The Benefits of Belief
The Benefits of Belief
“It will change your life forever!”
Text: Topical sermon on belief from John’s Gospel
Theme: The benefits of genuine belief
Proposition: Genuine belief is the prerequisite to great spiritual blessing.
Transition: What are the benefits of genuine belief?
Claude was clearly uncomfortable as he squirmed in his seat after our Bible study that Monday evening. He had attended these studies for almost six months and tonight he had come face to face with the most difficult choice in his life — to believe or not to believe. The road to this moment had not been easy for Claude. Raised in a conservative religious home in Maine, Claude had been involved in organized religion from the very early years of his life. He had been confirmed, served as an altar boy, and eventually ended up in a Catholic seminary preparing for the priesthood. Then one day he walked away from the rigid, ordered, and empty life he was living. For years Claude wandered in a spiritual wasteland. His steps led him through the empty valleys of a failed marriage, a failed business, failed relationships, and ultimately an empty life. Educated, personable, witty, quick, creative, likeable, loveable, lonely, empty, frustrated, seeking, desperate, far from God, and devoid of hope— Claude was at the end of his rope. Six months earlier he had wandered into our Bible study and quickly into our hearts. Claude had come quite a distance in those six months and we had walked the miles with him. We had watched Claude emerge from the valley of agnosticism and had enjoyed watching him discover and explore the beauty of the message of Christ along the way. We had often been tickled by the sincerity of his questions during the study and we had all been profoundly moved and blessed as we watched him marvel at what he was discovering about Christ. I will never forget the evening that Claude really understood who Christ really was and what He had come to do. Several times he had approached the pathway that would lead him to the valley of decision but not until tonight had he wandered more than a few exploratory steps down that path. Now, he stood at the entrance to the valley peering through the door of the sheepfold. It was quite evident that the Great Shepherd was drawing this wondering and wandering sheep closer to the fold. Claude’s words sum up the struggle best, “I know what I need to do, I know how to do it, and part of me wants to do it — but — I am just not sure I am ready to give up some things just yet.”
As I drove home that evening, I struggled to understand why someone who had come so far and seen so much would have such difficulty making a commitment to Christ. Claude understood who Christ was, what He had come to do, and why He did it. He had seen the beauty of Christ and had seen evidence of the love of Christ. Why then did Claude have so much trouble believing? Particularly frustrating to me was the tension between his obvious desire for Christ and his resistance to Christ. As I reflected on Claude’s statement I became convinced of two things. First, the tension was due in
part to a failure on his part to understand the personal benefits of genuine belief. Claude was in love with the person of Christ and he appreciated the work of Christ on his behalf. However, Claude failed to realize that the personal benefits of genuine belief which would be his far outweighed any perceived sacrifice he would make. Second, there are many “Claudes” in the world who struggle with this same tension. It is to individuals like Claude that John’s Gospel provides a solution.
Written at the close of the first century by the last living eyewitness of the Lord’s life and ministry, this Gospel is designed to bring people to the point of genuine belief. In approximately one hundred verses scattered throughout the twenty-one chapters that make up this account, John presents the multi-faceted concept of belief. One particular facet of belief is particularly useful in helping people come to the point of stepping through the “door of decision” and make the commitment to genuine belief. This facet demonstrates the personal benefits that come into a person’s life as a result of genuine belief. John presents at least seven life changing benefits in his Gospel which are designed to help men decide to believe.
I. Through Genuine Belief We Are Absolved From Condemnation (3:18; 8:24)
•I said therefore to you that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins. (8:24)
•He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of the Father. (3:18)
A. The Unavoidable Sentence (8:24)
Jesus in this passage is addressing a group of Jews who had gathered in the Temple at Jerusalem to hear Jesus teach. He looks into their hearts and delivers this penetrating truth — you will die in your sins. To the religious Jew, this was unthinkable. He spent his days in rigorous religious exercise to avoid such a fate. In fact, this fate was something reserved for the pagan Gentiles who did not know God or enjoy His blessings and favor. Here was a man who not only claimed to be the long awaited Messiah but who was now declaring an unthinkable sentence upon them. What makes this statement even more unthinkable is that Jesus states it categorically. This is an undeniable and unavoidable sentence. Jesus looks at these men and states, “You will die in your sins.”
