“Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:28-31 ESV)
Life, we take it for granted almost every day. We wake up each morning and go to sleep each night with barely a thought about how incredible life really is. It isn’t until we begin to wonder whether life will continue that we really begin to think about its importance and its impact. In today’s passage, John notes that he recorded these stories about Jesus for the specific purpose of eliciting belief or faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and that belief results in life!
Last week we ended with Thomas’s declaration regarding Jesus’ deity, “My Lord and my God!” Just for a moment, I want you to imagine that God is standing before you. The very one who spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into man’s soul. In fact, the very God who gave YOU life and continues to sustain it by His power is standing in front of you. How would you react? What would you do? Your answer to that question defines how you view God and how you view yourself and, thus, determines how you will respond to life and life’s challenges and blessings.
You see, true Biblical belief is much, much more than just an intellectual acknowledgement or an emotional decision. In fact, James tells us that Biblical faith must be belief that results in actions. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26 ESV) In other words, belief that doesn’t result in actions that are a living out what your beliefs proclaim isn’t real, living faith, it’s simply dead. We would say, “it’s all show and no go.” It isn’t enough to simply say you believe in God, especially when your beliefs don’t impact your actions. John, the Apostle who wrote the words of the text we’re studying put it like this (in one of his letters to early Christian believers): “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:4-6 ESV) So, it appears this issue isn’t a new one and the early church struggled with the same problem.
So, just what is Biblical faith, what results will it produce and how should it be lived out in our lives? I’m glad you asked…
Just the other day I was visiting with the curator of our local museum. He was sharing with me and a few friends about some of the things going on, some of the events coming up and some of the challenges they’re facing. He mentioned that they had just recently discovered a problem with one of their art pieces, a Rembrandt painting. It seems that he had been having a few nagging questions about this particular piece of art. So, the museum decided to have it evaluated by a Rembrandt specialist. The specialist took one look at the piece and confirmed his fears, it was a forgery. A very good forgery, but definitely a forgery. In fact, the Rembrandt specialist even knew who had forged it and when. The work was still quite old and was such an excellent example of “fake” Rembrandt paintings that the museum decided to keep it and display it for what it truly was; a very good, but very fake Rembrandt painting. But how could the Rembrandt specialist identify the fake so quickly and specifically? Because he knew what a real Rembrandt painting looked like. He could identify the fake because he could so easily identify real Rembrandt works of art.
How could James, John, Paul and the other Apostles be so certain of false belief or fake faith? Because they were so familiar with the real work of God in the lives of those transformed by faith in Christ. John says that if you claim to know Christ and yet your actions are consistently in opposition to Christ’s commands then your faith is obviously fake (1 John 2:4-6, above). You can claim transformation but your actions will reveal the truth.
Don’t misunderstand me on this point, salvation is not earned by good works, kind deeds or even heartfelt prayers. Salvation is NEVER earned but is always a gift of God’s amazing grace. I think this is the hardest thing for most of us to grasp about the Gospel. We consistently get this part backwards. Our actions don’t earn God’s favor because our actions are inherently and consistently sinful. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally do good things, it means we are inherently selfish at the core of our being. Even when we do good things we often have a selfish reason.
We tend to approach salvation in much the same way. We view the scales of justice as a measure of our worth, our intentions and our actions but we forget that Justice is blindfolded. That’s the only way she can be impartial and fair. Truth be told, we know that and we really do want that. We don’t like it when someone gets off because of their position, fame or money, do we? For example, Ted Kennedy or Jane Fonda. If you’re unfamiliar with either of those examples just do a quick Google search for “Kennedy and Chappaquiddick” or “Jane Fonda and Vietnam”.
So, how does this issue of justice fit in with Biblical salvation? Well, we can choose justice or we can choose mercy. If we want salvation based on our good deeds and the scales of justice then we’re going to be very surprised and disappointed by the outcome. I previously mentioned that our view of God and our view of ourselves will determine our response to His presence. It also determines our response to His love and salvation. When we view salvation as something we’ve earned then it becomes a right and not a gift. When we think we’ve earned salvation then God owes us heaven and His blessings. In essence, “what’s love got to do with it?” Absolutely nothing!
