Perhaps the most famous Bible verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus said this during a conversation with a higher-up Jewish leader, Nicodemus. He believed Jesus was a teacher especially empowered by God to perform miracles (John 3:2).
Jesus informed Nic he needed to believe a lot more than that if he wanted to “enter the kingdom of God” and have “eternal life” (John 3:5, 15). Namely, Nicodemus must be “born again” and “believe in [Jesus]” (John 3:3, 15).
Nicodemus didn’t understand the born again reference isn’t a physical rebirth but a spiritual birth the Holy Spirit enables (John 3:4-6). When we are born again by the Spirit, we are enabled to believe Jesus is more than a teacher and a miracle worker; we are enabled to understand Jesus is God’s Son, given on our behalves to save us from the eternal condemnation our sins have earned us (John 3:16-18).
Given the context, then, it is right to interpret “eternal life” in John 3:16 as most of us typically do: heaven, a never-ending, blessed existence in the presence of God with all the other believers who have finished their earthly lives.
It is right, but it is incomplete.
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians who believe Jesus is God’s Son and has saved us from our sins understand that to mean the only real difference between us and non-believers is we have the hope of heaven one day.
A lot of Christians’ day-to-day lives remain largely unaffected by the fact that we are saved. Salvation is more of a future thing for us; when we die and are judged, we won’t have to pay for our sins because Jesus already did that.
Don’t get me wrong, that is a huge deal for which we are thankful, but, for most of us, that doesn’t particularly influence our here and now.
Because we don’t understand “eternal life” is much more than a blessed future in heaven.
Jesus didn’t just use the phrase in John 3:16; He expanded on the concept in 17:3, which reads, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Jesus didn’t say, “Now this is eternal life: that they may go to heaven one day.” No, eternal life is more than that for Jesus. Eternal life includes going to heaven one day, but it doesn’t start then.
Jesus also didn’t say eternal life is that they will know God and Jesus or that they may know God and Jesus one day. No, eternal life proper is knowing God and Jesus now AND forever in heaven.
Eternal life, then, starts the moment we are born again and believe Jesus is God’s Son who saves us from our sins.
Every day we can know God and Jesus more and more. And because they are infinite, we can live eternally in heaven with them, continuously learning more about them, and never exhaust the subjects!
That’s an exciting prospect–forever learning more and more about God and Jesus–but the whole point of this post is WE CAN START NOW!
You guessed it: by reading the Bible.
Jesus goes on to say in the same chapter that God’s Word is truth (17:17). When we read about God and Jesus in the scriptures, we can trust we are learning the truth about them. And by doing so, we know them more and more.
Forget about living your best life now. Open your Bible and live your eternal life now. (Which just so happens to be your best life, FYI).
I hate being wrong. Hate. HATE. HAAAAAAAAATE!
(My counselor can give you all the reasons why, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Lucky for me, Jesus tells me how to not be wrong!
Surely, if I employ His little formula, I’ll never be wrong again! Muhahaha!
(Of course, no one can perfectly obey Jesus’ commands all the time because sin. But, man, if I could follow His strategy for not being wrong just some of the time, I could cut out a whole lot of being wrong in my life, and, I gotta tell ya, that sounds good!)
The way to not be wrong, straight from Jesus’ mouth, is to “know the Scriptures and the power of God,” (Mark 12:24).
That almost seems attainable!
Here’s some context for you.
Not everyone liked Jesus, turns out.
There was this group of Jews back in the day, the Sadducees, who didn’t like Jesus because He taught something they didn’t believe in. Namely, Jesus taught there would be a bodily resurrection of the dead one day. The Sadducees didn’t buy that at all.
So one day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus to make Him look stupid to His followers and other onlookers. They asked Jesus a question based on a false premise and gave Him seven possible answers to choose from, none of which were right.
It seemed to be an impossible question to answer in the Sadducees minds, but, if Jesus didn’t produce an answer, it would appear He was admitting there is no resurrection of the dead. Thus, Jesus would prove to be a phony teacher who couldn’t be trusted, and, hopefully, His followers would stop following Him.
