Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Life God Grants In His Name (John 20:30-31)

“Jesus performed many other wondrous signs that are not written in this book.[1] These accounts are recorded so that you, too, might believe that Jesus is the Anointed, the Liberating King, the Son of God, because believing grants you life in His name.” John 20: 30-31
John had one goal: to convince his readers that Jesus was God in the flesh so that they would believe, because believing grants life in Jesus’ name. A couple questions come to mind: What life did he come to share? How do we know we are living in it?

That life’s ultimate and eternal expression will be life in the New Heaven and New Earth.[2] Throughout the New Testament, the writers cling to the promise of a heavenly reality where we see Jesus fully and we experience life fully. But that life also starts now. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven, he gave earthy examples about how life looks when God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Life granted “in his name” [3] happens now. We can participate now in a life in line with the character, nature and will of God. That’s a huge claim, so let's look at what Jesus said and did to get an idea of what that looks like.

  • he preached peace, hope, love, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness.
  • he taught respect for authority even as he taught how to respond properly to corrupt or oppressive power.
  • he taught generosity over greed.
  • he argued that justice was important, but so was mercy.
  • he preached repentance and modeled forgiveness.
  • he claimed we could know God and know the truth about how He wants us to live in holiness.
  • he said that knowing this could set us free from bondage to sin and from eternal punishment for our sins.
  • he demonstrated that God loves the world, not just one race, class, or sex.
  • he treated even the most marginalized people with value, worth and dignity.
  • he said the world was broken by sin, but He could fix it – at great cost.
  • he explained that we were dead in our sins, but he could bring us back to life.
  • he proclaimed we could be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven now and for eternity.[4]

The word got out relatively quickly. In AD 100, there were about 25,000 Christians. In AD 300, there were about 20 million. As best I can piece together what historians have to say, the number of Christians went from about ½% of the populations they were in in AD 100 to 15% of the populations they were in by AD 300. Jesus was compelling; something about who He was and the life that He promised was motivating people to commit in spite of intense persecution.

In about 130 AD, Justin Martyr formalized what the early church was already noticing.  He noted that the Kingdom of God was exploding because followers of Christ were dong three very specific things: they were believing, belonging, and behaving.[5]  I want to revisit this today not as a formula that promises specific results, but as a model (just as the Lord’s Prayer is a model) for how God intends to mold us into the image of Christ so that our life is truly ‘life in His name.

BELIEVE

When we see ‘belief’ in scripture, it might be helpful to substitute trust, reliance, or dependence. They are talking about placing our trust in Christ, about relying on him so much that we’re holding nothing back, and about a dependence that proves we’ve given up control. So when we see John or Jesus talking about belief, they aren’t looking for us to merely agree with what they’re saying. However, belief only matters if we believe correct things. In the years following Christ’s departure the early church revisited the teachings of Jesus and the writing of the apostles and agreed upon a number of things were crucial for Jesus’ followers to know.

  • God is the personal Creator of the World
  • The Bible is God’s Word to the world
  • The Trinity reveals the relational nature of God
  • God became human in Jesus Christ (the ‘incarnation’)
  • Christ’s death saves us from the penalty of our sin
  • We experience salvation by His grace, not our works
  • Jesus rose from the dead physically
  • Because of His resurrection, we can be raised to new spiritual life now and an eternal, embodied life in the New Heaven and Earth
  • The Kingdom of God begins now, and it is spiritual and crucial
  • The Church is God’s vehicle of presenting His Kingdom
  • One day, Christ will establish an eternal Kingdom

Here’s why believing these things to be true is so important: It is hard for our hearts to embrace what our minds reject. We may love someone or something we don’t fully understand, but it’s hard to emotionally commit to a person or idea that we mentally reject.

