JOHN: Well, we’ll start over here with Rick McClain in that line, and give me your name and then your question.
AUDIENCE: Yes. My name is Stan. And first of all, I’m very grateful for your teaching.
JOHN: Thank you, Stan.
AUDIENCE: And my question is, with all the mass shootings and the homeless and a culture that believes men can get pregnant, we live in a crazy world. And I have relatives in my family who are mentally ill. So I went to the Bible to, you know, try and get some guidance, and I find that for such a huge problem that really affects such huge parts of our—it says very little in the Bible. So the one thing I did find was in Luke chapter 8, when Christ is dealing with the demonic guy who lives in the tombs, and it says, you know, Christ cast out the demons, and then it says—out of the guy, and then it says, “and then he was sane.” So I guess my question is, Does every mental illness have a demonic component, or is there such a thing as just a mental illness; and if so, why didn’t Christ ever heal somebody who had a mental illness, you know, apart from demonic activity?
JOHN: Right, really good question. Let me see if I can’t come at it this way: Every person without God is in a dire mental condition. Doesn’t mean their rational faculties are not functioning, but it does mean that they are in the kingdom of darkness, right? It does mean that they are under the power of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. So we have to understand that anyone who is not a believer is operating in some sense with a demonic influence. It may be external, coming at them through the culture, but there’s something in them, in their corruption, in their fallenness, in their natural perversion that deceives them. “The heart is desperately wicked, deceitful and desperately wicked; who can know it.” So even the prophet Jeremiah says it’s hard to understand the heart. It’s hard to understand; it’s hard to diagnose to what degree is someone functioning under the direct or indirect influence of Satan, and to what degree is just this the flesh having found a path of perversion and following that perversion.
There was a long-standing sense that people who were out of control needed to be cared for in our culture; and those were the days when we had mental institutions, and people were placed into those institutions for their own safety and for the safety of others. That has all disappeared. There was, for example, in the state of California a whole group of mental institutions where people would be rounded up who were a danger to themselves or to society, or who eventually would find themselves in a homeless condition, unable to fend for themselves and survive, or who were on drugs or whatever it was that made them incapable of living any kind of functional life; they were rounded up, and they were cared for. That was one of the effects, originally, of Christianity in the Western world. That has all died with the kind of neopaganism of our modern world, in some ill-conceived notion that these people are better to live on the street and try to carve out an existence in the middle of all of the drugs and all of the consequences of their sins and to whatever the degree the direct or indirect influence of Satan—we ought to leave them there because that’s more compassionate, when the fact of the matter is it’s less compassionate; it’s not compassionate at all. They ought to be cared for.
One of the marks of a society like ours, that shows how pagan it is, is we don’t care about those people. The authorities don’t care about those people. If they did, they would put them in a situation where they were cared for, where they were protected from themselves and from others, and where the influences that destroy their lives would be to some degree mitigated.
But going back to the original question: To what degree is an unconverted person under the influence of Satan? And that had to be answered in any individual situation. There was in the New Testament, you remember, a young man throwing himself into the fire because demons were controlling him. I think far more of that is demonic than people would want to believe. I think far more of it is demonic than people would want to believe.
But I also think that Satan operates in ways that aren’t so manifest. In fact, what speaks to that is when Jesus began His ministry and went into the synagogue to teach, there were times when demons started screaming at Him out of the mouths of the people in the synagogue. This must have been a shock to the synagogue people because these would be people who were part of the synagogue community, and it wouldn’t have been necessarily known that these people were possessed to some degree by Satan or by demons. But the presence of Christ elicited that, as under His influence the demons sort of gave up their cover.
So I think it’s far more common than we would think, and it’s far more common in a more refined part of the population than we would understand. It’s not just the people that are homeless, the people that are drug addicts, the people that have lost their reasoning faculties—it’s not just those people. Satan operates in everyone, and even in leaders; he operates in leaders. We see this, illustrations of this in the prophets in the Old Testament.
