During the week, I refuted a statement by a friend that Christianity promises riches to believers. And his basis was;
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2Cor. 8:9).
I tried explaining the true context of the text to him but his mind was made up. There are many today, who like my friend, hold this same kind of belief. To them Christianity promises everything in the world. And to these people, coming to Christ is premised on such false notions of Christianity. This false form of Christianity is pervasive in our country Ghana and indeed across the world.
Sadly, many, if not the majority, have bought into this perverse and watered down gospel which promises anything from a life of health, prosperity and comfort in the name of Christianity. People put up a pursuit of “things” as a pursuit of Christ. But they are wrong. Coming to Christ because of a false gospel produces false converts. In the gospel of John, we are introduced to the first miracle Jesus did at a wedding in Chapter 2. Then as the narration concludes, we are told that
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (vv. 23-25).
There are a number of lessons we can draw from the text.
1 Superficial Faith Cannot Save
…many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing (v.23).
Why we come to Jesus is very important. Some come to Jesus for the wrong reasons. They want a breakthrough, a miracle, a healing…We see in the text that the people came because of the signs and miracles they saw Jesus perform. However, Jesus being God and omniscient, saw beyond their facade. He saw their hearts; the shallowness and insincerity of their faith. The only reason we must come to Christ is for our sins to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Any other thing apart from this will be a wrong reason.
What did Jesus say? “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33a). We would all have to examine ourselves to ascertain the state of our heart. Are you a genuine seeker of Christ? Is your pursuit after Jesus and the Kingdom of God?
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.(John 6:27).
2: Jesus Knows Our Heart
But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).
You might have heard Jesus can give you a healing, a breakthrough, a miracle. Yes, you may truly have a need and you have been made to believe Jesus has the answers to your problem. Yes he does have the answers. However, your heart seeks after only what you can receive. But not a heart willing and ready to submit to Christ’s Lordship. We can be hypocritical with people. We can have double standards. We can deceive people with our piety and religious fervency. But before God, we are bare and naked. We can’t hide our true self. We can’t hide our motives. We can’t hide our intentions. He sees beyond all that: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”(Hebrews 4:13).
Just like in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid themselves from God covering themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Ironically, the loincloths didn’t cover up their shame. Is your heart sincere? What are you hiding from God while you seek His blessing? It is time to unmask and come face to face with the reality of your sinful life. Come because you need forgiveness of sins and you will not be cast out.
3. Salvation Is What You Need.
Whatever prompted you to seek Jesus is not greater than your need for salvation. Every problem is just symptomatic of humanity’s sin problem. We live in a fallen world in a fallen body. Our need for fulfilment, breakthroughs, miracles e.t.c are all a yearning for a void in our hearts to be filled. Augustine said it rightly; “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”.
What we need is Christ Himself: the bread of life, Nothing else will satisfy your famished soul. Money won’t. Healing from a disease won’t. Temporal solutions cannot be applied to an eternal problem. Your need is rooted in a far more higher need; the redemption of your soul, reconciliation to God and standing justified before God. If you are coming to Christ for anything apart from these, you are trifling with your soul. It is not surprising that in the next Chapter immediately following John 2:23-25, we read of Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus. What Jesus told him is of great significance here:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).
Are you born again? That’s what you must be pursuing Christ for if you have no relationship with him.
In a world of religious plurality, every religion and religious leader makes some claims. Of all the claims, Jesus’ were the most astounding. He made many exclusive claims no religious leader ever made. And that got Him killed.
He claimed to be God.
This claim sets Him apart from all other religious leader who ever lived. And if the claim to be God is false, then, it is blasphemous and Jesus cannot be trusted. Looking therefore at the gravity of His claims, either Jesus is God or He is not. There is no middle ground as C.S. Lewis says in his popular work, Mere Christianity:
Either this man[Jesus] was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God
Lord Over The Sabbath
In the opening text, a controversy over the identity of Christ occurred when He healed a man on the Sabbath (vv. 1-9). In verse 16, John tells us this miracle “…was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath“. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day added their own human traditions to the law and with these they sought to keep God’s people in bondage. Their interpretation of the Sabbath forbided doing good to our neighbour. They overlooked God’s command of love towards ones neighbour. Jesus elsewhere asked them: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12).
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5) and His words “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17) brings that out in clear terms. God doesn’t cease working because of the Sabbath. He is actively involved in running His world and taking care of people. The world is not on auto pilot. There is a God at work in sustaining and directing the course of the world. Christ says He is this God.
