The Gift Of LifeErwin W. Lutzer | December 6, 1998
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus called Himself “the Life.” In our day, people are obsessed with physical health, but Christ was talking about eternal life through Himself.
If we have a relationship with Christ, we have fellowship with God and one another. And we can—and should—share this Life with the world.
I don’t think that it would be an exaggeration to say that we live in an age that is almost obsessed with health and physical fitness. We are supposed to slim down and to shape up. How you do both of those at the same time seems somewhat difficult to me.
We are raising a generation really that I think is into health and not heaven. People think about this life. People are into calories oftentimes and not into Christ. We all like to extend our physical life and we consider it to be very important to us, and that too is good, so there’s a place for that. Paul says that bodily exercise profits a little bit, and there is some profit. But today I am going to talk to you about something much more important than that. I’m going to talk to you about spiritual life. And spiritual life, as we shall see in a moment, is eternal life and its value is so much greater.
As a matter of fact, I’d like to make two promises to you. If you listen carefully to this message, first of all, you may be led to spiritual wholeness. There may be the healing of your soul that will be done by Christ as a result of His Word. Or else at least you will know the direction where that wholeness lies. But there’s a second reason that what I have to say is so important, and that is that people today forget that there is a purpose for which they were created, and that purpose is going to become clear as this message unfolds.
So those of you who may say to yourselves, “I’m not exactly sure why it is that I am in this world or what I should be doing,” I want you to know today that you can find an answer to that question that you have brought with you. And in the end, all of us will be better at walking with God.
Now the Bible talks about eternal life and the coming of Jesus Christ in 1 John. Now this is to be distinct from the Gospel of John, so if you are finding it in your Bible, as I hope you are, it’s near the end of the New Testament. Look at 1 John 1, and we shall today discuss the first four verses. He says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, this we proclaim concerning the word of life.”
Look quickly at verse 2 and you’ll notice it says, “We proclaim to you eternal life.” Now that’s our topic. Eternal life is not, however, eternal existence. One day I was explaining to a person how he could have eternal life, and he said to me, “I don’t want to live eternally.” It was as if he had a choice.
No, everybody is going to have eternal existence. There’s no question about that. It will be either an existence separated from the love of God, an existence that is actually one of horror and terror, or it will be an existence of beauty and love and friendship with God, but everybody exists eternally. Yesterday we were at a program that involved a lot of children at the school where my daughter teaches, and I said to Rebecca as we were leaving, “Every one of those children is precious; every one of them is valuable and special, and just to think that everyone of them will live forever.” What a thought!
But eternal life has to do with the quality of life. Eternal life has to do with the nature of God and receiving that nature in ourselves. “We are partakers of the divine nature,” the Bible says. Eternal life means living eternally with God in harmony, in love and in fellowship. And that’s what John is talking about when he says, “Jesus Christ is the Word, and the Word is eternal life.”
Now what I’d like to do is to look at eternal life based on these verses in three stages. With your Bibles open please notice that first of all the first stage is John wants to emphasize that the Word appeared. It says that in verse 2. The life appeared, though the “Word of life” and "life" are the same thing. Other translations might say that the Word was manifest or the life was revealed. There’s another way to say it. And we look for God, but God has appeared.
Have you ever lost something and you’d give anything to find it? Maybe it was a ring, and you even rented a metal detector to see whether or not you could find the ring, and you thought to yourself, “You know I just wish that the thing would show up.”
In my study at home there is a book that I’ve been looking for, for weeks. I know that it must be there because it’s not the kind of book that my wife or children would take, though stranger things have happened. And I really want that book, and I even really need that book. And so I’ve spent a little bit of time and I’ve gone up and down the shelves a dozen times, and I always say to myself, “It’s there somewhere.” Now, I’ve often thought to myself, “You know, I just wish I’d walk into that study someday and the book would be on my desk, and it would say, ‘Ta da! I’m here!’” Now, on the other hand, if you walked into a study and a book said that, you might not want to go back into that study again ever.
I want you to know today that God said, “Ta da! I’m here.” First of all, in creation God revealed Himself. The heavens display the glory of God, but creation is such a limited display of God. It displays His power, but it says nothing about His love. You think, for example, of what happened in Honduras. You think of the natural disasters in the world. Nature cannot tell us that God is loving. Nature cannot tell us that God is forgiving. And so nature displays God but in a very veiled way.
