Tag Archives: Eternal life (Christianity)

Ransom

Why would teenage girls leave freedom and join up with ISIS?  Why would they willingly give themselves to a group that enslaves and abuses women?  Somebody must have lied to them, told them they would be better off, that their lives would matter, that they would be fulfilled.  Who knows what else?  And they bought it.  They believed the lies.

Suppose they get to Syria and pledge themselves to ISIS: what comes next?  Nothing good.  So, what would happen if these girls realize they’ve made a mistake and want to go back to Mom and Dad?  Almost certainly, ISIS would say, “No, we own you now; your lives belong to us.”   What if the girls have babies?  Those babies would be born into captivity and would belong to ISIS, too.   And what if Mom and Dad wanted to buy their daughter back – how much would ISIS demand in exchange for just one of their lives?  I’m not sure another life would be enough.

This modern day scenario works as a parable to explain how we humans have rebelled, bought into lies, run away from “Home” and have become enslaved and owned by Satan.  He holds us hostage, separated from God and destined for death.

Psalm 49 sums up our predicament:

“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him— the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enoughthat he should live on forever and not see decay.” (Psalm 49:7-9)

He says, there is no way any of us could pay enough to escape death and attain eternal life.  None of us could pay for anyone else, either.  Nevertheless, this same psalmist was inspired to know this:

“But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.” (Psalm 49:15)

No man can pay enough so God will do it; He will redeem me.  God gave that writer a peek and a hint of the most amazing good news!  God will pay the ransom and it will be enough.  As revealed to the prophet, Hosea, God said:

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death…” (Hosea 13:14a)

Jesus explained that His coming crucifixion would fulfill the promise of God:

“… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:28b)

You can be set free.  You can return to your real “Home.”  You can escape death.  Here is the deal:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Don’t Take the Fire Escape!

You are startled awake by the loud blaring of the fire alarm.  You can already smell the smoke and you hurry from your room on an upper floor of the hotel.  Rushing down to the fire escape, you discover that it is about to be overcome by flames. So you turn around and head back the other direction.  You have to fight your way through a stampede of hotel guests who are trying to reach the fire escape.  “No!” you say, “Turn around; you will die if you keep going that way.”  Most of them don’t believe you.  Some call you an idiot for ignoring the fire escape sign.  Those few who decide to trust you, turn around and follow you in the “wrong” direction.  They live.

Jesus was in a situation like that.  He knew we were thundering toward death.  He urged us to turn around and head the “wrong” way, in order to find eternal life.  That is why so much of what He said seems up-side-down.  Like this:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  (Matthew 5:4 )

He didn’t say that those who grieve are happy.  He said they would one day be comforted and therefore are blessed.  This statement follows the previous one about realizing our spiritual poverty.  The kind of mourning Jesus was referring to was the desire to be spiritually full, spiritually rich, without being able to change one’s spiritual bankruptcy.

Jesus said people in that condition would be comforted.  He wasn’t talking about someone who would feel sorry for them and say soothing things.  He was talking about a total reversal in their spiritual bank account.  Here’s how I know:  Jesus said,

‘If ye love me, my commands keep, and I will ask the Father, and another Comforter He will give to you, that he may remain with you—to the age; the Spirit of truth, whom the world is not able to receive, because it doth not behold him, nor know him, and ye know him, because he doth remain with you, and shall be in you. ( John 14:15-17 Young’s’ Literal Translation)

I used that old fashioned sounding translation because they gave the literal translation of the word Jesus called the Holy Spirit – Comforter.  It is the same root word He used when He said those who mourn “will be comforted.”  The people who are spiritually bankrupt and who mourn their condition, who are unable to be good enough or spiritual enough to change it, will be comforted.  How?  They will receive the Holy Spirit, Who will “remain” (live)  in their souls forever.  This is eternal life.

Ok, but what’s all this business about “if you love me and keep my commands?”   Those are like the folks in the hotel hallway who turn around and head in the opposite direction because they trusted you.  That’s what happens when you trust and love Jesus.  You turn around, you follow, you live.

Gimme a Scroll Bar!

Were you surprised the government couldn’t run a website as well as Amazon does?  Not me.  The first time I filed my taxes online, I remember you had to click on a big button that said SUBMIT!  Submit, indeed…   But once I pushed the button, the screen went blank and nothing seemed to be happening.  For a long, long time.  Freaked me out, because I wasn’t sure if they got my return or not.  I wondered if I should shut off the computer and try again or if that would ruin everything.  There was no way for me to know because nobody at the IRS thought to program in a little scroll bar – you know that little green, line thingy that shows you the download progress when you order a new app or song?  it lets you know everything is okay.  Don’t panic; just wait.   That scroll bar has probably done more for mental health than psychiatry has.  It’s nice to have some real time feedback to let you know that everything is proceeding in the right way.

