Calvary Road Baptist Church

“ENLIGHTENED SELF-INTEREST”

John 3.16

 

Has anyone ever attempted to persuade you to do something you simply do not want to do? Of course, they have. It happens all the time, does it not? Your entire childhood was properly designed by your parents to coax you, to persuade you, to train you, to sometimes threaten you, and to cajole you into doing things you simply did not want to do. It begins shortly after you are born when your mother wants you to sleep when you don’t want to sleep, when she wants you to be still so she can bathe you when you don’t want to be still, and when she wants to get the food in front of you into your mouth when you want to play with the food and use it to make a mess. The reality, of course, is that the issue is not as simple as your mom attempting to persuade you to do what you do not want to do. It is a matter of your mom seeking to persuade you to do something that you do not yet want to do, but with her greater wisdom and experience, she knows you will eventually want to do. Normal people recognize their need of sleep, their need to bathe, and their need to eat, even if they did not immediately recognize those needs when they were infants or toddlers. Advance fifteen or so years into the future when the infant is now in his or her teens and a whole new set of conflicts arise between parents and children, or between competent parents and most children. Your dad is right to assign chores around the house to you to perform in a timely and efficient manner, even if you do not want to mow the lawn, pull weeds, empty the trash, and sweep the driveway. Your mom is spot on when she calls on you to wash the dishes, run the vacuum cleaner, fold the towels, make up your bed each morning, and clean your room without complaint. The issue is not at all that your parents are lazy in their attempts to get you to do certain kinds of routine work around the house that they are responsible for performing. Most adults realize that it takes far more effort to train teens to perform such tasks than to do those same tasks yourself. During your teen years, you most emphatically do not want to do your homework or perform household chores, though while you are in college or when you are entering your chosen career you will almost certainly begin to realize the advantages you have over your peers in terms of your work ethic and quality of life. So, the issue is not so much your parents being determined to make you do what you do not want to do now, but your parents being determined to see you do what you do not want to do now, but what you will most definitely be glad you were trained to do later in life. I can predict who will someday thank their parents for training them to work hard and who will never express such gratitude to their parents because they were not trained to work hard. Understand, therefore, that what is going on with the options presented to you is not always so simple a matter as someone attempting to persuade you to do what you do not want to do, as someone seeking to persuade you to do something that you may not want to do yet, but you will most definitely be glad someday you did. This is especially true when that which you are being persuaded to do is not an option that is always available to you later on in life.

This morning I want to speak to you about something known as enlightened self-interest. Self-interest is defined in Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary as “one’s own interest or advantage.”[1] My concern is what is best for you, what serves your personal interest or advantage. The problem, of course, is that the baby who wants to play with his food instead of eats it and the teen that prefers to live like a slob are both convinced at the time that they are pursuing their self-interest. And they are doing precisely that. However, it is an ignorant, uninformed, and unwise view of their self-interest that they pursue. Do that too much, and you are a fool whose life ends up wrecked through neglect and ignorance. However, things can be different if you add something to your self-interest, namely, enlightenment. The word enlighten is described as “to give light to; to give clearer views to; to illuminate; to instruct; to enable to see or comprehend truth; to free from ignorance, prejudice, or superstition.”[2] The infant or toddler is convinced his Mommy only wants to interfere with his fun. The teen is persuaded that his dad is mean or unreasonable for making him do chores. Imagine what would happen if that toddler’s or that teen’s self-interest was informed by enlightenment and that kid began to understand what kind of advantage he has in this world to have a mom or a dad who is seeking to actually raise him properly rather than stick him in front of a television set for eight hours of electronic babysitting a day.

Do you see the point I am seeking to make, that sometimes two people are at cross purposes? Mom wants what will be best for her infant or toddler in the future, while the youngster wants what he wants now, without any consideration of his future. Dad seeks to prepare his fifteen-year-old son or daughter for adulthood, while the teen having never been an adult has no interest in preparation for the future but wants what he wants now. Apparent cross purposes never seem as great as when the Gospel is presented to a sinner. The sinner wants what he wants for right now, in this life, with pleasure and satisfaction being preeminent in his thinking. The preacher, on the other hand, or the witnessing Christian friend, family member, or colleague properly reflects God’s concern for the unsaved person’s whole course of life and eventually his eternity. What happens if what the sinner sees as his self-interest the pursuit of the immediate pleasures of sin while the preacher knows from God’s Word that sinner’s long-term self-interest is the salvation of his eternal and undying soul? Sometimes conflict arises.

