We’re rebels. Each and every one of us seated in this sanctuary are rebels at heart. A rebel is someone who resists authority and that definition accurately describes each of us. Most of us wouldn’t describe ourselves as rebels, we wouldn’t use that word in describing some of our friends who we would describe as conformists instead of rebels, but let me assure you that all of us are rebels at heart. We don’t want others telling us what to do—we want to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we choose to do it. The Bible describes us this way…“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV)
Sin, all sin, my sin, your sin, our sin brings about alienation. Because we are all sinners we experience alienation—alienation from God and alienation from one another. Paul wrote to the folks in Colosse about the distance our sin has created between us and God when he wrote, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1:21 NIV) Paul was also very much aware of the alienation we suffer between ourselves and other people because of our sin. In his letter to Titus, he writes,
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (Titus 3:3 NIV)
Foolishness, disobedience, deception, addiction to passions and pleasures, malice, envy, and hatred for our fellow human beings are merely symptoms of our sickness—the root cause of all of these symptoms is sin. We don’t sin because we make bad choices—we sin because we are sinners. Just as an apple tree brings forth apples, a grapevine produces grapes, and a cow produces milk—sinners sin. A sinner who doesn’t sin is an impossibility.
Hebrews 11 tells us that there is pleasure in sin for a season, but all of us know that seasons change. The springtime pleasures and fun of sin change into the cold, wintry, icy, frigid months of isolation and shame. What are we to do? Is there any possibility of change, of escape from this life of sin, shame, and guilt?
In his letter to Titus, Paul described the symptoms of our sin-filled lives—foolishness, deception, addiction to passions and pleasures, with the result of our being hated and hating one another. That’s in Titus 3:3, but he wasn’t through sharing truth with us. Paul then writes,
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:4-6 NIV)
I once heard someone say, “Whenever you share a thought and then throw in a ‘but,’ you cancel everything that came before the ‘but.’” “But” redirects the conversation, it changes everything. Paul states the obvious, as sinners we sin, but the kindness and love of God has appeared and that changes everything. Paul makes it clear that the kindness and love of God which results in the salvation of sinners hasn’t come about because of the righteous things we have done, but it has come because of God’s mercy. “When the kindness and love of God appeared…” That’s the topic of our study in John 3:16-21 this morning. Let’s take a look.
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21 NIV)
The kindness and love of God appeared not as a philosophy or theory, but in the person of Jesus. Why did Jesus come to this broken, sin-scared planet and mix and mingle with sinners like you and me? The answer to that question is found in John 3:17.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIV)
This is news to many folks who have somehow become convinced that God’s intent is to “get us,” when in actuality, God’s intent is to “save us.” A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to pray with someone on Wednesday night who was facing a huge surgery on Thursday morning. I had never met him before, but a friend had called and shared his story with me and said that he was open to having someone pray for him…would I be willing to pray with him? I’d never pass up the opportunity to pray with anyone. We met on a Wednesday night and as we were talking I asked him if he had ever accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He got antsy and said, “Well, when I was a kid, but I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life.” He kept talking and as he talked he was totally focused on what he had done that disqualified him to even call himself a follower of Jesus. I tried to clarify things for him, to let him know that we are all sinners, to assure him that it is God’s grace that saves us and not our “goodness,” but I didn’t get anywhere. Finally, I said, “Can we pray for you?” He said, “Now that you can do.” We all joined around him, laid our hands on him, and prayed for the Lord to give wisdom to his doctors, and give him peace. Early the next morning I got a text from his cousin letting me know that a chaplain had come by to see him before he went into surgery and he had prayed to accept Jesus as his Savior.
God’s intent is to save us, not to condemn us. Our sin can never be so great that it will extinguish the fountain of His grace. So many times I have had people tell me, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” You are right. I don’t know, but the very reason Jesus came to live among us, die for us, and get up from the grave a Victor over sin and death is because He thoroughly knows what each of us have done…that is why He came to our rescue! In Mark 2:17, Jesus said,
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 NIV)
Jesus didn’t come for “good” people—He came for sinners, to save sinners, not to condemn us. This is not something new that came about with the New Testament. In Ezekiel we can hear the cry of God for sinners to turn from their ways and live. Look at Ezekiel 33:11 with me. God tells Ezekiel to speak to His people.
11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV)
God’s desire is for you and me to turn to Him and live. If you will remember, when we opened our study of John 3, we ran into a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus didn’t run into Jesus, he sought Him out. Nicodemus was a teacher of God’s people, a member of the Sanhedrin and a Pharisee. He was a deacon, an elder, and a pastor all rolled into one, yet Jesus said, “You must be born again!” Jesus explained to Nicodemus that being “born again” was the work of the Spirit of God.
