If you found out you only had a short time to live, what would you do differently? Listen to this lesson to learn that the Apostle Paul says we should always live in the light of eternity because as each day goes by we are closer to the end of the Church Age. Understand what follows a believer's death and the issues related to cremation. Explore the meaning of imminency and its relationship to unfulfilled prophecy. Find out some of the many different ways the words faith and belief are used in the Scriptures.
Living in Light of the Rapture
We are in the last paragraph here of Romans 13. This is one of those paragraphs that is just loaded with important doctrines. So as we get into it, we need to address a couple of basic topics. I want to cover the whole paragraph tonight even though I don’t think we’ll get much beyond our understanding of verse 11. Verses 12 through 14 are loaded with some key terms and because of what Paul says here, in comparison with similar passages in Ephesians 4 and 5 and Galatians 4 and Colossians 3, as well as James 1, Hebrews 12 and 1 Peter 2 we have a lot of work to do in just putting that together because it’s crucial for understanding the spiritual life.
The first verse is as far as we’ll get today but I want us to understand the context. Paul begins by saying in the New King James Version, Romans 13:11-14, “And do this, knowing the time that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.”
All right, let’s start with Romans 13:11, “And do this…” Notice in your English text that the “do” is in italics. That means it’s not in the original and it’s supplied by a translator because according to the translator’s understanding of the text, that’s what makes sense to him in terms of trying to make the passage read a little more clearly and understandably to the reader. “And do this, knowing the time for now it is high time to awake out of sleep for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”
This is a motivational verse. It’s to challenge us to realize that we’re living in a period of time that is going to disappear at some point. The doctrine of imminency is clearly behind this passage. Jesus could come at any moment. So we need to be prepared and ready and we need to recognize that as each day goes by and almost two thousand years have gone by since Paul wrote this, but as each day goes by we do get closer to the Rapture. We don’t know when it will be. It could be tonight. It could be next week. It could be in twenty years. It could be in one hundred or two hundred years. Personally I think it’s a bit closer than that but we don’t know.
There have been a lot of people who have studied prophecy over the years, especially over the last 150 years who believed they were in the Rapture generation. Hal Lindsey wrote a book called The Terminal Generation when he was about forty years younger thinking he would be in the Rapture generation. He might be because he hasn’t been taken to be with the Lord yet but people like Dwight Pentecost who died a little over a month ago, people like Dr. John Walvoord, certainly the previous generation like Lewis Sperry Chafer, many people thought they were seeing various things being fulfilled in their lifetime and that the return of the Lord was very, very near. They thought they would probably live to see the Rapture.
We can’t get distracted by that. Just because it seems that way doesn’t mean it is that way. I’ve heard this comment from a lot of people. I think there are some people, maybe we’ll call it a senior syndrome, who know that as they get more mature and older they realize that the things of this life aren’t as significant as the things that continue into eternity. I think this is a good thing. We all yearn for the fact that it’s not long and we’ll leave all of these mortal things behind us and we’ll be in heaven with the Lord.
But we need to realize that as much as we might wish for the Rapture to occur tomorrow, it probably won’t. It might but we need to be prepared. Think about this. If you knew because of something your doctor said that you had three years to live, plus or minus, but that you were terminal, what would you be thinking? Of course we’re all terminal but we just don’t know it’s that short. But if you knew you just had a short time, how would you live your life differently?
Now if you have an answer to that, that is significant, that you would truly live your life differently, then you need to really take that before the Lord. We should live each day as if the Lord’s going to come back tomorrow. Live each day in preparation for that, knowing that we have to be ready if the Lord comes tomorrow but that we have to plan and still live our lives as if he will not come until long after our passing.
Some people have made the mistake of not saving for their retirement or the future because they’re so convinced the Lord’s going to come back. But then wait a minute, all of a sudden the Lord didn’t come back and they don’t have anything saved to take care of them in their retirement. So there’s a certain bit of tension that’s there for us.
So we’re living as this passage says in a time of darkness. We’re to live as children of light and our ultimate salvation which comes at the end of this life is nearer each day than it’s ever been before. Now Paul uses this to motivate us. We need to be aware of this and this should spur us on to greater obedience today and to a greater sense of intensity about our spiritual life and our spiritual growth.