I well remember a conversation I had at the kitchen table of a man more than thirty years ago. As I set forth the good news of the Gospel and Jesus Christ saving sinners from their sins, he interrupted me with a question: “Are you telling me that God wants me to stop chasing women?” When I answered “Yes, God’s will is that you stop chasing women,” he erupted with rage, ordered me out of his house, and I’ve not set eyes on him one time since then. His perception of his self-interest was not enlightened, extended only so far as the next weekend, and ignored his soul’s march toward a Christ-less eternity.

I do not want it to end that way for you. But at the same time, I fully understand that you are not a child, and I am neither your mother nor your father. I have neither the authority nor the inclination to try to make you do anything you do not want to do, even if I am convinced it is in your self-interest to do so. For the next few minutes, I want to rehearse to you the details of an encounter that took place long ago. My purpose is to set before you some details you are very familiar with and a recommendation for you to consider. My hope and prayer are that along the way, or perhaps after my message has been presented and you have had time to think about it, God will work to illuminate your understanding, to give to you enlightened self-interest, that you will then act upon.

I urge upon you three considerations: 

First, THE CONVERSATION WITH AN OLD MAN 

Most who have any familiarity with the Bible know something of the Lord Jesus Christ’s conversation one night with an old Jewish Bible teacher named Nicodemus. It is recorded in John chapter three. Allow me to rehearse a few of the details, keeping in mind that we do not know with any precision where the record of the conversation ends and where the Apostle John’s summary statement following that conversation begins.

The conversation with the old man begins with Nicodemus approaching the Lord Jesus Christ one night and paying Him a compliment. The Savior then speaks without responding to Nicodemus’ compliment by making reference to the kingdom of God, and the conversation with the old man is underway. The references to “the kingdom of God” in John 3.3 and 5 are significant in that they constitute the only instance of this terminology to be found in the entire Gospel.[3] The Jews of that day expected a future kingdom ruled by the Son of David, the Lord’s Servant, indeed, the Lord Himself. Although not everyone was to be included in this kingdom, Jews of that day believed that all Israelites would have a share in the world to come, except those guilty of apostasy or some other blatant sin. Therefore, it is quite remarkable that our Lord Jesus Christ’s requirement that those who would enter God’s kingdom must be “born of water and of the Spirit” actually excluded the old Bible teacher Nicodemus and his fellow Sanhedrin members.

It may surprise many who read this portion of God’s Word to learn that our Lord’s insistence upon being “born again” and to being born “of water and of the Spirit” is an allusion to what was already contained in the Old Testament. Specifically, Ezekiel 36.25-27, where the New Covenant is described as God’s cleansing of human hearts with water and their inner transformation by His Spirit. I suggest you read that passage when you get home. The notion of a new beginning and a decisive inner transformation of a person’s life are also found in other Old Testament prophetic passages. It is this spiritual reality the old Bible teacher, Nicodemus, ought to have been aware of but which he had obviously overlooked.

The mostly one-sided conversation continues by our Lord next drawing an analogy between the wind and the person born of Spirit in John 3.5-7. The point of our Lord’s analogy is that both wind and spiritual birth are mysterious in their origins and movements. The wind goes anywhere it pleases. Although the wind’s origin is invisible, its effects can be observed; it is the same with the Spirit. Spiritual birth is a real thing, as real as the mysterious movements of the wind. Moreover, just as the wind blows where it pleases, so the Spirit’s operation is not subject to human control, eluding all efforts at manipulation. The word for this attribute is sovereignty.

After a bit of back and forth with the old man the Lord Jesus Christ then says, in verse 13, 

“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” 

The Old Testament identifies heaven as the place where God dwells.[4] John’s Gospel refers several times to a descent from heaven, be it of the Spirit (in John 1.32-33), of angels (John 1.51), of the Son of Man (John 3.13), or the “Bread of Life” (John 6.33, 38, 41, 42, 58). However, this conversation includes one of only three instances where it speaks of an ascent into heaven.[5] The Lord Jesus Christ here contrasts Himself with others who entered heaven, such as Enoch (Genesis 5.24), Elijah (Second Kings 2.1-12), Moses (Exodus 24.9-11), Isaiah (Isaiah 6.1-3), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1 and 10). Although believers will join Christ in heaven in the future (John 14.1-3; 17.24), only our Lord Jesus both descended from heaven and ascended back up to heaven, if you discount the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man in John 1.51.