If I don’t think the company I work for is a good company, it will be hard to really give my job my all. If my mind harbors angry or resentful thoughts toward my wife, it will be hard for my heart to be for her. If I don’t think a presidential candidate is good option, it’s going to be really hard to invest emotionally in them. And if I don’t think that what the Bible says about Jesus is true, why would my heart experience this situation differently than the others I just mentioned?
Perhaps that is why Paul was so adamant when he wrote:
“I know (perceived; been made aware) whom I have believed (placed my faith in; trusted) and am persuaded (convinced; confident) that he is able to keep that which I have committed (entrusted; deposited) unto him...” (2 Timothy 1:12)
If Truth is only some distant, abstract idea, it can become very cold and lifeless. Same with God. But God contextualized himself through Jesus Christ. He made himself accessible and knowable by taking on a form we could understand. We obviously don’t experience him like Jesus’ contemporaries did, but John recorded all that he did so that his readers throughout the rest of history would be able to learn about Jesus so that they would but their trust and reliance on Him.

Belong

The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God is “our” Father, not “my” Father. We are raised from spiritual death to life into a family. It’s easy to think of salvation as an act that pulls us into a vague spiritual family, but that was not God’s intent. We are drawn into a very physical, messy, and beautiful family of other people. A church building is where we meet, but the church – the real church – is composed of a community of Christ followers who commit to doing life together through thick and thin.

I believe God instilled this need for community deep within us. Dartmouth Medical School and the YMCA did a study called “Hardwired to Connect.”  Their conclusion was that “from the moment a baby is born, their brain is physically, biologically, and chemically hardwired to connect with others in relationship.”[6] During adolescence, the brain seems most primed to address fundamental questions about life.  There seems to be a strong correlation between young people connecting with God and connecting with others.  One of their fascinating conclusions is that the healthier the human relationships, the healthier the God relationship.One Christian college teacher noted:
‘Some of my students were incredibly intelligent and even showed an interest in Christ, but they never seemed to make a breakthrough. I was trying to convince them of the evidence of Christ, and they just couldn’t get it. Looking back, I realize many of these students were emotionally wounded (or even abandoned) individuals who simply could not connect with what I was saying.”[7]
We are rational and relational beings – we think and we feel. Truth was meant to be given in the context of relationship so it sinks in not just intellectually but also emotionally. Paul noted in one of his letters: “We cared so deeply for you that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

This does not mean we are forced into a decision about God by how others interact with us; we have free will, and we will answer to God for our choices, not the choices of those around us.  Nevertheless, people in our communities can have a profound impact on our spiritual formation.

It’s often noted that people associate God with their Dad. Sheila and I have both found this to be true. For me, my dad was calm, strong, and smart. His love for me was not very expressive physically or verbally, but I never questioned it. Perhaps that’s why I don’t question God’s love for me even when I don’t feel emotionally engaged. Perhaps that’s also why I don’t put more emphasis on the experiential side of the Christian faith.

But that doesn’t mean I should settle for that (“Were settlers, son!”) Just because my view of God the Father is influenced by Leon my father doesn’t mean that my view is correct or complete. One of the important things about Christian community is that we are surrounded by others who help, through their relationship with us, to give us a broader, deeper, more complete understanding of God.

This relational aspect isn’t just for our formation. It’s for the sake of the spread of the Kingdom of God. Our call to relationship is broader than just the church family. We grow in church so the church will grow. We have a mandate to spread the good news of “life in His name” so that others are drawn to belonging to Christ and His Kingdom. One historian noted how this has looked practically throughout church history:
“Christianity revitalized life in Greek and Roman cities by providing relationships able to cope with urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.” ( Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)
Justin Martyr, whom I mentioned at the beginning, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described how the new Christian believers offered a spiritually and relationally compelling home:
"We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause."
So we begin with belief – trusting and relying on God -  and we add to it belonging – becoming embedded in a community of Christ followers who are not perfect, but who are being transformed into the image of Christ so that we increasingly “make real” to those within and without outside the church the abundant life that Jesus offers us by His grace.

Behave
“As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect (“mirror”) His glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
This is not “Behave!” like I would say to my kids (over and over). This is my shorthand for saying that just as Jesus embodied and lived the Truth, we should embody and live the truth. Our behavior will mirror what our mind and our hearts have embraced. It is in the work of our hands that we see what we believe in our head and love in our heart.Our lives will mirror what our mind and our hearts have embraced.