This is exactly the condition that modern man finds himself facing. No matter how religious or how moral, modern man finds himself facing the unthinkable and unavoidable impact of this statement — “You shall die in your sins.” Paul reiterates this concept in the third chapter of Romans when he argues that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The context of Paul’s statement makes it clear that all men, religious or pagan alike, fall under that condemnation and thus are worthy of death (Romans 6:23). However, Jesus goes on to present a singular condition by which men could avoid this unthinkable fate.
B. The Singular Condition (8:24)
Jesus presents one simple but profound condition by which men may avoid their unfortunate fate — belief. It is belief that allows a man to die without having to face the penalty of his sins. Well known commentator Leon Morris makes this observation, “There is but one way of avoiding this fate, namely by coming to believe in Jesus. And this involves a right estimation of His person.”
There are several interesting observations regarding this unique condition that Jesus lays down. First, an individual must come to point of belief. He must reach a place in his life where he makes a decision to believe. In most places in this account belief is presented as an ongoing state. While this passage does not deny the ongoing aspect of belief, the focus here is on a decisive moment when a person declares himself for or against Jesus Christ. Second, the condition as stated by Jesus implies that there is a specific content to this belief about which a person must come to a decisive conclusion if he desires to avoid dying in his sins. Specifically he must arrive at a conclusion about the identity of Jesus Christ. Jesus put it this way, “Unless you believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” This statement is a clear reference to the Lord’s true identity — God in the flesh. This term was used by God when He addressed Moses from the burning bush in Exodus. Jesus is stating that a man’s eternal destiny hangs on this single conclusion — what does he ultimately decide to believe about the person or identity of Jesus? This was a difficult thing for many of the Jews to believe and the rest of the account demonstrates the repeated times that these men were forced to this point of decision. Time and time they are confronted with undeniable evidence. Time after time they wrestle with the decision. Time after time they walked away rejecting and as a result, many of them died in their sins. Two thousand years later, men have not changed. As a result, they still die in their sins.
This Gospel also presents the contrasting consequences that come into the lives of men faced with the decision to believe or not to believe.
C. The Contrasting Consequences (3:18)
Jesus points out that those who have come to this decision and committed to a life of continual belief (present tense) are not judged or condemned. Their belief permanently absolves their condemnation. However, those who have made a definitive and permanent decision to reject the identity and person of Christ are presently and permanently condemned. It is interesting that Jesus does not state that they will eventually be condemned for their unbelief. He seems to highlight the fact that those who have decided to reject belief are presently under condemnation. One of the incredible benefits of genuine belief is that it absolves the believer from this permanent condemnation.
Transition: Not only do we receive the benefit of having our condemnation absolved, when we believe God brings a second benefit into our lives — a change in our character.
II. Through Genuine Belief We Are Changed In Our Character (12:36,46)
While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become the sons of light . . . I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes Me may not remain in darkness.
A. The Divine Purpose (12:46)
Jesus states that the plan and purpose of God’s plan for the incarnation was to provide a way for men to come out from the darkness of sin and enter into the light of life. One of the contrasting themes in John’s account is that of light and darkness. In this context, light refers to life and darkness refers to condemnation and spiritual death. Men in their character are fundamentally children or “sons” of darkness. God has made it possible for “sons of darkness” to become “sons of light.” It is important to note that Jesus does not limit this purpose to a select group of people — He states that this purpose was designed for all men who would obey the Divine imperative set forth.
