This was the first sermon I preached at NSBC before I became their minister. Belatedly I post it here because it fits very well into the series “Prepared to Answer”.
There is a lovely story about a woman who went into an ice cream shop to buy an ice cream. While she was ordering, another customer came in. She placed her order, turned and found herself staring face to face at the legendary actor Paul Newman. He was in town making a film. His blue eyes and his smile were overwhelming. The woman finished paying and quickly walked out of the store with her heart still racing. Then she realised that she hadn’t got her ice cream! She turned to go back in and met Paul Newman at the door coming out. He smiled gently and asked her, “Are you looking for your ice cream cone?” She was too overawed to speak but nodded yes. “Don’t worry,” he said, “You put it in your handbag with your change.”
When was the last time that the presence of God made you forget what was going on around you? Made you forget the dinner cooking at home? Made you forget what you have planned for this afternoon? Made you forget the problems of the week? Made you forget you are sitting in Church? Made you forget what the friends and strangers around you might think if you just let go and worship God? When did you last enjoy being with God so much that nothing else mattered?
Jesus said in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” To “have life and have it more abundantly.” That is what salvation is. Life in all its fulness. “A rich and satisfying life” (New Living Translation) “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message) And this life in all its fulness brings many blessings.
Love – knowing that God loves us and His love will never let us go.
Joy – not the passing happiness which so many people find in the false gods like money and entertainment but true joy which no-one and nothing can take away.
Peace – the calm of knowing that everything is safe in the hands of Almighty God.
Eternal life – which not even death can take away.
Victory over the devil and all the powers of evil – a life which isn’t lived under the circumstances but which triumphs OVER the circumstances.
Freedom – the glorious liberty of the children of God – if the son shall set you free you will be free indeed.
Life in all its fullness! But some Christians are disappointed with the quality of their Christian experience. They have eternal life but they don’t seem to enjoy the love and joy and peace and victory and freedom as much as they hoped they would.
Jesus explains to his disciples and to us what salvation and eternal life and life in all its fullness are really about in John 17:3 as part of His High Priestly prayer.
John 17: 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
That is what eternal life really is all about – knowing God and knowing Christ. Salvation is all about having a personal relationship with God.
That is the whole reason why God has made a way to forgive our sins. There’s no real point in being forgiven in and of itself. The whole point of forgiveness is that God has dealt with the sin which separated human beings from the Holy God. The purpose of forgiveness is so that we can have a relationship with God, that relationship with God for which we were designed and created. Sin has spoiled mankind’s relationship with God. But now the barrier of sin is removed – we can come to know God as He knows us. A personal relationship with God.
Some Christians misunderstand this point. They think that eternal life is some mysterious spiritual something, some quality of life which God gives to Christians when they are born again which stays with them forever. Eternal life isn’t like that at all!! Some Christians think that after we are born again, love and joy and peace and victory and freedom are experiences which will come to us in some way apart from God, separate from God Himself. But that is NOT the way it works. Love and joy and peace and victory and freedom DO come to Christians, but they come THROUGH our relationship with God and not apart from Him. Knowing God brings us love. Knowing God brings us joy. Knowing God brings us peace. Knowing God brings us victory. Knowing God brings us freedom. But all these blessings only arise from and through our relationship with God.
I am going to say that again so everybody will understand. Our relationship with God is a NOT a means by which we can enjoy blessings like love and joy and peace and victory and freedom. Knowing God is not a means to anything – knowing God is the most worthy and desirable end in itself. All the wonderful blessings of salvation are incidental to the true blessing which is the blessing of knowing God. Eternal life IS that relationship with God – and there are NO blessings which come outside of that relationship with God!
We believe in the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one substance, God the three in one. God Himself, within Himself, is relationship and community. In our salvation God invites us to enter into that community within God himself. At the same time we become part of that eternal community, God’s forever family, the body of Christ, the church. This is the key to understanding what salvation and eternal life are all about. Eternal life is experiencing a relationship with the Almighty and Eternal God. Like the relationship between the Good shepherd and His sheep.
John 10:3… the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.
More than that, Jesus promises His disciples that we will have the same kind of intimate relationship with God the Father as He Himself enjoys.
John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever— 17 the Spirit of truth. … you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ….20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. …. 23My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
That close personal relationship with God is what Jesus prays for us in John 17: , Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us … . 22 … that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. 26 in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
This is what eternal life is – that relationship with God, God living in us, Father Son and Holy Spirit making their home in us. We experience our relationship with God in a variety of ways. The most important are also the most obvious – prayer, Bible Study, worship, fellowship with our brothers and sisters, and of course communion through bread and wine. These are not just ways which God might choose to bless us. They are the ways in which we talk to God and He talks to us. They are the ways by which we receive the joy and peace which come from loving God and knowing He loves us. They are the ways in which we experience that victory and that freedom which come from our relationship with God. So we should pray and read the Bible and worship because these are the ways we experience that relationship with God which is what eternal life is really about.
