Belief, Judgment, and Eternal Life


The context

This is a part of a series of sermons that deals with Nicodemus unbelief and his conversation with Christ in John 3, Specifically John 3:15-21. Nicodemus, according to verse 10 of chapter 3, was the teacher in Israel and a member of the Sanhedrin. Historically he was considered to be one of the three richest people in the city of Jerusalem. ‘His wisdom, his ability to think and reason and do his business had made him extremely, extremely successful and wealthy. He had it all. And, of course, from the Pharisees viewpoint, they loved money. Jesus said they loved money.’

All Pharisees were hypocrites

Why? Because he’s a hypocrite. All Pharisees were hypocrites. In Matthew 23 Jesus called them hypocrites repeatedly, time after time after time after time.

They believed that Jesus was only a teacher from God

Yes, Nicodemus believed. He and a lot of others believed, but what did they believe? Verse 2, “They believed that Jesus was a teacher from God”; that’s as far as their faith went. That’s not enough to save.

The Divine Call

…The whole system (Nicodemus’ belief system) belonged to Satan, and it was all lies about salvation by works and religious ritual. Now he’s hearing the truth and here’s the truth, “Unless one is born again, he can’t see the kingdom of God.”

So the first thing Jesus says to Nicodemus is–and this stops him dead in his legalistic tracks–something has to happen to you from above and you have no part in it. Try that on the next time you evangelize somebody. You need something you can’t do. You need something you can’t participate in. You need something you can’t contribute to. You need heaven to come down. And oh, by the way, unless you’re born from above, born again, unless you’re born of the Spirit, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God. And by the way, the Spirit comes and goes when He wills, and you can’t call Him and you can’t dismiss Him. And this is the doctrine of divine calling, the effectual call, the efficient call. This is what some call irresistible grace. This is the calling that identifies the church as the called. It’s divine.

…But running parallel to that doctrine is another doctrine. It’s the doctrine of human responsibility. And we talked about that, right? And how those two run parallel but never intersect. And we believe them both.

And now there’s a second shock. Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son of Man whose come from heaven and is lifted up”–an allusion to His cross–“whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Whoever believes.

The shock “whoever”

What’s the shock there? Well, believe could be a shock because this is salvation by faith. But the real shock is “whoever”; that’s the shocker. Eternal life, they knew what that was. By the way, John uses the reference to eternal life fifteen times in his gospel. The Jews knew what eternal life was. It was the life of God, not so much a duration of time as a quality of life. The life of God, the very life of God, divine life, everlasting life, transcendent life, supernatural life, union with the Trinity, possessing the life of God now and forever, this is available to whoever believes. The shock is in the “whoever.” Why? Because the Jews believed that when the Messiah came He would save Israel and punish all the nations. He would punish them for their blasphemy. He would punish them for their idolatry. He would punish them for their mistreatment of Israel. And now Jesus says, “Whoever believes.” And He says nothing about Moses, nothing about Abraham, nothing about the Temple, nothing about the tabernacle, nothing about the Law. He simply says it’s about believing in the Son of Man who is lifted up and whoever believes will have eternal life.

Salvation is by faith. That’s our message, that’s our message–it’s by believing. We call this little seriessola fide, borrowing from the Reformers who use Latin to express faith alone, sola fide; sola gratia, grace alone,sola Christus, Christ alone; sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. Those were the phrases that they used.

Saving faiths 3 components

So the Reformers came up with some terms. They said saving faith has three components: notitia, fiducia, and assensus; that’s your Latin lesson for today. Notitia is knowledge, you have to know. Faith comes by hearing the message concerning Christ, Romans 10. So you have to know. Then you have to have fiducia, you have to believe. That means to trust in or to believe. But the third one which is so important was assensus or assent, meaning to commit to, to commit, to take up your cross, to follow, to be obedient, to invest your entire life in that thing which you know and believe.

Reformers way to explain John 3:16

First of all we have the remote efficient cause. Then we have the approximate efficient cause. Then we have the instrumental cause. And then we would add the material cause. Does that move your heart? Is that gripping you? That’s the theological way to explain John 3:16. The remote efficient cause–God’s love. The approximate efficient cause–God’s grace. The instrumental cause–belief. And then they would add the material cause–the cross. And the result, eternal life.

…It (John 3:16) doesn’t mean that He’s going to save everyone who ever lives. That’s pretty clear because verse 18 talks about the ones that are going to be judged ’cause of their unbelief.

God gave his unique son

The motive is love. The object is the world. The action is He gave His only begotten Son. That’s a little misleading, “only begotten Son.” It’s monogenes, monogenes. Genes is a Greek word from which you getgenetics. Mono is one. And what the word actually means, when you put monogenes together, it means unique, it means one of a kind, the only one. That’s easier for you to understand. God gave His unique Son, His one of a kind Son, His beloved Son. “This is My beloved Son,” He says, the Son of His love; His own Son Romans 8:3 puts it.

