On January 2nd, Cal Thomas wrote this about the execution of Saddam Hussein:
In a final blasphemy, Saddam Hussein, who spent most of his life as a murdering secularist, went to his justified death holding a Koran and offering his soul to God, if God would accept it. If God does, He will have to commute the sentences of Saddam’s mass murdering predecessors, including Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. (italics added)
I have read enough of Thomas’s writing to know that he understands the Gospel better than that, so this is not intended as an attack on Cal Thomas. However, it is way past time to send this horrible cliché to the gallows.
Saddam Hussein is not in hell today for being a mass-murderer. He has done no more to earn his eternal damnation than I have. Put another way, he deserves to spend eternity in heaven just as much as I do—which is to say, not at all.
Saddam Hussein, brutal dictator, torturer, and mass-murderer, would be in hell today even if he had been a benevolent leader of his country. Being a “good man” or a “nice guy” would not have saved him. Only one man has been good enough, and that is Jesus Christ, the son of God. The rest of us—you, me, Saddam Hussein—have failed to measure up to God’s standard, which is no less than perfection. This failure has not taken place over time, as we have made “wrong choices” and sinned against God and our fellow man, either. From the moment of our conception in our mothers’ wombs, we are imperfect (Psalm 51:5). We are sinners, and as sinners, we deserve condemnation and eternal punishment in hell.
What, then, is to be done? Should we try really hard to do good and earn our place in heaven? I certainly don’t want to discourage good behavior, but know this: you won’t get to heaven by being good (Romans 3:20). If Saddam Hussein had been your neighbor, if he had blown the snow out of your driveway, fed your dog while you were on vacation, and bought Girl Scout cookies from your daughter, he would be in hell today. If he had been a Peace Corpse volunteer who died of a disease contracted in a third-world country, he would be in hell today. If he had been an American President who went to war to overthrow a murderous tyrant in the Middle East, he would be in hell today.
John 3:18 tells us, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Saddam Hussein is in hell for one reason only: his faith was not in Jesus Christ. It is that simple. And if your faith is not in Jesus Christ, it won’t matter how nice you are, how many good deeds you’ve done, or how much you’ve donated to charity. It won’t matter how faithfully you’ve attended church. It won’t matter if you’ve sung in the choir or taught Sunday School. It won’t even matter if you have been the pastor. If you believe you are in any way worthy of God’s mercy, if you are trusting in anything but the blood of Jesus Christ to atone for your sin, you are utterly without hope. You are on the road to hell, just as surely if you were a genocidal dictator.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message of hope for good people. In the Gospel we do not see the good rewarded and the bad punished. The biblical Gospel is a message about and for bad people. It is the story of the Son of God who came to do what we could not: live perfectly, without sin (Hebrews 4:15). It is the story of the Lamb of God who came to be what we could not: the perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9). It is the story of the one true God, who credits the perfect righteousness of his son, Jesus Christ, to all who believe (Romans 4).
Saddam Hussein is in hell today because he did not believe that, and for no other reason. It does not matter one iota how good I have been. If I do not believe in Jesus Christ, if I am not trusting in his righteousness for my salvation, I am lost and will spend eternity in hell. If God lets me into heaven because of my own goodness, then he truly will owe Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot—and Saddam Hussein—an apology.
This passage from my morning reading was especially encouraging today.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. —Hebrews 4:14–16
What does this passage tell us? Does it tell us, as many of today’s popular preachers would, that we ought not feel unworthy? No, it does not. The first thing it says is that we have a high priest. Who needs a priest? It is precisely and only those who are unworthy to enter the Father’s presence who need a priest to intercede for them. And we have such a priest. A priest who lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, yet without sin, and made the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Therefore, we can come boldly, casting all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
And when we come before the throne, we will obtain mercy, which we desperately need, for we are guilty; and grace, without which we are utterly helpless.
So come boldly, though your hands are not clean and your heart is not pure. Hold fast to your faith in Christ. Come, confessing your sin and seeking forgiveness. You are truly unworthy, but you have a high priest who intercedes for you. Come, obtain mercy. Receive grace. Come boldly.
Sometime after midnight on Sunday, February 17th—or 10:00 PM on Saturday where you are in the vicinity of Astoria, Oregon—(you’re not as anonymous as you think) you ran a Google search for “thirstytheologian.” At 12:43:57, you entered my site, spent 34 minutes and 19 seconds here, and left without commenting. Then you went to another blog and left an obscene and particularly juvenile comment.
