It's easy to forget in these post September 11 days
that one of the greatest issues in America over the past few years has been the examination of the American company Enron.
Enron was an energy company
- they bought and sold power right across America
and throughout the world.
They were one of the ten biggest companies in the United States,
and those who ran the company were some of the most corrupt people around.
You see, in American corporate culture, there is something called "Share Options".
These are simply ways of paying people lots of money without running down your bank account.
The situation goes like this,
an Executive is hired for the going rate,
say $5 Million per year.
But on top of that, the executive is given shares in the company
which are valued in the tens of millions of dollars.
It's only when the executive sells the shares does he or she receive any real money.
And of course, the executive's shares go up and down every day
as the shares are traded on the stock market.
The idea was quite a noble one
- you save money on paying your top executives
while giving them partial ownership of the company.
These executives are then given incentive to improve the company
and make it more profitable,
which in turn raises the share price and,
in the end,
raises their own wealth in share options.
The problem with this system is that it just doesn't work.
Enron was an excellent example of what was going on.
The executives who ran Enron basically lied to the sharemarket
about how much money the company was making.
This pushed up the price of the shares.
These executives then sold off all or part of their share options
and made an absolute killing as a result.
By the time the sharemarket discovered that Enron had been lying about its profits,
the executives in question had sold off their share options and,
in many cases,
left the company long before anything was discovered.
Currently (January 2004) Enron is still being examined by US authorities.
Its share price has plummeted to zero.
It is bankrupt.
Millions of ordinary Americans have lost money they invested in Enron shares as a result.
Don't you hate it when those bigwig executives look after themselves rather than ordinary people?
Don't you hate it when people become friends with the boss,
when a person goes out with the bosses' daughter,
when a friend of the boss gets a good position in the company?
this is exactly the position we are in now in relation to God.
As Christians, we have a special relationship with God
that grants us certain privileges.
But these privileges are not something we weasel out of God,
they are the natural privileges that God gives to all who are true believers.
And yet this is completely and totally fair.
There is no corruption or nepotism here.
Last time I was here I discussed the issue of God's will
- that God has two sorts of wills,
his sovereign will and his moral.
God's sovereign will is the ability God has to make all events in our world happen.
God's moral will is God's rules for us to follow,
rules which are found in the Bible.
Today I am talking from the same passage,
but today I will be talking about the privileges we all have as Christians.
I have three points I want to make today.
The first is the Promise of Eternal Life.
The second is the Promise of approaching God.
The third point is the Promise of answered prayer.
1. The Promise of Eternal life
Let me read to you verse 13 again:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Remember when John wrote this letter,
he wrote it to a series of churches who had been influenced by false teachers
- teachers who, among other things,
denied that Jesus was human
and that he died for our sins.
The fact is that when immature or weak Christians are exposed to false or misleading teaching,
their faith is harmed.
These people can lose their faith in God
and maybe even lose the assurance they have of their salvation.
But John points out in verse 13 that the reason why he wrote the letter was to strengthen those who read it.
What he is saying is simple
- if you believe in the name of the Son of God,
then you have eternal life.
It is one verse out of many,
but it is a verse that explains the entire reason for the letter.
These churches have been harmed by the presence of false teachers,
and John's letter served as an encouragement to all who hold onto the truth that their future is secure.
Who are those people who "believe in the name of the Son of God"?
It is all those people who have placed their faith and trust in Christ to forgive their sins.
Whenever I tell someone that I am 100% sure of going to heaven, I am usually given a strange look.
I can sort of tell what things are going through the person's mind.
One thing might be
"You think you're good enough to get to heaven - how arrogant is that?".
Another thing might be
"You presume to know the mind of God, how can you do that?".
You have to understand that when a person is a Christian
- when they believe in the name of the Son of God
- then they obtain certain privileges from God.
The one great privilege all Christians can know that they have is eternal life.
This is not an optional extra.
A Christian has the promise of eternal life.
Now for the rest of the world
- all those who are not Christians
- it's not fair!
Of course it's not fair.
Who said anything about being fair?
If God were fair then no one would have eternal life.