In the Old Testament God revealed Himself. God came out of heaven and gave people the law and told them, “This is what I am like, and be ye holy for I am holy,” and the curtain begins to part and we begin to see God. But in the New Testament, in the coming of Christ, the curtain is parted. Jesus walks onto the stage. He is born as a baby in Bethlehem. He comes, He lives, He dies, He talks, He dialogs and He is the Word of life, and when Jesus comes, God shows up. And God says, “I am here.” We don’t have to go looking for Him in all the murky places, trying to find Him. He has shown up. He is here.
Now I might ask this question. What God showed up? What Jesus came at Bethlehem? Is it the liberal Jesus, the one stripped of all of His miracles? Is it the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar? No! John says, “That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen.” He’s talking about actually the same beginning as John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is the Jesus who is capable of doing miracles. This is the Jesus who could speak and the storm would blow or the storm would stop. This is the Jesus who could do a miracle, who could speak and five loaves and two fish would be transformed into enough food for 5,000 people. It’s that Jesus that came.
Is He the New Age Jesus, the cosmic Jesus? Some of you know that some years ago I found myself sitting right next to a popular woman pastor here in the city of Chicago who preaches to thousands of people every Sunday. You can see the advertisements in the newspapers. And I knew that she was into New Age thinking so I said to her, “Do you believe that Christ is the only way to God?” and she said, “Why, yes! Why do you even ask?” And I thought, “Well, that’s interesting,” so I took another bite of my steak and thought, “I need to help this lady along theologically somehow.” And then I said to her, “Do you believe that all the religions of the world are equally valid?” And she said, “Oh yes, of course, it doesn’t matter what religion you are in.” And I said, “Now put this together. Jesus is the only way to God on one side, and you are saying that all the religions of the world have equal validity.” I said, “Help me.” And she said, “I don’t want to tell you because I want to remain your friend.” I said, “Aw, c’mon. We can be friends. We’re adults. We can disagree. You tell me.” And finally she whispered in my ear. She leaned over and said, “You must remember that when I preach Christ I am not talking about Jesus of Nazareth. I am talking about the cosmic Christ which indwells everyone.” I reminded her that there is a verse in 1 John that says, “He who denies that Jesus is come in the flesh is anti-Christ.” The cosmic Jesus is anti-Christ.
Now notice how John makes sure that we understand that this is Jesus of Nazareth because in his day, thanks to Neo-Platonism, there were cosmic Jesuses then too. You’ll notice that he says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard (We heard Him.), we saw Him with our eyes, we looked upon Him, and we touched Him.” This is Jesus of Nazareth, and He’s the only Jesus qualified to give us the miracle of divine life. He’s the only one.
I speak to those of you who have come today, or you who are listening to this over the radio, who are saying, “I am a seeker.” Well, God bless you. We always hope that our church is full of seekers, and we hope that you come again and again seeking. But I’ve got good news for you today. Your search is ended. It’s over. You’ve come as a seeker. You’ve come to Jesus who is born in Bethlehem, whom the Apostles touched because He is the One who gives life. He showed up and said, “End of your search! Here I am.”
Imagine the words of Jesus. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Oh you say, “Pastor Lutzer, I’d give anything to see God.” Yes, you’d give anything to see Him, and if you look at Jesus, you have.
Do you remember Jim Bakker who spent five years in prison because of a PTL scandal? By the way, I met him at a convention a year or two ago, and he was so appreciative of our radio ministry. He was very, very delighted to let us know that during those dark days of prison, radio did its miracle and blessed him. But in a recent interview Jim was saying that now here he was in prison. He gets 40 years. It ended up being 5 years. But he thought it was going to be 40. Imagine 40 years. That’s what you are thinking. You’re thinking of spending the rest of your life in jail. That’s it after being so famous and having such a great ministry. He said there were times when he threw himself on the bed in the cell, crying to God and saying, “God, just show up. Do something. Let me know that you still exist.” In fact, he had a plant that someone gave him that he apparently was able to bring into the jail cell, and he even prayed one time and said, “God, if You are still there, if You show up, make the plant wiggle.” Well, the plant didn’t wiggle. No those plants don’t wiggle. They only wiggle when the wind blows and you can’t do that in jail.