I don’t know if you’ll ever come back here. I don’t know why you would, if you really think I “[obscene verb] [direct object].” But you did come intentionally looking for me, so maybe you will.
What were you thinking? That it would bother me that someone out there doesn’t like me? That you used childish, obscene language against me? Am I supposed to be offended? Angry? What?
I’ll tell you what I do feel. I feel sorry that you have not matured beyond playground insults. I feel sorry that you can’t express yourself as an intelligent adult. I feel sorry that you don’t have the courage to address me directly, which you could certainly do. I feel sorry that you are so threatened by something I have written that you feel the need to strike back.
Most of all, though, I am sorry that you don’t know, as I do, the forgiveness of sins that you can have through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, I’m not angry with you, because I was born in the same sinful condition as you. I’ve done and said far worse things than you wrote in your little comment. I deserve the eternal condemnation of God just as you do. But I have no fear of God’s wrath because Christ has taken my sin to the cross and borne it upon himself, and his perfect righteousness has been credited to me—which is good, because I had absolutely nothing to offer for myself, and no hope.
So rather than being angry with you, I pray that God will soften your heart, that you may humble yourself under his mighty hand, and trust in him for your eternal salvation. I pray that you will receive the same mercy and grace that I have. If you’d like to know more about salvation in Jesus Christ, feel free to email me. I would welcome the opportunity to share my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, with you.
This Monday, my wife and I went to the big city (Bismarck ND, population 58,333, 2nd largest city in the state!) to take care of some business and do some shopping. Traveling, which I don’t often do, is one of the few times I listen to the radio. The ride home usually brings some interesting listening.
On this occasion, we were assaulted by a “sermon” that did little more than describe, in graphic detail, the beating and crucifixion of Christ. It was the radio version of The Passion of the Christ (which I have intentionally never seen), I suppose. I would say it was a fairly accurate description, avoiding the exaggeration that often accompanies such things, and containing relatively little of the typical speculation about “what scholars think that might possibly conceivably maybe have meant.” It was pretty much just the gruesome facts of what a Roman crucifixion entailed. Unfortunately, that was all it was, and as such, it was pretty useless.
The message of the cross is not primarily about the physical suffering of Christ. His physical suffering is not even the greatest part of what he suffered. The most horrific agony of the cross was not the brutal scourging or the crown of thorns. It was not the nails in his hands and feet. It was not the excruciating pain of hanging from those nails. It was not any of the consequential medical complications that preachers love to expertly describe to spice up the Good Friday sermon.
Christ’s anguish, which began in Gethsemane, was not essentially physical. It was an anguish that can never be communicated through pictures or movies. It was, first and foremost, spiritual. It was the torture of being separated from the Father and bearing my sin that was the essence of his suffering.
And this is the heart of the Gospel. I am not saved because Christ suffered the pain of crucifixion. I am saved because he died bearing my sins. Jesus took the guilt of my sins upon himself and bore the full force of the Father’s holy wrath poured out upon him. He, the only begotten son of God, became the most loathsome creature in the Father’s eyes when my sins were laid on him. The most eloquent preacher cannot adequately describe the horror, so I know I can’t even come close.
As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us not become focused on the cross as an instrument of torture. Let us focus on Christ as the bearer of sin—my sin, and yours, if you believe in him.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. —2 Corinthian 5:21.
Last week, I watched the movie The Green Mile again. I’m not one to use movies to teach, but in the case of this film I believe there is something that we would do well to take note of and learn. In addition to being a compelling story, The Green Mile presents theology, as most of the world understands it, in stark terms.
For those who have not read the book or seen the movie, The Green Mile is the story of Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks, the man in charge of Death Row at a state prison during the 1930s. I won’t spoil it by giving the plot, which does not matter for our purposes. I will just share a couple of scenes that are pertinent to my point.
In the first scene, a prisoner, Arlen Bitterbuck, has just had the top of his head shaved in preparation for execution in the electric chair. Edgecomb is sitting with him in his cell, and Bitterbuck asks, “Do you think, if a man sincerely repents on what he done wrong, that he might get to go back to the time that was happiest for him, and live there forever? Could that be what Heaven’s like?” Edgecomb replies, “I just about believe that very thing.”