So I think to try to diagnose that is very difficult because Satan is elusive, and there is so much deception. So the way that I would approach that is to say it doesn’t matter to what degree you are under the influence of Satan, whether it’s to the point where he’s taken over your rational faculties or whether it’s to the point that you’re just a perverse person even though you look pretty normal on the outside. To whatever degree Satan has taken you over, the solution is the same. Whether you’re in the synagogue and you’re appearing to everybody around you as a responsible, worshiping Jew; or whether you’re the maniac of Gadara, cutting himself, living in a cave, and bereft of any rational thought; the solution is the same, right? The solution is the same. What needed to happen to that synagogue attender, that self-righteous Jew, was that he needed to recognize his sin and embrace Christ as Savior. And when Christ came into the life of the maniac, he was immediately sane; he immediately became an evangel for the gospel, as that account indicates to us.
So I don’t know that it’s in our power to be able to diagnose everyone, but I think the horror of the way those people are treated now is that we leave them, we leave them to fend for themselves on the streets. This is a pagan way to treat people who were made in the image of God and falls far short of the kind of compassion that our Lord exhibited toward those kinds of people.
Again, it’s not for us to be able to know that. And I don’t think you want to go poking around, trying to see if you can discover demons in people.
Now one other comment on this: Mental illness is something else. If something’s wrong with your brain that can be diagnosed, that can be read by certain tests and evaluations, electroencephalogram of the brain—if you have a brain problem, that can be objectively diagnosed. But what we’re talking about are things that, in some cases, could be objectively diagnosed because they’re the product of drug addiction, long-term drug addiction, which does have an affect on the function of the brain; it’s not possible to take drugs or be an alcoholic without it deteriorating your mental faculties.
But again, the issue is not to be able to diagnose every single individual, but to understand that the solution for everyone is the same. But from a cultural standpoint, from the standpoint of compassion, any compassionate society, any compassionate culture would find a way to gather these people together, to bring them to some level of sanity, to some level of health, to some level of well-being, and care for them as those created in the image of God; and then we would have opportunities to perhaps expose them to the gospel. It used to be—I remember many times going, for example, to the mental hospital in Camarillo. There was a massive mental hospital in Camarillo; it’s now been turned into part of the campus of the Cal State University system; they shut it down. It was filled with hundreds and hundreds of people; and there were many of similar hospitals. And you could go there, and you could talk with those people. I went; I met with those people; I had the opportunity to give the gospel to some of those people. I went into the mental ward at UCLA and had the opportunity to give the gospel to a young lady there who had had her life taken over by Satan. If this society had any compassion at all for those people, they would be treating them in the way that they should be treated and put them in situation where they could be cared for and where they could be reached with the gospel.
I remember going to UCLA one time, and there was a girl who’d been in our church, and she had been put in the mental ward at UCLA; she was in a padded cell. I don’t even know if you have that anymore. They just give them drugs, which turns them into addicts, which causes them to wind up on the street. She was in a padded cell. And I went to see her. Her name was Tommi Jo; I’ll never forget it. And I went into the UCLA hospital, and I said, “I’m here to see Tommi Jo,” and they said, “You can’t see her.” I said, “Well, I’m her pastor.” They said, “You can’t see her; you might harm her. She’s in profound depths of despair.” I said, “Well, where is she?” “Well, she’s in a special room, a special padded cell.” I said, “Well, it wouldn’t seem that I could do any much more damage to her than has already been done; where do you go from there?”
So I pushed the issue, and I went into that padded cell, and I sat down with her and looked her in the eye, and I spoke to her as a normal person, and I asked her to set aside the game that she had been playing, which made it appear that she was out of control, when in fact she wasn’t, and I just talked to her. I talked to her about Christ, I talked to her about the gospel. She completely calmed down. This was a totally transforming kind of situation.
So it would be so helpful if there was a way to care for these people so these people could be reached with the gospel. But that again, I have to say—part of the judgment of God on this nation shows up in the indifference that this country has, and this society has, to people who need special care. I mean, we kill babies, we throw people who are unable to function socially in the street on the gutter, and yet we want to protect the rights of the women to kill the babies and the rights of the homeless to live in the gutter. This is the perversion of the system that we have.
So again, I think far more of what you see in those people’s lives is the direct activity of Satan than people would think. OK? Good question.
AUDIENCE: Hi, John. My name is Andrew.
JOHN: Hi, Andrew.
AUDIENCE: And I’m really grateful for you. I know I speak for a lot of people when I say that.