Now he starts off and he says literally as it reads in the Greek, “And this…” So he’s adding something to what he’s said before. In Romans 13:8-9 which we looked at last time the focus was on loving one another. Romans 13:8 as we saw isn’t talking about money when it says “owe no one anything”. It’s an idiom meaning don’t create a spiritual indebtedness with someone. In other words, don’t sin against another but instead we’re to love one another. It says that “he who loves another has fulfilled the Law. That’s reflected in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.
And this…” So he’s adding something to love one another. But he doesn’t really give a command here until we get a little further on in this section so the sense of “ought to” is possibly there but really he’s just adding a next exhortation, “And this…” We have the word “knowing” which is the Greek word EIDO and it’s in a perfect tense which means this is a completed action so it means that it’s something that they’ve known for a while They’ve already known this, they’ve been taught this. They understand these principles fully and he’s reminding them of this.
As a participle it would be a causal participle and should be translated with the sense “because you already know the time.” The word there translated “time” is a word we ran into on Tuesday night in the Dispensation series. It’s one of the key words related to dispensations. It’s the word KAIROS which has to do with demarcating a time or a season in God’s plan for the ages. It indicates an age or an era that is marked out by certain boundaries.
What Paul is saying here is that because you know the time we’re in. You understand God’s plan for the ages. You understand where you are in that plan, that we’re in the Church Age and that there’s no specific prophecy which needs to be fulfilled in the Church Age in order for the Rapture to come. We need to be ready at any moment. And so he’s referring in general to the imminent return of the Lord as a motivation for the spiritual life.
He says, “Because you know the time it is time [not really high time which is more of an editorial or interpretation of this phrase] to awake out of sleep.” This indicates priority. The word translated “to awake” is the aorist passive infinitive of EGEIRO and it means to wake up and to become alert out of a time of sleep. The term for sleep in the New Testament is usually used as an idiom. There are times where it is used literally for those who have fallen asleep, such as Eutychus who’s famous because he fell asleep in one of the Apostle Paul’s sermons and he fell out of a window. He may have been killed. It’s not sure in the text but Paul certainly revived him one way or the other.
So you have sleep referring to literal sleep. You have sleep as a euphemism for when a believer dies. It’s not that he goes into soul sleep which is a Jehovah Witness doctrine and maybe a few others hold to that. It’s not that you go through a period of soul sleep because we know at the time of death we’re “absent from the body and immediately face-to-face with the Lord” but the body is as it is waiting. It’s not over with. That’s the importance of Christian doctrine is that which remains of our corporeal body is going to be brought back together and is going to be the foundation for our resurrection body. That’s the pattern.
When the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and Mary and Martha, Peter and James, ran into the tomb, they didn’t see a past body and then Jesus had a new body. The body that he had had in His mortal flesh was what was transformed into His immortal body.
Now there are some people, just in case you’ve never run into them which I didn’t until about ten years ago, there are some Christians who believe that the implication of that, the key word is implication which is not a command or an imperative but possibly a suggestion, is that in Christianity the body is valued. In other beliefs the body is not valued, such as Platonism. Some people believe that because the body is valued in Christianity that you should not be cremated. I don’t believe that’s true but I base my argument on what happens at death.
When we look over history, when you think of the tens of thousands of Christians who were killed in battles, Christian settlers who were pushing west in the American frontier who were slaughtered by Indians and just left out on the plains for their bodies to deteriorate and eventually the winds and the animals just took their remains to the four corners of the earth then you have to realize that burials were not always possible. When you think of those who have been lost at sea and their bodies just deteriorated within the oceans. When you think of those who have been blown literally to atoms in warfare you’re faced with the fact that there are all kinds of people whose bodies have gone from ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, and they are atomized. Their molecules are scattered all over the earth.
We have an omnipotent, omniscient God who can pull all of that back together again. When you think about how many people whose bodies have been in the ground for three, four, five, thousand years who are believers and there’s nothing left of those bodies in those graves, everything is decomposed and has disappeared. This idea that if you’re cremated somehow that is dishonoring the body isn’t convincing to me that that is a valid argument. For some people that may fit the area of doubtful things. If that’s something someone believes is important, then it’s fine. But I don’t think it’s something that should be imposed upon others.
