My brother had recently acquired his first car. He and I were close in age, so we did most things together. One Friday night, we hopped in and headed for Liberty City, a small town to the west. We drove down to the interstate and began what should have been a five-minute cruise. After twenty, we began to get suspicious. He pulled off, and we studied the signs. "This way to Dallas," one read. We knew Dallas was to our west, but we were driving in the opposite direction.
"No, that couldn't be right," he said. "I'm sure we turned the right way." Well, apparently, his surety was faulty because we had been driving the wrong way. Despite assurances, we needed to turn in a new direction, and it was road signs that got us on the correct path. Once we trusted the signs, we were more sure than ever that we were moving in the way we should go.
Some of what you read in this book might challenge the direction you've been going. The most important direction markers come from God’s recorded word. As we try to realign our thinking, we are going to let the Bible be our guide.
We’ve come to our first stop on our journey toward Bible clarity. By default every member of the human race begins their life headed in a frightening direction. Let’s read John 3:18 which is our first road sign, so to speak:
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18 )
The verse uses the words has not believed. This means that eternal condemnation is for those that have never believed in Jesus. A person who reaches their final breath without ever believing is condemned. John explains in Revelation that those who are condemned will be thrown into the lake of fire, also called the second death. (Revelation 20:10-15)
We can thank God that this is not the fate that everyone will suffer. Moving from the never-believers box into the every believers slot makes an eternal difference, which is why it is our first eternal distinction. Here's what John has to say only one verse earlier:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
The first eternal distinction, belief for salvation, that should matter to every person on the planet is in this verse. Individuals will either be eternally condemned, or they will be eternally saved. The verse defines salvation as those who have eternal life.
I was recently trying to evangelize a guy over the phone. I brought him to this same verse and asked this simple question. “What is the one condition that we have to meet according to John 3:16?” He immediately wanted to jump down to verse thirty, then chapter twelve, then he tried to move us to Romans. He listed off about a half dozen requirements he supposed someone had to do in order to get saved. I just kept trying to bring us back to John 3:16. I asked again, “what’s the condition we have to meet in John 3:16.”
Eventually, I just answered my own question for him. "It's that we have to believe.” I was shocked at his response. To this day, I still don't understand. He said, "No, I don't see that." I tried to comprehend what he was missing, but I couldn't make him see the beautiful simplicity. Evangelizing religious people is often very hard.
I will ask you, and I hope you see it. What is the ONLY condition that you have to meet to have eternal life according to John 3:16? Do you see it? You must believe in God’s son Jesus. Your eternal destiny is predicated on what happens inside your mind. Your belief in Jesus is what will determine your eternal destination. Another way of saying this is that you must have faith in Jesus for salvation (faith and belief are interchangeable words in the original language of the Bible).
Now let’s take a look at the second eternal distinction. As we move across the chart, we come to a slot that is entitled, disobedient believer. You'll notice that the outcome of being a disobedient believer is less reward. Let's take a look at a verse that shows that outcome quite clearly.
Look to yourselves that we do not lose those things we worked for but that we may receive a full reward. (2 Jn 8)
John mentions those things we worked for. What he's talking about must not be eternal life because that's given as a free gift. (Romans 6:23) Instead, he's talking about something that we earn. He describes this payout as reward.
While there is a full reward available, it's possible to lose some or all of that full reward. How? Just a couple verses earlier, he explains, "love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments." (2 John 5-6) Reward is connected to obeying Jesus' commandments while eternal salvation is apart from works.
So many people are confused because they assume the Bible’s only distinction has to do with eternal salvation. Now, I think you start to see the problem. If you roll the requirements for reward in with the one requirement for salvation, you get a mess. That's because eternal salvation only requires belief/faith. However, rewardrequires obedience. You either have salvation, or you don't, but there will be varying amounts of reward given. We must keep these two distinctions… uh… distinct. Now, let's take a look at what it might be like to receive the full reward John talks about. Jesus once said:
Blessed are you when they... persecute you... for My sake. ...for great is your reward in Heaven… (Matthew 5:11-12)
If you want to maximize your Heavenly reward, you must stay obedient even in the face of trial and persecution. It's not enough to be faithful in private but then deny Christ in public. The great reward that Jesus wants to give to obedient believers is going to take some serious resolve. I can promise you this, despite the pain, it will be worth it in the end.
The first eternal distinction of belief divides those who will be eternally condemned and those who are eternally saved. The second eternal distinction of believer's obedience splits apart those who will have less reward from those who will have more reward. I hope these eternal distinctions bring clarity and drive you to be faithful to our Lord!