Jesus saw through this strategy, and, instead of choosing one of the multiple choices the Sadducees gave Him, Jesus replied to their question this way: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (12:24).
(I’m imagining this intense school yard scenario like in all kids’ movies ever. The group of Sadducees stands across from Jesus and His disciples. Everyone has his arms crossed as the rival posses throw death stares at each other. And Head Sadducee Guy steps forward, sets this trap, stands nose to nose with Jesus, and snarkily challenges Jesus to answer this crafty question he’s so proud of. (Yeah, I made “snarkily” up…what even is your point?) And Jesus mic drops the dude by basically saying, “You’re wrong to even ask me that because you don’t know anything about the scriptures OR God!” And everyone’s eyes get big like Jesus has just laid down the worst “Your mama…” insult. And dudes on both sides can’t help but let out loud, “Oooooooooooooo!” sounds (or, as the kids today say, “Buuuuuuuuurn!”). And Head Sadducee Guy turns bright red and two-hand shoves Jesus. And Peter jumps in and punches Head Sadducee Guy right in the mouth. And they all get sent to detention. Except Jesus. Because obviously.)
Back to reality…
After Jesus posed the rhetorical question that told the Sadducees they were wrong because they were ignorant of the scriptures (which, in fact, teach the resurrection of the dead [Daniel 12:1-2, Isaiah 26:19]), and the power of God (God is, in fact, powerful enough to resurrect people [Job 42:2, Jeremiah 32:17]), Jesus proceeded to explain why the question was invalid: it was based on the false premise that people will be married in heaven.
If they had read the scriptures, the Sadducees would’ve known there is such a thing as a bodily resurrection of the dead, and this whole silly scenario would’ve been avoided.
Then Jesus did them one better and dismantled their belief that the resurrection of the dead is not a thing in a matter of 2 sentences (Mark 12:26-27). It’s beautiful.
I’ve been a believer for 20 years. And, from the beginning of my relationship with Jesus, by the grace of God, I’ve been drawn to and felt the importance of knowing the Word.
Today, I am more convinced than ever, and increasingly so with every passing day, that if we are going to be the mature believers God wants us to be, we. must. know. His. Word.
We will never “arrive”. The Bible is not something we can master. It may look like a finite book with dimensions and a first page and a last page, but, it is really an unlimited trove of knowledge of an infinite God.
There is no exhausting it! The Holy Spirit always has more to show us. Always. ALWAYS! God can continue to reveal more things to us about Himself every single time we read it.
And, here in Mark, Jesus is not just telling the Sadducees, but He is also telling us: if you don’t know the scriptures, you won’t know the truth! Another translation says you will be in error.
I don’t want to be in error! Ever!
Partly because I am a prideful schmuck who hates being wrong. God is working on changing that part of me…
But I also don’t want to be in error because I cannot properly understand and serve God if I don’t know the truth. About Him. About me. About the world. About the Word. About how life works. About how eternity works. About everything.
And if I am not properly understanding and serving God due to my lack of knowledge of the truth, I am failing to give God the glory and honor and praise He is worthy of.
In other words, I’m sinning.
If we don’t want to be wrong, Jesus says we have to know the scriptures.
(Caveat: it’s possible to know the scriptures and still be wrong. Knowing and obeying are two different things.)
And there’s no better time to start knowing the scriptures than now. (Seriously, you’re reading a blog post. Go read the Word!)
(Also, thanks for reading this blog post! Please come again….you know, when you’re not reading the Word…)
I’ve been co-teaching a three-semester Systematic Theology class at my church for the last 18 months. (And it has been a BLAST! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend joining us the next time we teach it.) Our class is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and one of our students asked, “So, what’s next?”
While we do have some ideas on classes we want to offer in January, my mind keeps coming back to discipleship.
Kandi Gallaty defines discipleship this way:
Discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.
