(This is an edited version of the sermon preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge on Sunday July 3rd)
Our text this morning in John’s Gospel summarises powerfully the profound spiritual difference between the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the unbeliever – ‘Whoever believes in him (in the eternal Son of the one true God, Jesus Christ) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son’ (John 3v18 – NIV).
First of all, a word about the nature of belief – ‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned’. What does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus?
There’s a story told about the 19th century tightrope walker Charles Blondin who famously walked across the Niagara Falls on a rope. It may be apocryphal but according to the story he once asked a member of the crowd at the Niagara Falls: ‘Do you believe I could push a man in a wheel barrow across the Niagara Falls?’ ‘Of course you could Mr Blondin – you are the greatest tightrope walker the world has ever seen.’ ‘Right, here’s a wheel barrow, you get in it.’
The person who is really believing in the Lord Jesus has, if I may put this way, staked their life on what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, that he is the eternal Son of the one true God, that he did die on the Cross to absorb in himself the righteous anger of the living God against our human sinfulness and rebellion, and that he did rise bodily from the dead as the everlasting Lord of life. The real believer has got in the wheel barrow of saving faith and it makes all the difference in the world to their lives day by day.
So the nature of Christian belief – it’s not a tick box thing. It’s something that’s got under the skin of the people who really do believe what the Bible says about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the spiritual condition of the believer, according to our text this morning: ‘Whoever believes in him, in the Lord Jesus Christ, is not condemned.’
OK, right. That doesn’t sound very exciting. The believer is not condemned. What’s all that about? So what?
Our problem is that we live in what you might call a criminal-justice-lite society. We can do something pretty bad and not suffer very much for it. We might get a prison sentence but we almost certainly wouldn’t serve all of it and while it’s not pleasant to go to prison, prisons today are probably more comfortable than the left-over Victorian boarding school I went to in the 1970s. The moral air we breathe is fuggy and muggy and blurred. We live in a blurry moral world.
But our world is a universe away from the true spiritual and moral world of the Bible. In God’s real spiritual and moral world, as opposed to our illusory one, our sin really matters and it really does result in God’s condemnation. Our sin results in us being separated from God for ever. Our sin means that when we die, we will face God and he will execute his just and righteous sentence of eternal death upon us. That is reality and it is a terrible reality. The Bible says it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
So not to be condemned is a truly wonderful thing. For the real believer in the Lord Jesus not to be condemned is a wonderful relief.
Maybe we need to exercise a bit of imagination here. Imagine one of us gets drunk in a bar in a foreign country that has the death penalty and we get in a fight and we kill someone with a broken bottle. We are arrested, we are tried and we are sentenced to death. The British government lobbies on our behalf. There is a huge Western media outcry and an international petition and so on and, for a while, it looks as if we are going to be released. But the government of this foreign country decides to stand firm on its conviction that murder is a capital offence and so one day we are duly led out to be executed. There is no stay of execution and as we walk out of our cell we know we are going to be condemned for what we have done.
How much would you or I long to be not condemned under those circumstances?
‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned.’ The Christian person knows they deserve God’s condemnation for their wilful sin and rebellion against him but because they are believing and trusting in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, God says they are not condemned.
What a wonderful spiritual condition to be in. Thanks to the Lord Jesus and his death on the Cross in our place God says we are not condemned. We know we deserve to be, even for what we have thought and said and done so far today, but praise God, we are not condemned because of the Lord Jesus.
(Image: Lorna Mitchell)