Saturday, April 16, 2011

What We Believe In

Last blog we looked at disbelief in the Gospel of John, this one we’ll start looking at “belief.” First, what does the gospel say we are to believe “in”? Nine times Jesus says believe “in me” (6:35; 7:38; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 14:1, 12; 17:20). Twelve times we’re told people believed “in him” (2:11; 3:16, 18; 4:39; 6:40; 7:31, 39; 8:30; 9:36; 11:48; 12:11, 42). They also believed “in his name” (2:23); “in the Son” (3:36); “in the Son of Man” (9:35) and that “you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (11:27). Twenty-five times the Gospel of John specifically shows belief in the person of Jesus. In many of the passages there is a clear statement of his divinity – he is fully God. In 12:44, Jesus says when we believe in him, we also believe “in the one who sent me.” (See also 17:21.) But he goes further. He isn’t just a holy man, sent from God, he claims equality with God: “You believe in God; believe also in me.” (14:1); “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (14:10). The Gospel writer makes a very clear statement that Jesus isn’t just Messiah, he’s also God: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” (20:31). In 13:19 – if the newest NIV translation is correct (and other translations indicate it is, just not as boldly) – Jesus linked himself to Yahweh by using the phrase God gave to Moses when he asked who he should say sent him: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” (Exodus 3:14) – “... you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19) In John 12:36, Jesus told his disciples to “believe in the light.” (Remember that light is one of the keywords we found in our subject passage. In fact, it’s the rabbit trail that started this exploration!) This part of that rabbit trail is long enough for one blog. Let's pick up here next time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Seriousness of Disbelief

In the last blog, we looked at what the Gospel of John said about the disbelief of the people, what they didn’t believe in, why they didn’t believe and what would happen because of their disbelief. Why is this important to understanding our subject passage? First, theologians generally accept that in spite of translators’ quotation marks or red lettering (ancient Greek didn’t use quotation marks), John 3:16-21 was not said to Nicodemus by Jesus. (For an easy check on this, see the newest NIV, 2011.) Linguistically 16-21 doesn’t fit with the rest of Jesus’ statement. In vv. 10-15, Jesus was speaking of the present or the future (“you people do not accept our testimony” v. 11; “I have spoken ... and you do not believe” v. 12; “the Son of Man must be lifted up” v. 14.) In verse 16, the tense becomes past: “For God ... gave his ... Son”; “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” v. 18; “Light has come into the world” v. 19. (A deeper study will reveal even more evidence. See for yourself how it doesn’t fit. In fact, remember how much it's like the prologue? I recommend a good commentary to understand this fully.) This passage is the gospel writer’s comment on what has already happened – Jesus has already died and brought eternal life to believers. When the gospel writer says “they have not believed” (3:18), all the things I mentioned before, the author has already seen happen. He is stating a foundational truth about faith that he will prove in the course of the gospel. We love to quote John 3:16, but we generally ignore John 3:18 even though it has a very powerful message too. It tells us that if you do not believe in Jesus, if you ignore his life, his works, his teaching; if you cling to the religion you know instead of seeking the truth – you will be condemned! You will not receive eternal life. That’s pretty serious stuff! But it doesn’t have to happen that way. Next time we’ll explore some of the evidence for belief.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hello Again

It's been a long time since I last blogged. I hope you don't mind if I confess that the reason for that is because I've been discouraged, enough so that I was almost depressed. I've been writing for two years now. That means I don't have a job so I'm not making any money. Though I've gotten lots of great feedback on my books, I haven't gotten lots of money! I truly believe that I've been obedient to God in writing the stories he's given me. I have to believe that he has indeed given them to me. Not only do I get good reports about how my books have impacted people for God, but the actual mechanics of my writing is impossible. I've written ten books in two years, and they're not little paperbacks just thrown together. They average 120,000 words. That's about a 300 page hardcover book. They are also well crafted, edited and reviewed at least three times after the first draft is complete. I also layout the book in InDesign, including the cover. I am about to finish publishing my sixth book - and I only started writing in May 2009. Without God, that's not possible. But like I said, I'm not making money. Too many people in the Christian world want us to believe that if we're not financially prosperous, we can't really be serving God. I've heard too much of that lately, so I've been struggling to understand what's going on. If I'm really serving God, why isn't he giving me the obvious blessing of financial prosperity? Exploring the true teachings of the bible on financial prosperity is too much for this blog. At this time, all I really need to say is that I don't know the answer to the above question. I also don't know when or if God will ever bless me financially. It doesn't matter. The strongest evidence tells me that God has given me a calling. My responsibility is to use the talents he's given me for his glory. God is responsible for the results. If he chooses to not get the books I write into the hands of thousands of people, that's his right. My right is to decide to follow him or not. If I choose to follow him, I must do it regardless of any obvious results. I do choose to follow him. I do choose to write. That said, I still don't like to blog as much as I like to write my stories! I can't promise that I'm going to become much better at keeping up with my blog, but I am at least back on track. If you're really curious to know how the John thing that I was blogging about works out, you'll be happy to know that I've already written the next two posts. I shouldn't have too much trouble getting them up. I hope you'll come back.

Disbelief in the Gospel of John

In my previous blog, I said that in the fourth gospel, John tells us why people believed; what they believed in; about their disbelief; and the results of their belief (or disbelief). Let’s look first at the passages about their disbelief. In the two passages we are comparing, John 1:1-18 and John 3:16-21, the only time disbelief is mentioned is in v. 18. It tells us both what happens to those who do not believe (they are condemned) but it also tells us what it is that they have chosen to not believe in – the name of God’s one and only Son. In 7:5, 28 and 16:9, we also see that what the doubters do not believe in is Jesus. So, what had Jesus done to encourage their belief? (Warning: You’ll need to have your bible handy to get the most out of this discussion. I’m not always going to quote the passages, just briefly say what I saw in them. Of course, it’s always a good thing to check any preacher/teacher’s use of the Word. We can make mistakes!) In John 6:30 they want to see a sign (even though Jesus already gave them signs [even more so in 12:37]). They refused to believe even though Jesus’ works testified about him (10:25); they have seen him act as a prophet but still don’t believe him (6:36); they have heard him (3:12); he has spoken the truth (8:45). So why don’t they believe this evidence? Because they seek earthly glory not God’s glory (5:44). This leads them to not accept the teaching of their own revered prophet, Moses (vv. 45-47). They are too focused on their religion and what their religious leaders teach to care about finding the truth (7:47-49). Disbelief is serious business – as we already saw, it condemns (3:18); disbelievers “will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (5:38); they will die in their sins (8:24). (To fully understand what Jesus means when he says they will die in their sins, you need to go back to Ezekiel 3:16-21 and 33:1-20.) So how does all this impact our understanding of our subject passage? I’ll address that question in my next blog. (I have to apologize for the huge paragraph. For some reason my paragraph breaks are no longer showing up. It can be a bit confusing. Since I'm not computer savy enough, I don't know why that's happened.)