The first time I ran across this a friend of mine was going through seminary about twelve years ago and he had a theology professor who actually taught that it was sinful to be cremated. I understand his theological argument and that burial is a way of honoring the body God created. Christianity teaches that this mortal flesh becomes transformed into our immortal body. How that happens, I don’t know. But there is some sort of continuum between this body and the next body. I don’t know how that happens but that’s the pattern that we see with the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. The term “sleep” is used as a euphemism for that body until it is resurrected. We see the picture of that resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4 when the Lord returns from heaven and even though the immaterial soul and the interim body is with the Lord this material or corporeal body gets transformed into his resurrection body. It says, “For the dead in Christ will rise first.” That’s talking about that corporeal body. It will be resurrected and it will be transformed into a new body, a resurrection body, an immortal body that is then joined with the soul of the believer with the body. That is then those who have died in Christ will receive their resurrection body at the point of the Rapture. So there’s a specific continuity that’s emphasized in Scripture between our present mortal body and our future immortal body.
And that interim period is referred to as “sleep.” Paul uses that same terminology in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed.” It’s a verse taken out of context and put over a lot of baby nurseries. “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed.” So this is important. So the word “sleep” here is not used as a euphemism for those who have died physically or for literal physical sleep but it is used as a figure of speech for those who are not actively engaged in living their spiritual life today. They are just going through the motions and perhaps they are living in carnality. They need to awaken spiritually. They need to get back in fellowship and they need to move forward because you don’t know how much time is left. And even if the Rapture doesn’t occur tomorrow, a massive automobile accident might occur tomorrow. A massive cardiac arrest might occur tomorrow. A major stroke might occur tomorrow. Any number of things may occur tomorrow that are the end of this particular life so we always have to be ready.
This is the background for Paul’s motivation here. “Because you know the time (referring to the Church Age and this dispensation) that now it is time to awake out of sleep…” This is the same metaphor used in Ephesians 5:14 where Paul says, “Awake, you who sleep.” He’s saying wake up, focus on your spiritual life, and grow to spiritual maturity. He’s not talking about unbelievers. He’s talking about believers who have slipped into carnality and that’s one way in which the term “dead” is used in Scripture to refer to those who are no longer living their spiritual life.
There are seven different ways in which the Bible talks about death. The first three are fairly obvious. Physical death. Spiritual death. Eternal death. Those are obvious. The ones that aren’t obvious are positional death when we become a believer and are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. There is sexual death which takes place as someone gets older. It is used this way to refer to Abraham when he was older. We also have a phrase “carnal death” which just means that you’re out of fellowship and you’re living as if you’re an unbeliever and then there’s death that is a result of the sin unto death which is a longer period of carnality that ends with death.
So Paul is using the term in Ephesians 5:14 like one who is saved but acting like they have no new life in Christ. Someone once called them facetiously as the “dead in Christ.” So we have “Arise from the dead and Christ will give you life.” In 1 Peter 5:8 Peter uses a different vocabulary. Instead of saying “awake” he says to be sober and vigilant which has the same idea. Wake up and be alert; think clearly and objectively which is what be sober means. It doesn’t mean to dry out and quit being drunk. It means to think objectively and be vigilant. Peter tells us to be vigilant and watchful because our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. So there are continuous injunctions in Scripture to wake up and be alert and to be watchful because the time is short.
Then in the next phrase of Romans 13:11 Paul goes on to explain “for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” The word translated “salvation” here is the noun form SOTERIA which refers often to physical deliverance and preservation from some sort of physical disaster. It indicates rescue and deliverance in the sense of averting some danger that’s threatening life. In a lot of passages it’s not referring to justification, instead it’s referring to the final process of salvation, our glorification.
Passages such as Hebrews 9:28 say, “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” That means the first time he appeared with reference to sin and paying the penalty of sin. That’s clearly talking about our future final salvation. 1 Peter uses it this way in two passages. In 1 Peter 1 he says, “Who are kept by the power of God for salvation.” Present tense means we’re being kept by the power of God. It’s God’s power that keeps us saved. We can’t lose our salvation because God is the One who saved us.
If God saved us, then we can’t do anything to lose it. If you can do anything to keep your salvation, then somehow you thought there was something you did to get your salvation. Anyone who teaches that you can lose your salvation, somewhere, hidden away, they have a presupposition that you’re doing something to get your salvation. Works is always hiding somewhere in the background if someone can do something to lose their salvation because God did everything for us. He sent His Son to die on the cross for us, paid the penalty for our sins, and once we believe, He is the One who saves us, regenerates us, and justifies us. He’s the One who does all these things.
