The Eternal Question

Series: Reflections From John

image“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2: 23-25)

Are you a Christian? Do you believe? Are you saved? Have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? Have you asked Jesus into your heart? If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity? All of these are versions of the eternal question.

Posing the eternal question can make us uncomfortable. If we have doubts about someone’s salvation, failure to ask it makes us unloving. But failing to resolve the question in our own hearts can make us eternally condemned. And that makes it the most important question any of us will ever face.

My first encounter with the eternal question occurred in my teenage years during revival week at Jenkinsburg Baptist Church in my hometown of Jenkinsburg, Georgia. Like so many of the old-time preachers, Reverend Price’s pitch to me was high-pressure. He tried his best to scare me out of hell and into heaven, a technique that some have characterized as terror evangelism. I just couldn’t reconcile the Jesus he was proclaiming with the Jesus my Granny Wells was always talking about- the Jesus who was her constant companion.

But a seed was planted – a seed that would germinate ten years later. Upon reexamining the Gospel from a rational and intellectual perspective, I eventually came to the conclusion that the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and Jesus’ declarations about himself were indeed true. Claiming the promise of John 3:16 that I had recited so many times in the Vacation Bible Schools of my youth that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV), I was baptized at Florence Baptist Church in Forest City, North Carolina at the age of 24.

For the next twenty years, very little changed in my relationship with the Lord. I was content that those questions Reverend Price had pounded into me during that revival had been resolved. Secure in my salvation, I was confident that should my life meet an early end, my eternal destination was assured. But I was trying to live the Christian life as best I knew how in my own strength and wisdom – resources which proved woefully inadequate for the inevitable storms and temptations of life.

Thankfully, the Lord did not leave me in that condition. As he drew me to His Word, I began to pray as I had witnessed Granny Wells pray, speaking with the Lord as a personal friend, rather than a distant Deity. One morning while driving to work in Bradford, Pennsylvania, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart in a way I had never before experienced, saying “When are you going to stop trying to do this on your own and learn to trust in me?” I was so overwhelmed by the presence of God that I pulled off the road and surrendered my life right then and there, confessing Christ once and for all as my Lord.

imageThe year was 1994 – the same year that Granny Wells went home to be with the Lord. Coincidence? … I don’t think so. She was a tremendous prayer warrior and I believe her prayers for me became all the more powerful the day she entered heaven. God only knows how many loved ones I will be reunited with one day in Glory because of her Godly influence and her faithful intercessory prayers.

After languishing in a nursing home for several years, she told me in one of our last conversations, “Julian, I don’t know why the Lord leaves me here.” I didn’t have an answer for her then, but I have one now. I look forward to sharing it with her when the Lord calls me home.

As far as I can recall, she never asked me any version of the eternal question. But having lived on a farm all her life, she knew the importance of preparing the soil of my heart so that one day the truth of the Gospel would take root there.

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”  It is not my place or the purpose of this post to judge the authenticity of anyone’s relationship with the Lord. But it is my responsibility as a faithful witness to share my gospel story and the truths of God’s Word to help others examine themselves.

2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day and our eternity will hang in the balance. The eternal question, however we choose to express it, will be supremely relevant then. But there will be no pleading our case, no opening or closing statements, no testimony from eyewitnesses, no presentation of physical evidence, and no character witnesses. Because the One sitting on that judgment seat does not need man’s testimony – he already knows our hearts.

How tragic it would be to rest in a false sense of security concerning our answer to the eternal question, only to be reminded when it is everlasting too late of perhaps the most sobering passage in all of Scripture:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!'” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)

Cleansing The Temple

Series: Reflections From John

imageIn the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables, exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:16-17)

According to tradition, the commercial activity in the temple which had upset our Lord had once taken place outside the temple to support the sacrificial needs of Jewish pilgrims who often traveled long distances to observe the Passover. It was apparently moved into the Court of the Gentiles so that the priests could also profit from them.

But what the priests saw as convenient and profitable violated the strict rules which were designed to maintain the sanctity of the temple and provide an environment that facilitated worship and a focus on God. I don’t believe the priests found a loophole somewhere in Leviticus to allow for this. And our Lord has a low tolerance for placing the concerns of men above the concerns of God. Just ask Peter! (Matt. 16:23)

Under the New Covenant sealed by the blood of Christ, God took religion from the realm of external and made it internal. Our temple is no longer a building. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Just as worship must have been greatly hindered by the merchants and money-changers in the temple, the Spirit’s work in our lives is hindered by those things which take our focus off of God and undermine God’s moral will for our lives. While Jesus sacrificed for our sins “once for all” on the cross of Calvary, his death did not negate our need for cleansing of those sins we still wrestle with. Galatians 5:17 says “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Those sins that beset us may not threaten our salvation, but they damage our relationship with the Lord and prevent us from experiencing the abundant Spirit-filled life Jesus desires for each of us. (John 10:10) The Spirit can never thrive in a heart in which the sinful nature is firmly entrenched.

To quote the great evangelist D.L. Moody,

“I firmly believe that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and self-seeking and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will come and fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and self-seeking and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. And I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else. Before we pray that God will fill us, I believe that we ought to pray that he would empty us.”

And so, just as Jesus cleansed the temple, we must also cleanse our hearts of those things that are contrary to the concerns of God – things that choke the Word and make us unfruitful. This includes trivial pursuits that crowd our schedules, leaving us little time for quiet communion with the Lord and meditating upon the Scriptures which are able to impart Godly wisdom to counteract the daily assaults of the world upon our thinking.

Such cleansing is not a one-time event. John placed this account of the cleansing of the temple earlier in Jesus’ ministry than the Synoptic Gospels, leading many to question if they refer to the same event. Personally, I believe Jesus encountered such activities at the temple on multiple occasions and likely responded similarly each time.

And so it is with us. It would have been convenient if the Lord had removed our sinful nature when the Holy Spirit took up residence in our heart at salvation, but he chose not to. So we must be continually aware of its impact and attentive to emptying ourselves of those things that rob us of our joy and undermine the Spirit’s work in our lives.

And that, my friends, is what cleansing is all about. Ephesians 4:31 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Paul could have easily added many other detrimental traits to that command.

In fact, he provides us a fairly comprehensive list in Galatians 5:19-21. I encourage you to check it out, compare those traits to your own sinful inclinations, and let the cleansing begin. I’m confident you’ll be glad you did.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify (cleanse) us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Note: All Scripture taken from the New International Version (NIV)