So I’ve heard you say that we don’t know where God’s sovereignty ends and man’s free will begins, and I believe that. And I’ve also heard you say that with our sinful nature we are completely incapable of accepting Christ, receiving Christ, coming to Christ, and it’s a work of the Holy Spirit; I believe that, too. But then there’s also the issue of our culpability, and we tell people to go to the prayer room to get prayer or to become—you know, to accept Christ. So there’s like a paradox between, you know, us making a decision, our own effort—you know, we contribute nothing to our salvation, and that it all being the work of the Holy Spirit. So just that paradox.
JOHN: Well yeah, there rarely is a question and answer period when that question doesn’t come up, so I understand that. And the way to understand that is simply to go to the Word of God. All right? And what we find in the Word of God is that sinners are dead, blind, double blind, satanically blinded, blinded by their fallenness, and don’t seek God and have no capacity to seek God. So if anybody is converted, then God must seek them. And that’s why we talk about regeneration. Regeneration is the first in what’s called the ordo salutis, the first in terms of reasonable elements of salvation. The first thing that has to happen, is the dead sinner has to be given life. He can’t repent, he can’t believe unless he comes alive. So we would say that God has to give life, and that takes you back to John 3, where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” “You must be born again.” This is one of the most familiar portions of Scripture, and it’s where all these questions really are answered. And Nicodemus says, “Well how can I be born again?” And what he’s doing is he’s accepting Jesus’ analogy. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, who’s a teacher in Israel, Old Testament expert, “If you want to enter the kingdom, which is the realm of salvation, you have to be born again.”
Well, Nicodemus is smart enough to get the fact that you can’t do that. You can’t give birth to yourself; that’s the point. The analogy is inescapable. “You must be born again.” And Nicodemus is saying, “Well, how do I do that? I mean, let’s just pick up the analogy. How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb and be born again?” And the way I like to express it is so simple: You had nothing to do with your birth. True? You made no contribution to your birth; none of us did, none. How could you make a contribution to your birth when you didn’t exist? And that is exactly what Jesus is saying: You can make no contribution to your spiritual birth.
And Nicodemus says, “Well, how do I get in the kingdom?” “You must be born again.” “That’s impossible; you can’t birth yourself. So what do I do?” And Jesus does not say to him, “Well, pray this prayer, and you’ll be born again,” because that would defy the whole analogy. In fact, Jesus says to him, “Well, the wind blows, and we see the wind and we feel it and we hear the sound of it, but we have no control over where it comes from or where it goes. You can experience the wind; you have nothing to do with its course.” And then He analogizes that to the Holy Spirit: “So is the Holy Spirit.” And what He said to Nicodemus is, “You make no contribution to your birth; you make no contribution to your spiritual birth. You made none to your physical birth; you make none to your spiritual birth.” And that is our Lord, in His own words saying that if you are born again, it is an act of God. We talk about it being monergistic; that is, it’s the sole work of God in the soul.
Now you say, “Well then, that’s obviously true. Who are those people that are born by the Spirit? Who is it that the Holy Spirit gives life to? Answer: those who were chosen before the foundation of the world, whose names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; those who were predestined to salvation. You can’t argue against that, because that is crystal clear. Your names were written down in the Book of Life before there was any creation, before you even existed. This is predestination. God chose whom He would save, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, in time and space, He saved them by giving them life when they were dead, giving them sight when they were blind. That’s the sovereign side of it.
But on the other hand, you have all those appeals in the New Testament to repent, repent—believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. How do those go together? And the answer is I have no idea. I have no idea because it is beyond the comprehension of my mind to put those two things together. I do know this: that if you’re saved, it’s because God gave you life; and if you’re rejecting the gospel, it’s because you sinfully refused to believe. Those appear on the surface to our feeble brains as if they’re contradictory.
But I’d like to illustrate the fact that they are only contradictory to us, and that should encourage us a little bit because God should be a lot smarter than we are; we shouldn’t be able to comprehend everything. But let me give you another few ways to understand it.
If I ask you the simple question, Who wrote the book of Romans?—give me an answer.
AUDIENCE: Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit.
JOHN: Paul write the book of Romans? Is that the full answer?
AUDIENCE: Inspired by the Holy Spirit.
JOHN: Is every word out of Paul’s vocabulary? Yes. Was the thought process going on in Paul’s mind? Yes. Was Paul’s reason involved in the unfolding of that? Yes. And yet at the same time, every word was inspired by the Spirit of God. How can it be all Paul and all the Holy Spirit? It’s the same tension, it’s the same tension.