Eternal life is a gift from God
- it is not something we earn or purchase.
Notice also that eternal life is given to those who believe.
It is not given to those who work for it.
It is given to all who have faith.
In Romans 5 verse 1, the Apostle Paul says:
we have been justified through faith and have peace with God
Notice also that it is not faith by itself that leads to eternal life,
it is what that faith is in.
Eternal life is not given to those who simply believe in anything or other,
it is given to those whose belief is in the name of the Son of God - Jesus.
Faith does not lead to eternal life,
faith in Jesus leads to eternal life.
That verse I quoted from Romans 5.1.
Let me read it to you again:
We have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
Jesus is important to our faith
- without Jesus our faith is not Christianity.
It is through faith in Christ that we have eternal life.
Every Christian knows that they have eternal life.
If you do not know if you are going to heaven or not after you die
then you are not a Christian.
That may sound harsh.
If you're sitting there this morning thinking about heaven,
but are not sure if you're going or not,
then you need to listen to this verse carefully.
John says clearly
- I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
What should such knowledge do for us?
If you breathe in laughing gas then it will cause you to laugh,
but there is no reason for your laughter except that the gas makes it that way.
How should we react to knowing that we have eternal life?
Well one of the most obvious things we should do is rejoice.
We're going to heaven!
All those sins we've done in the past
- they're gone,
God has dealt with them through Jesus.
There's nothing that will prevent us from going to heaven!
I'm not saying that we should become glassy-eyed cult members that smile all the time
- what I am saying is that the eternal life that is ours in Christ should produce a joy in our life
that affects everything we do and how we deal with others.
If something happens to us that makes us sad,
which is often for many of us,
does that mean we should just "be happy".
Of course not!
Yes we can be sad,
but in the midst of our sorrow is the joy we have in Christ.
The other thing we should do is remember how important such a blessing is.
While we toddle along and suffer
and eventually depart from this mortal coil,
we have to keep our mind focused on heaven.
This is where we'll be spending the rest of our life.
Retirement looks pretty good doesn't it!
In the end, we'll all be retired in eternal life.
One more thing before we move on.
Eternal life is promised to all who believe in the name of the Son of God.
By reversing John's meaning here,
we can also work out that eternal life is not promised to all who do not believe in the name of the Son of God.
There is no other name on heaven or earth by which we can be saved
- all who do not have faith in Christ do not have the promise of eternal life.
Shouldn't such a fact be the reason why we should speak to our friends and family about Christ?
Don't you want your friends and family to enjoy eternal paradise with you?
We should pray that God will give us an opportunity to speak to others
about eternal life and how to get it.
2. The Promise of Approaching God with Confidence
The second point I want to make concerns the promise we have of approaching God with confidence.
Let me read to you verse 14 again:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Imagine, if you can, what the temple looked like in the Old Testament looked like.
You had three basic sections to the temple
- the outer courtyard,
the main hall
and the Holy of Holies.
Each of these three places had some high level of holiness or sacredness attached to them.
The outer courtyard was pretty sacred,
but it was even more sacred when you got into the main hall.
As for the holy of holies,
that was so sacred that even the High priest would go there only a few times per year.
What all this shows us is that God is holy and he is unapproachable.
We can't just waltz into God's presence flippantly.
When we approach God,
we have to do it carefully and according to God's rules.
But when Jesus died on the cross, something interesting happened.
In Matthew 27.51 it says that the curtain that divided the holiest of places from the rest of the world was torn open.
In Hebrews 10.19-20 it says that we can enter into this most holy place through the blood of Jesus,
which acted as the tearing curtain.
What does all this mean?
It means that the most holy of holies is now opened for us to go into,
not through anything we've done,
but through the death of Jesus on the cross.
When Jesus died on the cross,
he got rid of the division of sin that cut us off from God.
What is the result of this?
It means we can approach God with confidence.
It means that any sin that existed between us and God
and divided the relationship we have with God
has been taken away.
The curtain that separated us from God is gone forever.
And the result is that we have confidence to approach God.
In these crazy days that we now live in,
I quite often feel like giving Johnny Howard a piece of my mind.