When Jesus said “My Father is working until now, and I am working”, the Jews who heard Him clearly understood what He meant when He called God His Father and this exacerbated their resolve to kill Him:
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (v.18).
Now, apart from the charge of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus was also charged with “making himself equal with God” and they understood His claim to be a claim of Deity. Church history is littered with many controversies over the person of Jesus Christ. The Nicea council, for example, in opposition to the arianian heresy which claims Jesus was a created being; stated that “Jesus is begotten, not made, and that His divine nature is of the same essence (homo ousios) with the Father”. ¹ R.C. Sproul explains that
This affirmation declared that the Second Person of the Trinity is one in essence with God the Father. That is, the “being” of Christ is the being of God. He is not merely similar to Deity, but He is Deity”²
One place we see the divinity of Jesus in the text is His assertion of His worthiness of honour just as the Father is worthy of honour: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him”. (vv. 22-24). Jesus is worthy of our worship–honour, just as we honour the Father. You can’t claim to honour or worship God and yet claim to not honour Jesus Christ or accept the claims He made about Himself. To honour God, you must also acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was sent by God to die for the salvation of sinners (John 3:16). Again, to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God is to acknowledge Jesus as God. He is God who was manifested in the flesh (John 1:14)
The Unity of the Godhead.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a fundamental Christian doctrine which speaks of God in three persons who are co-equal and co-eternal in existence. While defending Himself, Christ reveals to us the unity which exists in the Trinity: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise (v.19).
Divine work is Trinitarian in nature and the Godhead is in agreement in all they do. The Father works and Christ works. We see this from creation and in the work of Salvation. In Salvation, we see the active participation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Salvation is Trinitarian: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). As we read further on in Ephesians, we see the Father predestined those who will be saved in the Son. The Son dies for those the Father predestined and then the work of the Son is applied to the heart of the elect into Salvation. Christ tells us He doesn’t work alone. What the Father, who is God does; the Son, who is equally God also does. Christ doesn’t work independently of the Father neither does the Father or the Holy Spirit. Because they are One, they always work in unison.
No claim offends religious people than the claim of Christ’s Deity. But for the Christian, any departure from the Deity of Christ is a departure from truth and from Biblical Christianity.
1: R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith ( Kindle Edition)
In John 5:1-9 , we are introduced to a miracle Jesus performed on a man, who the Scripture tells us has “been an invalid for thirty-eight years”. He has been waiting for a miracle that long. There was, then, a popular belief among the Jews, of an event where an angel stirs up a pool and anyone who steps in first receives a miracle. This however is discounted not to be a part of Scripture but a myth people believed:
The material about an angel of the Lord stirring the water and bringing healing appears in some early manuscripts, but not the earliest. Thus v. 4 should not be considered part of Scripture. Still, v. 7 (which is in all manuscripts) shows that people believed something like what v. 4 reports.¹
This invalid, we are told, has been waiting to enter the pool when it is stirred. But there is a challenge. Because of his paralysis, others always step ahead of him. Remember according to the myth, it is the first sick person who steps into the pool that gets healed when the pool is stirred. This miracle, as we will see shortly points us to some truths about how God works in the salvation of sinners.
Firstly, we see the helplessness of sinners to save themselves. The Bible teaches that all human beings are sinners. Naturally, we are dead in sin and separated from God. Because of our spiritual death, we are bereft of the ability to draw close to God by ourselves. We are dead in sin and dead people cannot give themselves life. They can only remain dead (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1, Romans 3:10-19, John 6:44). The picture we see clearly points us to the truth of humankind’s inability to save themselves.
Note that the man’s sickness was a result of sin: “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”(v.14). This is true in a general sense: All sicknesses have their root from sin. Sin brought the punishment of death on the human race ( Genesis 3:16-19, Romans 8:18-23 ). It is also true in a particular sense in that some sicknesses are directly related to particular sins and are God’s way of discipline and chastisement of his children (1Corinthians 11:27-32). Not all sicknesses are a result of particular sins (John 9:1-3).
As the story unfolds, the man’s inability emerges clearly. While Jesus extends a hand of healing, the invalid man utters a statement pointing to His inability: “Sir , I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (v.7). That invalid is like us. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Without Christ, we are dead in sin deprived of eternal life.