In all of Paul’s letters, 13 in all, we find him again and again talking about the salvation that comes by God’s grace through “faith.” The Greek word that Paul uses, which is translated as “faith,” is the word, “??????” (pistis). This word is a noun and it means, “conviction of the truth of anything, belief.” Paul uses this word 39 times in his letter to the church in Rome. We must have “faith” before what we have faith in can ever change our lives.
The verb form of this same word is “???????” (pisteuo) and in the Gospel of John it is translated, “believe,” over and over again. Remember, a verb is an action word. John doesn’t believe that “belief” is a mental exercise as much as he believes that belief is an action. Paul uses this word as well, but not nearly as often as the noun form of the word. The interesting thing is that John never uses the noun form of the word in the Gospel, but he uses the verb form, “???????” (pisteuo), 98 times in his Gospel! For John, believing in Jesus is not a thought to think as much as it is a life to live, it’s not something we agree to, but it’s an action we take. Theology was never meant to be debated, it was meant to be embodied! John MacArthur writes,
Saving faith goes beyond mere intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel and includes self-denying trust and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9; Luke 9:23-25). Only such genuine faith produces the new birth (John 3:7) and its resulting transformed heart and obedient life. (MacArthur John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John. pg. 118)
The truth is that this really isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s not an intellectual exercise exclusive of action and it isn’t activity apart from the pursuit of understanding and putting our faith in Jesus’ claims. James said, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead.” (James 2:17 NIV) I would also say that activity apart from the regeneration that only God can produce in us is nothing more than benevolent philanthropy, or if we wanted to use Bible language, “good works,” and good works never saved anyone.
Jesus was on a rescue mission when came to earth. He came to seek and to save the lost; He came not for the healthy, but for the sick, not for the righteous, but sinners, and not to condemn, but to save. John tells us, in John 3:18,
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18 NIV)
This verse points out an incredibly important truth for you and me. If we believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, if we trust that He died for our sins and offers us forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life; if we take up our cross and follow Him, then we are not condemned. If we refuse to believe then we are condemned already, present tense. We are not born neutral towards God, neither are we born innocent of sin, we are born enemies of God, alienated from God. Paul makes this plain for us when he writes,
10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10 NIV)
Our present state, apart from God, is not one of freedom from God, but it’s enslavement to sin, alienation from God, and hostility towards God. Paul wrote in Romans 8:7.
7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7 NIV)
Someone may say, “Well, I don’t believe that is true. I’m not hostile towards God. To be honest, I don’t even give God a thought.” I told you in the beginning of our study, we are rebels. We can shake our fist at the heavens and shout profane things at God or we can quietly go our own way never giving God a thought, but each of these is rebellion against God, the Sovereign King of Glory who is worthy of our affection, praise, and obedience. Why, after having learned of what God has done for us in sending His Son to rescue us from ourselves, free us from the shackles of sin that enslave us, would we turn and simply walk away? John answers that question for us in the last section of Scripture we are taking a look at this morning. Look at John 3:19-21 with me.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21 NIV)
We learned in John 1 that Jesus is the “true Light that gives light to everyone.” Here, in John 3, we learn that Jesus, the Light, has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead. If you had the choice of living in utter darkness where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face or living in the light, which of you would choose darkness? I doubt that you will find many who would choose darkness, physical darkness that is. John isn’t speaking about physical darkness; he is referring to spiritual darkness. Spiritual darkness is our natural state of being. We are born blind as a bat when it comes to the things of God. We can have 20/20 vision and never be able to see a thing unless God opens our eyes and gives us the ability to truly see. We may have an IQ that would qualify us for the Mensa Society, but when it comes to spiritual matters we all score a zero!
It’s one thing to acknowledge that we are spiritually darkened in our understanding, but it is an altogether different thing to love the darkness. John says that we love the darkness and hate the light. Why do we love spiritual darkness rather than coming into the light? John tells us that it is because our deeds are evil. We refuse to come into the light, we refuse to come to Jesus, to even acknowledge the existence of God because we don’t want our evil deeds exposed. We simply want to be left alone so that we can do what we want to do free from constraint or the control of someone else, even if that someone else is God.
