Episode 1. Living for Today
Lots of people walking around planet Earth today – think they have the gift of eternal life because … they believe in Jesus. But Jesus Himself said – not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Sitting in the Chair I have a question for you today. How do […]
Lots of people walking around planet Earth today – think they have the gift of eternal life because … they believe in Jesus. But Jesus Himself said – not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sitting in the Chair
I have a question for you today. How do you know … how do you know if you have the gift of eternal life? I mean, some people kind of say, “Well, yea, I believe in Jesus, I think, or at least I said I did once. I prayed that prayer of salvation or I can’t quite remember what the words were.” It’s an important question. I mean, if you die tonight, would you be ready for eternity? How do you know? Well, that’s what today is all about on the programme.
When we go our separate ways in just under half an hour’s time, we will be able to know, with absolute certainty whether or not we have the gift of eternal life. And it’s all about entering into the promise and here’s the promise: John chapter 3, verses 14 to 18:
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
So what does that mean? How do you and I know if we actually have laid hold of that promise? How do we really know if we have believed? The inference here is clear. Last week on the programme we talked about the fact that God is both love and justice.
And you think about it: if He was only love then He wouldn’t need Jesus to die on the cross for us. He could forgive us without the requirements of justice being met. If He were only justice, ha, who needs Jesus? God would just punish us for rebelling against Him. But because He loves us so much, He sends Jesus, not to judge us but to save us from the coming wrath by taking the punishment on our behalf.
And the way we appropriate this free gift is fairly straight forward. Have a listen again to what is perhaps the most quoted of all Bible verses. John chapter 3, verse 16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
See, the clincher is: “believing in Him”, but exactly what does that mean? The best way I have ever heard it explained was by a great man, Pastor Phil Littlejohn and actually, his explanation of this one passage literally changed my life. Here’s the gist of what he said. He said:
Look, in this phrase “believes in him” the original Greek word for “in” actually means, quite literally “into”. Later when I learned to use a Greek dictionary, I discovered for myself that Phil was right. So let’s read it again with its original meaning.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes into him may not perish but have eternal life.
Okay, what does that mean? Well, Phil explained it to us this way: he said, imagine a chair sitting over yonder in the corner. If I stand here and look at that chair over there and I say, “Yea, I believe that that chair is strong enough to hold me, then I’m believing ‘in’ the chair. But if I walk across the room and sit down in the chair, then I’m believing “into” the chair. Makes a lot of sense! The first is believing with your head, the second is trusting with your life.
And so what Jesus meant wasn’t that we would be saved by believing in Him with our heads but by demonstrating that belief by trusting Him with our lives. Faith in Jesus is about living that faith. Not making some vague promise one day that we forget the next. Jesus explained that so well in the parable. Let’s pick it up – if you have a Bible grab it – it’s in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 22, starting at verse 2. Jesus said:
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fatted calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed the murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. The slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe. And he was speechless. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind that man hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.
Now what’s Jesus trying to say to us here through this parable? First, there were those who were invited and didn’t rock up. Getting the invitation isn’t enough; accepting the invitation isn’t enough; saying that you’ll come, isn’t enough – you have to show up; you have to live out the invitation by attending the banquet. So many people pray the prayer and say, “Yea, yea, I’m into heaven!” But if you don’t go, you don’t get! Let me say it again – if you don’t go, you don’t get! If you don’t live out the invitation, you’re not in. Matthew chapter 7, verse 21:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter into the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
So, what about the guy who came along but didn’t wear the right clothes – seems a bit harsh doesn’t it? Well, some years later the Apostle Paul wrote these words to his friends in Galatia – Galatians chapter 3, verse 27:
As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.
See, here’s the problem: some people accept the invitation, they even show up but they’re not prepared to live the life; they’re not prepared to have their lives changed; to live out their faith; to demonstrate that they have taken the Good News of Jesus Christ to heart by the way that they live their lives.
