Seventh Sunday after Trinity July 18, 1999
1 John 5:11-15
And this is the testimony: that 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. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
In Christ Jesus, who is the greatest “sure thing” you’ll ever have, dear fellow believers in Him, dear fellow redeemed.
A famous philosopher once said that he would believe in God “just in case God is real.” Just in case there really is a future judgment, just in case there really is life after death—heaven and hell—he would “cover his bets.” He would play it safe. He would acknowledge the existence of God, “just in case.” That doesn’t sound like the voice of confidence, does it. That doesn’t strike you as the shining example of faith. We don’t believe in the Gospel of Christ, just in case it happens to be true. We believe in the Gospel, because the story of the Savior is absolute reality, confirmed to us by the true and faithful God. Our faith is based on fact. Our faith in Christ is meant to be a strong and confident trust.
Well, let me ask you: is that the way you feel this morning? Is your faith in Christ a confident trust? We look within ourselves to find the signs and the indicators of a strong faith. But sometimes—more often than we care to admit—our faith seems small, weak, a desperate hoping. Sometimes our faith is mixed with doubt and feelings of uncertainty. What should we do with this problem? Should the pastor give us a good pep-talk and tell us to believe more strongly?
You have to understand something about your faith. You don’t believe in your ability to believe. You don’t base your faith on your faith. You believe in Christ. He is the object to which you cling. He is the foundation on which you stand. If your faith needs to become stronger, then you get the strength from Him. Go to the encouraging words of our text, and there you will find the best reassurance:
In various aspects of your life, you can do things with the help of your own self-confidence. Self-confidence will help you in school, at work, at the ball park, in the swimming pool, and other places too. But self-confidence will get you nowhere when it comes to things spiritual. Are you sure about heaven, based on yourself? You shouldn’t be. We’re not good enough to make it into heaven. We’ve committed all kinds of sin. We’ve offended God by breaking His Law many times over. Even our faith is not what it should be. We could never be self-confident of eternal life, because nothing in us could measure up to the high and holy standard, the absolute perfection that God requires.
So where do we get this confidence of eternal life? It seems like such a bold thing to say: “I am sure that I am saved. I am sure that I will go to heaven when I die.” Do you say that about yourself? Are you confident of life after death? Remember, we’re not talking about self-confidence. The certainty of eternal life comes from the one who gives eternal life. According to our text, it works like this: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life….”
I am not here to put any doubts in your mind. On the contrary, I’m shooting for the opposite. But we need to make sure that our confidence is based on the right thing. Eternal life is sure because all the work is done for us.
By the way, it takes a tremendous amount of work to get people who are covered with sin ready to enter the perfect place of heaven. First of all, we have to be cleaned up before we could ever set foot in God’s house. All of our sins have to be removed. We need a perfect record, which not only includes the removal of our sins, but also the perfect righteousness—the kind of record where every sin is gone, every commandment is kept. You can’t do this for yourself. You can’t live a perfect life or make up for any one of your sins. But Jesus can and Jesus did. He fulfilled all your requirements of life everlasting. He paid the price of your sin. He established your perfect record with God. To borrow a cliché of our times, He has “punched your ticket” into heaven.
Please understand the connection between you, Jesus, and life after death. You get eternal life by getting the Savior. You get eternal life by having a Substitute, who stands in your place and does for you all that God requires of you. We can say it with confidence. We can trust in this fact: eternal life is sure because Christ has done all the work.
So instead of earning your place in heaven, you simply enter heaven as a free gift. God is giving away His forgiveness. God is giving away your salvation. It was very expensive for Him to do that, but as far as we are concerned, it’s still a gift. Let the truth ring in your ears. Let the certainty take root in your mind: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” When you take the gift of Jesus, you take the gift of heaven. When you take the gift of forgiveness, you have eternal life.
Notice how the subject of eternal life is put in the present tense. It is not a gift of the future. God has already granted this blessing to us. We are having and using this gift right now. Jesus said in the Gospel of John: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (Jn. 5:24)
So for you, dear Christian, eternal life has already started. Do you agree? You have to know what it looks like. For now eternal life looks like this:
God is with you every single day. He’s on your side; you’re on His side. You call Him your Friend and Father, He calls you His son or daughter. It’s a “family relationship,” where He gives you the greatest peace: the forgiveness of sins, which takes away your fear of death and the fear of judgment. It’s a “family relationship,” where He takes care of your needs and gives you real security.