There is a “scroll bar” for Jesus.  Think about it:  How can you be sure, once you have put your faith in Jesus, that anything has changed?  How can you know that by believing in Jesus you really do have eternal life?   John said you can know in three ways:  First, you can know because Jesus came all the way down to where you are – all the way down to stand in the waters of baptism  (See “All the Way – Part 1″).  Secondly, you can know because Jesus went all the way to the Cross – giving His life, spending His blood – which no one would do unless it was going to work (See “All the Way – Part 2” and “What’s Love (or Justice) Got to do with It?“).

But you can know in a third way, too.  God gives us a scroll bar, too – something to let us know everything is okay – don’t panic.  God gives us real time evidence that we have been connected to Him forever.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  (1 John 5:6 )

The Spirit shows us day by day, in real time, that we are alive in Christ.  He is like a scroll bar.  Obviously, He is a lot more than just evidence that everything is working, but the fact that He testifies – continuously – is important.  We don’t need to wonder if trusting Jesus is really effective.  We don’t need to wonder if we have eternal life.  The Spirit shows us.

Here’s the rest of what John said:

For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.   We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.   Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.   And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:7-13)

That’s the truth.  It comes with a “scroll bar.”

Just Like Candles

As beautiful as it is, a candle-lighting service also contains a powerful, instructive imagery.  We sit in the dark with cold, unlit candles. Our candles cannot make themselves burn; they must wait until the main candle is lit.  From that one, the flame is passed, one to another, until the whole room is filled with light.  When someone extends  their burning candle toward mine, its heat soon lights my wick.  Now heat and light emanates from my candle, allowing me to offer that flame to my neighbor.   I cannot do so until I have received the light.

Think of that imagery, and chew on this:

We love because he first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)

God’s kind of self-sacrificial love (agape love) does not exist in us when we are disconnected from His Spirit.  We love those who love us, we love others when it benefits us in some way.  But we know nothing of the type of love Jesus extended to us.  As Paul wrote in Romans:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:7-8)

But if by faith, we accept His love, then we begin to love.  We love, like a candle that shines because it was lit.   It is not something we do out of obedience but something we do because our makeup has been changed.  His Spirit is alive in us.

We love because He first loved us.  

As we extend that love toward others, occasionally they, too, will receive the love of God and come to life.  That’s what John means when he says God’s love is made complete in us.  He gives it to us that we might give it to others.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (1 John 4:12)

Just like candles…

Dead or Alive?

If you get trained in CPR, they frequently say things like, “Don’t worry about tearing their clothes or breaking a rib; they are dead; they won’t care – that is, unless you can bring them back to life!   Puts the whole deal into perspective.  It really matters when you go from death to life.

Jesus knew that humans were not connected to the Holy Spirit and were dead – “dead” like a cell phone is dead without a cell signal. (For another analogy, see Who Can Fix It?)  But Jesus came with spiritual CPR.  He said,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

Notice, that “eternal life” is not something given once a person dies, but is given at the moment of belief.  The crossover from death to life has already happened for those who believe. It is the Holy Spirit, living in their souls.  But this “new life” is given to people who had always assumed they were already alive!  But how can we be sure this new life is real?  How can we check?  On a phone, you make a call: if it goes through, you know your phone isn’t dead.  How can we know about eternal life?

John says:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  (1 John 3:14)

But what is “love?”  Anybody who has ever exchanged valentines in 3rd Grade knows that the word, love, is pretty loosey-goosey.  And everybody loves somebody in some kind of way.  But John doesn’t leave us wondering: He is talking about the kind of love that is the exact opposite of hate.

Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.   This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  (1 John 3:15-16)

Hate is a response designed to protect myself from someone who I think wants to take something away from me (could be money, girlfriend, fame, prestige, an aisle seat…).  Love, John says, is a response motivating me to give myself to someone because they have a need.  This isn’t 3rd Grade valentine love.  It’s not “I love you, I need you, I wa-aaaa-nt you…”  Not even close.  This is, “I will give myself up for you.”  Even if you hate me.

But let’s face it: we are not often in a situation where laying down our lives would make any difference for someone else.  So, John makes it practical, …  and threatening.  He says:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (1 John 3:17-18)

Are you dead or alive?  John says, consider your response when you see someone in need.  If we turn away, hoping someone else takes care of the need, or perhaps rationalizing why it would be wrong for us to help, then “how can the love of God be in [us]?”  Whose love?  God’s!  Where?  In us! This kind of self-sacrificial love is so contrary to our ordinary human impulse that, when we see it in ourselves, we know God is doing it, we know God’s Spirit lives in us.   God’s love doesn’t just say, “I love you;” it puts that love into action!

John is not claiming that everyone who believes in Jesus is  immediately transformed into the person Mother Teresa wished she could be.  John knows that receiving the Spirit does not make us suddenly perfect in every way.  However, if you habitually harbor an attitude of hatred toward someone, or if you habitually turn away with indifference from someone else’s need, you have good reason to question whether you have “passed from death to life.”