But then he said that in despair he picked up the Bible and began to read and read and study, and finally got his theology straight. He said that he couldn’t believe that he believed what he did previously about the health and wealth gospel. But he said that in the process of studying the Bible and studying Christ he knew that God had not forsaken him, and that God had shown up. God had shown up!
Now those of you who say, “Well I want the plants to wiggle, I want the trees to move; if you are God up there, then do something,” God says, “I’ve done something. Look at Bethlehem and look at Calvary. I have shown up.” So first of all, the life is manifest. “The life appeared,” John said.
Secondly, the life is experienced. Notice what he says in verse 3. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
What he’s saying is that this is not an academic exercise only. It’s an exercise of the heart. He says, “We saw Him. We touched Him. And because we saw Him and touched Him, it isn’t necessary for you to do that. We’d all like to be there with the physical Jesus but the spiritual dimension of Jesus is much more important than the physical because He pervades the whole Universe as the Son of God,” and so he says “What we now have is something that we can actually experience.” He says, “We have fellowship one with another. You can have fellowship with us if you believe in the same Christ, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”
You know that word fellowship means to have a common life, a common existence. That’s its meaning. I think we get confused at this point. We think we’re having fellowship with people because we belong to the same bowling league, or maybe because we attend an office party that is hosted by our office, and we say, “Well that’s fellowship of some sort.” My friend, Christian fellowship is the coming together on the basis of the harmony of the common life of Christ, which is shared.
We had about 15 people at our Thanksgiving dinner this last Thanksgiving. And after we ate, and we ate very, very well, we went around the table and we began to share the things that we were thankful for. And in the midst of it there was sharing about failure, sharing about heartbreak, sharing about all of the things that were difficult, as well as the joys of life. And there were tears as some wept as they shared and thought about the goodness of God. And I thought to myself, “Now that is fellowship. That is fellowship because we are talking about the common life of Christ, and we’re talking about our failures, but we always talk about His faithfulness. There is a bond that cannot be manufactured. It is a bond brought about by the action of God. Why? We share the same life. And you’ll notice that it says here, “Not only do we have fellowship one with another, but the reason we do is because our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Now you think for a moment of how beautiful that is. When you were born (and some of you were born many years ago, and some of you more recently, and I can tell the difference just looking out), you had nothing in common with God. You were born a sinner. You were born alienated from God. You were born with nothing in common! Do you remember the words of Augustine that I quoted earlier in other contexts? “He who understands the holiness of God despairs in trying to appease or please Him” because there is no commonness. Oh yes, we have the image of God. I understand that. But because we are sinners and contaminated, we really don’t have anything in common with God, and He can’t fellowship with us.
What is the message of Christmas? The message of Christmas is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and took upon Himself that which was common to us, namely humanity. He died on the cross so that we might have something in common with God, so that He might reconcile us to God, and make us one and then impart to us the very life of God, the divine nature.
Dr. Wiersbe said this. “God took upon Himself the nature of man, that we might receive the nature of God.” And now we have something in common. God and I have something in common. Because of the imparted life that is not a part of me but was given to me by Him, we now walk together, and we talk together and we have fellowship. And you know the words of the Creed (Do you remember?) that the chief purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And I think that John Piper is right when he says that the best way to glorify God is by enjoying Him forever. And that enjoyment begins in this life. You and I are called to the marvelous privilege. I said that we talk about the purpose of our existence. We are called to the marvelous privilege of enjoying God, of knowing that we belong to Him, and maintaining that closeness in relationship as long as we are conscious, and whenever we are conscious.
You say, “Well, yeah, that’s preacher stuff! That’s difficult to do.” I’ll tell you why it’s difficult for us to do. Number one, it’s because we don’t feel worthy to keep that close in touch with God, and secondly, sin crops up and always messes the communication lines. And then you have all of the hassles of life.