So what? (Re: God “so” loved the world)

And there’s something to be said here, very important. See the word “so”; “God so loved the world.” What does “so” mean? “To the degree that,” “to the end that,” “in this way.” That is God so loved the world. To what degree did He love the world? To the degree that He gave His only Son. In other words, the extent of His love is measured by the extent of His gift. The most magnanimous thing that God could possibly do would be to give the thing He loved the most, the One He loved the most, the Son of His love. He gives the person that He loves the most, the Son of His love, and that shows you the extent of His love. He loves the world so that He gives His one of a kind, unique, beloved Son.
The means for salvation? Whoever believes–believe, believe, believe; that’s the means. Believe, believe what? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe that God raised Him from the dead. Believe in the significance of the cross and the resurrection. Believe the gospel. Whoever, whoever.

The paradox

Listen carefully. The free offer of the gospel is broad enough to include the worst sinner who believes. Did you get that? The free offer of the gospel is broad enough to include the worst sinner who believes. Even the chief of sinners; Paul said he was. Listen, the gospel is narrow enough to exclude the most moral religious unbeliever. I thought about that this week. Who is the most moral, religious man on the planet? The pope. But he hopes in his works, in his merit to get to heaven, and the gospel excludes him. The most profligate, wretched, corrupt person on the planet who trusts only in Christ–the gospel is wide enough to embrace him or her. It’s by faith alone.

The word “perish” in the Greek

And what is the result? “Shall not perish but have eternal life.” Negative–“shall not perish.” “Perish” is the Greek word apollumi, which is much used in the New Testament for eternal ruin; it refers to hell. Positive–eternal life, eternal life. So maybe there’s a fresh look at John 3:16.

What “already” means (Re: John 3:18)

But on the other hand, if you don’t believe, you have been judged already because you have not believed in the Son of God, the unique Son of God. Now let me tell you what the “already” means. Typical of people in the world to say, “I’m living my life, I think I do more good than bad, right? I think you know if God’s keeping records, I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be….” I’ve had people say that to me, important people in media places say, “I’m going to be okay; I’m going to be okay. You know, my good outweighs my bad.”

Can I tell you something? That’s irrelevant. That is irrelevant for this reason. You’ve been judged already. Do you know when the verdict was made on your life? Do you know when the gavel fell? When you arrived in the planet. You arrived in the planet as an unbeliever, not believing in Christ. The gavel fell and the verdict was rendered and sentence was passed. Nothing is now being determined, nothing. There is no one counting your record to see if your good outweighs your bad. You have been judged already. You were judged when you were born. You were judged because you were an unbeliever. Oh yeah, God knows everything, so He’s well aware of the record of your crimes against Him. But that has nothing to do with the verdict because the verdict has already been passed. The divine Judge has already ruled, the gavel has come down and you have been condemned and sentenced to hell.

So it’s important to remember this: what damns people to hell in the end is not because of some divine decree made by God. It doesn’t make that. What damns people to hell is not because of some deficient provision in the sacrifice of Christ. What damns people to hell is not because they sin and because they break God’s Law. What damns people to hell is because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. That’s the issue.

Why do sinners reject? Why do they not believe?”

…verse 19, “This is the judgement that the light has come into the world,” that’s Christ, the light, identified in chapter 1; He is the light. “The light has come into the world and men love the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and doesn’t come to the light for fear that His deeds will be exposed.”

There’s one reason people don’t believe in Christ, one reason. They love their sin. They don’t want to come near Christ ’cause He shines a light on their sin, exposes their sin. Sinners love sin. It’s not ignorance. It’s not lacking the basic faculties of reason. It’s not misunderstanding. Sinners prefer moral darkness. They’re like bugs that run for the dark when you pick the rock up. They love their corruption. They delight in their evil and love darkness, hate light, don’t want to come to the light because if they come to the light they’ll be exposed for what they are. So they resent the truth, they resent the Scripture, they resent the church, they resent Christians, they run from us. It’s strong–it’s a strong, dominating compulsion in a fallen heart. If you look at John 7:7 it says, “The world cannot hate you,” Jesus talking, “but it hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” They hate Christ because He exposes their sin. That eventually gets passed down to us.

Stop appealing to sinners psychologically

Now may I say something practical, and I’ll finish up in the next couple of minutes? Stop appealing to sinners psychologically. Stop saying, “Do you want purpose in your life? Jesus will give you purpose.” Stop that. Stop saying Jesus will make you happy, give you a better life, solve your problems, make you better, make you richer–stop.

That produces false converts because that sheds no light on the sinner’s wretchedness. That uncovers nothing. That exposes nothing. That’s a lie. What you want to do is shine the light of the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ as brightly as you can on the sinner and see if the sinner runs. That has no value to people, that kind of stuff–produces nothing but false converts. The issue is to confront sin in all its horror and all its ugliness and they will seal their sentence by rejecting Christ because they love their iniquity. Or by the grace of God they will run to the truth, verse 21, “He who practices the truth comes to the light so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

This sermon appears at the Grace to you website on this page

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