But, here’s the rub. We know we’re guilty of sin but we think we’re good enough to deserve God’s forgiveness and a place in heaven. We might mess up occasionally but we’ve done a lot of good things, and certainly more good things than bad things. But remember my story about the fake Rembrandt? God can spot a fake far better than the Rembrandt expert and He knows your heart. Consider this verse…
“And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15 ESV)
You see, Jesus knows not only what we’ve done but what we truly wanted to do. He knows not just our deeds but also our hearts. He says in Matthew chapter 5 that we think it is sufficient when the law says that we shouldn’t commit adultery and we never physically cheat on our spouses. But He goes on to say that we’re still guilty of adultery if we resist the physical urge but still commit the act in our minds. He even goes so far as to say that we may not have killed anyone with our hands but we’re guilty when we’ve done so with our thoughts or words (see Matthew 5:17-48).
Did you catch what Jesus said in that Luke 16 passage, above? What is exalted among men is an abomination before God. That means that many of the things our culture considers good, right and even just are evil in God’s sight. We’ve glorified the pursuit of happiness, success and the “American Dream” in our culture and we’ve done so at the expense of our families, our true purpose and, most especially, our relationship with God. And that brings me to my final and most important point…
John says that he wrote these things so we might believe who Jesus is (the Christ, the Messiah, the promised Son of God) and that by believing we would have life in His name. Most folks read right past that last statement, have LIFE in His name. We think we are alive. In fact, some folks think they couldn’t be more alive than they are because they are enjoying every moment of life by filling it with pleasure and fun. Carpe Diem. Seize the moment! Live in the moment. Enjoy yourself while you can because life is far too short. Right?
If this is all there is to life, then I would agree. But it isn’t, and I don’t agree and neither does Jesus or John. Life really is more than these few brief moments we have on this planet. How can I be so sure? Based on the evidence John has laid out for us. He has tried to show us who this man Jesus really is and why we should place our trust in Him. In John’s own words…
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)
John tells us what he’s seen, heard, touched and experienced. The ONE who gave life to all of creation, Jesus the very Son of God, wants to give new life to you! Not just existence, not just a physical experience, and not life as you know it but LIFE the way God meant for it to be. How do I know? We all recognize that this isn’t the way life was meant to be. We can feel it deep down in our souls. We may not know exactly what’s wrong, but we can sense something’s not quite right about the way things are.
What’s wrong? We are. We mess everything up. No matter how hard we try, we still get it wrong and choose selfishly. So, how can Jesus change all of that? One life at a time. How? Through Biblical faith. It isn’t enough to believe that the God of scripture is real. James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19 ESV) Jesus was once asked by a young man who claimed to have kept all of God’s commandments how he could earn eternal life, and here’s Jesus’ answer…
“Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21 ESV)
The young man walked away dejected because he had “great possessions.” Jesus turned and told his disciples that it was difficult for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom and the disciples were absolutely shocked at that statement. Well, if a wealthy man can’t get into heaven then who can? Ah, sounds just like us and our misunderstanding of the Gospel.
What must I do? How do I earn it? Tell me the rules and then step back, “I’ve got this.”
But here’s the deal, you DON’T earn it!
“”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36-37 ESV)
It’s a trick, isn’t it? Can’t be that easy. But who said it was easy? It isn’t. In fact, it’s impossible without God. When faith begins to develop in you that’s the result of God’s Word and God’s faithfulness (see Rom. 10:17). You begin to see God for who He is and yourself for who you truly are, a sinner in need of a savior. That’s when that faith gets a dose of God’s grace and becomes full blown love. You see, you don’t earn heaven. It is a gift God gives those who love Him. One last verse to ponder…
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4 ESV)
Think through the implications of that promise… when you delight yourself in the Lord, He becomes the desire of your heart. That’s Biblical Faith!