And if I ask you about your salvation, Is it eternal? You say, “Yes, it is eternal.” Why? “Because I have been given security; I have been given eternal security.” That’s a common term. But the New Testament says, “You will reach your final salvation if you persevere in the faith.” So is it that God holds you or that you persevere?
And I’ll ask you another question—this is a simple one: Who lives your Christian life? That is a simple question: Who lives your Christian life? You say, “It’s me.” Really? I don’t think so. You say, “Well, it’s the Holy Spirit.” That’s not adequate either, because I don’t want to blame Him for so much of what goes on in my Christian life. You have this grand dilemma in every doctrine there is. You talk about Christ. And you heard one of the baptisms, and the testimony was that Jesus is a hundred percent God and a hundred percent man. Everywhere in all of theology that connects us to God, that apparent—not a real paradox, but that apparent paradox exists, and you can’t eliminate either side. If you are saved, you know it was because God sovereignly saved you; if you are lost, it is because you refuse to believe.
So how do we bring those two things together? We give God all the glory for salvation, and we give man all the responsibility for rejection. I don’t have to resolve that in my feeble mind, but I just have to be faithful to both of those realities. They run parallel into eternity, and they’ll meet when we get to heaven. But it shouldn’t surprise us that there are things at the very heart of our relationship to the eternal God that are beyond our comprehension, because we just can’t grasp what is very simple to God. OK?
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hey, John, it’s nice to meet you. My name’s Drew.
JOHN: Hi, Drew.
AUDIENCE: I want to say I’m a big fan. I watch all your videos.
JOHN: Oh, you’ve been a busy guy; a lot of those.
AUDIENCE: So my question is, let’s say someone’s on a remote, desert island far, far off, and they’ve never heard of the gospel or the name of Jesus. Is there any way that they could be saved and forgiven and go to heaven?
JOHN: No, you can’t; you can’t receive salvation accept through Christ. There’s no salvation in any other name, only the name of Christ; that’s the only way of salvation. So the real answer to that question is, if God had determined to save that guy in isolation somehow, He would see to it that the gospel arrived to him.
There is no salvation—this is the question that gets asked all the time: What about the heathen who never heard? What about the people who never heard? And of course, you can’t say they never heard, because Romans 1 says they start out without excuse because that which may be known of God is manifest all around them. They’re living in a created world; they’re living with rational minds; and rationality means you see an effect, and you go back to a cause. And so you would assume, just looking at the world around you, something of the divine nature of God, something of the power of God. And if you were to live up to that understanding and your heart was open to that understanding because the Spirit of God opened that heart, then it would be the work of the Spirit of God through the providence of God to bring the gospel into your life so that you could understand and believe.
There are some who teach that people who never heard the gospel will be saved the same way people were saved before the gospel. In other words, the Old Testament salvation didn’t depend on believing in Jesus and His death and resurrection, right, because it hadn’t happened. So there are some who want to say that people today who don’t hear the gospel will be treated as Old Testament believers who believed generally in God. But that the New Testament does not allow, because in Acts 17 it says God has said, as of the arrival of Christ there is a basic standard, there is an element, there is a requirement for salvation, and it’s belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that is what the apostle Paul was saying to the philosophers on Mars Hill. He didn’t say to them, “You’re OK because you haven’t heard the gospel and you have this general notion about God.” No. God has ordained that His Son is the only Savior; and if He’s not your Savior, Paul said on Mars Hill, He’s your judge, He’s your judge. He’s ordained a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness. So that’s why the Great Commission is what it is: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. OK?
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I’m Caleb. I’ve been at Grace since about late ’08. And my question was, at the last job I had, I’ve had multiple coworkers who would claim to be either the opposite gender that isn’t theirs or something in between. But so, for pronouns I understand that I can avoid those as much as possible, which is usually altogether. I can reword a sentence and not use one at all. But if they’ve legally changed their name, the name on their desk is a new name, and somebody says something like, “Hey, whose desk does this go to?” is this a moment to make a stand or—I don’t know.
JOHN: Well obviously you know the truth that that’s either a man or a woman, either an XX or an XY, and that’s it. There’s male and female, and that’s all there is. There’s no such thing as a transgender person. There are eunuchs; there are people who have themselves castrated. If you look at that issue and you understand what’s going on in the school system right now, as they try to seduce children at the age of five and six and seven and eight years old, what they’re doing is grooming kids for the homosexual community in the future. That’s the most dangerous place you could ever put a child.
