Some time after Jesus Christ sent out His twelve disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, etc., He then sent out seventy others to do the same. When they returned to Him, they were thrilled with the evident fruit of their mission, which included among other things, healing the sick, casting out demons, etc. They reported with excitement, “…demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus validated their experience and their authority, but then gently warned them about what they were to rejoice in and find their sense of identity and worth and value in and what they were not. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).
Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that my name is recorded in the Lamb’s book of life, that I am an adopted son or daughter of God, and that no one can change this eternal status of mine is meant to be and should be an ongoing spring of joy and rejoicing for every true believer.
The scriptures are clear that God wants us to have this joy filled assurance. For instance in I John 5:13 the apostle John states, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” It is very important for our joy and for our spiritual growth and stability in Christ to know beyond all doubt that we have eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27,28) This is a wonderful promise for those who are indeed His sheep, and who have discovered how much Satan and his demons want to destroy them.
So how can we know for sure that we are indeed His sheep? Especially since if we have read the Bible we know there are many passages where Jesus and others warn us that things are often not what they seem; and that there are going to be many surprises when we in single file give an account of our lives before our Lord and Maker on that final day. For instance in the above mentioned passage Jesus says His sheep follow Him. Another time Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to live, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14). A few verses later He gives another reality check, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Some who thought they had eternal life and were right with God based on what they thought they did for Christ will be shocked to their core on Judgment Day when Jesus Himself says He never knew them, they never belonged to Him, and thus eternal damnation rather than eternal life is their portion.
Perhaps it would be helpful for us to go back to I John 5 and look at the two verses that preceded vs. 13 that we referenced in the third paragraph above. “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” (I John 5:11, 12). From this passage we learn that first God and God alone is the One who gives us eternal life. It is a gift. It is not something we earn. Second, eternal life is based or found in Jesus the Son of God. If we have Him as He is and not as we have made Him out to be, we have eternal life. If we do not have Him, we do not have eternal life (no matter what kind of religious or spiritual things we have done). So how do we know if we have Him? Well the first thing John ever told us about this process of receiving or obtaining Jesus the Son and thus the gift of eternal life is found in John’s gospel chapter one verse 12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” The process of becoming a Christian or obtaining eternal life begins on our end with our receiving Him and placing our trust and faith in Him. (On His end He has already chosen us and been revealing Himself to us and convicting us of our sin and need for Him). Back to John 1:12 - It is one thing to mentally assent or agree that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. Many have done this. But receiving Him goes a step further. It is an intentional aggressive step on my part of recognizing that He is who He says He is and then asking Him to come into my life and be my Savior and Lord and King.
I find it very helpful that John concludes this verse by adding the phrase “who believe in His name.” If you trace this verb “believe” or concept through the gospel of John you will find it occurs over and over. It is a major theme, perhaps the major theme in his book. He actually states towards the end of his gospel, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30, 31).
Over the years we’ve discovered a huge problem we Americans have with this concept of believing is we think of believing as mental assent. But John’s use of this term goes way beyond that. The Amplified Bible’s rendering of John 1:12 is very helpful in this regard: “But as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority [power, privilege, right] to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in – adhere to, trust in and rely on – His name.”
Again, many people in America, especially in the church world, believe Jesus Christ is probably the Son of God. But they have yet to adhere to, trust in and rely on Him for all of life and especially for their salvation and eternal destiny. If you trace all of the occurrences of this practice of believing in Christ in the gospel of John you will discover it was never meant to be a merely mental, one and done thing.
So often we have met people or heard of people (usually in the older generation) who say or said to someone else something like, “Oh yeah, I accepted Christ when I was 12.” Been there, done that. But whatever happened back when they were 12 appears to have had little bearing on the rest of their life. And their assurance of their salvation lies in the remembrance of something they did (almost like a formula), not the confidence of something God did in their life and has continued to do with tangible evidence or fruit to show for it. (Note how much emphasis in Ephesians chapters one and two Paul gives to what God did contrasted with what we did in this whole process of becoming born again or a child of God).
As John proclaims in his gospel, Jesus is the Life, the Light, the Lamb of God, the Savior, the Bread of Life, etc. He is all these things and much more! And we need Him daily to be all of this to us. Perhaps that’s partially why Jesus said in His prayer in John 17, “And this is eternal life that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) To be saved and to have received eternal life is to be in a daily growing relationship with the living God, wherein we are getting to know and trust Him more and more.
It is very important to note that a number of times in John’s gospel such as in John 1:12 and John 3:18 we are told we are to believe “in His name.” Here’s what John states in 3:18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” What does it mean to believe in His name? In the ancient Hebrew world as well as in Biblical Greek, one’s name refers to everything they are, their ways, their works, etc. This is one reason why I think it is more helpful to think of salvation as a process and not a specific point in time. You see God is constantly seeking to reveal more of His Son to us. And as He does this we are to place our faith and trust in all that Jesus is, all that He has done, all that He has taught, etc. When He first begins to get our attention, we know very little about Him and probably have developed some wrong perceptions of Him. The process of becoming His disciple and even of being saved depends on how we respond to the ongoing revelation of who He is. It is not ours to pick and choose what we like about Jesus and what we don’t. Many in our State love or admire the gentleness, love and compassion of Jesus but ignore and rationalize away His anger, wrath, judgment, hatred of sin and evil, and His claim to be the only way to God, etc.
Well I think I will stop here for now. Having lived in various places around the world, and having met disciples of Jesus in all those places, one thing I have learned: Everyone’s journey to and with Christ is different. Some remember a very definitive point in time where they were born again and became a child of God. Others feel it was more of a gradual process and can’t remember a specific point in time. Regardless, God wants us to grow in confidence that we belong to Him and in the joy that comes with that. In part II I hope to share some things I’ve learned from John’s first epistle as it relates to how we can know for sure that we belong to Jesus and He belongs to us. God bless you with an ever greater love for our great Savior.