We don’t much want to know about the man who didn’t prepare for the wedding. We don’t want to know about him! But these are Jesus words and not mine – I’m not making this stuff up. The faith in Jesus that saves is clearly demonstrated by a transformed life. By a man or a woman or a child that has turned away from the things they know to be wrong. Have a listen again to Jesus own words – listen carefully:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pontius Pilot had mingled with their sacrifices.
We are reading here from Luke chapter 13.
And Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.
The person who has the gift of eternal life is the one who has walked across the room and sat in the chair; the one who accepted God’s invitation to eternal life; the one who showed up; the one who repented; the one who is living a life clothed in Christ. How do you or I know if we have the gift of eternal life? By looking in the mirror; by seeing a changed life; by knowing that we’re living out our faith in Jesus because faith without works is dead.
Come to the Party
Earlier we had a look at something really, really important … I mean REALLY important. How do you and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ? Now before you flick the dial and say, “Hey, I not interested”, or “I already know that” or whatever, I just want to encourage you to stick with me because there’s nothing more important in life than this.
Anyhow earlier, we saw that it’s not just about some quick prayer of salvation, prayed last week or twenty five years ago but that what Jesus calls us to is a new life … a life where we are transformed from a selfish, self-centred individual we once were, into someone who lives every breath of life for God; someone whose life is constantly being changed, like an old oil painting that’s being restored back into its original image; the image of God.
And the thing we did also earlier was to look at the somewhat disconcerting parable that Jesus used to teach this truth … the parable of the King and the wedding banquet. And right now on the programme, I want to go into a bit more depth in looking at that parable. Not only because it’s so important but because it’s utterly life changing. So let’s just take another look and then spend a few minutes unpacking that together. This is what Jesus said again:
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to the king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen, my fatted calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the king’s slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. So the slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But the king came in to see the guests, and he noticed that there was a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe. He was speechless. The king said to the attendants, ‘Bind that man hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
See, the first stage in this story is that the king “invites” us but we won’t come. He is having a banquet for His Son, Jesus. He’s obviously sent out invitations and then He sends His slaves out to call those people who’d been invited to the banquet. But they won’t come, so He sends the slaves out again and this time they tell the people, “The king has prepared the best of the best.” Have another listen: “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen, my fatted calves have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”
Isn’t that often the way? That’s how I lived my life for the first thirty six years. I knew, deep down in my heart … I knew that Jesus was the Son of God; I knew that I had received an invitation, even when God sent people to tell me that He was offering me the best of the best, I turned them away.
And I used to mock those whom He sent, just like in this story. I hated those goody two shoes Christians. They used to make me feel so uncomfortable and that’s the second stage. “They made light of it and they went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the king’s slaves, mistreated them and killed them.”
I used to give those Christians such a hard time and you know it’s not just non-Christian against Christian – you even see this stuff in churches. There are inevitably a small handful of people in a church who are passionate about Jesus and they put everything that they have and all that they are, on the line. They pour their lives out to bring people closer to God and the rest – the mob – the people whose hearts really aren’t engaged to Jesus, sort of sit back and cynically poke fun at them. As though there is something wrong with being completely and utterly sold out to Jesus. I’ve seen it! Let me ask you – where do you fit in all of this?
Anyhow, the third stage is that the king changes tack. If the people he invited won’t come, then he is going to punish them and invite someone else. But first, listen to this very carefully – he pours his wrath out on those whom he invited; “The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed the murderers, burned their city then said to his slaves, the wedding in ready but those invited were not worthy.”
Let there be no mistake about what happens when we reject the invitation that God gives us through His Son. It’s a wonderful invitation, not some rule-fest, not some prison or straight jacket but an invitation to a feast. That’s what a relationship with God is like. It’s like a feast; like a banquet, but if we reject that invitation, then ultimately punishment will come. Make no mistake! So He invites other people. Have a listen:
Go therefore into the main streets and invite anyone you find to the wedding banquet. So the slaves did that, they went out into the streets, they gathered all that they found, good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
I love this bit – “go and get just anyone”; not the people you’d expect a king to invite; not the well heeled socialites around town but just ordinary people on the street, people like, well, people like you and me. Do you see? The invitation is open to everyone to join the feast. But then there’s this problematic bit in the parable that we talked about earlier – the man who accepted the invitation but who was thrown out.
