The Gospel of John 3:16

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The Gospel of John 3:16

James R. Aist

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16)

In the New Testament, the word “gospel” refers to the “good news” that Jesus brought to mankind by way of His sinless life and effective solution to our sin problem. The fulfilling of the Great Commission by those who are saved – by grace through faith in Jesus – requires that we share this good news with unbelieving sinners so that God may also save them.  There are several sets of scriptures that have been identified that can serve as a guide to sharing this good news, perhaps most notably the “Romans Road”: Romans 3:10 and 23; 5:12; 6:23; 5:8; 10:13; and 10:9-10, in that order.

Not long ago it struck me that if one is looking for an inclusive, yet concise, summary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one need not look any further than John 3:16. This one Bible verse contains all of the skeletal elements necessary to present the Gospel to an unbeliever; just add some details, and there it is! Or, if you are a pastor or evangelist, it presents an excellent outline for a powerful sermon series.

To show you what I mean, let’s take John 3:16 and insert, in italics and parentheses, pertinent key phrases: For God (the doctrine of “God”) so loved (the “love of God”) the world (the doctrine of “man”) that He gave (the substitutionary death of Christ) His only begotten Son (the incarnation), that whoever believes (God’s supernatural gift of saving faith) in Him should not perish (eternal suffering with the devil and his angels in hell), but have eternal life (everlasting fellowship with God in heaven).

I don’t know about you, but I see the makings of an eight-part sermon series right there! And when you’re finished, you will have presented a wonderfully amplified version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with John 3:16 as the springboard! Whether you are preaching or sharing the gospel privately with a friend, you may want to include also a discussion of John 3:17, which completes and confirms the points made in verse 16 by explaining the purpose for Jesus’s coming into the world: that the world, through Him, might be saved. Now that is good news indeed!

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

When “All” Is Not “All” At All!

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When “All” Is Not “All” At All!

James R. Aist

“The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Unfortunately, within evangelical Christianity, there have spring up over the years, several teachings that seem to be biblical and sound right and true at first glance, but, upon closer study and more thorough examination, are found to not really be biblical teachings at all. One such example is found in 2 Peter 3:9. Many have erroneously interpreted this verse to be saying that God does not want “any human beings” to perish but, rather, that He wants “all human beings” to come to repentance (and be saved). While these may be outcomes that God would prefer, that is not at all what this verse is saying, and here’s why:

  1. Any correct reading of this verse must provide an explanation of why Jesus has not already come again, as He promised He would (2 Peter 3:3-4);
  2. 2 Peter 1:1 makes it clear that this letter was written to all and only to Christian believers of his day. 1 Peter 1:2 reinforces this identification of Peter’s audience as “the elect” of God, which, by extension, would include those elect who were not yet saved;
  3. Throughout 2 Peter, Peter refers to his audience as “us”, “we”, “you” and “brothers” and consistently speaks of their heavenly inheritance;
  4. By contrast, unbelievers are referred to as “they” and “them” throughout, emphasizing their eternal punishment in hell;
  5. So, we can see that when 2 Peter 3:9 speaks of “us”, he is referring to only God’s elect, both the already-saved and the not-yet-saved, not all of mankind;
  6. Thus, a more explicit and scripturally harmonious rendering of this verse would read something like this, “But He is patient with the not-yet-saved elect, because He does not want any of His elect to perish, but all of His elect to come to repentance.”
  7. Further confirmation for this rendering can be gleaned from 2 Peter 3:15, where Peter makes reference to Paul’s explanation of why the Lord is tarrying; namely, so that all of God’s elect, in particular, the chosen Gentiles, will be someday included among the believers before Jesus comes again (Romans 11:25, and click HERE). That is what Peter means here, in verse 15, when he writes, “…the patience of our Lord means salvation”, meaning salvation for those elect who have yet to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

One could also point out that if it is not God’s will that “any human beings” perish but, rather, that “all human beings” come to repentance (and be saved), then He is not doing a very good job of saving sinners, because, as Jesus said, the majority of people do not take the narrow path that leads to life, preferring, instead to take the broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Finally, if you want to make a biblical case for God bringing “all human beings” to repentance and salvation, then you will have to look elsewhere. Such a doctrine is a heresy called “Universalism”, and that is not a biblical doctrine.

