Hope or certainty

Hope or Certainty?

 

The Scottish Presbyterian minister sat by the bedside of an old lady who was dying. She had been a member of his congregation for many years and had listened to many of his sermons. Always the minister had sought to stress that it is God who saves us--- we cannot do anything to save ourselves. When we get to heaven it will be because of what Jesus has done--- not what we have achieved. As she lay there, approaching death she looked up at the minister and said, “I think I have done enough to get into heaven, don’t you, minister?”

 

Needless to say that minister went outside and wept. The woman had obviously not grasped the central Christian message--- the message he had preached all his ministry; the message she had heard time and time again. She was HOPING to get to heaven because of what she had achieved. She didn’t have the CERTAINTY that when she died she would be with Christ in heaven.

 

I believe there are hundreds, no thousands of people who are like that old lady. Hundreds or even thousands of people who HOPE they have done enough to get to heaven. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who lack the certainty to know that when they die they will go to be with the Saviour they love.

 

Perhaps some might suggest that this is a misplaced belief. But if we look at the Scriptures we find that the writers want us to be absolutely certain of our belief. No doubt. No questions. No lack of certainty.

 

And so I invite you to take your Bible and look up the verses in this booklet. Ask yourself the questions: “Do I believe the Bible?” “Do I believe in the Word of God?” Or am I basing my belief on what I think?

 

We start with a verse from 1 John. John states the reason for writing his letter---- 1 John 5:13 “I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life”

 

John had been with Jesus as his disciple. He had been one of the founders of the early church. He had seen Christianity begin to flourish with more and more people become Christians. And yet there was always people who had doubts. Was Jesus truly the Messiah? Was He the one who could forgive sins? Was Jesus the way to peace with God and eternal life? To answer these questions John wrote his letter.

 

Perhaps you might like to stop and read for yourself what John has written. Read the five short chapters near the end of the Bible and apply to yourself what he wants to convey.

 

Look again at 1 John 1:9 ---“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong.”

 

Confession. Forgiveness. No doubt. No ambiguity. We can stand before God with our sins forgiven. Why? The answer is in 1 John 2:2, “He (Jesus Christ) is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world.”

 

We are forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross. We don’t have to understand why---- this has been the cause of lots of debates among theologians for many centuries--- we just have to trust that God is prepared to forgive us because of what Jesus Christ has done. The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians at Corinth, said this “Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

 

Augustus Toplady wrote in his famous hymn “Rock of Ages”

 

Not the labours of my hands

can fulfil thy law's demands;

could my zeal no respite know,

could my tears forever flow,

all for sin could not atone;

thou must save, and thou alone.

 

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome in the first century. This letter has often been called “the Gospel according to Paul”. An intensely theological letter and sometimes difficult to follow---but there are real gems in the letter as Paul is overwhelmed by the love of God and the greatness of his mercy and forgiveness.

 

The letter starts with a description of the sinfulness of mankind. And as we look at the world today, we cannot but agree with Paul. “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) And in writing this he is agreeing with John, “If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” (1 John 1:10)

 

But then in his letter to the Romans, Paul goes on to spell out the Gospel---the “Good News”. “He (Jesus Christ) was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God.” (Romans 4:25).

 

And then we have the glorious following verse: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1)

 

Not us. Not what we have done. Not because of anything we could ever do. But because of what Jesus has done for us.

 

The pinnacle of Paul’s letter to the Romans comes at the end of chapter 8. So far in his letter he has spelt out the fact of man’s sinfulness and God’s solution. And then he becomes overwhelmed by a sense of God’s love: “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

 

In another of his letters Paul talks again about the love of God. And this time he emphasises that it is only because of what God has achieved for us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ that we can have forgiveness of sins: “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4,5)

 

Only a superficial reading of the Gospels will lead us to the conclusion that Jesus loved telling stories. Stories with a point. Stories with a message. One of his best-known stories is found in Luke’s Gospel chapter 15 beginning at verse 11…..

 

Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began……

 

This story is a story with a meaning. The father represents God. The wayward son represents us. And when we “come to our senses” and come before God and confess we are sinners and ask his forgiveness then he receives us back --- not as “hired servants”, but as a son.

 

Look at a verse we saw earlier:

1 John 1:9 ---“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wrong.”

 

Maybe you’ve never confessed your sins to God.

 

Maybe you don’t know the peace that God gives to all those who have had their sins forgiven.

 

So here’s a prayer for you to say:

 

Lord Jesus Christ.

I confess that I am a sinner.

I thank you for dying on the cross for me.

Please forgive me my sin.

Come into my life.

And my I know without a shadow of doubt

that when I die I shall be with you in heaven.

And may I live the rest of my life

in complete obedience to you

as my Lord and Saviour.

 

Amen.