So I've formed a plan.
What I'll do is that I'll wait until he's home,
and then I'll knock on his door
and tell him exactly what I think.
I've also got a few things to say to President George Bush,
so I'll catch the next flight to Washington,
walk up to the front door of the White House,
and knock on it until George answers.
Then I'll give him a piece of my mind.
Now do you think these strategies will work?
I'll be arrested within metres of walking through the gates of Kirribilli house,
and I'll be dead within metres of walking through the outer gates of the White House.
I can't talk to these leaders without the necessary approval and clearance
- something that could take months and won't guarantee success.
But for us and God it is different.
God is infinitely more powerful than John or George,
and he has far more influence on what is going on in this world.
And yet we can simply walk up to God's door,
walk through it
and approach God with confidence.
This is true.
How can we do this?
We do it through Christ.
Have you ever wondered why it is that so many prayers include the phrase "Through Jesus Christ our Lord"?
Jesus is the bridge that brings us to God,
and covers over those sins that separate us from God.
We don't need special clearance from special people.
We can approach God with confidence any time we wish.
John uses this fact in the context of prayer.
He says in verse 14:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
The promise of approaching God with confidence means
that at any time or place we can come to God in prayer.
Prayer is not made more special when it is done in church.
If we held our meeting today in a pub
or a warehouse makes no difference as to whether God can hear our prayers.
We also don't need anyone special to pray for us.
Having a specially ordained priest to make prayers on our behalf is not necessary,
nor will it make God listen harder and make those prayers more effective.
The fact is that Jesus has destroyed the sin that has cut us off from God,
and therefore we can approach God at any time and in any place,
in full confidence that he hears us.
We don't need to burn smelly incense or to have people in robes dispensing God's grace to us
- the only thing that allows us to approach God with confidence is Christ.
Another thing to realise is that the basis on which we approach God is Christ,
not our own works or power.
This means that when we pray,
it is not the strength or the earnestness of the prayer that makes any difference.
Imagine that there's a Christian who lives next door to you who is always praying.
He is constantly in prayer.
He is on his knees every day,
and he pleads with God to answer his prayers.
You compare that to your current prayer life.
Is God going to listen to his prayers more because he works so hard at them?
Of course not.
It is not the strength of the pray-er,
nor is it the words of the prayer itself that answers prayer.
It is God who is powerful enough to answer prayer.
When we approach God we approach him with confidence.
If we feel as though something is cutting us off from God
and this requires extra effort on our part to make God hear our prayers,
then we've got it all wrong.
We may feel as though something is cutting us off from God and his presence,
but if we are a Christian then we can know that that feeling is wrong.
We can approach God with confidence,
knowing that he will hear us when we pray.
trust in what God says here though John
- It is our reliance upon the death of Christ that ensures that we can approach God with confidence.
The reason why I'm saying all this is because prayer is one of those topics
that is able to make many Christians feel guilty.
Walk into a Christian bookshop and you will find all sorts of books on prayer,
many of them offering special tips and tricks to make prayer more effective.
The idea is that prayer has everything to do with how much effort and faith we put into it.
This is not the Bible's teaching.
The Bible clearly shows that we can approach God with total confidence.
Don't be fooled by these books offering new breakthroughs in your prayer life
or offering to tell you some secret knowledge
or words that will make your prayers more effective.
Simply pray knowing that God hears you
simply based on what he has done
rather than on what you can do.
3. The promise of answered prayer
The final point I want to make is about the promise of answered prayer.
Let me read to you again verses 14 & 15.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.
When I was a young Christian I was concerned with the issue of whether or not you could pray for a Porsche.
Can a Christian come to God and say "Lord, please give me a Porsche"?
According to some people who misinterpret these verses, the answer is yes.
More than that, if your prayers are effective enough, God will give one to you.
The Bible can be mangled and misinterpreted to mean the opposite of what it actually means,
and these are a couple of verses that can be misinterpreted by many people.
Verse 15, taken by itself, promises anything the pray-er asks of God.
There is within the Christian church a teaching that is based on non-Christian thinking.