This is not to suggest we will reach perfection, or that the better we behave the more God is obligated to us. This also does not suggest that God’s love for us hinges upon our ability to be good. However, the Bible is pretty clear that our true beliefs and our true sense of where we belong are revealed in our commitment to embracing His plan for how we ought to live as a representative of Christ. This is not an easy task. We can too easily sabotage our experience of “life in his name.”

  • We believe - but we don’t belong, so we come across as proud, aloof or distant, and we will remain baffled about why other people find their church family so meaningful. We never fully dive into a church because there’s always something wrong with it. We never let “iron sharpen iron” because we bail when someone challenges anything in our lives, so our maturity and character-building stalls. We never allow ourselves to be fully known and loved by others; our relationship muscle is never developed, and it impacts our understanding of and relationship with God. We decide that we don’t need a community of Christians to help grow our faith since we have the internet and our own thoughts. As a result, we get lost in our own interpretations of Scripture because we aren’t participating in the ebb and flow of community church life.
  • We say we believe, and we belong -  but our behavior does not consistently reflect God’s will for our lives. Let’s be clear - good behavior won’t earn us salvation or merit badges with God (because all that we accomplish is by His power and grace and not ours).  We will, however, harvest a practical reality in our life from what we have spiritually planted. If we plant holy living, we will harvest “life in his name.” But if we plant sin, we will harvest life in our name, and that’s a terrible thing. We will continue to be damaged by our sin even as we harm those around us – because that’s the way sin always works. It’s never just you and your sin. It’s us and your sin.
  • We belong (we embed ourselves in a church community), and our behavior aligns with God’s path so that we are reaping the practical benefits of wise living and we are enabling those around us to flourish - but we have no beliefs that ground our faith. We don’t actually believe Jesus is who he claims, or we dismiss the Bible’s teaching on our sin and our need for salvation. Then church just becomes a self-help club. You might feel good – you might embrace life principles that work (the Bible is full of them) – but there is no saving faith; there is no transformation by the Holy Spirit  into the image of Christ. There is just ordering your life to live well so you are happy, and that will crumble – not because God failed, but because God was never embraced.

But… when these three things work together, the glory of God and the goodness of a life lived “in his name” becomes clear to a world in desperate need of a Savior.
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved perfection (“I have not reached the final phase”). But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all the Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be." (Philippians 3:12)
It’s work, but Paul doesn’t seem put off by it. He seems excited about the fact that God has a particular goal in mind for who he wants Paul to be: in this context, God wants Paul to be transformed into the image of Christ, so that his mind thinks God’s thoughts, his heart loves what God loves, and his hands do the things God would have him to do.  And to Paul, that “final phase” is well worth the spiritual fight. If you read about who Paul was before his life was transformed by Christ, you know why he is excited about this.

If you have experienced spiritual transformation in your life, you know the hard work is worth it.  True spiritual progress and healing builds its own momentum.

  • If you were hooked on pornography and God freed you, you know there was a period of recovery time that was really, really difficult. But you believed that Jesus had the answer; you trusted him; you confessed and repented in a church community where you belonged, and you committed to behavior that aligned with God’s will for your life. And you tasted freedom, and it was beautiful, and you hallowed the name of a God whose Kingdom was on earth as it was in Heaven.  
  • Maybe you were always angry, or resentful, or greedy. But you believed that Jesus had the answer; you trusted him; you confessed and repented in a church community where you belonged, and you committed to behavior that aligned with God’s will for your life. As God worked in you, you began to see what life was like on the other side of the chains of sins, and the sweeter that life looked, and the true glory and trustworthiness of Christ emerged from behind the cloud of doubt and sin.
  • Maybe your life was a series of heartbreaks because you kept repeating patterns of sinful behavior that looked so appealing in the moment but always brought you crashing down in the end. But then with God’s help you committed to truly dedicating your life to His will and His path, and as hard as it was to break those old patterns, a peace and freedom opened up in your life that you had not experienced before.