We believe but it is not our belief that saves us. It is God who regenerates. It’s God who imputes righteousness. It’s God who saves. He’s the One who keeps us for a future event known as salvation. 1 Peter 1:9 says, “Receiving the end of your faith…” This means you trust in Christ in faith and the end result is salvation of your soul. It’s applied to something future after justification.
So just a reminder and reflection here of the three different phases of salvation. Phase one takes place in a moment of time when you believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. You’re saved from the penalty of sin and this is called positional sanctification at this point. You are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection and set apart to Him forever.
In phase 2 which starts immediately after the point of our new birth, we have a new life. We begin to grow. This is called progressive sanctification or experiential sanctification and saved is used in this sense to be saved from the power of sin. So some of us were saved ten years, twenty, and so on years ago. All of us are being saved. You were being saved this morning. You’re being saved now. You’re going to be saved tomorrow. We’re being saved over and over again in this second sense.
In the third sense or phase in terms of our ultimate sanctification, we haven’t been saved yet but we will be saved eventually, when we’re absent from the body and face-to-face with the Lord in glorification. That is how Paul is using the term salvation here. He’s saying that our future salvation, that is our phase three glorification, is nearer than when we first believed. Notice that the word “first” is in italics. That means it’s not in the original. It is supplied by the translator to make the verse make more sense in the English.
It’s clear from the grammar of the verb, an aorist active indicative of PISTEUO, and it means to believe or to trust. Aorist tense simply means it occurred at some time in the past without reference to its duration, its length or any other factor. It’s just stating it simply as an event that took place in past time. So for all of us, I as look around the room, we’ve all been saved. We’ve all trusted Christ as our Savior at some time in the past.
And so with each second the return of Christ is nearer than it was yesterday. In the morning it will be nearer than it is today. It’s always getting nearer. This is all that Paul is saying and this relates to the doctrine of imminency. Let me explain something simple about imminency. It means that Jesus’ return can be at any moment. It can be today, tomorrow, next week, whenever. Imminent does not mean soon coming. There’s a difference.
If it meant soon coming then Paul was in trouble because it’s been almost 2,000 years. Paul thought it could happen in his life time. He had no sense that the Church Age would last for 2,000 years. He had no indication of that. Many of us think, as I said earlier, that it could happen in our lifetime. And that’s certainly is possible. We’re getting closer every single day. But imminency tells us that there’s no specific prophecy that must be fulfilled before Jesus Christ returns for the Church.
I want you to pay attention to what I’m going to say. There’s a difference between saying no prophecy needs to be fulfilled for the Rapture to occur and the statement that no prophecy will occur before the Rapture. Because no prophecy needs to occur for the Rapture to take place doesn’t mean that no prophecy will be fulfilled because subsequent to the Rapture there’ll be a transition period. It could be a few days, a few weeks, a few months before the final period of the Age of Israel known as Daniel’s 70th Week, a seven year period known as the Tribulation.
What starts the Tribulation is the signing of a peace treaty between the Antichrist and Israel as identified in Daniel 9:24-28. It’s that signing of the peace treaty that starts the countdown for that last seven year period. But there are certain things that seem to need to be in place for Daniel’s 70th Week to transpire. If the Antichrist is going to enter into a covenant with God’s people there needs to be some sort of governmental body of the Jewish people who can sign this peace treaty and enter into this peace treaty. That suggests that there will be some sort of nation that is restored that can sign that peace treaty.
Now the fact that there is a nation back in Israel today suggests that this is a fulfillment of prophecy. God said that He would restore them to the land. But if we’re going to say (and I’m not saying this) that the return of the Jews to the land is the fulfillment of prophecy, that doesn’t have anything to do with the nearness of the Rapture. It’s a fulfillment of prophecy in terms of setting the stage for the seven years of the Tribulation.
Just because the stage is starting to get set doesn’t mean that Christ’s return is soon coming. It just means that the stage is being set and we’re seeing the things come into place that need to be in place for the events that transpire after the Rapture. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the timing of the Rapture. They’re two separate things. There is prophecy related to the Tribulation. Whether or not the fulfillment of any of those prophecies takes place before the Rapture does not determine the timing of the Rapture is what I’m trying to say. So there’s no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled in relation to the Rapture but some prophecy related to what happens to after the Rapture might come to pass before the Rapture. We have to keep in mind that it has nothing to do with the timing of the Rapture.
