Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
— John 3:1-3 (ESV)
30Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
— Acts 16:30-31 (ESV)
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - that’s it!
This is the culmination of a long process. God created man (Genesis 1:27) in a perfect state, but man chose to sin (Genesis 3:1-7). There were stiff consequences for that sin (Genesis 3:16-19), but in the serpent’s curse, God alluded to His plan (Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies were made concerning the Messiah, both literal (Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53) and figurative (Leviticus 4). Jesus came, born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), and lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) while ministering on earth. He was crucified (Matthew 27:22-26), but resurrected from the grave (Matthew 28:1-7) and ascended to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:6-11) until He returns to call His own home (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
— James 3:1-2a (ESV)
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.
This week, we come to the most popular 3:16 of them all. It’s a verse so popular, people can write just the reference on a piece of poster board, and those seeing it know exactly what they’re trying to say. Yes, today’s 3:16 comes from the book of John.
16For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
— John 3:16 (HCSB)
This verse is part of the larger context of Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus at night, described in John 3:1-21. While we won’t recount that story in detail, it is interesting to note that John 3:3 is the source of the term “born again,” and it came from Jesus. Also, we won’t rehash what we looked at two weeks ago, regarding man’s need for God; if you missed it or would like to re-read it, feel free. Rather, I’d like to focus on what the Old Testament says about the coming of Jesus. Notice that “gave” is past tense; at this chronological point in the Bible, most references to God’s Son were in the future tense.
The coming of Jesus is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament, and it starts early in Genesis.
15I will put hostility between you and the woman,
— Genesis 3:15 (HCSB)
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
This was God speaking to the serpent, after it had been used to deceive Adam and Eve. The “He” in this verse is pointing to Jesus. As we continue from there, Moses wrote in Leviticus 4 about the sin offering; while this description doesn’t mention Jesus by name, the picture of how the sacrifice was slain is a foreshadowing of the way Jesus would die, His blood spilled out all over the ground. However, His blood didn’t just cover sin - it completely washed it away! Further on, the Israelites began complaining about God leading them out of Egypt, and God sent poisonous snakes into their camp. Through their deliverance from the snakes, we have another picture of salvation, and the way Jesus would die.
8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
— Numbers 21:8-9 (HCSB)
Jesus even brings this up when He’s talking to Nicodemus! He really was trying to tell people what was coming.
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…
— John 3:14 (HCSB)
Isaiah paints what is probably the most poignant picture of the suffering Savior. Before we talk a lot about it, I’ll let you read what Isaiah had to say.
2He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no form or splendor that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.
3He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like one people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
4Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
6We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth.
8He was taken away because of oppression and judgment;
and who considered His fate?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
He was struck because of My people’s rebellion.
9They made His grave with the wicked,
— Isaiah 53:2-9 (HCSB)
and with a rich man at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.
As a child growing up, this was a passage that I had to memorize. As I worked to commit the words to memory, I either did not ever take the time to view them all together as a whole, or maybe I just didn’t know enough to really, really get it. Verses 2 and 3 describe an image to which I can relate, and I suspect you can too; have you ever seen what a root looks like? This person blended in, or maybe even stuck out in an undesirable way. People took one look and despised Him, turning away from Him. I’ve had people literally turn their backs to me and walk away, and it’s no fun. How much more did this hurt the One who had given up everything He had in heaven to come here with the power to save us? I can also tell you that it wasn’t love I felt in my heart towards the people who walked away from me. Not only did Jesus take this abuse, this hate borne of misunderstanding, He continued His mission - His mission of even more suffering, untold torture, and eventual death - all not for what He had done, but for the sins that these very
same people who rejected Him had done! What an amazing, unimaginable love He must have for us!
Verse 6 is one of the more well-known verses in this passage. We have all done wrong, every single one of us - if you’re like me, several times daily. We have all “turned to our own way.” No matter what we’ve seen, no matter what blessings God has given us, we all keep veering off the path, seeking our own way. (Yes, even saved people still sin; Jesus’s sacrifice paid for that sin too.) The King James Version translates the word “punished” in that verse as “laid on” - the picture I get from that is of our sin being piled and piled and piled upon Jesus, until He broke from the heavy load.
Verse 7 presents a concept that is completely foreign to many people today - Jesus did not defend Himself against the false accusations that were made against Him. The Sanhedrin council levied all sorts of charges against Him, and He presented no defense for them. The Roman authorities could find no fault with Him, even taking the step as to publicly wash their hands of any evil that the people wanted to do against Jesus. As a child, this was one verse I didn’t understand. I understood it as prophecy that was fulfilled as recorded in the Gospels, but I didn’t have my head completely around it. Why didn’t He defend Himself? I believe there are two main reasons. First, verse 7 - this was prophecy concerning the Messiah, and had He defended Himself, this prophecy would be unfulfilled; this would have given His detractors a reason to speak against Him. Second, it would have done no good whatsoever; the people who were coming against Him were not going to stop until they had Him.
Finally, verse 9 is just neat. “They made His grave… with a rich man.” Joseph, from whom Jesus’s tomb was borrowed, was a wealthy man who was also a follower of Jesus. (I wonder if Joseph gave Him a special 3-day rate…) The detail in these prophecies that are fulfilled really increases my faith, and I hope it does the same for you. Confidence in the Scripture is important, because without the solid foundation of Scripture as inerrant, our knowledge of God could not be certain.
So, how do you live forever? Jesus told us, right up there in the second paragraph of this devotional. Did you miss it? :) All kidding aside, it really is as simple as Jesus explained to Nicodemus - “so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul put it this way to the church in Rome…
9if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
— Romans 10:9 (HCSB)
If you have never done this, I pray that today is the day that you trust your life to Jesus. Life is tough, and there’s no way I’d want to go through it without God on my side. If you’d like this broken down even further, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation. If you are a Christian, remember the sacrifice that Jesus had to make to be able to give you this free gift. Thank Him, and be sure to share His gift with others that you see.