but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life,
but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Here we see John echoing the words of Jesus regarding the way to eternal life. Believing in Christ is the key which alone will open the gate to heaven. There is no other One by whom we may be saved than through Christ and there is no other means by which He will save us than through faith. The cries of the reformation still ring true - we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, that to God alone may all the glory fall!
Two main points have stuck with me while dwelling on this one verse this morning. First of all, there is a precious promise. “He who believes in the Son HAS eternal life…” The gift of faith is not one that we must wait to receive when we get to heaven’s gates. No, it is a gift that belongs to us here and now. He who believes HAS!
As I have so many times in these first three chapters of John, I turn once again to Mr. Ryle’s comments.
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. He is not intended to look forward with a sick heart to a far distant privilege. He ‘hath’ everlasting life as soon as he believes. Pardon, peace, and a complete title to heaven, are an immediate possession. They become a believer’s own from the very moment he puts faith in Christ. They will not be more completely his own if he lives to the age of Methuselah.
“The truth before us is one of the most glorious privileges of the Gospel. There are no works to be done, no conditions to be fulfilled, no price to be paid, no wearing years of probation to be passed, before a sinner can be accepted with God. Let him only believe on Christ, and he is at once forgiven. Salvation is close to the chief of sinners. Let him only repent and believe, and this day it is his own.”
Good news!! The first part of John’s final sermon is a joy to preach and to proclaim. Who wouldn’t want to her these things? However, John is a faithful crier of the truth and he will not stop short and speak only half truths. John will hold forth the whole counsel of God.
So, part two - the hard truth. Secondly in this verse we see the serious warning to those who refuse to believe. “…but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Christ has commanded men to believe on Him. John has done the same. Those who choose to disobey this gracious command of the God who created them and who alone can save them rebel to their own peril. Ryle’s words are piercing to me personally. He writes:
“Let us leave this passage with one grave and heart-searching thought. If faith in Christ brings with it present and immediate privileges, to remain unbelieving is to be in a state of tremendous peril. If heaven is very near to the believer, hell must be very near to the unbeliever.”
John understood the eternal danger that was lurking around the souls of his hearers. If they heeded not his warning it was to their eternal doom. This is a big deal – the biggest of deals! So often in our current culture the church, her ministers, and her people shy away from ever speaking of anything but the love of God. We paint a Picasso type portrait of our God. It is an abstract and unrealistic rendering. Rarely in our day and time do we see Rembrandtish realism – a full orbed view of a God who is holy, just, and righteous as well as loving, merciful, and full of compassion. John was not about painting with abstract strokes. The God he held forth was FULL of love and was also holy in just wrath.
“Here we find that the last words of one of Christ’s best servants, consist of a solemn declaration of the danger of unbelief. The wrath of God is John’s last thought. To warn men of God’s wrath and of their danger of hell is not harshness but true charity.”
The promise of having eternal life – God’s gracious gift, sent in love to unworthy sinners - is held out to all. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” The warning of eternal death – God’s just and holy punishment to unrepentant sinners – is held out as well. May the gracious Spirit who is the divine Initiator of the new birth renew our hearts that we might make the only choice which is wise – believing and therefore receiving!
In His glorious grace,