When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed this man who wasn’t wearing a wedding robe. He was speechless and the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind the man hand and foot, throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called but few are chosen.
See, it’s so easy for us to get all casual with God; to treat Him like He’s there to serve us; like He’s just our buddy. Of course, He does serve us; of course, God is our friend – look at what happened on the cross of Calvary – Jesus died for us. But He’s not some pet poodle who performs to our command. He is the King in this story. Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
Now, evidently back in the first century, when you went to a wedding banquet you wore special robes. I mean, today, when you go to a wedding function you don’t go in your torn and tatty jeans. You wear some decent clothes to show honour and respect for the people who invited you and for the people who are getting married. So this man turning up without the appropriate clothes on was effectively showing a complete lack of respect to the king for who he was and for his invitation.
My friend, if we want to have this gift of eternal life then firstly, we have to accept God’s invitation, secondly, we actually have to show up and thirdly, we have to live a transformed life. Remember earlier we talked about that wonderful passage written by Paul in Galatians chapter 3:
As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
And the reason for that is that faith without works is dead. If we don’t live out the relationship with Jesus, then it’s meaningless. James chapter 2, verse 18:
Some will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works and I, by my works, will show you my faith.
Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.
The Cart before the Horse
Some people are going to find today’s programme intensely unsettling because there’s this thing that’s crept into our thinking, that well, John 3:16 is it! It’s a very simple tick in the box: eternal life is a free gift – there is no work involved – all I have to do is to believe and that’s it – “For God so loved ‘me’ that he gave his only Son so that if “I” believe in him “I” may not perish but have eternal life.”
And after all, didn’t the Apostle Paul say, in Ephesians chapter 2:
It’s by grace you have been saved and this not through your own doing, it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
Absolutely! The gift of eternal life is absolutely free – nothing to do with what you or I do. God accepts us just the way that we are – no ifs, no buts, no maybes. Anything that’s said that you have to work your way into a state of ‘salvation’ is, well, the Bible calls that the ‘doctrine of demons’. First Timothy chapter 4, verses 1 to 5:
The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage, they demand abstinence from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
See, the moment you add a bunch of rules – do this, don’t do that, don’t eat that food, don’t get married, do this, you have to do that in order to be saved – it becomes a lie. It’s what the Bible calls the ‘doctrines of demons’; the shackles of religion. That’s not where freedom lies. Jesus came to set us free and when He does that, we are free indeed.
But you see both the doctrine of demons and the Gospel of grace speak of faith and works. They simply do it in a different order. This legalism; this doctrine of demons says that in order to have a right standing with God; in order to be saved, you have to do these things, then you’ll be saved; then you’ll have eternal life – but that’s a lie. I encourage you to have a read of Romans chapter 3 for yourself. Paul tells us that it’s a lie.
The Gospel of grace on the other hand, it talks about faith and works too, but in an entirely different way. Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8:
For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not the result of works so that no one may boast.
First and foremost, when we put our trust in Jesus, God gives us the free gift of eternal life but then when we do, the evidence of our faith; the thing that demonstrates that we actually have taken the Good News of Jesus Christ to heart, is what we do with that – how we live it out – that’s the evidence. Some people say, “Yes” with their mouths but the Good News of Jesus Christ never takes root in their hearts.
Again, let’s look at what James says about faith – James chapter 2, verse 18:
Some will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
A life being transformed by God; a life that’s being regenerated is the evidence of the faith that God is looking for – a person who has taken the Good News of God’s sacrificial love through Jesus Christ and the resurrection, to heart. Mark chapter 8, verse 35:
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
The bottom line … the bottom line is that our faith has to be real; not some platitude or promise but REAL! That’s the sort of faith that God’s looking for – that’s what it means to believe “into” Jesus – to trust Him with our lives. Nothing more and nothing less!