Your life with God is already happening, even as we speak. And that life will only get better, when God takes you from the trouble of this world to meet Him face-to-face and enjoy the glory of His perfection. This future moment is not the time when eternal life first begins, but merely the point when our life with God moves up to the next level.
Eternal life is very sure because of the God who works by grace. He has already granted the gift to us. He offers you life when He offers you Christ. Now here’s where your faith comes in. Your faith is the hand that takes the gift. Unfortunately, this act of believing is not something we can ever produce in ourselves. It is not possible for us to achieve our own faith, because the human heart is thoroughly damaged with sin. God has to give us Christ and the faith to believe in Christ. Even though you have not seen Jesus in action, even though you were not there to witness His crucifixion or His resurrection, God has given you the trust to accept the statements of His Word and rely on this Gospel truth as your confidence of life everlasting. How does John put this in our text? “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Let’s trace the certainty and the confidence of your faith in Christ. Everything is connected like links in a chain. You can be sure of eternal life, because Jesus is your Savior. You can be sure about the Savior, because everything He did is a fact of history. You can be sure about these facts, because God told them to you in His Word. You can be sure about the Word, because God doesn’t lie. His testimony is true. Ultimately, your faith will stand on Him, the One who is rock-solid.
It’s like they say: it’s not what you know so much as whom you know. Sometimes it helps to have the right connections. With Christ as your Savior, you have the best connections of all: direct access to eternal life. Paul says in Romans, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand….” It’s the same access that John brings up in our text. Jesus gives you great confidence, not only for your life after death, but every minute of your life right now. Jesus gives us the confidence that our prayers are being answered.
I once heard a fellow pastor say that he wanted his wife to make fewer long distance phone calls. The bill was getting too expensive. Long distance phone calls are like that. Whatever deal the company tries to offer, it will eventually cost you money. Even if they give you “fifty minutes free,” you eventually have to pay. But when you “call on” God through your prayers, all the minutes are free, like a toll-free hotline. Jesus gives you unlimited access to the help, the comfort, and the guidance of the triune God. Here’s the offer that we get 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we can even call during “business hours”: “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
One of the hardest things to learn about prayer is the attitude that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said to the Father, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Typically we pray for things that we want, some of which we need, some of which we don’t need. I’m sure you can think of times when you prayed for something that God did not give. Does that mean that He ignored your prayer? Of course not. He heard what you said, but your request may have been according to your will, not according to His will. If our sinful nature has control of what we pray for, then we need the reminder that God gives in the book of James: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)
Let’s explore the thought a little further. What does it mean to “ask according to His will?” We can make it very simple: you seek for yourself and for others what God seeks for you and for others. Find out from the Bible all the things that God wants you to have and pray for that. He wants you to have a growing faith, forgiveness of all your sins, and a better knowledge of His Word. He wants you to live a godly life according to His commandments. He wants you to proclaim the Gospel to other people. He wants you to raise your children to have the same faith in Jesus Christ that you have. So when you pray that God would help you do these things and have these things, then the answer is going to be yes. He will always help you do what He wants in your life.
Likewise, when He has promised you something, you can confidently ask for the thing He has promised. He has promised you the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He has promised you comfort in time of trouble and strength in time of weakness. He has promised you victory over death. He has even promised to give you the basic necessities of life. We can find the passages to prove it. Has He determined to give you a greater level of income, or a longer life or better health? I don’t know. He didn’t say. Can you pray for these things too? Sure you can, but please ask yourself: what am I seeking? What am I hoping for? Is it my will or His will? If we pray according to our will, our prayers could lead to disappointment. If we pray according to His will, our prayers will surely lead to blessing.
We can sum it up like this. When you pray for spiritual blessings and everything else that God has promised, you will get what you ask for every single time. We have the confident truth proclaimed in our text: “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” On the other hand, if we pray for things not directly addressed or promised in His Word, then we need to say, “Not my will but Yours be done.” We let God decide whether to give us more than we need. We let God decide whether to heal us if we’re sick or protect us in time of danger. In many cases the answer is yes. But it is possible that He could use the disease or the danger to take us from this sinful world and bring us into heaven, granting to us the highest good of life after death.
No matter what the situation is, God invites you to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16) That boldness comes from Jesus, who opens up the lines of communication between us and God. Christ has removed all the sins that stood in the way. In fact, the confidence to pray and the confidence of eternal life are based on the same thing. Look to the Savior and His cross, and you will find great confidence to deal with every fear, every doubt, and every worry of life. He will give you the confidence that your prayers are answered to your benefit. He will give you the confidence that your life with Him is the life that never ends. Amen.
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