In the second scene, Edgecomb is faced with executing a man he believes to be innocent. Speaking with his wife, he tells her, “To tell you the truth, Honey, I’ve done some things in my life that I am not proud of. This is the first time I’ve ever felt real danger of Hell.”
Aside from the faulty view of Heaven, there is a fallacy presented in these two scenes that represents the world’s view of damnation: men are damned for committing wicked deeds. If Arlen Bitterbuck had not committed the crime that landed him on death row, his soul would be safe. If Paul Edgecomb can find a way around executing a man he believes is innocent, he will have nothing to fear. Implicitly, these two men were on the road to Heaven until they reached a certain fork in the road. The first took the wrong turn, and is now looking for a way back. The second is at the fork, and has little choice but to take the wrong turn. Both fear that their souls are in jeopardy because of what they have done or are about to do.
Sadly, this is how most of the world, at least those who believe in life after death, see it. But what does Scripture say?
Scripture says we’re not damned for what we have done, but for what we have not done. Regardless of who we are, or what evil we have avoided, we have failed to live up to God’s perfect standard. Lest we think “perfect” is an exaggeration, that maybe our best is good enough, Romans 3:23 assures us, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” All have fallen short. Every one of us has failed. We have fallen short, we have failed to measure up, and not to just any standard that we or any other mortal can set or even conceive. We have failed to measure up to the glory of God.
Before any death row inmate committed his crime, he was in as much need of salvation as after. After he committed his crime, he was no more in danger of Hell than before. The most kind, gentle, generous, moral person is lost and utterly without hope if he is trusting in his own goodness to save him. Both the convicted murderer and the good husband, father, and corrections officer stand on level ground before God, both in need of grace.
In your communications with unbelievers, when the opportunity arises, are you bringing that message? Or do you come across as a moralist? Are you encouraging your wicked acquaintances to change their evil ways, while the righteous whitewashed sepulchres get a pass? Are you assuming the overtly sinful are more in need of salvation than the nice family man who goes to church and coaches Little League? Are you leading the outwardly unrighteous to believe that they need to change their ways to gain God’s favor, while lulling the inwardly unrighteous to believe they have it? If so, you are bringing a false gospel.
Are you a good person, doing your best, who imagines that your best is good enough to get you into Heaven? Forget it. God requires absolute perfection. Can you deliver? I can’t. I have sinned. Worse than that, I am sinful. I am sinful to the very core of my being. I can no more change that than a leopard can change his spots. I am by nature a rebel against God, and God’s justice requires a penalty. That penalty is death (Romans 6:23).
Well, someone did die. God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to be born a man and live a perfect life so he could be the perfect sacrifice in your place and mine. He bore the full wrath of God against the sin of all who believe in him when he was crucified. He paid the death I owed. He won the victory over sin and death when, three days later, he rose from the dead. And his righteousness, his sinless perfection, is credited to all who trust in him. Clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we can stand before God spotless and without blemish. That righteousness is required of all men, from the Sunday School teacher to the murderer on death row; and it is available to both, without distinction.
Yesterday my wife and I joined the church we’ve been attending. This is the testimony I presented to the congregation.
I haven’t shared my testimony publicly in this way very many times. Of the times I have, when I look back and remember what I have said, it occurs to me that most of what I have said has been about me. That ought not be the case, and I am going to try to avoid that this time; because my testimony is not primarily about me. It is primarily about God. God is the main character in my story, and the mover behind the various minor players.
God has been gracious to send people into my life and use them to bring me the gospel. In my earliest years, I was given wise and godly Sunday school teachers. I thank God for the example of my mother, whom I frequently saw—and who still can be seen—sitting with her Bible, always with a notebook at hand, writing copious notes. He sent me friends whose lives made me want to know God, even while I resisted him.