Experiencing this changes us. We taste the freedom that comes with surrender, and our behavior increasingly mirrors what our mind and our hearts have embraced. That once again is not just for us; it’s a profound opportunity to spread the gospel.
"According to the early Christians, the church doesn't exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination... The purpose is clearly stated in various places in the New Testament: that through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator: that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it." ~ N.T. Wright
In a world in desperate need of a Savior, where community and relationships are shallow and fleeting or destructive, and hypocrisy splashes across the headlines, our best witness for Christ will be full of true belief, genuine community, and a passionate commitment to living with holy integrity. And when this happens, we experience and we proclaim “life in his name.”

___________________________________________

[1] “Look at the synopsis of the miracles which exhibit the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus Christ in the Harmony of the Gospels… He gave proofs of His omnipotence when He converted the water into wine, John 2:6, etc.: Purified the temple, ch. John 2:13, etc.; Mark 11:15, etc.: Removed fever, ch. John 4:47, with which comp John 4:52; Matthew 8:14-15 : Cleansed the leper (Matthew 8:2-3), nay, even ten lepers at the same time, Luke 17:12, etc.: Healed those sick of the palsy, Matthew 8:5, etc., Matthew 9:2, etc.: Restrained and cast out demons, Mark 1:23-24; Matthew 8:28-29; Matthew 9:32-33; Matthew 12:22; Matthew 15:22, etc.; Mark 9:17, etc.; Luke 11:14 : Applied His healing power to diseases of years’ continuance, John 12:18; John 12:38; Matthew 9:20, etc.; Luke 13:11, etc.; John 5:5, etc.: Bestowed sight on the blind (Matthew 9:27-28; Mark 8:22-23; Matthew 20:30-31), nay, even on one born blind (John 9:1, etc.): Restored the withered hand, Matthew 12:10-11 : Commanded the wind and sea (Matthew 8:26; Mark 6:51), also the fishes, Luke 5:4-5; Matthew 17:27; John 21:6 : Fed abundantly at one time five, at another time four, thousand with a few loaves, Matthew 14:18-21; Matthew 15:34-38 : Raised the dead, Matthew 9:18, etc.; Luke 7:11, etc.: John 11:1, etc.: Gave to the disciples also power to perform miracles, Matthew 10:1; Matthew 14:28-29; Luke 10:9; Luke 10:17; Luke 10:19; Mark 16:20. To these are to be added, the cursing of the fig-tree, Matthew 21:18 : The efficacy of His word, I am He—let these go their way (His enemies fell to the ground, John 20:6), John 18:4, etc.: The healing of Malchus, Luke 22:51 : The miraculous feast, John 21:9. Very often crowds of sick persons were healed, Matthew 4:23; Luke 5:17; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 12:15; Mark 6:5”  Bengel’s Gnomen, biblehub.com

[2] Check out the Eternal Destiny” portion of my church's  Pillars of Faith series.

[3]  The phrase “in his name” involves so much more than just repeating syllables. It’s literally the reputation of God – his character and nature. When we experience life “in his name,” we are being formed by God into increasingly accurate representatives through our submission, obedience and worship.

[4] “And that believing ye might have life through his name: believers have their spiritual and eternal life through Christ; their life of grace, of justification on him, of sanctification from him, and communion with him; the support and maintenance of their spiritual life, and all the comforts of it: and also their life of glory, or eternal life, they have through, or in his name; it lies in his person, it comes to them through him as the procuring cause of it; it is for his sake bestowed upon them, yea, it is in his hands to give it, and who does give it to all that believe: not that believing is the cause of their enjoyment of this life, or is their title to it, which is the name, person, blood, and righteousness of Christ; but faith is the way and means in which they enjoy it; and therefore these signs are written by the evangelist for the encouragement of this faith in Christ, which is of such use in the enjoyment of life, in, through, and from him.” – Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible, biblehub.com

[5] I believe I first read about this in Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth

[6] You can read a brief overview here.

[7] This is recounted in Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth

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