In Isaiah 11:11 it says that God is going to restore the Jewish people to Israel a second time and this in context, refers at the end of the Tribulation. He’s going to restore them all over the earth, the four corners of the earth. Now that indicates that there are going to be no more than two worldwide restorations of the Jewish people. The second worldwide restoration is a restoration of Jews who are saved at the end of the Tribulation.
But the first worldwide return occurred when? When might that be? Was that in 538 B.C. when about 40,000 to 45,000 returned with Zerubbabel from Persia? No. That wasn’t a worldwide return and it was small. Even at the time of Christ you didn’t have a majority of Jews living in Israel. Today we have about 48% to 49% of Jews in the world who live in Israel. There hasn’t been that large a group of Jews living in the land since before the Northern Kingdom was taken out in 722 B.C. So this is clearly unique and clearly distinct. It has prophetic significance because never before has this happened. It’s a worldwide return.
The returns that we saw in the Old Testament leading up to the 1st century and the coming of Jesus as Messiah was not a worldwide return. It was a partial return that never really amounted to more than about 25% of worldwide Jewry. So at that time it was a small return. It was necessary so there could be a nation that Messiah could come to. So what we see is that it certainly seems like prophecy related to the events after the Rapture are being fulfilled. But some people you’ll hear say, “See that means the Rapture is around the corner.” It doesn’t mean that. It just means that things are getting ready for what’s going to happen after the Rapture but that may not come about.
Some people have said, “Well, the Jews could be driven back into the end of the ocean fifty or a hundred times before the end times. Well, not according to Isaiah 11:11. It says there’s only going to be two returns. What the Scripture teaches is that there are two returns. One is in apostasy. That’s what’s necessary to set up a nation at the beginning of the Tribulation. And one return will be when the Jews are spiritually regenerate which is what occurs at the end of that Tribulation period. So we understand from this verse that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed but we don’t know when that will occur. It will occur at any moment so we need to be ready.
Now the last thing that we read here in this verse is the word “believe”. I want to take the rest of the time tonight to talk about the word “believe”. There’s a lot of confusion about the nature of belief. There’s a lot of debate about the nature of belief so I just want to cover this in about 10 points that you need to think about. In terms of some introductory history, what you’ll often hear from people is that there are different kinds of faith. They say there’s saving faith and there’s non-saving faith. What they mean by this is that you can believe in Jesus but you’re not saved because it’s not a saving faith. They treat saving faith as a special kind of faith that is different from all other faith.
You and I express faith in many things every day. We have faith in our spouses. We have faith in our children. We have faith that when we get up in the morning we’ll go out and sit in our cars and we’ll put the keys in the ignition and the car will start. Now and then we’re a little disappointed when it doesn’t but we believe that when we get out of bed that everything’s going to work out all right. That’s faith. It’s the object of faith, we believe, that makes a difference between saving faith and non-saving faith.
There are many Christians that believe that the faith that saves is a supernatural faith. It’s a faith that’s given to us by God and it’s not the same as everyday faith. So we need to address the question whether there’s a faith in Christ that saves and a faith in Christ that doesn’t save.
Another issue in faith is whether faith is rational or irrational. You often hear people say, “Well that’s a matter of faith and we’re going to separate religion into one sphere but this is a matter of science.” As if knowledge of science is categorically different from the knowledge of faith. The Bible says that the knowledge of faith is inherent to everything. It’s what you believe. You may believe wrong things but faith is a form of knowledge. It’s not antithetical to knowledge. Neither is it antithetical to reason. So we have to address that issue.
Also, it’s not infrequent for pastors and theologians and others to talk about the difference between a so-called “head faith” and a “heart faith”. What they usually try to do is say, “Well, you can’t just assent to the gospel. You have to commit. You have to repent of your sins. You have to do all of these other things.” They’re saying real faith is commitment. But faith doesn’t mean commitment. Faith means belief. Commitment may be something secondary but it’s not the main idea.
If you are adding up a column of numbers and you have added that column of numbers and you reach your sum and you go back and you double check your figures and you believe you have reached an accurate answer, you believe that. You haven’t necessarily made a commitment to it but you believe it, you agree that it’s true. That’s what faith mean. Heart faith is simply another way, a figure of speech, the Bible uses to talk about belief with your head. Your head is where your brain is located. You believe with your brain and heart is just a synonym for the brain.
