St Matthias ESM – Sermon 2

May 3, 2009

Tonight at Matthias Evening Church we saw from John 5:18-47 that Jesus is the giver of life and the judge of all. God the Father gave him these ‘works’ so that we will honour Jesus. An example of not believing this is if we just read the Bible in order to work out how to live. If we are just seeking how to be moral for our own benefit, then we’re not doing good for Jesus’ honour.

SO – next time you read the Bible, don’t just think about how you should live your lift, but reflect on Jesus – who he is and what he has done – and honour him by listening to what he says and following him. See how his character leads you to obeying him.

Feel free to leave a comment if you had any questions. I’ll have a further think about Eddie’s question and will try to post something soon.



  1. Hey Anton,

    Thanks for the series. Particularly your creativeness and clarity. i have loved sitting under your teaching. it has been a total blessing.

    I thought i’d get in and explain my thinking on the issue of whether the gospel is essentially self-interested/selfish to give us all something to wrestle with.

    1. I think there is a difference between acting in one’s own best interests and being self-centred (selfishness). I think that sometimes the lines between these two get blurry and yes in some circumstances the separation between the two collapse into one. However, i see that the primary difference being that selfishness is usually done at the expense of others. we dont like selfishness – generally it carries negative moral weight (e.g. eating the whole pack of tim tams before even considering passing them around). Alternatively, moving out of the way of a semi-trailer traveling at 100km an hour is not selfish as much as it is acting in one’s own best interests.

    2. with that in mind, lets talk about the gospel. it is my (uninformed and premature) view that the Gospel is self interested – for all parties involved (God included). Now, below i’ll say something about the implications of believing this. for now, we’ll deal with the ‘what’ – what is it about the gospel that makes it self interested, first for man, then for God.

    2.1 Man

    I think the Bible (generally) appeals to our own self interest when it exhorts us to follow Jesus (or obey God). This is the case both positively and negatively. Hebrews 12:28-29 will help us with both of these:

    Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29for our “God is a consuming fire.”

    For instance, the fear of God is commended. That is, having an appreciation both for the power, might, and fury of an omnipotent God that hates sin and will judge sinners on Earth to then send them to a hell, constructed to be absent of all things good. Now, it seems to me, this is presented as a negative incentive for continuing to sin/rebel etc.

    i.e. don’t worship irreverantly – God is a consuming fire and you totally dont want to muck with consuming fires. the are really hot, and they hurt. SO, using the incentive of not wanting to be burnt by a consuming fire, we are encouraged to worship reverently.

    The same works in a positive direction. we are encouraged to worship God because of the wonders and blessings that he offers to us miserable sinners. we do not worship him because he is God – and then think, “oh, gee, that whole heaven thing is a sweet little perk”. We think – “i am a dirty rotten sinner who deserves hell. but God, who is awesome, has offered me life, sonship and an inheritance beyond comprehension (through the death of his son). i am totally in. and now that i have received these blessings, i am moved to give thanks and worship the giver.” It is NOT, in my view, worship now, think about and receive blessings later. It is receive gifts, live life of adoration and service in response.

    Check out how this operates in the hebrews verse above. The gift “we are receiveing a kingdom that cannot be shaken” is the motivator and reason for “let us be thankful and worship”.

    Now in case people think this is abhorrent to turn the gospel of grace into dirty tale about selfishness, let me suggest a hypothetical.

    Would you worship a God who was like ours, but who decided not to save you? He is no less worthy of praise? His character, acts, blessings and grace that he gives (just not to you) remain uncountable. He is still at least as worthy (objectively) of worship.

    Answer: No. Just have a look around at the godless world if you dont believe me. Worship, when all stand to lose (i.e. it is not in the best interest of the individual) is just ridiculous (to our experience). gods are always worshiped in the self interest of the worshiper. That does not make the worship any less valuable (i’ll talk more about this later).

    Now for those thinking, well – dude, Jesus calls us to carry our cross and die like him, a death of sacrifice, suffering, loneliness and shame. How the heck can that be in anyone’s self-interest? I would answer, that short term pain for long term gain is the message of most religions (save the prosperity gospel). The fact that we might make sacrifices now, for the sake of an internal inheritance still remains self-interested. Jesus’ command to follow him, even to death, does not preclude the idea that we might willingly be burnt at the stake for the sake of remaining faithful to the end, that we might receive the inheritance of saints and be raised to Glory to worship Jesus.

    Now, on to the other party in the Gospel – God.

    2.2 God

    Now, i am at the mercy of the theologians among us. i certainly dont pretend to know my bible well enough or to have thought about this as much as calvin might have. So, if im totally off course, then be gentle.

    This might (also) come across as abhorrent to some, but i think that God acts in the world NOT primarily for the good of humanity but for His and His son’s and the Spirit’s pleasure and worship.

    I think it is presumptuous of Man to think that we are at the centre of God’s universe, or at the centre of God’s plan. I think rather, the world was created for the glory of God’s name, that he might be praised, that he might save a people for himself to be in eternity with Him forever.

    now, dont let me suggest that this in any way dilutes the horror of the cross. not at all. it just suggests that Jesus’ act was first FOR God, and ancillary to that purpose was the salvation of the world at great cost to himself.

    Go figure.

    3. implications

    A) I think we are scared to say that the gospel inspires self interest. I think this is because we don’t appreciate that it is not morally wrong to act in one’s self interest. And ultimately, this does not fully appreciate the distinction between self interest and selfishness.

    B) I think we are scared to say that we should become a Christian to avoid the horrors of hell rather than some more ‘meaningful’ and ‘love-inspired’ motivator. I think this is wrong. Our joy is found in appreciating what we have been saved from. the better our view of hell, the better our appreciation for our salvation will be, the more voluminous and authentic and heartfelt our thankfulness and praise to God. Likewise, the same works in the opposite direction. We are afraid to say that we ought become Christians purely because we are motivated by what we stand to gain if we accept Christ (Sonship from God, the Holy Spirit inside us, eternal life in paradise, true freedom, etc), because we feel that again, this is some ‘wrong’ motivation. Instead it should be that we appreciate the character of God and are drawn to worship him regardless of what we stand to win or lose.

    Once more, I think this is a wrong view. I think that it is certainly the approach of the Bible to express what the stakes are (what we stand to win or lose) and that these elements are the core motivating influences that persuade us of the gospel, and furthermore, that these elements, when received or avoided respectively, are the very foundation of our praise and worship of God.

    C) so Anton, I think that becoming a Christian because we ‘fear’ God and judgement, and do so because we wish to avoid judgement, is a perfectly Biblical and sensible approach. And I think we need to encourage people to consider the tangible elements of the decision (eternal life and blessings, eternal death and torment), before we just expect people to worship God for his wonderful character and goodness, regardless of what any individual stands to receive in their relationship (or lack thereof) with God.

    Would love to hear any and all thoughts/ rebukes/ corrections! I am sure there are many of each of those.

    In the bonds of Christ, eddie.

  2. Thanks for the sermon Anton, and thanks for the rebuke on how we just read the bible and sometimes do things with little regard for Christ and His glory.

    Woah Eddie! Long comment! Lol!

    Thanks for the clarification of your thoughts from Sunday night! Shows how deeply you’ve thought about this and you’ve said a lot of things that I agree with. I just have a couple of thoughts and comments (no rebukes though – so don’t worry!)

    1. About your question sunday – I believe it was referring to Piper’s Desiring God book? Please correct if I’m wrong, but you asked how the comment “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him” relates to the sermon about self motive. I think the important part of that comment is fact that “we are most satisfied in Him“. From this, would it be fair to say that this type of satisfaction is actually based on the glory of God?