B. The Divine Imperative (12:36)
Jesus instructed men to believe in the light and then He identifies Himself as that light in which they are to believe. There are two interesting observations that must be made regarding this instruction. First, Jesus is pointing out that there is going to be a level of commitment to a person that is expected. They are not asked to merely believe things about Him, they are asked to believe “on” or “in” Him. John uses this interesting construction in different ways in this account. Usually, he uses it to describe a group of people making a deeper level of commitment then they presently had. In some cases he uses it to describe people who were willing to follow Christ on the basis of their conclusions about Him as a good teacher. Other times John uses this expression to describe people who went even further and entered into a genuine ongoing belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the Savior of the World. It is this latter sense in view here. Second, this is not a suggestion that Jesus offers for men to consider, it is a command that demands obedience on the part of men. If men are to enjoy the benefit of a changed character, they must begin by a commitment to believe in Jesus as their personal Savior. Only when men are willing to believe in obedience to Christ’s command can they benefit from the Divine transformation that comes about as a result of genuine belief.
C. The Divine Transformation (12:36)
The purpose of the command to believe is the transformation of the character of the believer. Jesus commanded men to believe “in order that they may become sons of the light.” In the New Testament, when a person was referred to as a “son” of something, it was usually a reference to some aspect of his character. Men are referred to as “sons of Belial or worthlessness” and by implication “sons of darkness.” Scriptures consistently present men as being characterized by the darkness of sin in their overall character. One of the incredible benefits of genuine belief is the transformation God works in the character of the believer. No longer is the man who believes characterized as a “son of darkness.” His character has been remade and renewed in the likeness of Christ and he has become a “son of light.”
Transition: A third amazing benefit that genuine belief brings to the life of the believer is the gift of eternal life.
III. Through Genuine Belief We Acquire Eternal Life (3:15,16,36; 5:24; 6:40,47; 17:3)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (3:16)
Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life (5:24).
And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent (17:3).
A. Eternal life is a gift from God (3:16)
One of the benefits that God bestows upon those who enter into genuine belief is the gift of eternal life. Behind this gift lies the love of God. One might consider the gift of eternal life as a “reward” or “payment” for belief. However, it seems more in line to consider eternal life as an expression of God’s love bestowed upon those who have believed. For example, a man who is married often bestows gifts of love upon his wife. These gifts are not given as “rewards” for her love to him but as expressions of his love to her. I believe that the benefit of eternal life which believers enjoy is an expression of God’s love for us rather than a reward for our love to Him. Genuine belief is the door that opens the floodgate of God’s expressions of love toward us. One of those expressions is the gift of eternal life.
B. Eternal life is a permanent possession (5:24)
This passage teaches us that when God gives us eternal life, it involves a permanent removal from the realm of death and a permanent transformation into the realm of life. Eternal life is a present possession that genuine believers will permanently enjoy. In other words, believers do not wait until they die to get eternal life — they have eternal life now. We do not go to Heaven to get eternal life. We go to Heaven because we have eternal life right now and Heaven is the place where people who have eternal life will spend eternity. One of the incredible benefits of belief is the present enjoyment of God’s permanent gift of eternal life. Jesus later gives an interesting definition of what He means by eternal life.
C. Eternal life is defined as a relationship (17:3)
For years I considered eternal life in terms of time. Eternal life meant life without end for ever and ever. While eternal life will certainly endure forever, Jesus has much more than time in mind when He talks about eternal life. Rather than viewing eternal life as endless life — Jesus presents eternal life as an intimate relationship between God and the believer and between the believer and Jesus Christ. What makes this incredible relationship possible is genuine belief. If you desire the intimate relationship of marriage, there is a certain level of commitment beyond other relationships that is the foundation of that relationship. In marriage, we call this commitment a covenant. Two parties covenant together to love one another in a unique and intimate relationship for as long as they both shall live. This is the kind of intimate relationship that Jesus is describing between God and the believer. Just as there are incredible pleasures and privileges in a godly marriage, there are incredible privileges and pleasures in an intimate personal relationship with God. However, like marriage, this relationship is built on commitment. The commitment expected here is the commitment of belief.