Now we get into this issue related to faith as we’re talking about in this passage when we’re saved, especially in the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is a great place to go to for this because the Gospel of John uses this verb for believe, never the noun, 98 times in the Greek text that I used. So 98 times you have the verb believe. It’s never qualified by an adverb. You never have the Scripture says if you genuinely believe, if you truly believe, if you believe with a whole heart, if you believe with your heart and not your head. There’s no qualification in this 98 uses in John that adds something to faith to separate it from a faith that doesn’t save.
In John 20:30-31, “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples.” Now there are eight signs that John records in the Gospel of John. The eighth and final sign is the resurrection. There was one disciple who said, “I’m not sure Jesus rose from the dead. I’ll believe it when I see it, when I can put my hand on the wounds and I can feel the holes in his wrist where the nails were and feel the wounds in his side, then I’ll believe He was raised from the dead.” That was Thomas. That’s the context of this remark by Thomas. It’s a classic example of “foot in mouth”.
Immediately the Lord Jesus Christ in His resurrection body appeared to Thomas and I’m sure he wished he’d kept his mouth shut. The Lord said, “Okay, Thomas. Here I am. Put your hand in my side. I want you to make sure that you know that I’m here in a body that is physical, not just spiritual. It’s not corporeal. It’s incorporeal but you can feel it. You can see the evidences there.”
See a lot of people in modernism believe that faith is irrational and you don’t believe on the basis of evidence. But Biblically faith is always based on evidence. Jesus came along and gave us evidence. Luke records in Acts 1 that Jesus appeared to his disciples and gave many convincing proofs. That’s part of apologetics. That’s something Jesus believed in and He gave many convincing proofs. He’s showing that faith is not apart from evidence or apart from reason and that it is completely compatible and it is always evidenced in the real world. So that’s the real world.
So after John describes this in John 20, he points out that Jesus did many other signs, other than the eight he’s given in the gospel. Then in John 20:31 he says, “But these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in His name.” John is saying that he’s given us eight signs, eight miracles that Jesus performed that is more than convincing proof that Jesus is who we claim Him to be, that He is the Messiah. In this verse you have the classic phrase that John uses many times combining the verb believe with the prepositional phrase “in him” which is EN AUTOS. You believe in Him. You believe in His name, which usually refers to His character, his identity as Jesus the Messiah.
So salvation is based on belief, not inviting Jesus into your heart. There were lots of people, I believe, who were saved because God in His grace saves people even when they misinterpret Scripture. In their mind they’re still trusting Christ. They may be all confused in their vocabulary but they are believing in Christ.
For example, in the passage we’re studying when we get to Romans 6:14, we’ll hear about a famous church father that Protestants call Augustine and Catholics pronounce it Augustine (with different pronunciations) and he was the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and he was quite a rebellious, immoral person before he was saved. He went through a period of searching, looking for truth about God. One day he was outside of a church in, I believe, Milan and he heard a voice that said “Pick up and read”. There was Scripture there and he picked it up like a lot of Christians and said, “Where shall I read.” So he opened it and looked at the first verse which was Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.” It has nothing to do with salvation but that’s how Augustine got saved. He read that verse. That was the verse that got him saved.
Sometimes I’ve thought about teaching a whole series on verses that have nothing to do with salvation that God used to bring very famous believers, theologians, and pastors to salvation because they didn’t interpret it correctly. But that’s no justification for misusing and misinterpreting Scripture. The key is to believe.
Turn to John 2:11 taking us back to the beginning of the Gospel of John. The first sign, the beginning of the signs when Jesus changed the water into wine. This was the first miracle. “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.” In Greek that’s PISTEUO EIS AUTOS”. That’s the key phrase that John uses again and again. He doesn’t say they invited Jesus into their life. He doesn’t say they committed themselves to Jesus. He doesn’t say they walked the aisle, raised their hand, or got baptized. Again and again and again, 98 times in John, he emphasizes believe, nothing more, nothing less.