    2. In your summation of point 2.1, you suggested a hypothetical about a god who didn’t save. This isn’t a hypothetical – this will actually be the case on judgement day. Those who are not ‘chosen’ will see the majesty and holiness and perfection of God, and will still not repent and give God glory (an example here). This is based on their sinfulness, their rebellion against God rather than the fact that they stand to gain nothing. So, although you are right that in the world we rarely pay attention to things that will not benefit us, I feel that in the case of God, there is an extra layer where many don’t want to give glory to God because they enjoy their rebellion too much.

    3. You mentioned that ‘push’ (don’t want to go to hell) and ‘pull’ (want to go to heaven) motivations for becoming a Christian are good biblical reasons. I would agree with you that these are biblical and valid reasons for becoming a Christian (Paul’s pull/push example). But, I think that if they were an end in themselves, then they are not good reasons. If these are the reasons that you call Jesus “Lord”, then I would say that they are selfish and DO NOT bring glory to God. You are merely using God as a means to escape punishment and get blessing (a more subtle version of the prosperity gospel). I will give an example:

    Imagine that I stole your car (it is a nice one ;)). Imagine that you posted a request for its return promising not to press charges and forgive the thief. If I then gave you back the car, my only reasons for doing so were that I wouldn’t go to jail and that you wouldn’t hold a grudge (ie selfish reasons), then your compassionate and forgiving attitude is completely ignored. If, however, I gave the car back because I realised that I had wronged you and sought your forgiveness (that I knew you would give), this would highlight and bring praise for the way you showed such compassion (think of the church who forgave the people who nail bombed their church). It would also show that the ‘end goal’ of my returning your car was not for some superficial gain (although I definitely gain in the situation!), but the admission of a wrong, repentance for it and the glory of an example of such forgiveness.

    While this is a fairly crass example, I hope it shows how if we come to the cross/obey God only because it gives us gain, we have not fully appreciated what was done on that day and the gioft that was given to us. Obviously coming to Christ or good works are not a bad move, but the motive for doing so can be. Doing things in this way brings no glory to God for his sacrifice and mercy, it only uses God as a means to avoid punishment and gain heaven (or in the case of works – ‘live a good life’) – which actually insults God.

    Hope that makes sense guys. What are your thoughts?

  3. Hi Folks,

    Some good thoughts there.

    Eddie –
    You’re right in that there is nothing wrong in becoming a Christian because of the benefits of blessing and the rescue from judgement. However, as you continue in the faith, if that is all your concerned about then I think the point is missed. We’re called to a relationship of worship to God and from that relationship comes the blessings of eternal life, meaning in life etc. Luke B had some helpful points here – self interest can be our ultimate reason for worship.

    I’m quite happy to present the benefits of accepting Christ and the consequences of rejecting him because both are great and it may get people interested in God; but the goal must be that we want people worshipping God, not just seeing more people receive blessing. I’m not scared of telling people about Heaven and Hell or that the gospel is self-interesting, I just don’t think it’s the main game.

    We want people to respond to Jesus and how beautiful God is as he is offering a relationship with us, not just prizes. I think we can expect to see people turn in repentance when they are presented with who God is if God is willing to change their hearts. If you push your “implication C” then you’re saying that God’s character is not wonderful enough to turn towards, even if there was no benefit attached. We need to work had at preaching who God is and what Christ has done so that we respond to him.

    It’s great to see you guys thinking so hard.
    Feel free to come back with thoughts.

  4. […] on Question time on John 5:18-47. However, Luke and Eddie have beaten me to it and made comments here. So feel free to check it out. You might also like to have a look at the comments made from the […]

  5. Hey Anton,
    Thanks for that simple, wise response.

    …saying that God’s character is not wonderful enough to turn towards, even if there was no benefit attached.

    It is sad that this truth is apparent in our gospel presentation sometimes. We often forget just how incredible God and the gospel are, and how unneccessary it is to ‘sell’ the gospel to them – its good news! We don’t need to make it seem better!

    Thanks for that word Anton!

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