The reason we teach scripture and theology (and are students of them ourselves) is not just so our students will know everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That’s not the Great Commission. We teach the Bible so our students will obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That is the Great Commission.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.Matthew 28:18-20
Specifically, we need to teach our students to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples (that’s the “replicate” part in the definition of discipleship).
Some of our students are already discipling others, praise the Lord! But some aren’t. For a myriad of reasons that no longer include, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to disciple someone else.”
It kills me that many of us teach the Word but never get around to lovingly, but insistently, pushing our people to obey it!
Sure, when we speak to a class of 30 or a group of 80 we hope they will take away a truth that they will then apply to their lives that week, but we can’t know that they do… Because groups that large don’t lend themselves to accountability.
In other words, we are only capable of partial discipleship in large group settings. We can intentionally equip believers with the Word of God in large groups…but we can’t have effective accountable relationships, without which our students might, but probably won’t, replicate faithful followers of Christ.
The essential accountability factor is only consistently possible in one-on-one or very small groups (3-5ish people). This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where we can teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded us. Including, but not limited to, them discipling others, eventually.
It’s not rocket science. But it’s also not easy.
Discipling and being discipled on a small scale require vulnerability, commitment, a teachable heart, dependence upon the Holy Spirit for direction and sanctification, and, oh, yeah, TIME.
These are all legitimate concerns people raise in the form of excuses for why they aren’t discipling others or being discipled by someone. (And I say that as someone who has used all of them on many occasions.)
The actual reasons we don’t participate in real discipleship are because we are afraid, and we are just a tad self-centered. (These are the same reasons we don’t evangelize.)
We don’t really want to spend our precious Netflix and Oreos time on other people! Especially if it is going to get uncomfortable.
But if we don’t prioritize discipling people who will disciple other people, we are in direct disobedience of Jesus Christ.
Let that sink in a minute.
The shock of that statement ought to make all of our excuses for not participating in discipleship fade away faster than I can eat ten Double Stuf Oreos (I don’t even know why they still make Single Stuf).
Are you scared? That’s fine, Jesus didn’t say you have to be fearless.
Do you not have time? Uh, yeah, you do. Find it. Start by looking in the Netflix directory.
Do you not know how? Ask someone who does. Read a book on the subject.
Do you not have anyone to disciple or to disciple you? Uh, yeah, you do. Ask God to bring you people. Sit back. Eat some Oreos. Pay attention.
Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you qualify to be discipled by someone. There are, in fact, no pre-requisites at all.
Even if you’ve never taken Systematic Theology, if you have a general grasp on the Bible and a general understanding that it’s better to obey God than to not obey God, you qualify to disciple someone.
Stop waiting. Start now.
Being free is hard.
It sounds easy…being rid of the metaphorical chains that bind you to literal misery…having the ability to move about, run away, make your own choices…
But being free is hard.
Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.
The Israelites are a good case study. (Aren’t they always?)
They were enslaved in Egypt, worked ragged, abused, and then God/Moses led them to freedom. Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go, granting them the ability to trudge out into the desert, move around as they wished, run away from the oppression, and make their own choices…they left with tons of goods, and the Lord Himself showed them the way they should go.
They were finally free.
About one month after they were set free, the Israelites were out of water and low on food. Because they were free, it was up to them to provide for themselves…maybe they didn’t know how since they never had to do so previously…or maybe the nomadic existence made it difficult to have reliable, regular sources of food and water…or maybe the unforgiving desert is to blame for their lack of resources.
Whatever the reasons, Exodus 16:2-3 reads, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”
The gnawing hunger and parched mouths led the Israelites to long for the days when they were enslaved in Egypt. Their unmet physical needs actually made them think they would prefer beatings and unreasonable work loads to being free from the inhumane abuse to which they were accustomed if that meant they’d get an all-you-can-eat buffet each day.