The remark our Lord made about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness in verse 14 is clearly a reference to Numbers 21.8-9. God sent poisonous snakes to judge rebellious Israel during their wilderness wanderings. When Moses interceded for his people, God provided a way of salvation in the form of a raised bronze serpent, so that when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. That understood, the primary analogy established by the Lord as He spoke to old Nicodemus was not that of the raised bronze serpent and the lifted-up Son of Man. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ likened the restoration of the people’s physical lives as a result of looking at the bronze serpent to the people’s reception of eternal life as a result of looking in faith at the Son of Man, verse 15. As in the case of wilderness Israel, it is ultimately not a person’s faith, but rather the Savior in whom the faith is placed, that is the source of salvation.

There is another, slightly more subtle, connection provided in the words of our Lord between the account in Numbers and Nicodemus that needs to be pointed out. Just as the sin, failure, and murmuring of the Israelites in the wilderness and their standing in judgment of God and His revelation were deserving of divine judgment and death and requiring salvation by way of looking at God’s means of deliverance, so also Nicodemus was in similar danger. Nicodemus’ danger was of repeating the pattern of sin, failure, and murmuring in his day and situation that the Jews in the days of Moses had displayed. Thus, it is not only the looking in faith to the God-appointed means of salvation that is pictured here but also the danger leading to the divine remedy in the first place. Thus Nicodemus, as well as the other Jews and every reader of John’s Gospel since then, are not in the position of objective, neutral judges of the merits or shortcomings of Jesus Christ’s claims as you might think you are. Rather, you are in the same place of personal danger Nicodemus was in, and the children of Israel were in as Moses led them. This is why you are called on to reach your personal verdict that will either allow you to pass from death to life (John 5.24) and from God’s wrath to God’s favor (John 3.36) or confirm the verdict of death upon your life (John 3.19-21). As with those snake-bitten in Moses’ day, look and live or do nothing and die. 

Next, THE CONCLUSION DRAWN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD 

I am of the opinion that John 3.16 is the inspired record of the Apostle John’s conclusion following his record of the Savior’s conversation with the old man, Nicodemus: 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

Here the apostle sums up everything connected to that conversation between the Lord Jesus Christ and an aged Jewish Bible scholar one night so long ago in four distinct parts:

First, there is God’s motive. 

“For God so loved the world” 

The Apostle John’s Spirit-inspired declaration of God’s motive for all things related to His plan of salvation from sins is concisely stated in an unambiguous and unequivocal way. There is no messing around. God’s motive is love. And not love only for the Jewish people, since that was assumed by Nicodemus and other Jews. God’s motives for His dealings with us are driven by His love for us. Yes, God loves the unlovely. Take it and understand a bit more about God or chose not to believe it and then never understand anything about God. God loves me. God loves you. God loves the world, all of mankind.

Next, there is God’s method. 

“that he gave his only begotten Son” 

When the apostle declared that God gave His only begotten Son He not only reveals to us the offering for sin He provided, but He also reveals to us the nature of the Sin Offering He provided. The gift God gave was not completely given when the Savior was born of the Virgin Mary. The gift God gave was not completely given when the Savior died on the cross as our Substitute and sacrifice. The gift God gave was not even completely given when the Savior rose from the dead three days later in triumph over sin and death. The gift God gave was completely given only when His only begotten Son ascended and returned to heaven’s glory after completing His great mission of seeking and saving that which was lost. However, let us not overlook who it was who did this seeking and saving. It was Jesus Christ the Righteous. Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the living God. Jesus Christ the Second Person of the Triune Godhead. Jesus Christ the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus Christ the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. That is Who is meant when the apostle wrote: “he gave his only begotten son.”

Third, there is God’s means. 

