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)

Reflections On God’s Love

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” ( 1 John 3:1 NIV)

I had an interesting experience this week as I pondered the subject of this post. Since I began writing this blog in February, I have been accumulating ideas for future posts in a journal I keep for that specific purpose. Reviewing that journal Tuesday night and reaching no clear decision concerning this week’s topic, I prayed for divine guidance as I prepared for bed. Immediately upon waking Wednesday morning, I received my answer as I was overwhelmed with the thoughts of God’s love.

imageInterestingly, that was not one of the topics I had recorded in my journal. But I have found it always advisable that when God’s plans differ from my own, always yield to God’s plans. It is absolutely fitting to devote this 10th post to that subject, since the seeds of this blog were planted when my heart was flooded with an overpowering sense of God’s love one night last June while observing this beautiful sunset and reading John’s first epistle.

But just how does one adequately convey the reality of the depths of God’s love. That is a challenge for even the most skilled of writers, much less for one as inexperienced as myself. Words are simply inadequate. Like trying to describe heaven from the perspective of earthly experiences, I believe that no expression of flawed human love even comes close to matching the perfect love of our heavenly Father.

But thankfully, as the Holy Spirit reminded me Wednesday morning, I really don’t have to describe God’s love – He has already done so flawlessly in His Word. And there is little I can add to improve on that. Attempting to do so would only prove futile. And so, I will simply let the Lord speak for Himself and ask you to take the time to truly digest what God has to say about this most important topic. All the following verses are taken from the King James Version, because I believe no modern translation matches its eloquence on this topic.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he might exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

How can I improve upon those clear expressions of God’s love? I could go on and on, because God’s Word is one long love letter to us, his children. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to locate those verses in your Bible and highlight them. When you come to them in the future, take time to pause and reflect on God’s love, its impact on your life, and its implications for your future.

In my post titled Glimpses Of Heaven, I spoke of my departed mother speaking to me in a dream one night, saying “Wait till you see Jesus! You won’t believe His eyes.” I’ve often wondered what it was about Jesus’ eyes that prompted that statement. The more that I have considered that question, the less I’m convinced that it had anything to do with His physical appearance and everything to do with the inexpressible love His eyes convey. I believe the greatest thrill of heaven will be when we gaze into the eyes of the One who loved us so much that He poured out His life that we might live eternally with Him.

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My prayer is that you may know and experience that love today and that it may overflow from within you and touch the lives of those around you.

“When our broken love is the only love we can have, we are easily thrown into despair. But when we can live our broken love as a partial reflection of God’s perfect, unconditional love, we can forgive one another our limitations and enjoy together the love we have to offer.”

Henri Nouwen, Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith