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THE PROMISE OF OBEDIENT FAITH
John 3:13-21

7th July 2002

This week we have seen the end of an incredible two week journey, at high altitude, in 50 degree below freezing temperature, with the adventurer living without a pressurized cabin and having to breathe oxygen, depending solely on some ultra-thin material buoyed up by some hot air! Yet Steve Fossett believed that it was possible to circumnavigate the earth in a hot-air balloon. He backed his belief with his money and his life, hanging in that gondola over the great oceans of the world. Furthermore, he had tried and failed at enormous cost five times previously. Two things are obvious here. First, there had to be a belief that it could be done. Next, there had to be a willingness to assign the resources required, to trust completely in skill and training, the balloon, the weather and the people on the ground monitoring the instruments, and then to let go of the security of earth.

Belief must always be put to work in real trust. In Biblical terms we speak of Word and deed. There is no primacy of one over the other but as the Apostle Paul indicated, we must practise both word and deed together. We believe not in deedless words, or in wordless deeds, but in word and deed. We believe in evangelism, faith and trust, but also in action in caring for the needy, in living a pure life and in obeying His commands. Words alone become irrelevant. Deeds of kindness without the preached word are irresponsible. But Word and deed together are both relevant and responsible. Christians must be seen to be Christian in their words, their behaviour and in all their actions. To have belief is important, but our belief must behave!

On the night when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus John 3 He brought both facts together. In the closing part of that conversation Jesus made another great promise. It is the promise that if you have an obedient faith you will receive eternal life. A faith that obeys, saves. There is trust, but there is also obedience. The old hymn says:

"Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."

When Jesus speaks about obedient faith, He makes it very clear that when you understand why He came, when you understand the meaning of the cross and the content of the Gospel, there is no course of action for you but to believe and to put your belief into practice. Immediately after telling Nicodemus about being re-born, our Lord gives a beautiful picture of the Cross.

1. THE CROSS OF CHRIST

The Cross of Christ is rooted in Old Testament history and is a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. John 3:14 Jesus illustrates the Cross by saying, "As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on the pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up." This refers to when the Israelites were in the desert on their way from Egypt to Canaan in about 1200 BC.. While in the desert many were bitten by a plague of snakes. God told Moses to have a snake made of bronze and placed on a pole. Those bitten by the snakes would live if they looked at the bronze snake. This symbolism is carried through to the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Jesus said that those who would look to Him on the Cross would live. This is the purpose of the Cross: that when "the Son of Man (is) lifted up…everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life." 3:14-15 Jesus indicated that if He was lifted up upon a Cross, all people would be drawn to Him.

The promise is to everyone. There is no colour bar. There is no economic barrier: rich and poor stand equal at the foot of the Cross. There is no social barrier, or barrier between the employed and unemployed. We are on level ground before the Cross. For we have all sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. The qualifying factor is: "everyone who believes". It is necessary to believe. Believe what? It is not a question of "believe what", but "believe whom?" We believe in Him because Jesus Christ is central to our salvation and our belief is that His death is the means for our salvation. "Everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life".

2. THE CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL.

Here v16 we have the "Gospel with the Gospel", as Martin Luther expressed it. "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him, may not die but have eternal life." It is the Gospel in a nutshell. It is the best loved verse of the Bible and it sums up all that is essential for our wellbeing as Christians and our salvation as believers.

It starts with God. Everything about our salvation comes from God. Whatever has to be done, God initiates it. We love Him but it is because He first loved us. It all starts with God! There is the motive for God's sustaining power and for His provision of Jesus Christ. "He loved the world so much that He gave.." God's gift is "His only Son". We remember the incarnation of God in the babe in Bethlehem. We now note that behind the cradle there is the Cross. The gift at Bethlehem had a price that was paid at Calvary. Jesus was born to die that you might live. That was not because we deserved Him to die for us, or that our good works merit it: His death upon the Cross, was solely a gift of love.

Then there is the objective: "That everyone…!" In the New Testament is a principle that anyone may come, anyone can take up the cross, anyone can follow Him, anyone can open the door of life and let Jesus in. Anyone! No matter who you are or what your background, no matter how high your morality or how low your sinfulness, at the foot of the Cross everyone is welcome.

The only thing that keeps us from salvation is lack of faith in Him. Faith is never in a doctrine; it is never in a creed; it is never in a denomination; it is never in a tradition; and it is never in a heritage. Valuable though all of these are, faith is always in the Person of Jesus Christ. "Everyone who believes in Him may not die". That is the purpose of the Gospel. It is that simple. When Scripture speaks of death it usually means physical death, but sometimes it means spiritual death. Each of us who is born once is going to die twice; but those who have been born twice will only die once. If you are born physically only, you are going to die physically - and spiritually; but if you have been born of flesh and reborn of the spirit, you are going to die physically but you are going to live eternally. Twice born people die only once! The Scripture declares that the result of the death of Jesus upon the Cross and belief in Him, is that we have "eternal life".

That life is the abundant life that Jesus promised. He came to seek and to save those who are lost and to bring them to a life that is eternal. We thank God for that. If He had sent His Son into the world to be its judge, we should all be found guilty, and the price of guilt, the wages of sin, is death. He sent His Son into the world to be its Saviour, to redeem us from the penalty of our sin, and restore us to our Creator.

3. THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS COMING John 3:17

"God did not send His Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its Saviour." This was part of the announcement at His birth. The shepherds were told by the angels: "Do not be afraid! I am here with Good News for you…this very day in David's town your Saviour was born!" Luke 2:10,11 Joseph was told that Mary "will have a Son, and you will name Him Jesus, be-cause He will save His people from their sins". Matthew 1:21 Later, Jesus said, "I am telling you the truth: whoever hears My words and believes in Him who sent Me has Eternal life." John 5:24 That eternal life has already begun for those who believe in Jesus.

As John continues: "Whoever believes in the Son is not judged." John 3:17 We who believe in the Son have already passed from death into life eternal. That is the great consequence, but He is your Saviour only if you believe in Him. The tragedy is that those who do not see Him as Saviour will face Him one day as judge. He does not bring that judgement upon us; we bring it upon our-selves. Jesus says v19 "This is how the judgement works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil".

During my long ministry at the Cheltenham Church of Christ in Victoria, before I came to Wesley Mission, I was troubled Saturday nights. For near the church was a large hotel, a fish and chip shop, a hamburger bar, a take-away food shop and a McDonald's. The church was set back on a beautiful wide lawn. On a summer's night it was the best place in town to rest on the grass and eat take-away food.

They left behind bottles, cartons, fish and chip paper, hamburger wrappers - rubbish! Every Sunday morning I would have to clean up rubbish. We were conscious of the splendid façade of our church at that time and installed floodlights that lit the church beautifully. Then I noticed no one sat on the lawns to eat take-away food. When it was dark we had trouble with filth. Immediately we put on the lights there was no more mess. I should have remembered my Scripture, "People love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil". Immediately you put on the light, the deeds of darkness go.

Judgement comes because people love darkness. This is not something God brings upon us. It is the inevitable result of our own sinfulness. Our Lord went on, "Anyone who does evil things hates the light and will not come to the light, because he does not want his evil deeds to be shown up." v20 How true this is! We do not want our poor deeds illuminated for all to see. Gareth Evens did not want his lies to Parliament nor his adultery with Cheryl Kernot brought into the open. Immediately Laurie Oakes brought the truth into the spotlight, they were ashamed and apologetic. Before the truth was made known, they continued to lie and think they would get away with it. But judgement comes to those who sin. Inevitably. Don't blame anyone else. We bring judgement upon ourselves.

4. THE COMMITMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN

Is there no way out of this? Yes, there is. Jesus points us to the way. "Whoever does what is true comes to the light in order that the light may show that what he did was in obedience to God." v21 There is the commitment of Christians. We come to the Light. We obey His word. We seek to do what is true before God.

We live in obedience to God. John in his first Letter picked up this theme: 1 John 1:6,7 "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light - just as He is in the light - we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin." It is not enough to believe about Jesus, you must believe in Him, and you must do something for Him. It is not enough to use words; there must be action.

It is not enough to believe. Our belief must be expressed in action. "Not everyone," said Jesus, "who calls Me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what My Father in heaven wants them to do" Matthew 7:21-23 The belief and the deed belong together. We must live in obedience to God. That is where some Christians fail. They may believe but they do not obey. They acknowledge Jesus as Saviour, but they do not follow Him as Lord. They say, "Lord, Lord" but they do not live, as He wants them. As Jesus said Himself: "Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in Heaven wants them to do."

That is why a Christian cannot rest content in his faith, if at the same time he is lying, stealing, committing adultery or other immorality. If you believe you must also obey. That is why a Christian adulterer is a contradiction in terms. That is why you cannot be a Christian minister and live in a homosexual relationship. Christians may have an internal belief. That is good, but it is not good enough. You must have an obedient faith that can be seen externally. Our faith behaves. Our faith is obedient. We must trust and obey!

Wesley Mission, Sydney.