But we know the truth, and it’s just foundational to say this: What you have to offer these people, as hostile as they are to it, is the truth. It is the truth. That doesn’t mean that you have to be ugly about it. It doesn’t mean that you have to be confrontive every time. It doesn’t mean that you have to start a battle over pronouns. But they need the truth. And when you’re so warped that you don’t know what is obvious, I mean, there’s no question about that. You can put a dress on a pig, doesn’t make it a young lady. That’s not going to change anything. This is tragic because of the chaos and the confusion of this. This didn’t exist a few decades back, and this is being sold today at a level that is probably as damaging as anything I can think of to this generation of young people.
I was reading an article two days ago about a two-year-old in England, a two-year-old who is transitioning to be a boy—two-year-old girl. That is child abuse of the most wretched kind. It needs to be seen for what it is. But at the same time, I feel compassion for these people. I mean look, the statistics are in. They kill themselves more than any other category of people in our culture. They commit suicide.
The life of isolation is terrifying. They can’t connect with most people in the world, so what happens is they are in bondage to this warped community of people who all are living in an open lie; and you don’t get away with that, you don’t get away with that. Time and truth go hand in hand. Living in a lie is totally destructive.
So I think you have to look at it like, How can I find a way, maybe not every time, but how can I find a way to speak the truth? Maybe you ask the Lord to help you with that. Maybe you establish some kind of a relationship. And I think you have to bring the Word of God to bear on them because the Bible carries its own power. It’s not your argument. It’s not saying to someone, “Look, you’re either a man or a woman,” because they’re going to say to you, “That’s your opinion.” So you don’t want to do that. You want to say, “The Bible says, ‘God created them male and female.’ And any deviation from that is an abomination to God.” Homosexuality, sodomy was punishable by death because it was such a perversion.
So I think you’ve got to cease to be the authority. Then it becomes an argument, and they think they’re an equal authority to you. In fact, your truth means nothing to them. You’ve got to get outside both of you to some authority. And I will tell you this: This is not only the truth, but it comes with power, it comes with power. It’s amazing, in the power of the Holy Spirit, how it can break down those kinds of deceptions. OK? Good question.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Pastor John. My name is Mark.
JOHN: Hi, Mark.
AUDIENCE: I just want to thank you for your faithfulness, you know, teaching the Word and, you know, it really helped me to grow in my faith.
JOHN: My pleasure. Thank you, Mark.
AUDIENCE: I guess my question is, you know, you’ve been teaching forgiveness the last time you teach Ephesians chapter 4, and then this morning Ephesians 5. I guess my question is, What does forgiveness look like in action? How do you practice forgiveness? And second is, What does it look like to forgive someone who isn’t sorry?
JOHN: So let’s start there. You forgive people whether they are or not. You’re not conditionally forgiving them, because you’re forgiving like God. So what if you aren’t sorry for a certain sin you committed? What if you don’t specifically name that sin to God and repent of that specific sin; does that mean it’s not forgiven? No, because we’d all go to hell, right? We can’t even count the sins. This is not a transaction we’re making with God. But if I confess, the sins that I confess are the ones that get forgiven? No, they’re all forgiven, they’re all forgiven. And even though they’re all forgiven, however, if you’re not dealing with sins in your life, even though they are forgiven in the big picture, if they’re still there they will interrupt your fellowship with God, and they will affect the peace and joy and usefulness of that relationship.
So the same thing works with people. We forgive the way God forgives; we forgive them everything, always, all the time, seventy times seven, unconditionally. We forgive them. We forgive them. What does that mean? That means that I hold no animosity, no grudge, no bitterness, no desire for vengeance, no desire for them to be afflicted, no sense of retaliation at all. But rather, I love them in the sense that I wish for them only what is best. So it starts with that attitude where you let go of any kind of retaliation, and that forgiveness is so freeing. I wrote a book called The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness some years ago; and it is freeing, it is empowering to forgive because you divest yourself of the bitterness; it’s not an issue. And you go to peace and joy, and that’s the way you want to live.