“that whosoever believeth in him should not perish” 

By means is meant the way in which the benefits of salvation provided by the Son of God are communicated to the undeserving sinner who deserves everlasting punishment for his crimes against God. After all, this third phrase does include the words “should not perish.” What does it mean to perish? To perish is to suffer eternal ruination. To perish is to suffer well-deserved damnation. After all, God is just. Therefore, to mete out punishment for wrongdoing is only right and proper. But God is gracious and He, motivated by His love for us, via the method of sending His precious Son to suffer on our behalf, provides the means for our rescue from sin’s just and proper punishment. What is the only means by which sinners can be saved? Faith. Specifically, actively believing. Pointedly, believing in Him. When the sinner turns from his sins and fixes his gaze upon the fulfillment of the type of the bronze serpent lifted up, when the sinner believes in Jesus Christ, he employs the means God has provided to secure the salvation of his eternal and undying soul from sin.

Finally, God’s masterpiece. 

“but have everlasting life.” 

Why do I refer to the everlasting life that God grants us as His masterpiece? For two reasons: First, notice the duration of the blessing. The word used is everlasting. Everlasting translates a Greek word that is sometimes used to convey long periods of time, sometimes used to convey time without beginning or end, but also refers to outside the realm of time.[6] What is meant here is that the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ will not only not perish, not suffer the just penalty for his sins, but will instead enjoy the delight of existence outside the bounds of time. He will be a time-bound creature released in Christ from the limitations imposed upon us by time. Additionally, notice the design of the blessing. It is termed life. Not only is it existence outside the limitations of time, meaning it is outside this time-space-matter universe of existence altogether, but it is life as opposed to death, life as opposed to mere existence. Being life, it is, therefore, in connection with God, Who is life. I could go on and on, but eternal life in Christ is dramatically different than the alternative, which is death, separation from God, outer darkness, eternal torment, the lake of fire, forever perishing. 

Finally, THE COMPULSION OF ONE WHO CARES FOR HIS OWN SOUL 

Please remember that I am speaking to you about enlightened self-interest. I earlier made reference to those times in life when a conflict arose between what was your immediate self-interest and what would turn out to be your eventual self-interest, with enlightenment needed to understand and to anticipate the difference between selfish and ignorant desires of the present and eventual interests that come with experience and wisdom.

I ask you to ponder what you presently want and what you anticipate wanting should you live long enough for additional experience and wisdom to make a difference. I ask you also to consider the discussion the Savior had long ago with a very smart old man who, nevertheless, had failed to understand the facts he had accumulated through years of study, and therefore did not perceive the danger his soul was in. Nicodemus was in danger, yet he had no idea he was in danger. The Lord Jesus Christ’s conversation was conducted to reveal to that old man, by the best way possible to him being a Bible scholar, that his soul was in peril and he faced the judgment of God unless he was born again.

My friend, the same is true of you. You have an eternal and undying soul. It is you underneath all the flesh and personality, the forever part of you. And that portion of you, though you may not recognize the truth of what I say, is in grave danger. Your only alternative has been provided by God, Who loves you, Who sent His Son to be your Savior, and Who you must actively believe in to be rescued from the terrible fate that awaits you to be blessed with a salvation provided by God that can best be described as a masterpiece.

If you care for your soul, if you have the eyes to see beyond your most immediate and immature interests to eternity, I urge you to consider taking the only step offered to you by the only one who knows what is best for your soul. God makes that offer. That step is believing in Jesus Christ, the consequence of which will be not only not perishing, but living eternally. 

Notice that I have not attempted to coerce you to do what you do not want to do. I have sought only to present three considerations for your reflection and prayerful thought: The conversation the Savior had with an old man long ago, the conclusion the apostle presented to his readers by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the compulsion of someone who cares for his soul.

If you were drowning would you not struggle to swim? If you were suffocating would you not put forth the effort to breathe? If you were falling would you not reach for a handhold? I ask you to consider doing the very same thing in the spiritual realm that you would instinctively do in the physical realm.

Look after yourself. But look after yourself in the only way success is assured, by depending upon the surety and safety possible only through faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior of sinful men’s souls.

__________

[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1647.

[2] Ibid., page 604.

[3] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary On The New Testament Use Of The Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pages 434-437.

[4] Psalm 14.2; 33.14; 103.19

[5] John 1.51; 3.13; 20.17

[6] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 33.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org