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*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

”After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid,Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. “But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

“…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [us], so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14, ESV).

Last time we saw that Abraham’s life had been radically transformed by the understanding that God Himself, not His promises or provisions, was his greatest reward. He so treasured God above all other things that he was willing to sacrifice God’s gift of Isaac, the very thing that would allow God’s promise of Abraham being the father of a great nation to become a reality. As we mentioned, God intervened, spared Isaac’s life, and set into motion the beginning of that great nation and the eventual habitation of the land by Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 22:15-18). God did so by providing another sacrifice (in God’s economy there must always be a sacrifice to restore relationship with Him and the inheritance of covenant blessing). This provision was a ram (Genesis 22:13).

But this was no ordinary ram; for it prefigured Jesus. Notice in Genesis 22:13 that the ram was caught by its horns in a thicket (the thicket always reminds me of the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus brow as he was being mocked just before His crucifixion). Because of the way he was trapped, this ram was unmarred or unblemished, which made him an appropriate sacrifice. If his body had been cut or injured he would not have been the “spotless” sacrifice that God required. Here we see the picture of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see John 1:29). Just as Abraham believed, “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8) we see this sacrifice taking the place of Isaac – the ram was offered so that Isaac would live. Likewise, Jesus died in our place so that we might have eternal life.

So this is why we are to love God as the greatest thing, our ultimate reward. We are to admire, cherish, value, and adore Him above all else. Again, why? Because He is infinitely worthy: He has provided the sacrifice that extends to us eternal life (John 3:16) and life more abundant (John 10:10). And for this reason Jesus, our sacrificed Savior, calls us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). But, again, what does seeing God as our great reward (to love Him with all that we are) have to do with Jesus? Well, we can’t know God apart from knowing Jesus. And we can’t love God without loving Jesus. We can’t experience God as our great reward and treasure without knowing Jesus in that same way. So, in a very real sense, we love God by adoring Jesus as our greatest reward and treasure.

Why is this? Because the person of Jesus is the promise and provision of God that makes even knowing Him a reality. Actually, in a most amazing passage, we see Paul write to the Galatian church that really Jesus, the Seed, is Himself the promise made to Abraham (see Galatians 3:15-25)! This is because Christ is the fullest revelation of God (John 14:9). He is the one who interprets, or “exegetes,” God to and for us (John 1:17). Jesus is the only way to come to God (John 14:6). This is why He says, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (John 5:42-43) and, “the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Therefore, if Jesus is not worshipped and adored as our ultimate treasure then God is not our great reward. And when Jesus is cherished, valued, and admired above all else then God is our great reward.

I can think of no better way to tie all of this together than to ponder and model the priority of Paul, a man who discovered the rich reward of knowing Jesus (and therefore God) as His greatest treasure:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should   but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

*This is a continuation of a earlier post entitled, John 3:16: What Does “Believe” Mean?

In our Life Group we were studying this verse – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons have stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

Earlier we had defined “believe in Him” as a surrendered trust in Jesus as our only hope for salvation (eternal life) and a “faith” that suggests following after Christ with a transformed life that includes the desire to be obedient to Him as Lord. In our time together the question was raised: “This verse says that we have everlasting life if we “believe in Him. If so, does it make any difference what we believe as long as who we believe in Jesus?” In other words, is believing in Jesus all there is to saving faith or does what we believe about Him really matter? Or, for clarification: is the most important thing “who” or “what” we believe in? Good question! What do you think?

Karolyn spoke first and quickly said, “You can’t separate the two.” Exactly! History has been filled with those who claim to trust in Christ for salvation (or a form of it) but denied the essence of who He is. Early in the church, the Gnostics come to mind. Today, there many cults, sects, and religions which suggest that faith in Jesus can be central to redemption but cast Him in a lesser light than Scripture itself does. Pluralism does this by saying, Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.” This, of course, discounts Christ’s own claim that He was the only way, truth, and life by which one can know God (John 14:6).

What about believing in a Jesus who wasn’t sinless, really didn’t perform miracles, or was never physically raised from the dead? The latter of these was the constant drumbeat of the early church’s preaching and foundational to true faith. What about a Jesus that wasn’t really God and isn’t the only hope for fallen humanity? Or what about a Messiah who never will return again to rule and reign as He promised?

The core Christian belief is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the
promise of eternal life. Essential beliefs held by Christ-followers include his divinity, humanity, and earthly life as depicted in Scripture. Adhering to authentic Christian faith requires a belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. As one theologian has said, “The whole of Christian teaching would fall to the ground if it were the case that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not events in real history, but stories told to illustrate truths which are valid apart from these happenings.” Also, true disciples of Christ believe that Jesus was both human and the Son of God: God in human form—sharing human frailties and temptations but never acting on them, only seeking to do the will of His father in heaven, never once seeking to make Himself happy in any way but willfully submitting to God as a man, never doing what He wanted to do but what He saw His Father in heaven doing.

Beyond this, believing in Jesus means that He, as God, spoke for God. He was both the message and messenger of the way God expects us to live. The Sermon on the Mount is but one example that Jesus claimed His teachings had the very authority of God. What we believe is that His words are truth and life: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

So, just as Karolyn said (and the group concurred), the answer to the question, “who or what?” is, “Yes!” To “believe in Him” is part and parcel of trusting in what the Word of God reveals about Him. “Who” we believe in and “what” we believe about Him are two sides of the same coin. To believe the “what” of Jesus to be something other than what Scripture reveals and He claimed to be is, in essence, a failure to “believe in Him” with the kind of faith that, as Jesus said, allows us to “not perish but have eternal life.”