Transition: We have seen that belief absolves us from condemnation and it changes our character. This change of character makes it possible for us to enter into a unique eternal relationship with God called eternal life. Because we have this intimate relationship, there is yet another incredible benefit to belief — we are adopted into God’s family.
IV. Through Genuine Belief We Are Adopted Into God’s Family (1:12)
But to as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
It is interesting to note that John compares believing to receiving. This gives us God’s expectations in the activity of belief. One of the questions that Claude (who you met in the introduction) presented one afternoon related to the concept of defining belief. What exactly is belief and what does God expect? John sums up the answer by stating that believing is receiving or accepting Jesus Christ and all that He is. If a man truly accepts Jesus Christ for who He truly is then the implications for that man’s life are tremendous. If Jesus is truly God in the flesh, then when a man receives Him, that man is surrendering the total control of his life over to Christ. When a man makes this decision and “believes,” then God gives him the right or the authority to be a child of God with all of the rights and privileges that pertain to one who occupies such a position. No longer are we enemies, no longer are we slaves or bondservants, no longer are we merely forgiven sinners, through our belief we have entered into an incredibly lofty and exalted estate — we have been adopted into the family of God and are now given the status of “children.” All this because we believed!
Transition: Because we have been adopted into God’s family, the next benefit that we enjoy as a result of our genuine belief is that we become the special object of God’s love.
V. Through Genuine Belief We Become Special Objects of God’s Love (16:26-27)
In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.
Because of our belief, Jesus points out that we become the special object of God’s love. It is interesting that Jesus makes the point to the disciples who had believed, that when they prayed in His name, He would not have to go before the Father and beseech Him on their behalf. Because of their belief, God would deal directly with them on the merits of Jesus name. What an incredible thought — mere mortals who were one time at enmity with God now have direct access to His throne. We receive this incredible benefit because of the special love that Jesus states the Father has toward those who believe. As special objects of this unique love, we have the assurance that our prayers will be heard and answered on the basis of Jesus’ name.
Transition: Not only does God promise to answer our prayers because of this special love, He imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe!
VI. Through Genuine Belief We Become Possessors of the Holy Spirit (7:38-39)
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus is addressing a multitude of worshippers who have gathered together on the last day of one of the most important religious festivals of their year. In this particular festival, the worshippers commemorated the time in their history as a nation when their ancestors wandered in the wilderness and depended on God for food and water. During this feast, one of the things the priest did was to pour out water on the ground signifying their thankfulness for God’s past provision of this life giving resource. It was also a picture designed to remind the people that just as their ancestors had to rely on God for water in the past, they would have to rely on God for water in the coming year. It is in this context that Jesus stood on the last day of the feast and made this amazing proclamation. He promised a spiritual live giving resource to those who believed. John notes that he later came to understand who that life giving resource was — the Holy Spirit. Jesus delineates the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the latter portion of the final discourse in chapters 14-16. However, we are told here in chapter 7 that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God — it is an expression of His love that is made possible by our belief. We are told elsewhere that the Holy Spirit is given at the time of belief.
Transition: There appears to be a logical progression to the benefits of genuine belief. Removal of condemnation, transformation of character, entrance in the relationship of eternal life, adoption into God’s family, special objects of God’s love, and now possessors of the Holy Spirit. There is one final benefit which spring forth as a capstone to the other benefits. We have been positioned for service and we have been given the Holy Spirit in order that we be made participants in the work of God.
VII. Through Genuine Belief We Are Made Participants In God’s Work (1:50c; 11:40; 14:10)
. . . You shall see greater things than these.
. . . Did I not say to you, if you believe you will see the glory of God?
. . . Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also.
