law declares us all guilty, we are left speechless before God. And it takes away any human excuse we can come up with (Rom 3:19).
It’s not rocket science to trust in Christ. Even a child can understand what it means to trust in Christ. They already trust their parents, so to trust in Jesus Christ, Who is God Himself, is infinitely greater in trust. Jesus has said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:25-26), but more importantly, they will be known by the Father, but also by the Son. May you hear these joyous words from our Lord Himself: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:23). This stands in stark contrast to hearing, “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:30).
How did God open Lydia’s heart? Was it through Paul or some other means?
It is only because of God’s love, not ours, that we were saved (Rom 5:7-8). This leaves no room for us to brag about it (1 Cor 4:7). Only God can change a person’s heart to whichever way He pleases (Prov 21:1), so when the Scriptures says that “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart,” this means that she could not have opened her own heart to receive the gospel. It had to be an act of God, and it was. Those who are walking according to the course of this world are as good as dead, and can only be quickened by God’s Spirit (Eph 2:1-6), so it wasn’t Paul’s apologetics or powerful persuasion that made Lydia believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The verse I refer to is in Acts 16:14 where it says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Paul didn’t convert Lydia. God did, but God did use Paul as a means to do so, and He can use you too! God opened her heart…but she paid attention to what Paul said. It’s highly likely that Paul used Scripture to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44), and the fact that Jesus said, “no one can,” leaves no room for exceptions. To think that we could come to God on our own is like expecting Lazarus to cooperate in Jesus resurrecting him. Unless God calls and regenerates someone by His Spirit, and through His Word; and unless God grants them repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18, 16:14, 2 Tim 2:24-26), no one at all can come to the Father. That’s only possible through Jesus Christ and Him alone (Acts 4:12).
Scriptures often mention that someone or a group of people were appointed unto salvation. That sounds very much like the work of a sovereign God; one Who can bring to pass whatsoever He wills. The effect of Paul’s preaching the Word of God was that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). God saved them, but He used His Word and His preacher as a means to do so, so who is it that will be saved? Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Did Jesus believe in the eternal security of the believer? It sure sounds like it (John 3:16-17, 3:36). He said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). It was the Father who called us and Christ Who redeemed us (Mark 10:45), so it is “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). God’s Word assures us that we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13b-14), and what God has sealed, no one can break. Ask yourself, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect,” and then answer it yourself: “It is God who justifies” (Rom 8:33). The bottom line is “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
When the Spirit of God quickens us to eternal life in Jesus Christ, we finally see that there is only one way into the kingdom (Acts 4:12), and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). You cannot enter the kingdom any other way. Jesus said He is “the” way, not one of many ways, or just another way. Even though that strikes many as being narrow, remember the road that leads to salvation is narrow. The Lord said that we must “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14). Even though the way is narrow and difficult, at least there is a way. God could have decided to leave no way at all! A few years ago at a family reunion, I wanted to drive by and look at my uncle’s old farm, but I couldn’t remember how to get there. There was only one person available that new how to get there. He was the only way I could get to the farm for sure, so in similar fashion, Jesus is the one and only way to the Father…and the only One Who can bring us into the kingdom. There is no other way, but at least there is a way.
It takes the Spirit of God and the Word of God shared by a person of God to make the children of God for the glory of God. In other words, it is all about God, and never about us (Psalm 115:1). God can and does use people as a means to save, but it doesn’t depend upon us. It is not their response to our ability, but their response to His ability, but it is our responsibility to tell them. God alone saves, but what joy to be involved in the salvation of a precious soul. I pray you have repented of your sins and turned to Christ, and have opened your heart to the truth (Rom 10:9-13).
What does it mean to be lukewarm, as a believer and as a church?
How can we trust God to provide all that we will need when the cupboards look a little empty?
How is it possible to give thanks in “all circumstances” when the circumstances get really bad?
Why does it seem that pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers?
How can we recieve the desires of our hearts? Psalm 37 has the answer.
– Revelation 21:4
– Proverbs 12:10
– Colossians 3:13
– 1 Corinthians 13:7
– Romans 3:22
– Philippians 2:14
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