For a more comprehensive treatment of 2 Peter 3:9 “rightly divided”, click HERE.

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)

The Bible Answers the “Big Questions”

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The Bible Answers the “Big Questions”

James R. Aist

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

There are a number of “big questions” that mankind has been struggling with since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden for sinning against God. All too often, the answers to these questions seem unknowable, especially when God is left out of consideration. This article focuses on answers to some of these “big questions” that I have discovered through careful study of the Bible. You may or may not find these answers to be as convincing and satisfying as I do, but the Bible does have answers nonetheless.

The article is structured so as to first introduce you to each of the questions I am addressing here, and then to provide hyperlinks that will connect you to the pertinent article(s) that will provide the answer(s). Let’s get started, shall we?

  1. What is man? This may seem at first to be a silly question with an obvious answer, but, for our purposes, it’s a good place to start. All of the other “big questions” arise because of our unique nature and existence. For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.
  2. For what purpose did God create us? Before God created Adam, He had already created the earth, with all of its plants and animals, and the angels. Something must have motivated Him to conclude His works of creation with…us. But what was it? For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.
  3. What is the righteousness that God requires? Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden for sinning against God, and this separation from God continues to this day in all who are born into this world. But God has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Himself by becoming righteous ourselves, despite our sins. How can this be? For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.
  4. Who goes to hell? All of mankind have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness that God requires. God has provided a way for mankind to be reconciled to Himself, but what happens to those who do not follow this way? For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.
  5. Why is evil and suffering so pervasive in this present world? The Garden of Eden into which Adam was originally placed was an environment free of evil and suffering. Why isn’t our world still like that? For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.
  6. Why is God allowing Satan to tempt us during this Age of Grace? Those of us who have been “born again” are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, so why hasn’t God already put an end to Satan’s permission to tempt us to sin? For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.
  7. What is Jesus waiting for? Jesus promised that He would come again to the earth to destroy His enemies and rule the earth with His saints. That was about 2,000 years ago, and He still hasn’t come back. So, what exactly is He waiting for? For a biblical answer to this question, click HERE.

As you can see, I have not tried to answer all of the “big questions”, but I hope that you have been blessed by what the Bible says about these seven. Perhaps you can discover on your own what the Bible has to say about your “big questions.” Happy hunting!

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE)

God and Liesel

God and Liesel

James R. Aist

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, with my whole heart;
I will declare all Your marvelous works.
(Psalm 9:1)

The purpose of my writing this article is to give glory to God for “great things He has done” (1 Chronicles 17:19). It is an article about how God was at work in the life of my younger daughter, Liesel, as I know it. It is incomplete, of course, because I can only relate what I know of it first-hand. If you take the time to read it through, you will find that God was at work and revealed Himself in amazing ways to save her, and, in the end, to welcome her home to be with Him forever. I believe that you will find a blessing or two in it for yourself.

Liesel was a beautiful, musically talented, athletic, sweet and endearing little girl with a special sense of humor. I called her my “Lee-Lee Bell.” She had already professed her faith in Jesus at an early age, before she was 10 years old: in a Sunday School class, she told the teacher that she had accepted Jesus. Then, when Liesel was 10 years old, I had the precious opportunity to lead her in a prayer to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Here’s what happened. Near the end of a sermon at church on a Sunday morning, Liesel leaned over and asked me, “When did you make your decision for Jesus?” I replied “When I was 8 years old.” “Is it too late for me to do it?” she asked. I replied, “No, you can do it any time before you die. Do you want to do it now?” After further discussion, we agreed that I would help her do it at home, after church. So, after we had lunch, I asked her if now was a good time, and she said it was. So, that’s when we prayed, and Liesel confirmed, by her profession of faith in Jesus, what God had been doing! And she said, “This is the biggest day of my life!” Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, as Liesel passed through her teens, she became unsure of her faith in Jesus. But, like the one sheep that had gone astray (Luke 15:3-6), Liesel belonged to Jesus, and God was not done with her.