But there’s a second element in it. I think it’s important that if you have forgiven someone that they know it, that they know it in some conscious way. And I don’t think you want to be condescending and say fourteen paragraphs on what they did to you and then, “P.S. I forgive you.” So you don’t want to go at it like that. But I do think you want to communicate in some way that you have forgiven them. You can communicate that by showing them affection, showing them love. You can communicate that by giving them a gift of something that has value to you. You can tell them you’re praying for them, that you appreciate them, you hope all is well with them. So I think you deal with your own heart, and you hold nothing against that person no matter what the sin was, no matter what the wrong was, and then you have some—you find a way to communicate that to them. OK? Good. Thank you, Mark.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: My name is Eliquel Nuesa, and I have a question.
AUDIENCE: My question is, Is there an easier way for Jesus to pay for our sins?
JOHN: Was there an easier way for Jesus to pay for our sins?
JOHN: No, because the wages of sin—do you know that Bible verse in Romans 3, “The wages of sin is”?
JOHN: Death, OK. So the payment for sin is death. So either we die for our sins—and that means we would be in hell forever because we would have to pay for our sins, and it would take eternity, and we still would never be able to pay the debt that we owed God for our sin—or somebody has to die in our place. But there has to be death. You go back into the Old Testament, and God made pictures of that for everybody to understand in the sacrificial system—that the sacrifice of animals day in and day out, and day in and day out, was not saying this animal’s sacrifice provides forgiveness, but that sin requires death. And that animal didn’t ever resolve that; that’s why you had to kill them over and over and over and over and over.
And then the whole sacrificial system comes to its pinnacle in the time of Jesus, and what happened? He died on the cross, and He was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and so there never needed to be another animal sacrifice; and to make sure that didn’t happen, the Lord, you remember, split the veil in the Temple and threw the Holy of Holies open to say there’s no more a barrier; this is the sacrifice that God accepts. Soon after that, the entire sacrificial system went out of existence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD; and there hasn’t been an animal sacrificed in Jerusalem since then because Christ was the final sacrifice. There was no other way, because the wages of sin is death.
The good news is that Jesus had the power to take our place and bear our sins, and also to rise from the dead, right? So He conquered death, not only for Himself, but for us. Does that help?
AUDIENCE: Yes. Thank you.
JOHN: Attagirl. Thank you. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name is Judson Min. And before I ask my question, I’d like to thank you for all the preachings that you’ve taught us.
JOHN: Well, thank you.
AUDIENCE: I love the preachings that you teach us.
JOHN: Thank you for coming up and giving me a hug tonight, that was wonderful. Thank you. OK, what’s your question?
AUDIENCE: My question is, When we go to heaven, what will it look like?
JOHN: When we go to heaven, what will it look like? Well never having been there, I have only one place to turn, and that’s to the Scripture. And you can read Revelation 21 and 22, you know, at the end of the Bible, and that’s the best brochure on heaven. If you want a travel brochure on heaven, it’s Revelation 21 and Revelation 22. And what we know is this: that the final heaven will be—it’s called by Isaiah and, of course, in the New Testament in the book of Revelation, the new heaven and the new earth.
So what’s going to happen is this. The universe that we know of, all the way into outer space, the entire universe and everything in it is going to disintegrate. It’s going to literally go out of existence. Peter says it will be imploded. The atomic construction of the universe will literally turn the entire universe into an atomic bomb, and it’ll blow itself out of existence, and in its place will come a new heaven and a new earth, and it’s going to be different—no sin, no sorrow, no sadness, no death, and all those things that are described in Revelation.
So there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth, and there will be a capitol city called the new Jerusalem, and that capitol city is described in the book of Revelation; it’s kind of a cubed city. It has gates, and each gate is one huge pearl. It has foundation stones that are made out of beautiful jewels. It has streets that are transparent gold. It doesn’t have electricity because it doesn’t have to have any lights because the Lamb is the light of it. And in the middle of it, the Lamb sheds His light, and it goes through the jewels and through the transparent gold and lights the entire new heaven and new earth.
This is beyond us; and that’s why the Bible says: “Eye has not seen, nor ear hear, nor has it entered the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.” We can’t know what heaven is like except what the Lord has told us. And He tried to explain it in Revelation 21 and 22, but it’s pretty mindboggling, really. But here’s the really good news: When you go there, there’s no time, OK, there’s no time. You know how your life goes with the time: You get up in the morning, and your mom makes you breakfast, and then you’ve got to go to school, and life goes on in hours and days.