This wouldn’t be the only time the Israelites grumbled against Moses, despising him for taking them out of their Egyptian slavery. Many times, in fact, the group said they’d prefer being enslaved again to having their freedom, as long as their stomachs were filled.
Not many of us are the kind of slaves the Israelites were in Egypt. But we all have our own masters, nonetheless.
Sometimes we let people control us…sometimes it’s food or exercise or shopping or alcohol or tobacco or prescription drugs or illegal drugs or lust or greed or ambition or achievement or money or recognition or work or ministry or volunteerism or love for our children or spouse that relentlessly drives us to unhealthy ends.
We humans can make masters out of anything. Literally.
God designed us to serve Him…to be ruled by Him…to submit to His will…to worship Him…and if we don’t, we take our service-oriented natures and our default tendencies to worship elsewhere.
We all enslave ourselves to someone or something.
(And if you’re thinking, “I don’t…you’re probably enslaved to yourself. You probably do whatever you want to satisfy you. In essence, you are your own god.)
We all become enslaved to things that aren’t God at some point.
The good news is we can gain our freedom.
If we pursue breaking free from that master, we can often learn how to gain control over our “issue”. Which is great!
To no longer be controlled by what someone else thinks or by an addiction of any kind is true freedom. And it is an amazing, healthy place to be.
Being free is hard.
Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.
Whatever controlled us before will pop up again, and, just like the Israelites, there will be times we long to return to our former masters, cruel and unhealthy as they may be.
We will be tempted to willingly return to our unhealthy behaviors that were so easy and so comfortable in the past. When our old masters seem to beckon us, we have to work to maintain our freedom from them.
By reminding ourselves of the truth. Any master who is not God will not satisfy us. They can’t.
By remembering how miserable we were when we were enslaved to ________. The grass is not greener on the other side, and nostalgia is more akin to fantasy than historical biography.
By reminding ourselves of the joy we experience when we make God our Master. Recall times you’ve been satisfied in Him worshiping, reading scripture, serving, ministering…
By asking the Holy Spirit to empower us to resist the lure of former masters. The Spirit is real and He really can enable us to resist temptation and see through lies.
By talking through our desires to return to unhealthy masters with encouraging friends and family. Don’t let shame that you even have the thought to sin keep you from opening up to someone about your struggle. Because guess what…we all think about sinning every single day. It’s called being human. And when we try to fight our impulses on our own, our success rate is dramatically lower than when we call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.
Getting free is hard.
And staying free is hard.
Lord, help us make an intentional effort to remain free so we may serve You only, our one true Master.
There is a super famous Bible verse that is super misused, causing two super problems. So that has got to stop.
In Luke 11 Jesus is teaching His followers about prayer. He models prayer for them via what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” (as if He only prayed the one time…).
Then He tells them a parable to reinforce the fact that God likes it when we annoyingly ask Him for the same thing over and over until we get it.
(The NIV calls this “boldness”. Other translations call this “persistence”. But, I can’t help but think of it as nagging. Nevertheless, God wants us to keep asking sometimes.)
After the parable Jesus says this, “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened,” (Luke 11:9-10).
Most people stop there. And that’s where they run into problems.
The first issue is people take this to mean they can ask for anything and God will give it to them. After all, it appears to be a pretty straight-forward guarantee right here in God’s Word. So He is obligated to deliver, right?
Many a preacher has taken these two verses out of context and centered his entire ministry around them. Such preachers stand in pulpits across the world gleefully telling the masses that God wants them to be healthy and wealthy and these verses are the proof! These preachers claim that if the pray-er just believes enough and nags enough (er…has enough “boldness” and “persistence”…) and gives enough money to God (i.e., to the preachers’ private jet funds), God will literally make their bodies healthy and fill their pockets with cash money.
This is called the prosperity gospel, and some of the biggest churches in America teach it. Many of the preachers on TV teach it. And then it makes its way across the international airwaves to third-world countries where desperately poor people so want it to be true that they convince themselves it is.