I don’t know when God saved me. I know the general time frame in which I began to receive assurance of salvation, which is now more than twenty years ago. Because of some rather confused theology in the churches I grew up in, I had a difficult time gaining that assurance. That’s not particularly important. What is important, and what I do know, is how God saved me. Ephesians 2 says,
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I have done nothing; God has done it all. It was God who chose me before the foundation of the world according to his good pleasure (Ephesians 1). It was God who sent the gospel to me, who convicted me of my sin, called me to faith in Christ, gave me the gift of faith (Ephesians 2), granted me repentance (2 Timothy 2), and gave me the understanding to discern the things of God (1 Corinthians 2). It was God who adopted me as his son (Romans 8, Galatians 4, Ephesians 5), and made me a joint-heir (Romans 8) with his only natural son, Jesus Christ. It was God who gave me a new nature (2 Corinthians 5), so that I would hate my sin, and love him and his Word. And it is God who continues to work in me, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2). Finally, it is God who has promised to perfect the good work he has begun in me (Philippians 1) and to glorify me with him (Romans 8).
I was conceived and born in sin. I had no ability or inclination to choose Christ, accept Christ, make a decision for Christ, or any other phrase you may have heard or used to describe conversion. I was an enemy of God, a rebel, concerned only with my own pleasure and well-being. As much as I would like to diminish my role in this story, there is one way in which I was very actively involved. I actively hated God and loved myself. But God loved me, and saved me. Just as he called Lazarus out of the grave, he called me from mine; and just as Lazarus could not raise himself from the dead, neither could I raise myself.
I am not saved because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I am saved because God, in Christ, by his perfect righteousness and his death for my unrighteousness, has made me acceptable to him. He has not accepted me because I have accepted him. My faith in him is a consequence, not a cause, of his acceptance of me. I have trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior because God has accepted me in Christ.
Because of Christ, God doesn’t see me as the sinner I am. He sees me covered with Christ’s righteousness. And in that same way, I hope when you hear [or read] this testimony, it causes you to see not me, but the glory of God in Christ.
Here‚Äôs a subject I‚Äôve avoided for a long time, and will continue to avoid hereafter; but when someone with exponentially greater abilities than I possess is given an enormous audience and a golden opportunity to present the gospel, and totally blows it, it grieves me. In fact, it makes me little bit angry.
I‚Äôll never be interviewed on national television, local radio, or anywhere else. That‚Äôs a good thing, because as mediocre as I am in print, my writing fairly shines in glorious Technicolor compared to my extemporaneous speech. I‚Äôm the guy who more or less read my testimony in church because I forget my own name when more than two people are looking at me.
However, if I was a charismatic pastor used to having thousands adore me, and I was asked a simple question like ‚Äúif you don‚Äôt accept Jesus . . . can you find your way to heaven?‚Äù* I hope I‚Äôd have a better answer than that Jesus said no, and I‚Äôm betting on it. And I certainly wouldn‚Äôt go on from there to agree with the Jewish interviewer when he said that he and Jesus shared a common religion. I know exactly what I hope I‚Äôd say, and I‚Äôm putting it in writing so that, should I ever have an audience of, say, half a dozen eager listeners, I won‚Äôt be caught like the proverbial deer in the headlights. I would say something like this:
No, Alan, you can‚Äôt. No way. I know that sounds narrow and possibly unloving, but if there is only one road to a certain destination, and I see you on a different road, it‚Äôs not very loving of me to wave, wish you well, and go on my way, is it? Especially when Jesus said your road ‚Äúleads to destruction‚Äù (Matthew 7:13‚Äì14). The gospel is completely exclusive. Jesus and the Apostles were very explicit about that. Jesus said he is the only way, and that no one may approach the Father except through him (John 14:6). The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). That is what the Word of God says; that is the truth, and I have no authority to deviate from that truth, even though my cowardly heart might be inclined to soften the message so you‚Äôll like me better. But that doesn‚Äôt leave you without hope. Jesus died for every sinner who believes his Word and trusts in him for his salvation. He is God incarnate; he came to earth in the flesh, and perfectly fulfilled God‚Äôs law, the law that we break every day; he took our sins upon himself, and bore the wrath of God that our sin deserves on the cross; he rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death; and he sits now at the right hand of the Father, interceding for those who trust in him. And the good news, the gospel, is this: by faith in Christ, you can be united with him in his death and resurrection, you can have his perfect righteousness credited to you. You can be seen, in the eyes of God, as perfectly righteous, as though you had never sinned, and worthy to be welcomed into heaven, into the presence of God himself. Mohammed never offered anyone that, nor did Moses. Only Jesus has died for sinners. Only Jesus has made satisfaction for sin. So I can‚Äôt offer you many ways to heaven; but I can offer you one that is guaranteed, free of charge. That way is Jesus. ‚ÄúBelieve on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved‚Äù (Acts 16:23‚Äì31).