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

In our Life Group we were studying this passage – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

What doe the word “believe” here mean? Unfortunately, there are masses that simplistically interpret this word as a mere acknowledgement of Jesus, that the phrase “believe in Him” suggests mere intellectual assent and nothing more. But the Greek word used here, and is often translated “faith” in many biblical texts, is much richer than that. Here are a couple of examples of the depth of the word pisteuo:

“To be persuaded, therefore to place one’s confidence and trust, signifies reliance upon and not mere credence” – Vine’s Dictionary.

Lexicographer J. H. Thayer, an authority on the Greek New Testament, defines pisteuo as being, “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e. a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (Greek-English Lexicon, T. & T. Clark, 1958, p. 511).

The point of our discussion was that a misunderstanding of what “believe” means is dangerous in our efforts to evangelize, employing the full truth of the Gospel, and detrimental to our walk with God. The word “believe” here clearly indicates something more potent than “head knowledge.” The faith that saves is one of not only placing our hope in Christ alone for our redemption but also one that bows to His lordship. It is dynamic, transformational, and dependant upon Him for our salvation and our sanctification. It is a trust that produces a desire to be obedient to Christ and is compelled by a holistic surrender to who He is and all that entails. The “believe in Him” of John 3:16 changes our hearts because He has changed our minds (repented) about who and what He is. Romans 10:8-10 clarifies this: “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we are saved based on anything beyond faith. But saving faith changes us. This type of belief is the kind of trust and surrender that inherently alters who we are. Why? Because this faith is the conduit that accesses God’s grace, produces redemption, unites us with Christ, summons the indwelling presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and secures our eternal destiny. This faith is a gift from God that triggers all of the promise and provision of God that is found “in Him [Christ].” As Paul shared in Romans: “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as  righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (4:3-5). And this is so that God, and God alone, gets the glory for this miracle of new birth and everlasting life that “believe in Him” secures.

Although this righteousness (salvation) is a gift (just like faith itself is a gift, as you will see in the next  scripture passage quoted), it is a gift that radically alters those who experience it. It is a heart makeover that redirects every aspect of our being. This is aptly tied together by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works,so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:8-10).

So, is this the kind of belief that we possess? Is this the kind of belief that we proclaim as the true gospel? Or have we, in our personal lives or our proclamation of the message of eternal life, watered down “belief” into some kind of clinical acknowledgment of God that doesn’t necessarily change us from the inside out? It’s worth pondering – eternal destinies hang in the balance.


“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). 

Paul continues his list of character traits that the new man should put on. The climatic quality is now addressed. It is the crowning jewel, the foundational grace of Christ-likeness. It is love. But the word “love” as it is used Biblically is much richer, deeper, and more profound than the way the world uses, overuses, and abuses the concept. We hear the term spoken of so loosely – we love ice cream, love movies, love sports or it is used as a synonym for lust – that it is easy to miss its true spiritual meaning and significance. God-like love is not even similar to those kinds of superficial “likes” and that is why the Greeks used at least four different words to describe idea.

The Greek word used here is agape and is used to describe God-like love that demonstrates sacrificial, gracious, unselfish goodwill and benevolence. This is why the Word can describe God as the embodiment of love (see 1 John 4:16). It is love as revealed in Jesus, seen as divine and selfless, and a model for humanity. It is not eros (erotic), which is sexual or romantic love, philia (philanthropy), which is a brotherly love toward someone we like, or even caritas (charity), which is a love for people in general. Agape is the deepest type of love; it is “true” love. And yet, despite popular opinion, this word does not always connote the idea of “unconditional” love (the excpetion being Gods’ love toward His chosen children).

In Colossians 3:14 we see this God-induced characteristic as “above all” in the sense of its supremacy among Christ-like virtues. Other passages bear this out:

  • “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). 
  • “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). 
  • Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in  this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8-9). 
  • Martin Luther, I believe correctly, deduced that love was the root or seed that precedes all the other fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22). 

Again Paul, reminding us of Jesus’ own words, says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). Love of God and our fellow-man is the essence of all Christian virtue. When asked by a religious scholar what he must do to inherit eternal life Jesus said, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:26-28). 

And it is in this sense that this true love, “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Another, and I believe preferred, way to render this phrase is, “that produces maturity (or completeness).” So it seems clear that love is the catalyst for the other virtues listed in Colossians 3:12-13. In other words, without God-like, Christ-imparted love none of these other virtues will become a complete reality in and through us. Certainly their fleshly mimics have no real value. The same thought is found is Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 

Additionally, this binding function of love may speak to its corporate influence, its role in harmonizing and unifying disparate individuals that make up a local congregation and His universal church. Without love, and the fruit that blossoms from it, there is little hope of coherence and maturity within the localized and universal body of Christ. The church of my childhood used to often conclude our services with a musical benediction that captures this idea nicely. The lyrics are by John Fawcett:  

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above. 

So let us, above all,  love Him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and our neighbor as our self. Let us look to Jesus, the perfect picture of love and draw from His limitless well-spring of selfless, God-exalting, and man-edifying agape. The kind of true, divine love that bears witness to a God of unimaginable grace who, “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

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