Now as you read through John 2 we move from the northern area in Galilee where Jesus performed the first miracle and He goes down to Jerusalem. While he’s in Jerusalem he’s going to perform a number of unspecified miracles. John 2:23 reads, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name.” PISTEUO EIS ONOMA. Believed in His name. It’s the same phrase John uses again and again and again. If you just read that, what do you come away with? They did what John said to do in order to be saved, in order to have eternal life. And they did it because they saw the signs which He did.
Now something interesting happened. Jesus knew all these people believed in Him but He doesn’t trust them. Not because they’re not saved but because they haven’t been taught yet. They’re still holding on to the view of the Messiah as a political deliverer and not as a spiritual redeemer. Because they have a political agenda, not His agenda, He’s not going to entrust Himself to them, not because they’re not believers. You have a lot of superficial believers today who say they want to find a doctor, a mechanic, and other people who are Christians. That’s fine. But I don’t want to have someone just because they’re going to end up in Heaven. I want the best cardiologist, the best auto mechanic, and I want the person to be able to fix whatever my problem is. Maybe I’ll end up witnessing to them. Maybe they’re already saved but their spiritual status has nothing to do with their current, real time capabilities, and talents. So we can trust an unbeliever to fix our car. We not be able to trust a believer to fix our car. He may say, “Oh, I’ve got another one of these Christians who just trusts me because I’m a Christian so I can do a sloppy job. And there are lots of Christians out there who actually think that way because they’re not walking with the Lord.
Then you get a problem today with people who believe in “Lordship salvation” who come along and they say, “See, these people weren’t really saved.” This is the example they use over and over again no matter where they fall on the academic scale. Whether they’re someone as astute as Dr. John MacArthur or whether they’re someone who just got a church education in some small country church, they all go to this passage and say, “See, this is an example of a faith that isn’t a genuine faith. Because if it was genuine, Jesus would have entrusted Himself to them.” But that’s not what it says. If language means anything these people are all saved. It has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus would trust Himself to them. He still knew they were sinners. He still knew they had a wrong agenda.
If we go into John 3 Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. Now I’ve often said when I’ve taught John 3 that at some point in John 3 Jesus quits talking and John starts talking. We don’t really know where that occurs. I think it occurs in verse 16 but that’s just my opinion. I think Jesus is still talking to Nicodemus, giving him an Old Testament example in John 3:14-15. There’s a repetition of the phrase “whoever believes in Him” in John 3:16. I think verse 16 is when John, as the writer, adds his editorial explanation of what Jesus says in 14 and 15. That’s just my opinion of this but there’s debate as to when it happens.
John was very young. He was 18 or 19 when he started as a disciple of Jesus. Like many 18 or 19 year olds he is very impressionable and very impressed by the Lord and he learns everything he can from the Lord and he emulates His speaking style. I think this is true. If you read John 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 on into the High Priestly prayer, that’s Jesus speaking. If you read that in the Greek and then you read John’s first epistle they are so similar, they are like the same person.
You know people like this. You’ve been exposed to young pastors and when they first start teaching or preaching they’ve been impressed by some preacher or some seminary professor and they sound very much like that person. It’s no different from any other profession. You learn from the best and initially you emulate that person as you’re learning. But eventually you develop your own style, your own personality and your own skills.
So an Old Testament example is from an event in the wilderness in the desert when the Israelites are coming under divine discipline and God sent a bunch of fiery serpents among them. Their bite was fatal and many, many thousands were dying. God gave them a solution which was for Moses to raise up a brass or bronze serpent and all people had to do was look at that bronze serpent. Isn’t that a great example of faith? They’re not committing to the bronze serpent. They’re not inviting the bronze serpent into their life. They’re not raising their hand and waving at the bronze serpent; they’re just looking at the bronze serpent. They don’t have to have a theological understanding of the bronze serpent. They don’t have to have an understanding of metallurgy and bronze and brass and everything else that goes into it. They don’t have to have a degree in herpetology. They don’t have to know everything there is to know about snakes. They just have to know that God told them that if they looked at the bronze serpent they would be saved and they look and boom, they’re physically healed, instantly.
That’s a great picture of the gospel. All a person has to do is basically look to Jesus, believe in Jesus and they’re saved. So Jesus says that whoever believes in Him is saved. In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” So this is what Paul is describing at the end of Romans 13:11 when he says when we first believed, when we first trusted in Christ, when we first heard the gospel. Now I want to come back next time and talk a little bit more about faith but we’ll just stop there tonight and come back and set that up and that will prepare us for the next three verses.