I think that‚Äôs the right answer. I know it is. And you know, I probably don‚Äôt have to wait for that big interview to rehearse my answer. There are probably a lot of regular folks in my own world who need to hear it. There probably are in yours, too.
*The distinguished Mr Phillips has weighed in on this as well, answering another snippet of the conversation. Read his here.
An Arminian asks:
‚ÄúSo, you nasty Calvinist, you believe in ‚ÄòLimited Atonement.‚Äô When sharing the gospel, not knowing who is elect, you can‚Äôt really say ‚ÄòJesus died for you,‚Äô can you?‚Äù
Good question. You‚Äôre right, I can‚Äôt say ‚ÄúJesus died for you‚Äù or ‚ÄúJesus died for your sins.‚Äù While even some Calvinists might consider this picayune, the truth is that if I don‚Äôt know who is elect and who isn‚Äôt, then I don‚Äôt know that Christ died for the individual in question; so I can‚Äôt say otherwise. Does that mean I can‚Äôt offer them the hope of salvation? Certainly not. I can offer Christ as the propitiation for sins in this way: ‚ÄúChrist Jesus came into the world to save sinners‚Äù (1 Timothy 1:15), ‚Äúlike you, and like me.‚Äù ‚ÄúBelieve in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved‚Äù (Acts 16:30‚Äì31).
It occurred to me this morning that I have nothing of value for which someone has not died. Could it be that one of God’s purposes for war is to provide a graphic, recurring illustration of the gospel?
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. —1 Timothy 1:15
445 Jesus Saves We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Bear the news to ev’ry land, Climb the steeps, and cross the waves; Onward!—’tis our Lord’s command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Waft it on the rolling tide; Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Tell to sinners far and wide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Sing, ye islands of the sea; Echo back, ye ocean caves; Earth shall keep her jubilee: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Sing above the battle strife, Jesus saves! Jesus saves! By His death and endless life, Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Sing it softly thro’ the gloom, When the heart for mercy craves; Sing in triumph o’er the tomb,— Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Give the winds a mighty voice, Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Let the nations now rejoice,— Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Shout salvation full and free; Highest hills and deepest caves; This our song of victory,— Jesus saves! Jesus saves! —Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing Company, 1967).
This is magnificent. I just wish I could understand it.
As we look forward to celebrating the incarnation of our Messiah, let us remember that we are not to obsess over a baby in a manger.
The birth of Jesus is no end in itself, but is part of the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. Jesus exercised the offices of prophet, priest, and king in his role as mediator, and especially took on human flesh that he might suffer in that flesh, offering himself as a substitutionary sacrifice, to atone for the sins of his people. —The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), xi.
The Jews were waiting for a Messiah to liberate them from roman rule and set up an earthly kingdom. They were wrong about who their Messiah would be. They were not the last to pin their hopes on mistaken expectations.
The problem of misguided expectations is common to mankind. We regularly trust the wrong people or expect them to provide what they cannot or should not give. Some Americans expect our superior armed forces to keep us perfectly safe. Some expect their skills to make them prosperous and secure. Jesus says the wise man builds his house upon the rock—not “a” rock, but “the” rock, that is, Jesus, the Christ (Matt. 7:24). Still, those who try to build on the rock can suffer disappointment, if they remake Jesus in their own image. How so? They may expect Jesus to make life easy. They may think they can know Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. But we must let him define himself: he is both Savior and Lord. —Daniel Doriani, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 13.
My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. —Luke 1:46–47
This is what every Roman Catholic needs to hear this season: Mary needed a Savior; so do I, and so do you.
The mighty God reaches down in mercy, lifting the humble to greatness. Mary herself was the perfect example. No one was lowlier than she was—a poor, young peasant girl from Nazareth. She was nobody from nowhere, and she knew it. She was also a sinner, which is why she praised God as her Savior. This is one of Lukeâ€™s favorite titles for Jesus. Mary used it because she needed to be saved as much as anyone else. And by his grace god saved her. He saw her lowly condition. He did great things for her, such as putting a child in her virgin womb, and sending his Son to be her Savior. God reached down and saved her. This is why all generations call Mary blessed: she was blessed by the undeserved favor of a merciful God. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 76.
Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel. —Luke 2:29–32
Are you ready to die? only one thing is needed:
Simeon began his song by speaking of his final departure, his dismissal unto death. Some people . . . infer from this that he was an old man. That may be true; however, Luke never tells us how old he was. All he tells us is that once Simeon had seen Jesus, he was ready to die—to be released from his watch post. This was partly because of the special promise that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. But the principle also had a wider application. Anyone who had seen Jesus with the eyes of faith is prepared to die. And anyone who has not seen him—whether young or old—is not ready to die at all. When we see Jesus and his salvation we are ready to be dismissed from this life in peace and enter the life to come. Have you seen Jesus by faith? Have you seen him crucified for your sins? Have you seen him raised for you salvation? It is then and only then that anyone is prepared to die. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 126–127.
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. —John 1:4
Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” This is also the message of John 1:4.
We should observe the link between John 1:4 and the preceding ones, that is, between Jesus as the Word and Jesus as the Life. It is through God’s Word that Christ’s life comes to us. This means that if you want to be green and growing—if you want to be flourishing with spiritual life—then you need to be drinking from God’s Word. Psalm 1 speaks of the man who is “blessed,” whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:2–3). —Richard D. Phillips, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 152.
Just one sentence today. This is what the Bible is all about. This is what Christianity is all about. Not all those other things that distract us. This:
If our story does not center on Jesus Christ, and the story of Jesus Christ does not center on his death and resurrection for sin, we have gotten the story all out of whack. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 175.
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12
To be without Christ is the most tragic of conditions, but you need not remain in that state. As long as you live, there is time to come and follow him—but no one knows how long that will be.
What the ark was to Noah, what the passover lamb was to Israel in Egypt, what the manna, the smitten rock, the brazen serpent, the pillar of cloud and fire, the scapegoat, were to the tribes in the wilderness, all this the Lord Jesus is meant to be to man’s soul. None so destitute as those that are without Christ! What the root is to the branches, what the air is to our lungs, what food and water are to our bodies, what the sun is to creation, all this and much more Christ is intended to be to us. None so helpless, none so pitiable as those that are without Christ! . . . Do not allow life to pass away without some serious thoughts and self-inquiry. You cannot always go on as you do now. A day must come when eating, and drinking, and sleeping, and dressing, and making merry, and spending money, will have an end. There will be a day when your place will be empty and you will be only spoken of as one dead and gone. And where will you be then, if you have lived and died without thought about your soul, without God, and without Christ? Oh, remember, it is better a thousand times to be without money, and health, and friends, and company, and good cheer, than to be without Christ! If you have lived without Christ hitherto, I invite you in all affection to change your course without delay. Seek the Lord Jesus while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. He is sitting at God’s right hand, able to save to the uttermost everyone who comes to Him, however sinful and careless he may have been. He is sitting at God’s right hand, willing to hear the prayer of every one who feels that his past life has been all wrong, and wants to be set right. Seek Christ, seek Christ without delay. Acquaint yourself with Him. Do not be ashamed to apply to Him. Only become one of Christ’s friends this year, and you will say one day it was the happiest year that you ever had. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 347–348.
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” —John 7:37–38
In all of Scripture, no one but Jesus ever said, “Come to me,” and no one could ever offer what he offers.