Friday evening I returned home and listened to the messages on the answering machine, and there are days in which I thank God for answering machines, and then there are other days when I am not as excited about them. But there were two frantic messages from a radio station because I was scheduled to be interviewed at 5:30. I was supposed to be home for an interview and that totally blew past me. Somehow my schedule just never picked up on that and so here I am at the church at 5:30 and so they’re saying, “You’re supposed to be on the air right now. Please call us back,” and of course, by the time I got home it was too late to even bother. And you know, you feel so badly, and it interrupts your fellowship because you say, “This is my fault.” How do you handle that so that you keep in fellowship with God? Well what you do is, first of all, if it’s a matter of sin you confess it, and you keep confessing it even while things are happening around you. And then secondly, what you do is you keep giving it to God. You can’t go back. You can’t redo the past. Some of you with pasts are always living in regret, and that regret is fine if it leads you to the foot of the cross to give it to God. But once it’s given to God, regret does not change the past. And so you keep giving it to God and trusting Him to work through it, and confessing to Him your total dependence upon Him, and the fellowship is maintained. It’s maintained.
You’ll notice that John says that if we walk in the light (This is now in verse 7.) as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from sin. What does it mean to walk in the light? It means to be totally exposed to God, admitting your need, admitting your sin, even as it is happening or is scheduled to happen, or you think it might happen, and you maintain fellowship with God. Where can you go to find that? What religion has that with the nature of God – the blessed Holy Spirit – implanted?
Now, we’ve talked about the “life appeared.” It was manifest. Secondly, the life has been experienced, and thirdly, the life is to be shared. We pick it up in verse 2, and we go back to verse 2 because what we are doing is we are isolating some ideas from this text. “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.” We’re passing it on. Aren’t you glad today that we have the privilege of being Christ’s representatives of passing it on? We think of what God has done for us and we immediately think, “You know what He’s done for me He can do for others. Do you remember Stuart Hamblen? He sang,
It is no secret what God can do.
What he’s done for others He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open He’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.
We proclaim the eternal life. Aren’t you glad that the angels in heaven said to themselves, “This news is too good to keep to ourselves?” Aren’t you glad that the shepherds that went to Bethlehem said, “This news is too good to keep to ourselves?” Aren’t you glad that the Wiseman said, “This news is too good to keep to ourselves?” Aren’t you glad that somebody in your life, maybe a Sunday school teacher or a parent said, “This news is too good to keep to myself?”
Let me talk to you about last week. Is there anyone in your experience last week to whom you shared a word of life and a reminder that in Jesus there was actual eternal life to be had? My friends, those of us particularly who were brought up in Christian homes, we forget the total emptiness of life without Christ. The people of the world go from emptiness to emptiness, but the reason that they keep going is because they think that somewhere, someplace the world will keep its promises. They actually believe that given enough time and enough pleasure and enough experiences, and enough of whatever, that in the end they will benefit, and somehow the void will be filled up. What they don’t know is that it never will be without the gift of eternal life that comes to people through Christ.
How can I summarize all that I have been saying today? Let me boil it down. First of all, would you be reminded today that Christ is not just to be trusted? He is to be enjoyed – not just trusted but enjoyed. You’ll notice I read it in verse 4. It says, “We write this to make our joy complete.” And we are to enjoy Him so much that, as the Scripture says, “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy, at their right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”
We’re not opposed to pleasure as Christians. We’re just opposed to those pleasures that defile us, and not the pleasures at God’s right hand. A moment ago I read verse 7 of 1 John 1. It says, “We have fellowship with God.” Now I want to give you a little lesson in grammar. Some of you perhaps have forgotten your grammar, and I say that facetiously because I have forgotten a lot of it. But you’ll notice it says in verse 7, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship one with another.” Who is that “one with another” anyway? You say, “Well, that’s other Christians.” No, that’s earlier on in the passage. That’s in verse 3, but here it must be God because the antecedent must be God.
“If we walk in the light as God is in the light we have fellowship one with another.” You say, “Well, what’s God doing when we are having fellowship with Him?” He’s enjoying it. And that’s why you were created. It’s to enjoy God “that your joy may be full,” the Scripture says.
So let me hurry on to a second important lesson. We enjoy God to the extent that we are yielded to Him because you’ve met Christians and I’ve met Christians who do not enjoy God. In fact, oftentimes I do not enjoy Him, just like oftentimes you don’t either because our lives are so crammed with all of the things that detract us from that enjoyment. So my second important concluding lesson is that what we must do is to recognize that only when we are yielded, when we confess our sins (and that word confess means agreement), we agree with God.
