Why is it children have such a clear understanding of Christianity, but as we grow older, confusion seems to set in? I imagine it is natural since the experiences of life cause us to ask questions regarding our faith. Listening to others discuss their religious views forces us to examine our own faith, and we can get bogged down as we try to make our faith more rational. However, when life draws to a close, we go back to the basics and receive them in faith.
I recall one day being in a hospital room with a dear saint from our church as she was dying. Her children and their spouses were by her bedside. One of the relatives was a prominent theologian with a doctorate in theology from Harvard. He had studied, written, and lectured in many parts of the world.
As I conducted the devotion for this dying woman, I chose the words of our text today, the very basic of the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” I then assured the dying woman that Christ had died for her sins, and since she in faith had received Him as her Savior, she would soon be with Jesus in His heavenly kingdom.
When I had finished my prayer, the astute theologian said, “Thank you very much. This is all we have to hang on to in the closing moments of our lives.”
Isn’t that true, friend? And so, as we find ourselves in the middle of the Lenten season, we center our thoughts on the heart of the Christian message. I have called it, The ABCs of the Faith, and the text is found in John 3:16, 17.
Point A of our ABCs tells us that God loves us. This statement is unique to the Christian faith, for other religions present an angry god who must be appeased or one will suffer his damning effects. While it is true that we have a God of righteousness Ð and the Old Testament as well as the New Testament can refer to His anger. However, He has provided a way out for us. In love we have an escape from that anger.
We might question His love once in a while, especially when things go wrong. We may have our questions and our doubts, and we may even get angry about everything that has happened. However, our thoughts and emotions do not alter the fact that God loves us. He created us in His image, which means we have a mind with which we can think, a will with which we can make a decision, and a soul that is eternal. No other part of God’s creation has these attributes. We are the crowning work of His creation.
Now notice this: God so loved the world . . . His love is not just for those of a particular race or for those with a great deal of wealth. God loves the world. He loves people of all races. He loves the brilliant and the illiterate, the rich and the poor. He loves those of us who have been raised in western civilization and are used to all the good things that make life so much easier, but he also loves those who live in the areas of life where there are not these blessings. He loves them and wants them to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the A part of these basics is that God loves the world. It is a basic message. You’ve heard it many times, but in the Lenten season, we need to hear it again: God loves the world.
The B part: God loves us so much that it moved Him to act. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to die for us.
Why was His death necessary? When Adam and Eve first turned their back on God, sin entered the world. That sin brings us separation from God. Unless that sin is taken away, we cannot be in a living relationship with God. In His righteousness, God cannot wink at sin. He cannot condone it. However, He can forgive it. Through repentance and faith, He is anxious and willing to forgive it. There is a tremendous difference between condoning sin and forgiving sin.
How is He going to do it? Going back to the basics, He sent into this world his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who takes all of our sins upon Himself. Through His death, our sins were nailed to the cross. Payment has been made. God the Father accepts this payment as satisfaction for His righteousness.
Listen to these Bible passages, which describe Christ’s work.
“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. We all, like sheep, have gone stray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6.)
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7).
So you see, God so loved us that it caused Him to act. And the action was the giving of His Son into this world to die for you and for me.
Now let’s go to the C part. “. . . that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The temptation here is to take that first part of that great verse Ð for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son Ð and stop there. But there is another part to that verse. While God offers His love to the world, we have to receive Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some, however, believe that by accepting what God has given to us in Jesus Christ, we contribute to our salvation. Therefore salvation is not by grace alone through faith, but it is God and us working together.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our salvation is completely founded in Jesus Christ Ð 100%. You and I can do nothing. He offers this gift to us and then empowers us to receive Christ and live for him. Wouldn’t you like to receive Him?
The opposite is what is known as a subtle universalism. I have encountered two kinds of universalism. One is the idea that everybody is saved. When I was growing up, a group in our town was known as Universalists. They believed everybody was going to go to heaven. It was a marvelous thought. The pastor would send everyone to heaven at a funeral, even if the deceased person openly denied faith in Christ. It was a heartwarming thing to hear, but it was not biblically true, for outside of Jesus Christ there is no forgiveness of sin.
The other kind of universalism is called Christo Universalism. It says that God sent Jesus Christ into the world as a payment for the sins of the world. Because Jesus has died in our place, all our sins are taken care of.
This is the second part of the ABCs of the Christian faith. We have a right to say no to the faith. However, we also can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to say yes. This is the second part Ð whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
If this were true, what would be the purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ today? There would be no need for people to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, for it would be automatic. Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us free will to accept or reject Him. He cries out for us to come to Him, for outside of Him there is no forgiveness of sin. He empowers us to receive Him and makes it all possible.
It is very interesting to notice that following that great verse is this: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” And so He sends out disciples to tell the story of Jesus Christ. That is the mission of the Church. It is also the mission of the Christian Crusaders radio program. That mission is to proclaim the gospel and say to every person who listens, God loves you, and He died for you, and He wants you in His kingdom. It is the core of the Christian faith. The ABCs.
And that is where we started this message, and it’s where we end. It is where we begin as children in our Sunday schools learning the great message about Jesus loving us and dying for us, and singing songs like “Jesus loves me this I know.” That is where we begin and then walk through life with all kinds of temptations that cause us to question that faith. But then, when death draws near and we lie upon death’s bed with our family there to hold our hand, we hear them remind us, “Dad (Mom), for God so loved the world that He gave His Son for you. Now rest in peace. He’ll soon take you home.”
This message is so profound, the greatest mind cannot penetrate its depths, yet it is so simple, a little child and a dying person can grasp its meaning.