No prophet or apostle ever took on himself to use such language as this. ‘Come with us,’ said Moses to Hobab (Num. 10:29); ‘Come to the waters,’ says Isaiah (Isa. 55:1); ‘Behold the Lamb,’ says John the Baptist (John 1:29); ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,’ says St. Paul (Acts 16:31). But no one except Jesus of Nazareth ever said, ‘Come to ME.’ That fact is very significant. He that said, ‘Come to Me,’ knew and felt, when He said it, that He was the eternal Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. . . . ‘If any man thirst,’ says our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, ‘let him come unto Me, and drink.’ There is a grand simplicity about this little sentence which cannot be too much admired. There is not a word in it of which the literal meaning is not plain to a child. Yet, simple as it appears, it is rich in spiritual meaning. Like the Koh-i-noor diamond, which you may carry between finger and thumb, it is of unspeakable value. It solves that mighty problem which all the philosophers of Greece and Rome could never solve—‘How can man have peace with God?’ Place it in your memory side by side with six other golden sayings of your Lord. ‘I am the Bread of life: he that cometh unto me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.’—‘I am the Light of the world: he that followeth ME shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’—‘I am the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.’—‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by ME.’—‘Come unto ME, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’—’ Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’—Add to these six texts the one before you to-day. Get the whole seven by heart. Rivet them down in your mind, and never let them go. When your feet touch the cold river, on the bed of sickness and in the hour of death, you will find these seven texts above all price (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 14:6; Matt. 11:28; John 11:37). For what is the sum and substance of these simple words? It is this. Christ is that Fountain of living water which God has graciously provided for thirsting souls. From Him, as out of the rock smitten by Moses, there flows an abundant stream for all who travel through the wilderness of this world. In Him, as our Redeemer and Substitute, crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification, there is an endless supply of all that men can need—pardon, absolution, mercy, grace, peace, rest, relief, comfort, and hope. This rich provision Christ has bought for us at the price of His own precious blood. To open this wondrous fountain He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). And now He is sealed and appointed to be the Reliever of all who are labouring and heavy laden, and the Giver of living water to all who thirst. It is His office to receive sinners. It is His pleasure to give them pardon, life, and peace. And the words of the text are a proclamation He makes to all mankind—‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.’ This rich provision Christ has bought for us at the price of His own precious blood. To open this wondrous fountain He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). And now He is sealed and appointed to be the Reliever of all who are labouring and heavy laden, and the Giver of living water to all who thirst. It is His office to receive sinners. It is His pleasure to give them pardon, life, and peace. And the words of the text are a proclamation He makes to all mankind—‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 352, 356–357.
Look upon your dear Redeemer! look up to this mournful, dreadful, yet, in one view, delightful spectacle, and then ask thine own heart, Do ye believe that Jesus suffered and died thus? And why did he suffer and die? Let me answer in God’s own words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, that by his stripes we might he healed: it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin; for the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all, Isa. liii. 5, 6, 10.” So that I may address you in the words of the apostle, “Be it known unto you therefore, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; Acts xiii. 38.” as it was his command, just after he arose from the dead, “that repentance and remission of sins should be, preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, Luke xxiv. 47.” the very place, where his blood had so lately been shed in such a cruel manner. I do thereby testify to you, in the words of another inspired writer, that Christ was made sin, that is, a sin offering, “for; though he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Cor. v. 21.” that is, that through the righteousness he has fulfilled, and the atonement he has made, we might be accepted by God as righteous, and be not only pardoned, but received into his favour. “To you is the word of this salvation sent, Acts xiii. 26.” and to you, O reader, are the blessings of it even now offered by God, sincerely offered; so that . . . it is not your having broken the law of God that shall prove your ruin, if you do not also reject his Gospel. It is not all those legions of sins which rise up in battle array against you that shall be able to destroy you, if unbelief do not lead them on, and final impenitency do not bring up the rear. I know that guilt is a timorous thing; I will therefore speak in the words of God himself; nor can any be more comfortable: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, John iii. 36. and he shall never come into condemnation, John v. 24. There is therefore now no condemnation,” no kind or degree of it, to them, to any one of them, “who are in Jesus Christ, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Rom. viii. 1.” You have indeed been a very great sinner, and your offences have truly been attended with most heinous aggravations; nevertheless you may rejoice in the assurance, that “where sin hath abounded, there shall grace much more abound, Rom. v. 20.” “that where sin hath reigned unto death,” where it has had its most unlimited sway and most unresisted triumph, there shall “righteousness reign to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom. v. 21.” That righteousness, to which on believing on him thou will be entitled, shall not only break those chains by which sin is (as it were) dragging thee at its chariot-wheels with a furious pace to eternal ruin, but it shall clothe thee with the robes of salvation, shall fix thee on a throne of glory, where thou shalt live and reign for ever among the princes of heaven, shalt reign in immortal beauty and joy, without one remaining scar of divine displeasure upon thee, without any single mark by which it could be known that thou hadst ever been obnoxious to wrath and a curse, except it be an anthem of praise to “the Lamb that was slain, and has washed thee from thy sins in his own blood, Rev. i. 5.” —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 75–76.
