I just returned from vacation and realized it has been a long time since I sent out my last post. I woke yesterday morning to the headlines of the worse mass shooting in United States history with over two-hundred and fifty people killed or wounded in the Los Vegas shooting. We live in a world of sin and uncertainty. It seems like we can be here today and then something terrific happens and it is all over. Yet, for millions of us, we read the news headlines and go about our everyday business without a second thought to our own future.
As Christians we have a blessed hope of eternal life, living in the presence of Jesus. The question of how we receive eternal life is one that every thinking person should ponder. In contemporary Christian teachings there are two ways to receive eternal life; either by earning it or receiving it as a gift. Both ways cannot be right as they are at polar opposites from each other.
Let’s look at the works based belief first. People who hold to this view would never admit they believe their works contribute to their salvation, but instead insist that they are saved by grace but that grace is augmented by their Christian living. They believe, though they do not always know it, that their past sins are forgiven by God but their present and future sins are a matter of their own sanctification. In other words, Jesus’ death at Calvary took care of the past but they now must live good victorious Christian lives to show God that they are serious about their relationship.
For these Christians the proof is in the pudding. If they say they are Christians then they must live dynamic, victorious, successful lives. The bottom line is simply do your best and let God make up the rest. Also a good number of these believers are perfectionists who believe the ultimate goal of Christianity is to reproduce the character of Jesus within themselves.
The second group also believe they are saved by grace, but the difference between them and the first group is that they don’t believe their walk with Jesus earns merit. Salvation is a gift from God, through Jesus, and freely given to all who believe. (See John 1:11-14) Since salvation is given by grace and received by faith then the Christian walk cannot have merit.
For those of us who believe this we do not believe that the free gift of salvation means we can sin or do whatever we want. We believe that our Christian walk is important but does not earn merit with God because we cannot add to the gift that has been given us. To say that anything we do adds merit would be to undermine the crucifixion and resurrection. It would be saying that Jesus was unable to accomplish redemption on His own and as a result needs our effort to finish the job.
We believe that God loves us unconditionally and that is proven at the cross. Our love for God is carried out by loving others and trusting in His grace. Let me be clear, there is no merit on our part for loving others (because we do it so poorly) or in accepting grace. Romans 5:5 tells us the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that He gives us. So even love is a gift and not something that we can brag about or look to as good works.
Let me sum up what I am trying to say by looking at John 3:16. The verse begins “For God so loved the world,” notice it is God who does the loving and His love is manifested towards the whole world. We can safely say the whole world encompasses all of us, the good, the bad, and the ugly. (see Romans 5:8)
The next part of the verse states, “that He gave His only begotten Son,” and these have to be the most powerful words in the English language, (any language for that matter). It is the love of God that cost the death of God on Calvary’s cross. Jesus, second person of the Godhead, didn’t die to make the Father love us, but died because of the Father’s love for us. (See Romans 5:8, just in case you didn’t look the verse up the first time.)
Third part of John 3:16 reads, “that whosoever believes in Him.” Notice the progression, God loved the world then gave His Son that whosoever believes in Him. It is God who loved and gave while we are simply to believe. There are no works mentioned here. There is no effort mentioned. John 3:16 is God offering us a gift of eternal life and all we have to do is receive it, and I can prove it by quoting the last part of the verse. Everyone who believes in Him, “should not perish but have eternal life.”
One more time – let’s go over the verse. “God loved the world, He gave His Son at Calvary, that whosoever believes, in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Come on, folks, where are the works, perfectionism, striving, merit in sanctification in this verse? They are not there because the gospel (the good news) is Jesus loves us unconditionally and for proof we need only look to the cross. Our lives as Christians are the natural response to love, but do not earn God’s love because it has already been given while we were still sinners. We grow in love, in trust, in faith and peace but once again they do not earn us merit, they are simply an outgrowth of love poured out into our hearts through the grace of Jesus.
God loves you!