It is called the power of positive thinking.
A book by the same title was written by Norman Vincent Peale in 1952.
The idea is that if a person thinks and acts positive all the time,
they will eventually get the reward they are seeking.
which is not Christian,
has been taken up by many teachers within the Christian church today.
Instead of simply positive thinking, a person must add prayer and faith in God,
and God will eventually relent
and give the person what they were seeking.
The reason for the success of this movement is that it sometimes works,
but the fact is that most people are unable to have enough faith
or pray hard enough
to make God hear them,
according to those who preach such a belief.
So what is the Biblical solution?
It resides in understanding what God's will actually is.
This is why I spent an entire sermon discussing God's will last time I was here.
Look at verse 14:
That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
So what John is saying is that for prayer to work,
it must be in accordance with God's will.
Which will is John talking about here?
I think he is talking about both God's sovereign will and his moral will.
What sort of things do we pray about?
We pray about lots of important things.
We pray for our government.
We pray for world peace.
We pray for those we know who are sick.
Yet God still expects us to pray about these things knowing that he himself is guiding history.
Somehow our prayers fit in with God's sovereign purpose.
Our prayers might seem as though we are trying to change God's mind,
but these fit in with his sovereign purposes
to ensure that things we pray for happen.
We have to be mindful, however,
that it is up to God as to how and when he answers prayer.
We cannot second-guess God.
We have to pray and trust that he is at work.
We have to pray and rely upon him.
My sister became a Christian about 15 years ago.
For the next few years both my sister and I prayed that her husband would become a Christian.
Unfortunately they ended up divorcing one another.
Yet God worked in the midst of this,
and a few years ago this man professed his faith in Christ.
Our prayers for him were not answered overnight,
but they were answered eventually,
in the time that God had decided.
What sort of things fit in with God's will?
Our prayers are, in the end, quite simple.
If we are praying for ourselves,
we pray that God will continue to change us
and make us more like Christ.
This involves praying about our strengths and weaknesses,
about our gifts and about our sins.
If we are praying for fellow Christians
then we must pray that they grow in their relationship with God.
If we are praying for unbelievers then we should pray that they come to Christ.
These are very simple prayers,
and they are prayers that fit into both God's sovereign and moral will.
It's my belief that prayer these days is more complex than it actually is.
Prayer is simple.
It doesn't require us to work hard so God can hear us.
It doesn't require flowery language.
It requires honesty
and a heart that is set on understanding God's will.
It is God's will that we as Christians grow in our faith,
so we should pray for it.
It is God's will that many should hear the message of the gospel and be saved,
so we should pray for it.
It is only when our focus moves way from the cross
and away from eternal life
that we start praying for Porsches, riches and other selfish things
- things which God is not interested in hearing about.
But when our focus is upon God's will,
then our prayers will follow.
When we pray for someone who is sick,
we must never second-guess God as to the outcome.
We should pray that God heals them,
knowing that this prayer will be ultimately answered when Christ returns.
We should pray that God strengthens their faith,
for we know that in times of suffering our faith undergoes stress and strain.
Yet we pray these things knowing that God is both a God who can miraculously heal
as well as a God who may choose not to.
Our prayers should reflect these things.
I started off this morning by talking about Enron and those who abused their positions of power.
As Christians we have spiritual privileges that have been granted to us by a loving God.
We can know that as Christians we have the assurance of eternal life.
We can know that as Christians we can approach God with confidence,
knowing that he will hear our prayers.
And we can know that as Christians we can have the promise of answered prayer,
as long as we pray in accordance with God's will.
Through Christ all believers have the assurance of eternal life
and of being in relationship with the Father.
Thank you, Lord, that you are a God who answers prayer. Thank you that you hear us, and we humbly pray now that you give us hearts and minds that are set upon your will. Help us to understand your will in scripture as we discover what your mind is. Help us to trust in your sovereignty, knowing that our prayers fit in with your overall plan. Thank you that we have confidence to approach you, not through anything we have done but in what you have done for us in Christ. Thank you that all those who believe in the name of the Son of God have been promised eternal life. Amen.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.