No time in heaven. So what is heaven? It is an eternal moment, an eternal moment with no sense of time. There’s no past, there’s no present, there’s no future. So you look at it this way—because if you think about heaven—I think particularly kids think about heaven and think, What am I going to do all the time? And do they have a basketball and a hoop or something I can do up there? Do they have a skateboard? What am I going to do up there? Can I watch cartoons in heaven? What am I going to do with myself? And what you have to understand is that heaven has no sense of time. This is one eternal moment that never starts, never flows, and never ends, and it will be a moment of inexpressible, incomprehensible fulfillment, joy, peace, and satisfaction. You could try to imagine the most wonderful day in your whole life. If you could just create the most wonderful day in your whole life and then multiply that ten thousand times ten thousand and say, “I want to live that moment forever”—and that’s heaven. Does that help?
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
JOHN: Did you understand what I was saying?
AUDIENCE: Yes. Thank you.
JOHN: Attaboy. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: God bless you.
JOHN: Thank you. Yeah, thank you so much. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name is Gabby.
JOHN: Hi, Gabby.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I also want to thank you for your commitment to God’s Word. It’s been such a blessing to be coming here. My husband and I have been attending here for now, I think, ten years. We’ve had all of our kids here, and it’s just been amazing. So thank you.
JOHN: Thank you, Gabby.
AUDIENCE: So you’ve been talking, obviously, a lot about forgiveness; and in an effort to better understand forgiveness, I wanted to ask this question. So I know you’re not supposed to bring up a past sin, you know, from a friend or something like that; and once you’ve forgiven them, that’s it; don’t bring it up anymore. But is it ever appropriate to bring it up if that said person asks why you don’t, for example, rely on them for something that you’ve already kind of discerned that that’s not their talent? For example, like let’s say, let’s say they weren’t so good with kids, you know, and you just—anyway.
JOHN: Right. So I would say this. God remembers our sins no more in the sense that He holds them against us no more. But how many times in the Old Testament did God tell Israel to remember, to remember, to remember? Part of your sanctification is remembering enough to avoid the same sin. There’s reason for us not to hold sin against someone in that sense. But in the sense of building a relationship with someone, if it’s instructive for them to remind them about some past sin that had a negative effect, I think that’s very instructive. I think that can be very, very helpful.
I know we are to forget the things that are behind and press toward the mark, but at the same time—there’s an illustration of this I read many, many years ago. There was a young child who was asking his dad to understand forgiveness, and his dad was trying to think of a way to communicate it.
So they lived on a farm, and one day took the little boy out to the barn, and he said, “I’ve got some nails, and I want you to see these nails as sin,” and he nailed them to the barn door, and he nailed a number of them to the barn door. And he said, “This is what sin does; it embeds itself in your life.” And then he said, “When Christ comes into your life, all of that is forgiven,” and he started pulling all the nails out. And his little boy looked up at him and said, “Dad, the scars are still there.”
That’s instructive, right? That’s instructive. You want people not to forget the wounds that sin inflicted on them. But that’s very different than you carrying bitterness. Does that help?
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Pastor John. My name’s Sarah, and I was just wondering in light of like, you know, America used to be a Christian culture; like a lot of Christians are falling, and a lot of other countries are not very Christian either. Just in light of Christ’s return—I know we do not know, but you know, you hear people say, “I think He’s returning really soon.” How do you view, like, everything happening in the world and Christ’s return and prophecy?
JOHN: Well, nothing, nothing needs to happen before the rapture of the church; that’s a signless event. Everything, I would say, everything comes together in the Tribulation. The Tribulation is the book of Revelation, chapter 6 through 19, and you have lots of characteristics of that period of time that’s after the Rapture. The Lord takes the church out; then all these things happen in the world. And many of those things, they’re already not even a stretch.
For example, you can’t buy or sell unless you have a mark in your forehead or your hand. And now, even today, now, right now as I speak, you can have a chip embedded in your hand by which—it would take the place of a credit card. We’re headed toward a cashless society where, if they don’t want you to buy anything, you won’t be able to buy anything. They’ll shut you down; they’ll cancel you completely. So it used to be a bizarre thing to think about: How could you not buy or sell if you didn’t have a number? Well first, credit cards. But that’s even more strange, when the Bible says it’s something embedded in your person—and they’re already at that point. There are other marks of the culture and the society in the Tribulation time in Matthew 24: wars, rumors of wars—lots of things that are happening. So I don’t think there’s anything that has to happen before the rapture of the church, which is the next event; and it could happen at any moment because everything that would need to happen beyond that could happen.