The following encounter that I had with God is not only pertinent, but essential, to the rest of the story. I was attending the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International Men’s Advance at Lake George in upstate New York. One day when they were immersion baptizing in the lake, I stepped forward to be immersed by Pastor Don Yarborough. We had never met, and he knew nothing about me. As I approached him in the water, he just stared at me straight in the eye with a blank look, and kept staring. I thought to myself, “That’s strange; he doesn’t seem to even see me coming.” Finally, as I drew near to him, he reached out his hand to me, we shook hands and I introduced myself. Then he said that something very unusual had just happened; it had happened only once before in his ~20 years of baptizing people. He said that as I was approaching him in the water, he received a prophecy for me, in the form of several Bible passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. They all had to do with the head of the household being saved and all of his family with him. He then proceeded to share with me all five of those Bible verses. When he had finished with that, he gave me the interpretation of the message: God wants me to stand on and hold fast to these promises, which he is confirming to me and my children. Wow! Through this prophecy, God had just told me that all of my children will be saved! Needless to say, I was a “happy camper” the rest of that afternoon. But, I didn’t say anything to any of my children about this glorious promise at the time.

In August of 1996, Liesel had just turned 19, and it was time for her annual visit with me in Ithaca, NY, from her home in Norman, OK. As was my custom, I brought up the matter of her current position regarding her faith in Jesus, and we talked about that for a while. It was clear that she had a good understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ was all about, but she said that she didn’t want to profess faith in Jesus again unless she was absolutely sure of it. I was OK with that. Now, I had not yet said anything to Liesel about God’s promise to save all of my children. Nevertheless, she looked at me and somehow knew to ask this amazing question: “Daddy, have you ever received any indication from God as to whether or not I will someday become a Christian?” Well, this question blew my mind. I was so overwhelmed by it that, for a few seconds, I was unable to respond. How did she even know to ask me such a thing at that time? I had to conclude that God must have given her that question, and so I haltingly, but eagerly, proceeded to tell her about God’s promise to save all of my children. When I finished, Liesel was visibly pleased and very encouraged by this good news. God had revealed in miraculous ways that He was going to finish the good work that He had begun in Liesel when she was a young child! That was one of the most amazing days of my life.

So, Liesel returned to Norman, and several months went by with just the usual “visits” by phone and e-mail; she did not reveal to me whether or not she had accepted Jesus (again). The only evidence I had at that point that God would save Liesel was His promise that He would save all of my children. Liesel was now 20 years old, and it was late April of 1997. That’s when I got a phone call from the hospital in Norman with the shocking news that Liesel had been struck by a car while walking across an intersection. She was in critical condition with little hope of surviving severe head injuries. She was in a coma, and we were told to get to the hospital as soon as possible. So, we flew to Norman fearing for her life and not having any tangible evidence that Liesel was, in fact, saved. That was the first day of what I refer to as the “week from hell.”

I will spare you the details of her death, but that week I lost my “Lee-Lee Bell.” However, I do want to share with you a spiritual experience I had in the hospital as she was dying. The first three days when we arrived at the hospital, we would go immediately into her room and pray for either her full recovery or no recovery; I could not even imagine how we could cope with her living year after year as, in effect, a vegetable. But the fourth day, something happened to me that I had not experienced before and have not experienced since: we entered her room as usual, and I immediately tried to pray for her as before, but I could not. I kept trying to pray, but something prevented me from even beginning to pray. So, I asked my wife, Janet, to come in and pray for me to be released from whatever was hindering me from praying, to no avail; I still was unable to pray this time. At first, I was confused and perplexed by this strange experience, but before long it dawned on me that, perhaps, the Holy Spirit would not let me pray for Liesel’s recovery this time because her spirit had departed her body since I last prayed. Her mother, Sheila, remarked that she also sensed that Liesel’s spirit was no longer present. That’s when I knew that I had received God’s answer to my prayers for recovery, a very final and heartbreaking “No.”