Secondly, we come face to face with the reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation. We are told when Jesus saw the invalid man, He knew the man has been at the pool for a protracted length of time (v.6). This speaks of a divine attribute. Christ is Omniscient. He knows all things. He knew the invalid has been there for long. Of great interest also is the “…multitude of invalids— blind, lame, and paralyzed [ lying by the pool] (v.3). In spite of this, Jesus attended particularly to this one man. He didn’t heal everyone though He could have. God saves sinners according to His divine prerogative ( John 1:12-13, Romans 9:11-16).
Finally, the narrative teaches us that God brings sinners to faith through His word. In John 6:63, Jesus said “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. There is life in Christ’s words. The narrative records that, Jesus commanded the invalid “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (v.8). There is power in Christ’s word. It has life. The effect of Jesus’ command—His word— is worth noting:
…at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (v.9).
The invalid by Christ’s word was healed. But more than a need for physical healing; what we need most is spiritual healing—forgiveness of our sin and reconciliation to God. Like the man in this story, Christ asks you: “Do you want to be healed?”(v. 6).
1: The ESV Global Study Bible (Crossways, 2012) study note on John 5:3 [kindle edition]
Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him… we are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of faith, for example, in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the reverse. Election is a condition for faith. 
Probably the most commonly used word in Ghana, among Christians and non-Christians alike is the word grace. Ask someone “how are you?” and you are likely to hear a response “By the grace of God I am fine”. No doubt, it is a word we love to use. A Christian going for a job interview will believe that “by the grace of God, he will get the job rather than the other candidates. A business woman bidding for a contract, will believe that by the grace of God she will win the bid. And a young Christian who has just applied for admission to a university will believe that by the grace of God he or she will gain admission. Clearly, in our everyday use of grace, we do acknowledge we get something from God we do not deserve. If you ask any Christian what grace is, you are sure to get an answer “God’s unmerited favour”. And indeed that is what grace is. It is God’s favour and mercy we contributed nothing towards.
Now far more important than favour over another candidate in a job interview or contract bid or admission to an institution; grace is the determining factor in the salvation of sinners. Without grace, no soul will be saved. Paul says, in a very popular scripture that “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Paul tells us we are saved by grace and this grace is accessed through faith. Also grace is a gift of God. To know what we are saved from, it would be helpful to take Paul’s words in its full context. Beginning from the opening verses of Eph 2, Paul describes the state of the Ephesian believers prior to their regeneration. They were dead in trespasses and sin (v.1). Not only them, but this is true of every believer today. We were previously dead in sin. Furthermore, this is also true of every unbeliever. The former state of the believer is the present reality of the unbeliever; they are dead in sin.
This throws us back to the previous article in this series—Total Depravity: We Are All Sinners. If naturally, the unbeliever is dead in sin, it simply means they will remain dead in sin. Corpse don’t have life, neither can they give themselves life. So for a sinner to come to salvation which is life, a power beyond them will have to intervene. This power, so to speak, is the Holy Spirit who convicts sinners to come to salvation. Without this conviction of sin unto repentance, no sinner will be saved. As Paul says in 1Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”. The natural person here is anyone who has not come to the knowledge of salvation. And before any one will come to the appreciation of spiritual things, that is, things pertaining to God and salvation, they have to be first regenerated –be born again.
Regeneration is solely a work of God which He does on a sinner. God makes a sinner’s heart come alive and then He gives them the gift of faith to believe. Reformed Theology affirms from Scripture that those the Lord regenerates are those He has chosen and predestined unto eternal life. These chosen and predestined ones are called God’s elect: “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace” (WCF 1.5).
Unconditional election is biblical. Surprisingly, some Christians do ignore the fact that there are a group of people called God’s elect. Speaking about election, Paul says of Jacob and Esau; “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad— in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written , “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13). The only reason to explain the choosing of Jacob over Esau as Paul says is “that God’s purpose of election might continue”. God’s elect were chosen before the foundation of the world and that’s what unconditional election is about (Ephesians 1:3-6).
1. Five Points Towards A Deeper Experience Of God’s Grace, by John Piper (Christian Focus Publications, 2013, kindle edition).
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Paul here contrasts the life of the Ephesian believers when they were unbelievers with their lives when they became believers.
Dead In Sin
Prior to conversion, the Ephesians were dead in sin. They were unregenerated, unbelievers and sinners born in sin. This is not only true of the believers in Ephesus. It is true of everyone today who is a believer. Previously, you were dead in sin and naturally couldn’t obey God. This is also the current state of every unbeliever. You are a sinner dead in sin who needs life from God: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”(v1).