The problem is the prosperity gospel isn’t true. The Bible does not promise good health or wealth to anyone who follows Jesus. In fact, He promises we will have trouble (John 16:33) and suffer if we follow Him (John 15:20). Yes, we will receive blessings, too (1 Corinthians 9:23), but nowhere does the Bible report those blessings will be physical and financial.
The actual gospel is we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and those sins have earned us death (Romans 6:23), which is another word for eternal separation from the blessings of God. But God so loves us that He created an exchange program in Jesus, who never sinned during His life, thus earning Himself eternal life with God. God decided to offer every human being the chance to exchange their earned ticket to hell for Jesus’ earned ticket to Heaven (Romans 4:22-25).
The prosperity gospel preachers never get around to the actual gospel. The only “need” for Jesus they present is we “need” Him to give us good health and money. Unfortunately, our need is much greater than that. We need Him to take the punishment our sinning deserves and give us the blessing His obedience deserved.
All that to say, millions of people are being led to believe Christianity is about manipulating God into giving them whatever they want by taking these verses out of context. And that is a huge problem. Not only will those people not get what they are trying to get, they will also not get Heaven when they die because/if they have not properly understood and accepted the actual gospel.
The second problem from misusing these verses applies to those of us who do understand and believe the actual gospel but are then left disappointed, doubting, and/or in a state of self-loathing when we persistently ask God for something and don’t get it.
We start to think, “Maybe the Bible isn’t true after all,” or “Maybe I don’t have enough faith,” or “Maybe God doesn’t really care about me,” or “Maybe God isn’t even real.”
Our faith can be seriously challenged when we think these verses mean if we pray enough times, God promises to give us whatever it is we are asking him for no matter what. We can become bitter, angry, distant, depressed, and even turn our backs on God completely if our “bold” prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be…the way we think these verses teach that they will be.
So what’s the solution to these two huge problems?
Don’t stop reading after verse 10! Read through verse 13.
“So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
The first verse uses a little pronoun: it. We have to ask ourselves what “it” is in reference to.
The previous verse is part of the parable Jesus told. The subject of the sentence is what the ask-er needs. So, perhaps the “it” covers what we need, but not necessarily what we want. And that accounts for why we don’t always get what we ask Him for.
But in the parable the “need” presented isn’t a true need; rather, the ask-er is wanting some food to entertain unexpected company with. They likely will not starve without said food. The host was following the cultural rules of hospitality and did not want to dishonor his visitors, the worst insult in that day.
So his “need” is more of a “want”, which would make the “it” in “ask and it will be given to you” more of a want. We’ve all experienced God not giving us our wants, so we are back to square one. How can this verse be true if we can make “it” be anything we want it to be?
Maybe “it” doesn’t refer to a noun in the previous story. Maybe it refers to a noun in the verses that come after it.
After the promise “it will be given to you,” Jesus makes a comparison to illustrate His teaching. Then, in verse 13, Jesus summarizes everything He has just taught on the subject of prayer: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
What is being given?
The Holy Spirit.
To those who ask Him for it.
We found our “it”!
Take the “the Holy Spirit” back up to verses 9 & 10.
“So I say to you: ask and [the Holy Spirit] will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Our verses are not a blank check waiting for you to fill out so the Bank of God can cash it.
Our verses are a specific check God filled out and is waiting for you to cash through prayer!
Ask for a greater awareness of the Holy Spirit and it will be given to you; seek deeper intimacy with the Spirit, and you will find it; knock and the door to more powerful connection with the Spirit will be opened.
These are promises God will keep. These are the guarantees Jesus was making when He said these words to His followers.
Don’t let foolish preachers pluck these verses out of context to convince you God wants you fat and happy above all else. Don’t take these verses out of context yourself and then allow doubt and disappointment to overtake you when you don’t get what you want.
Rather, read these verses in context and get to praying for the “it” God is offering you if you are a follower of Jesus: greater intimacy with the Holy Spirit.
That’s a far greater gift than whatever else you wanted from God anyway.