Next, I will share with you three independent testimonies that week that assured me that God did, indeed, save Liesel. The first of these three testimonies was shared with me in the hospital by her Christian co-worker, Rocky, who used to talk with her privately during work breaks and witnessed to her frequently about Jesus. Rocky told us that, not more than a couple of days before her accident, Liesel had confided in him that she does believe in Jesus. That was a very encouraging testimony, indeed! But, God did not leave it at that. At God’s direction, I testified at the funeral of Liesel’s faith in Jesus, based in part on Rocky’s account. Then, as we were driving to the cemetery after the funeral service, Liesel’s boy friend, Joe, who was riding in the seat behind me, spoke up and told me that, after hearing about Rocky’s testimony, he wanted to tell me that a friend of his (not Rocky) had told him 2-3 weeks earlier that Liesel said she believes in Jesus. Moreover, Joe had just found a letter that Liesel had recently written to Jesus asking Him to help her with a problem. (She would not pray for help to a God that she did not believe in!) Upon hearing that, I was ecstatic and knew full well that when Liesel died, she was believing in Jesus; I now had three independent and credible witnesses to that effect! God not only kept His promise to save Liesel, but He also provided me tangible evidences of it. To God be the glory for demonstrating that He was at work making good on His promise to save my children, by saving Liesel!

But, hang on, there are two glorious and powerful sequels to this story. The first sequel occurred during the first week after our return to Ithaca after burying my daughter. I was so stunned and emotionally numb from the events of the “week from hell” that I couldn’t even go to work. I just sat around in my recliner all day trying to process what had just happened. Now, I had never asked God why He had allowed anything bad that happened in my life, but this bad thing seemed too awful to cope with. So, one day as I sat in my recliner rehearsing the details of the past week, I began to wonder why God had not healed Liesel instead of calling her home. I was about to ask God “Why?” when suddenly the Holy Spirit stopped me from saying it. Then, God said to me, “You don’t need to know why, because you know Me well enough to know that I had a good reason.” I was astonished. On the one hand, I was pleased that God had brought me far enough with Him that I didn’t really need to know why. But on the other hand, I still wanted to know. I had a sense that God might reveal this to me as time went on, but so far, I have not heard a clear word from God about it. I can only rejoice in the knowledge that God called Liesel home when she was professing her faith in Jesus. And, that’s good enough for me!

And now, here’s the second sequel. Roughly two months after the “week from hell”, I received a letter from the mother of one of Liesel’s friends in Norman. She had been praying for the salvation of Liesel and her circle of friends for some years and was delighted to hear of Liesel’s salvation during my testimony at the funeral. But, she wanted me to know what happened as a result of my testimony about Liesel’s faith in Christ. Several of Liesel’s circle of friends had also gotten saved. Another repented and returned to church, becoming a Sunday School teacher. And, in his class, a separated married couple was reconciled. And that’s all in just a few months. Wow! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to hear of this good news. It gave me a sense that at least Liesel’s sudden and tragic death had led to everlasting blessings for a number of her friends. Now, brace yourself for what came next. As I was basking in this truly amazing good news, God asked me a simple question: “If you had known that Liesel’s death would lead to the salvation of some of her friends, would you have been willing to give her up, so that the others would be saved?” Well, this question caught me up short. Lying about it was not an option, but the truth was painfully convicting: “No, I would not have been willing to give Liesel up for the others!” I replied sadly. Then God said, “Well, that’s exactly what I did for you, isn’t it?” (Please pause and let that sink in.) I have never felt more grateful to Jesus for paying the price for my sins than I did at that moment.

With time, I began to focus less on the loss of my daughter and more on the unspeakable blessing it was that she was with me for 20 years. And I am comforted to know for sure that when the time comes for me to go home to be with Jesus, I will find Liesel there to greet me (Matthew 10:32). That will be a glorious reunion, a time of celebration with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:7-9).

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)