So how can we experience this fullness of life which Jesus promises us? Some Christians expect that all they have to do is just sit around, and then love and joy and peace and victory and freedom will flood into their lives. They have missed the point. They will only enjoy those blessings as they enjoy their relationship with God. For example, think about prayer.
God promises in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
But how do we come to experience that wonderful peace?
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer
Oh what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
God’s peace comes from our relationship with God which lets us commit every part of our lives to Him in prayer. Paul continues,
11 … I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. …. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. ….
God gives us wonderful contentment and divine strength– but these do not come “in abstract”. They come as we enjoy communion with God and draw on His strength!
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Again, our peace comes from the act of fixing our minds on God, relying on him and consciously putting our trust in him. Joy is the same. It comes from our relationship with God!
Psalms 16:11 11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Joy in your presence! I don’t understand how some Christians can say they are eager to get to heaven to spend eternity in God’s presence, when they don’t enjoy spending time with God now. The chief end of man, the destiny of human beings, the purpose for which we were created, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Our job on earth is to learn to enjoy God – that is what life in all its fulness is all about!
Psalm37:3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
We receive everything we most desire and everything we most need, when we delight ourselves IN THE LORD.
We delight in God and we get to know God through prayer. Prayer isn’t just a useful tool to help us in our Christian service. Richard Foster wrote, “Prayer is nothing more than our ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God.
Then we also spend time with God by reading and studying our Bibles. The Bible is God’s love letter to the church. It tells us how much God loves us! We should want to spend time listening to what God has to say to us. And we spend time with God in Worship – giving time to praise and thanksgiving and adoration. Worship is God’s children rejoicing in God’s presence. Alone or with others, if we want to enjoy our salvation we need to devote time to meeting with God.
Probably my favourite author, A.W.Tozer has written this.
“The Christian is strong or weak depending upon how closely he has cultivated the knowledge of God. Paul devoted his whole life to the art of knowing Christ. He wrote, “All I want is to know Christ.” …. Progress in the Christian life is exactly equal to the growing knowledge we gain of … God in personal experience. And such experience requires a whole life devoted to it and plenty of time spent at the holy task of cultivating God. God can be known satisfactorily only as we devote time to Him. ,,,
A thousand distractions would woo us away from thoughts of God, but if we are wise we will sternly put them from us and make room for the King and take time to entertain Him. Some things may be neglected with but little loss to the spiritual life, but to neglect communion with God is to hurt ourselves where we cannot afford it.
God will respond to our efforts to know Him. The Bible tells us how; it is altogether a matter of how much determination we bring to the holy task. (A.W.Tozer in The Root of the Righteous)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God, for they will be satisfied!” God really wants us to know Him better, to love Him more and more, and to “enjoy Him forever”! That is what eternal life is all about – this personal relationship with “Abba, Father”.
Imagine if you will the tragedy of a MARRIAGE which has gone wrong. The husband and the wife never speak to each other and never spend time together. He does all the cooking and prepares all the meals but they never eat together. Although she always does the washing up she never says thank you. He leaves dirty clothes around which she washes and irons but never sees him wearing them. He never sees her to say thank you. That is not what marriage should be. The chores are there but the relationship is not.
But there is a parable of what the Christian life is like for some people.
The story is told of a husband and wife who never spoke to each other anymore. They only communicated by sending one another notes. The wife always got up early and the husband rather later but one day he had a very important early meeting. So the night before he wrote his wife a note explaining the situation and asking her to be sure to wake him up the next morning at seven o’clock.
When he woke up the following morning it was already nine o’clock and he had missed his meeting. The husband was so upset he actually spoke aloud to his wife. “Why on earth didn’t you wake me up?” he asked.
The wife just pointed to a note she had left on the husband’s pillow. In loud capital letters the note read, “WAKE UP – IT’S SEVEN O’CLOCK!”
That is a sad parable of the way some Christians miss out on life in all its fullness. The
blessings of eternal life are all wrapped up in a personal relationship with the living God. A.W.Tozer said “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.” To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But we won’t enjoy eternal life, we won’t ever enjoy life in all its fulness, if we can’t be bothered to pray or read our Bibles or worship or meet with other Christians! Because your relationship with God IS life in all its fulness! Eternal life IS your relationship with God!