God alone is the standard of goodness. No honest person, understanding that fact, can claim to be good. No matter how good we try to be, next to God’s holy standard, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). The good news of the gospel is that God provides us with a perfect righteousness, which can be ours, through faith in Christ.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. —Romans 3:28
Nor is it necessary, in order to thy being released from guilt, and entitled to this high and complete felicity, that thou shouldst, before thou wilt venture to apply to Jesus, bring any good works of thine own to recommend thee to his acceptance. It is indeed true, that, if thy faith be sincere, it will certainly produce them; but I have the authority of the word of God to tell thee that if thou this day sincerely believest in the name of the Son of God, thou shalt this day be taken under his care, and be numbered among those of his sheep to whom he hath graciously declared that “he will give eternal life, and that they shall never perish, John x. 28.” Thou hast no need therefore to say, “Who shall go up into heaven, or who shall descend into the deep for me? For the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, Rom. x. 6, 7, 8.” With this joyful message I leave thee; with this faithful saying, indeed “worthy of all acceptation; 1 Tim. i. 15.” with this Gospel, O sinner, which is my life; and which, if thou dost not reject, will be thine too. —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 76.
Not the labours of my hands, Can fulfil thy law’s demands: Could my zeal no respite know. Could my tears for ever flow; All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace: Foul I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die. —Augustus Toplady
Philip Doddridge answers the sinner who is “convinced of your guilt and condemnation, and of your own inability to recover yourself.”
Apply therefore to this glorious Redeemer, amiable as he will appear to every believing eye in the blood which he shed upon the cross, and in the wounds which he received there. Go to him, O sinner! this day, this moment, with all thy sins about thee. Go just as thou art; for if thou wilt never apply to him till thou art first righteous and holy, thou wilt never be righteous and holy at all; nor canst be so on this supposition, unless there were some way of being so without him; and then there would be no occasion for applying to him for righteousness and holiness. It were indeed as if it should be said that a sick man should defer his application to a physician till his health is recovered. Let me therefore repeat it without offence, go to him just as thou art, and say, (O that thou mayest this moment be enabled to say it from thy very soul!) “Blessed Jesus, I am surely one of the most sinful and one of the most miserable creatures that ever fell prostrate before thee; nevertheless I come, because I have heard that thou didst once say, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, Matt. xi. 28.” I come, because I have heard that thou didst graciously say, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out, John vi. 37.” O thou Prince of Peace, O thou King of Glory! I am a condemned, miserable sinner; I have ruined my own soul, and am condemned forever, if thou dost not help me and save me. I have broken thy Father“s law and thine; for thou art “one with him, John x. 30.” I have deserved condemnation and wrath; and I am, even at this very moment, under a sentence of everlasting destruction, a destruction which will he aggravated by all the contempt that I have cast upon thee, O thou bleeding Lamb of God! for I cannot and will not dissemble it before thee, that I have wronged thee, most basely and ungratefully wronged thee, under the character of a Savior as well as or a Lord. But now I am willing to submit to thee; and I have brought my poor trembling soul to lodge it in thine hands, if thou wilt condescend to receive it; and if thou dost not, it must perish. O Lord, I lie at thy feet: stretch out “thy golden scepter that I may live, Esth. iv. 11.” “Yea, if it please the King, let the life of my soul be given me at my petition! Esth. viii. 3.” I have no treasure wherewith to purchase it, I have no equivalent to give thee for it; but if that compassionate heart of thine can find a pleasure in saving one of the most distressed creatures under heaven, that pleasure thou mayest here find. O Lord, I have foolishly attempted to be my own savior, but it will not do. I am sensible the attempt is vain, and therefore I give it over, and look unto thee. On thee, blessed Jesus, who art sure and steadfast, do I desire to fix my anchor. On thee, as the only sure foundation, would I build my eternal hopes. To thy teaching, O thou unerring Prophet of the Lord, would I submit: be thy doctrines ever so mysterious, it is enough for me that thou thyself hast said it. To thine atonement, obedience, and intercession, O thou holy and ever-acceptable High Priest, would I trust. And to thy government, O thou exalted Sovereign, would I yield a willing, delightful subjection: in token of reverence and love, “I kiss the Son: Psa. ii. 12.” I kiss the ground before his feet. I admit thee, O my Savior! and welcome thee, with unutterable joy, to the throne in my heart. Ascend it and reign there for ever! Subdue mine enemies, O Lord, for they are thine; and make me thy faithful and zealous servant: faithful to death, and zealous to eternity.” —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 82–83.