Under Satan’s Control
Because the Ephesians were dead in sin prior to conversion, they were by nature under Satan’s dominion. They live to do the bidding of the “prince of the power of the air”(v2). This was not only true of the Ephesian believers. It was true also of the apostle Paul who wrote the letter. See how he uses inclusive language: “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”(v3).
Further, this is equally true of any one who has not tasted of the salvation of God. You are in bondage to Satan. You are a child of disobedience. You are under the wrath of God and if you don’t repent, God’s full wrath would be poured on you one day: “because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”(Rom 2:5).
From vv 1-3, we see the hopeless state of every sinner. He is dead in sin. That is, he has not got the ability in himself to respond to God: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:44).
In fact, if left on her own, the sinner would not come to God. She needs help from outside herself. To be dead in sin is comparable to a corpse. A corpse cannot give life to itself can it?
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved (vv4-5).
“But God”. This juxtaposes God’s ability with our inability: what we couldn’t do with what God did in our regeneration. Out of our despondent, desperate, hopeless situation as sinners, hope sprung from God. From v4 onwards, we see the love and mercy of God at display towards the sinner
A New Life
When God intervenes in our deadness, He gives us eternal life. Not only life in this world, but in the world to come. The sinner who once had no hope is now given hope in this life because he is now united with Christ and reconciled to God: “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”(v5). We are seated in the heavenly places. We are citizens of heaven. We have hope now and hope in the life to come. God has purposed to show us “in the coming ages…the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus “(v7).
This new life is not a result of anything good or meritorious work in us. It is a new life that springs from the love, mercy and grace–unmerited favour– of God:”For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (v8-9).
Would you lay hold of this new life by Faith in Christ? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Have you ever thought about it? What is the greatest need of humankind? This question will generate a lot of response. Probably, for the majority, top of the list will be eradication of poverty and disease. Others will put forth world peace, eradication of drug and sex trafficking. To others, equal rights for all humankind will top the list. These indeed are commendable, but they are not the greatest need of humankind. The Bible gives us the answer:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
This is the divine verdict from God. All humankind have sinned. Not only that, but by our sins, we are enstranged, alienated and separated from God. We are enemies of God and liable to receive the just punishment for our sins. Paul describes our hopelessness in Ephesians 2:1-3 saying , “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”.
The above is true of every human being. It is the present reality of the unbeliever and it was the reality of the believer who has now come to Faith.
Now the reality of sin as our greatest need came home to me again very strongly today when I read portions of Luke’s gospel for my devotion. In Luke 5, the story is told of Jesus using the boat of Peter to preach and afterwards, He issued a command saying “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v.4). Here is an experienced fisherman who has toiled all night and caught nothing, so he might have been surprised by the command from Jesus. Indeed he was and his response tells:
And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”(v5a).
However, I suppose having heard Jesus preaching, his heart might have been convicted to obey. So he didn’t stop at questioning Jesus’ instruction. He responded positively afterwards: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”(v.5b). After they heeded Jesus’ instruction, we are told a miracle happened. They had a great catch to the extent they had to signal other fisherman to assist with bringing their catch (vv.6-7).
Simon’s report in the narrative is what caught my attention: “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”(v.8).
A miracle has taken place. But it seemed the miracle didn’t matter to Simon. We are looking at a great breakthrough for that day. They have a great abundance. But in the midst of that abundance, the state of Simon’s heart was laid bare. He was convicted: “he fell down at Jesus’ feet”. He was broken. He lost himself. Before Him was no ordinary man but Jesus, God incarnate.
In that moment of a great miracle, his sinful heart all played before him in front of a Holy God: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. Anyone who encounters the holiness of God is always struck with the wretchedness of their soul (Isaiah 6:5, Romans 7:24). Sin is our greatest predicament (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6) and until we are reconciled to God, nothing else matters that happens to us. A miracle or breakthrough is of no significance to a heart dead in sin.
Like Simon, we must all fall on our knees at the feet of Christ and plead for forgiveness and reconciliation. Our sin must not drive us away from God, rather it must drive us to Him. Jesus didn’t drive away Peter, but He spoke forgiveness to the need of his sinful heart: “And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”(v.10).
Here is the mercy of God in action; a man not only forgiven, but his life takes on a new direction. A sinful man cleansed and reconciled to God and commissioned to be a soul winner–fisher of men. Our greatest need is to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. That is the foremost reason Christ walked this earth (Ephesians 2:14-17).