But, if you notice a change in your heart, and find yourself acting with self-sacrificial concern for others, the costly kind of love Jesus extended to us,

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence  whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

Eating Jesus…

When Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life (See, “Free Food, Free Drink”), He took it a step further.  He said you have to eat Him!

 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  (John 6:53-54)

Yuck!  Sounds disgusting,   Did Jesus really suggest He would be the main course at the cannibal feast?   We can figure out what He really meant by comparing what Jesus said just a bit before those shocking words.  This quote is almost the same as the second sentence above, except for the words, “looks to and believe.”

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)

See that?  “Eat my flesh…” replaces “looks to and believes…”   Therefore, we know that Jesus used “eat my flesh” as a vivid metaphor for believing

When you think about it, so do we.  We say “I swallowed what he told me,” to mean that we believed what he said.   When you swallow something you come to a personal moment of decision and surrender.  It is an act of faith.  You believe it will be better if you move something from outside you to inside, where it will become absorbed into your life.  That’s what Jesus meant:

 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood (i.e. whoever believes and takes Me in) remains (makes his home) in me, and I (make My home) in him.” (John 6:56 – with my added explanations.  

The word “remains” is a Greek word for living permanently, making ones home in, or abiding.)  When Jesus makes His home in you, His life comes to life within you.  Because His life is eternal, you have (present tense) eternal life.  His, eternal life, living in you by means of the Holy Spirit, is the consequence of your personal, voluntary, decision of faith to “swallow” Jesus!

Chew on that!  

Accepting the Gift

Unemployed, you have missed the last several mortgage payments on a house worth less than you paid.  You are about to be foreclosed.  A registered letter comes to the door.  You sign for it and tear it open:  “This is to inform you that someone, who would like to remain anonymous, has offered to pay off your mortgage obligations.  If you choose to accept this gift, the bank has agreed to suspend all foreclosure proceedings.”  Nice letter, eh?  Nice gift.

God’s gift to us wipes out the obligations we owe for sin – completely – if we accept it.  His Son, Jesus, Who never sinned and therefore had no personal punishment due, willingly died a brutal and tortuous death to cover what I owed.  And you.  If you accept His gift, God suspends His foreclosure on your life.  God told Isaiah He would do this and told him to write it down:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:4-5)

If someone offers to pay off your mortgage, your first response might be something like, “What? Does he think I’m in poverty?  Does he think I can’t do this on my own?  Give me a bit more time and I will get this fixed…”  But if you hang on to that attitude, you won’t accept the offer.   In a sense, accepting his offer involves a willingness to acknowledge that you really do need his help.   In the same way, accepting the gift of Someone Who went to His death on your behalf requires a change in attitude, acknowledging that such a gift is absolutely necessary.  Most of us would rather hold to the notion that, “I got this; I’m doing pretty well on my own; I’m a good person.”   But if you do continue to believe those things, you cannot accept the gift. Do you remember how Isaiah responded when he caught a glimpse of God’s glory?

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah knew a humbling truth:  compared to God’s perfection, he was just as sinful as his neighbors.  We humans are all in the same boat of sinful imperfection.  We all deserve the same punishment.  We tend to compare ourselves with others and think, “At least I am not as messed up as that guy…”   Somebody illustrated the fallacy of such comparisons like this: “If the requirement to get to Heaven was jumping up and touching the moon, there would be no significant difference between the contestants for ‘Biggest Loser’ and a member of the Celtics.”   The requirement for going to Heaven isn’t touching the moon, it’s having spiritual life.  And everyone who has ever sinned – that’s you and me – is spiritually dead.

God is willing to correct that condition, to give us His life, His Holy Spirit to live in our souls.  But first, because He is perfectly just, He must require that your punishment for sin be paid.  Because you cannot pay, because, even if you could pay you would sin again the next day, He paid.  He allowed His Son, Jesus, to pay your sin mortgage in full – forever – if you accept.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the (punishment for the) iniquity (sin) of us all.  (Isaiah 53:6 – my explanations in parentheses)

Accepting this gift begins with understanding the words, we all.  It requires acknowledging your own personal sinfulness and complete helplessness to fix your own spiritual deadness.  That’s what being “lowly and contrite” means in Isaiah 57:15 (See “In a Nutshell”). God said He will revive (bring back to life) the soul of the lowly and contrite. He will forgive and restore a person who is lowly and contrite.   That is, He will do so once the bill is paid.  And He offers to pay the bill.  Accepting this gift is like what you would do with the mortgage letter example we began with: – you say, “Yes.”   If you understand that there is no way you can fix yourself to become perfect, no way you can pay what you owe for being imperfect; if you understand that you really need God’s forgiveness, then say “yes” to Jesus.  Probably want to say, “Thank You,” also…