Aldous Huxley was a famous English writer and thinker. He wrote, “Brave New World,” and many other books. Huxley was an important figure during his generation and he died in 1963. Huxley hated Christians and was an atheist. John Blanchard, in his book, “Does God Believe in Atheists,” includes a quote from Aldous Huxley which came about as he looked back upon his life. Huxley said,
I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know… Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless… For myself, as in no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political. (Blanchard, John. Does God Believe in Atheists? pg.335)
Huxley got it right. It’s not that we are ignorant; it’s that we are determined. We refuse to come into the light because our selfish, self-centered, evil deeds will be exposed for what they are. As long as we desire our desires more than we desire the Lord we will never come into the light.
Jesus came to rescue us from the darkness, deliver us from darkness into His glorious light, but you can refuse and go your own way. Let me offer a word of caution for all of us. The darkness only gets darker with time. Let me illustrate this truth for you. When I was in college I worked at a camp called Kanakuk. Each term we would take a group of kids on a trip called, “Wet and Wild.” The “Wild” part of the trip included taking the kids into a huge, deep cave. The first time I ever went into the cave I was shaking as my mind raced about what could be in the cave waiting on us. Well, I learned something during those times that we took kids deep into the cave. When we first walked into the cave you didn’t even need your flashlight because the light was still shining, but the deeper we got into the cave the less light there was and the more difficult it became to see until eventually we needed a flashlight to see anything. That’s the same way it is with sin and living life apart from God. When we come to know the truth, when we are convicted by the Holy Spirit, we are confronted with a choice—we will either confess that God is right about us, we are sinners in need of His grace and mercy, or we will turn and walk away. The longer we walk away the darker life will become. We can continue to walk away every time the Lord sends someone our way to share His truth with us, we can walk away every time God speaks to our hearts, we can walk away every time God’s grace blesses us in any number of ways, but the longer we walk away the darker life will become.
I want to share some good news with those of you who have been walking away from God for so long that you think you could never find your way back to Him. I want to let you know that you are right, you will never be able to find your way back to Him, but He knows right where you are in the darkness at this very moment and His light can turn your darkness as bright as the noon day sun! You who are stumbling about in the darkness this morning won’t you cry out to the Lord this morning. Say, “Lord, I need you. Lord, I confess that you are right about me. I’m a sinner. Lord, I need you. Won’t you come into my heart Lord Jesus and let your light drive out the darkness of my heart?” I want to let you know that if you will do that this morning then you will join the multitudes of those who found themselves in darkness and found deliverance in the Lord. In 2 Samuel 22:29 the Lord has just delivered David from the darkest of situations when David wrote,
29 You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light. (2 Samuel 22:29 NIV)
He alone can turn your darkness into light. He alone possesses the power to take those who are spiritually dead and breathe new life into them. He alone possesses the love to pursue His enemies with an everlasting love. He alone my friend, He alone. But, you and I must call out to Him, cry out to Him. Don’t delay. Don’t wait another day, another minute. Today is the day of salvation.
Dwight Moody was the evangelist of his day. Early during his ministry he was in Chicago preaching to the largest crowds that had ever come out to hear him preach. Moody was speaking about the life of Christ, and on the first Sunday night, October 8, 1871, he preached a message based on Jesus trial before Pilate. As he came to the end of his message, he turned to Matthew 27:22, “What shall I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ?” After Moody read the Scripture he told the crowd to take that question home with them, think about it, and next Sunday come back and decide what they would do with Jesus. Later Moody said it was the biggest mistake he ever made during his ministry.
The fire engines were sounding on the streets while the last hymn was being sung by Mr. Sankey and the people were lifting their voices to sing, “Today the Savior calls, for refuge fly. The storm of justice falls, and death is nigh.” No one knew it at the time, but the great Chicago fire had been ignited. From Belden Avenue on the north to 12th Street on the south and as far west as Halsted Street, the fire destroyed more than 17,000 buildings as it burned from Sunday to Wednesday. The church where Moody was preaching was burned to the ground, as well as his home. The great Chicago fire did $200 million in damage to physical property. It is estimated that over one thousand persons lost their lives. Moody never saw that congregation again, and some of those to whom he spoke on that night died in the fire.
Twenty-two years after the fire, Moody reflected on the message he spoke shortly before the fire broke out:
I have never seen that congregation since, and I never will meet those people again until I meet them in another world. But I want to tell you of one lesson I learned that night, which I have never forgotten, and that is, when I preach, to press Christ upon the people then and there and try to bring them to a decision on the spot…I have asked God many times to forgive me for telling people that night to take a week to think it over. (Dwight L. Moody)
Don’t wait my friend. The Lord has convicted some of you this very morning that you are living in darkness. He is calling you into the light where He will do more than expose your sin, He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness and give you a new heart that desires to walk in His steps. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 29, 2013