One of the greatest obstacles to genuine belief is the fear of failure. This was certainly true in Claude’s life. To put it in his words, “I am looking at some heavy requirements and I honestly don’t know if I can live up to them.” When one understands the picture of belief presented by John two things are striking. First, because of their belief, people are enlightened and permitted to witness unusual or more than ordinary events from a spiritual perspective. This was true in the lives of both Nathaniel and Mary. Both believed and both witnessed incredible works done by Jesus. What is more, they viewed these works along with other witnesses who sometimes missed the spiritual point at hand (at least in Mary’s case). One of the benefits to genuine belief is spiritual enlightenment. It is as though Claude longs for understanding and he can’t understand that true spiritual understanding will come as a benefit of belief. However, there is an even greater benefit which Jesus highlights in chapter 14. Because of our belief, Jesus states that we will do the same kind of works that He did! This does not mean that we will go about doing miraculous works. What Jesus has in mind is the character of our works. Jesus work was to do the will of His Father. In that regard, His works on earth were entirely righteous and God honoring. In the same manner, when we believe, God empowers us with the Holy Spirit so that the character of our works will be righteous and honoring to Him. In fact, we are told that we were created in Christ Jesus unto all good works in Ephesians. Paul reminds Titus to stress the importance of maintaining good works. All of this is possible because of this benefit of our belief. Claude and others like him will never find the ability to maintain good works outside the sphere of belief. Good works are not a prerequisite to belief, rather they are a result that God brings in our life after belief. Contrary to the idea that we must produce the good works ourselves, God gives us the responsibility to do good works and then He provides both the works and the power to do those works through the Holy Spirit. Truly we have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness. Incredibly, all of these benefits hinge on one single decision — to believe or not to believe.
History tells us the stories of men who were faced with great life changing decisions who failed to recognize the benefits afforded by the decision and walked away from the opportunity at hand. Men like those who served on the executive board of Hewlett-Packard in 1975. Before them stood a young employee named Steve Woznick who had built a new contraption in his garage. He presented his idea to the board and was turned down because the opportunity was not perceived as marketable. Steve Woznick walked away that day with his invention — the worlds first personal computer. He found a partner named Steve Jobs and they eventually marketed this new invention through their company, Apple Computer. Men like Victor Fleming who directed the movie Gone with the Wind in the late 1930’s. He turned down an offer of 20 percent of its profits and insisted on a one time flat fee instead. He thought the movie would be the “biggest white elephant of all time.” Another individual in that production, Gary Cooper, turned down the leading male role in the film for the same reason. He commented to someone, “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his face, and not Gary Cooper.” However, before we scorn the lack of foresight and perception of these individuals, it would serve us well to be reminded of the countless thousands who come to the message of Christ and walk away from the opportunity of a lifetime (literally) because they do not perceive the benefits of belief. No doubt these men would have made a different decision had they known then what we all know now. Hewlett-Packard might have redefined the computer industry had they understood the benefits of Woznick’s contraption. Victor Fleming may have been among the richest paid producers of all time had he known that Gone With the Wind would be one of the longest running movies ever produced. Gary Cooper might have been immortalized instead of Clark Gable had he accepted the role. How different our lives would be if we could make our decisions today with next year’s knowledge. While we can’t make most decisions with tomorrow’s knowledge, God has certainly given us “tomorrow’s” knowledge about the benefits of eternal life. We can make our decision about belief in Christ today based on reliable eternal knowledge. God has graciously pulled back the veil and let us glimpse eternity. We can see and know exactly how our decision will affect and change our life. We are in a most unique and advantageous situation — a situation that we would not hesitate to use to our advantage in any other arena of life. We have seen the benefits of belief and we can be assured that those benefits will change our life forever. If this were a business decision, there would be no decision to make — action would be without hesitation. Chances are you would never walk away from that kind of a business transaction — don’t take any chances by walking away from this opportunity. The benefits of genuine belief are unbelievable — they will change your life forever and they are yours to enjoy starting today!