There are many people who do not enjoy God because of the movies that they saw this past week. How in the world can they enjoy God today when they have so offended the Holy Spirit? A college student said to me recently that she was seeing this movie and she said it was as if the Holy Spirit of God within her mourned. She said, “He was mourning over the fact that I was there, and saying, ‘How can you see this?’”
You see, we can’t enjoy God unless we are connected with Him. You can’t enjoy God as long as you have one foot serving the devil because you are out of agreement with God. Now if there’s anything that you know about marriage, it’s that in a very elementary way you can’t really enjoy the marriage, and you can’t enjoy the fellowship when you are always out of agreement. At least at some point you have to be in agreement.
God says, “You agree with me. When I say it’s sin, you confess it as sin. When I say, ‘Yield this part of your life to Me,’ you yield that part of your life. Some of you ought to go home this afternoon and you ought to get down on your knees and take a note pad (a long legal pad – perhaps a new legal pad) and you ought to write down all the things that the Holy Spirit points out to you that are interrupting your enjoyment of God. There is joy when you are in fellowship.
So first of all, in conclusion, it isn’t enough to just believe in Jesus and trust Jesus as your Savior. He’s to be enjoyed. Secondly, we enjoy Him the most when we are yielded the most. And then third, you can’t even begin to enjoy Him unless you are a partaker of the Divine Nature, unless you are born again. Six times in this epistle John uses the phrase, “He that is born of God.”
Some of you listening to this today are not born of God. So what I’m saying kind of blew past. It seemed interesting but you do not have the divine nature. Therefore you have nothing in common with God. You may even find God to be comforting in the sense that you kind of believe that He has a plan out there, but you don’t know Him personally. And you can’t really have fellowship with Him, and He can’t have fellowship with you because you do not yet belong to Him. That which you need in common is not true of you unless you are born of God. And that does not come by going to church or by being good or even being religious. It comes because you trust Christ who does for you what no man can ever do.
Years ago in Italy there was a young sculptor who put a lot of work into this sculpture. It was a sculpture actually of an angel and he wanted to know what Michelangelo, the great mighty maestro, thought of it. And so what the young man did was he made his sculpture, and he put it where it would be displayed, and then he concealed himself to see what Michelangelo would say when the great artist came to look at it. Michelangelo came and studied the sculpture and then he said as he left, “It lacks one thing.” “Oh,” this guy thought, “it lacks one thing. What could it be?” He couldn’t even sleep at night. Here’s the mighty Michelangelo, looking at his work and saying, “It lacks one thing.” “What could I have omitted?”
So in despair he talked to a friend of the great artist to ask him what he meant. And Michelangelo’s answer was this. “It lacks life. It lacks something that only God can give it.”
I look at you today, you searcher, who says you are seeking but down deep inside you are a dishonest seeker. You say, “I’ve got it made. Look at who I am. I’ve got it all sculptured; I’ve got it all worked out, and everybody admires me as they walk by.” What you lack is the one thing that only God can give you, and that is life. The life was manifest. The life was given. And we know that life is in His Son, and Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly,” and that’s the message of the cradle. It’s the message of the cross – that Christ came to breathe into us what we cannot have. No follower of Michelangelo can give that statue what it needs. And nobody can give you what you need except God, the giver of eternal life.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for that gift. Thank You for those of us who have experienced, at least to some extent, what it’s like to have fellowship with You. We have drunk deeply, and the more deeply we drink, the more satisfied we are. There’s no aftertaste. We pray today, Lord, for those Christians who are not in fellowship with You, who are out of sorts with You because of sin that they would not give up, and they cannot find rejoicing in You. It eludes them. Grant them, Father, that spirit of repentance that would lead them to complete agreement.
We pray for those who do not know Christ as Savior. And even now, as I conclude this prayer, I want to talk to you. You’ve never believed in Jesus and received that gift. Why don’t you pray something like this?
Oh God, I know that I am a sinner. I cannot save myself. I transfer all of my trust to Christ. I trust Him to do in me the miracle of the new birth. Save me for Jesus’ sake, Amen.