For example, when the book of Revelation says a third of the earth will die, people used to wonder, “Well, how could that happen? Who could destroy a third of the earth?” Or, “A fourth of the earth could die?” We now have the chemistry to kill masses of people. We have that chemistry; we have those kinds of weapons. It’s not likely that atomic weapons would kill a third or a fourth of the earth, but the right kind of concoction of poisons unleashed on a society could certainly do that.
I mean, there’s nothing that’s in the book of Revelation that seems like a stretch beyond what is pretty obvious on the horizon. So I’m not going to venture a guess, but I think we want to make sure that we stay busy for the King and the kingdom until that happens. You don’t need to get your pajamas on and get on the roof; that isn’t going to help. You need to keep doing what you’re doing. And when it happens, it’ll happen; and that’s all in the Lord’s timing. But it’s closer than it’s ever been. And I’m holding out for the Rapture. I’d rather go in the Rapture than in a pine box. So if it happens soon, I’ll be happy.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Pastor John. I’m Chuck.
JOHN: Hi, Chuck.
AUDIENCE: I recently got saved, on January 16th when you preached about how some people were that way and then they quit sinning basically—or they repented. And so now I’ve had a lot of pagan friends that don’t understand me anymore because I’m trying to share the gospel with them; and every time I talk to them, they either mock God in front of me or they don’t want to talk to me anymore, and these are pagan friends that I’ve had for years. And thank God I have the church as my new family. Thank you very much, you guys, for that. Thank you. But at the same time, I’m losing all my pagan friends, and I still want to love them. And in light of what you said this morning about, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” how do I effectively communicate the gospel in a loving way to my pagan friends, where they can hear it or accept it?
JOHN: Well, you can do it in a loving way, but you can’t make them accept it. So I think you all have to understand, folks, that this particular culture has zero tolerance for the gospel, zero tolerance for the God of the Bible. I mean literally, the greatest single threat to our culture, to our society, from Washington down through the entire educational system, even through the military and every other part of the social structure of our society, the greatest threat to everything this culture is, is the Scripture because it indicts them at every single level. You have people advocating what God says deserves the death penalty. So this is the kind of hostility that shouldn’t surprise you because it’s exactly the way they treated Jesus. And you would certainly agree that the most effective evangel that ever walked on the earth was the Lord Jesus, and they killed Him. So you’re not going to find a way to get the message through to sinful, hostile people when the culture has affirmed that legitimacy of that hostility.
So again, it feels a little bit like Isaiah, where the Lord says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” in Isaiah 6, and Isaiah says, “Here am I, Lord. Send me!” And then the Lord said to him, “OK, I’m going to send you, and nobody’s going to listen to you; nobody’s going to hear you. They’ll have ears, but they won’t hear. They’ll harden their hearts; they’ll refuse you.” And Isaiah says, “Well, how long do I do that?” and the Lord says to him in that vision, “Until there’s no one left, until there’s no one left.” And then he ends that sixth chapter in verse 13 by saying, “There is a holy seed. There is an elect group that God will use you to reach.”
So you have to look at evangelism not in terms of results, but in terms of faithfulness. And again, this is what we were saying earlier when the question came up about pronouns and all of that. They need the truth. To give them the truth is the most loving thing you can do. They killed all the prophets in Israel who did that. They killed Jesus, then they killed the apostles, then they martyred the early church, and then they martyred the Reformers, and then they threw the Puritans out of town. I mean, this is the standard operation procedure for people who hate God. And one of the real tragedies today is the fact that churches, for some devilish reason, have decided that they want to be popular with the people who hate God. What is that? That is a formula for compromise of epic proportions. If you’re trying to be popular with the people who hate God, you could never get to the truth because the truth would elicit that hate.
So you’re going to have to face that. It’s enough the Lord expects us to proclaim His truth with love, speak the truth in love and compassion and mercy, and demonstrate the love toward people. But there is no way, when you speak the truth, to avoid the hostility of the kingdom of darkness. You can’t avoid it. OK?
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
JOHN: Good question.
MODERATOR: This is our last one, Pastor John, our last one.
JOHN: This is the last one?
JOHN: What about all the elect over here? Wow, OK, I’m sorry.
MODERATOR: We apologize. But he’s going back to Germany on Thursday, so I let him go.
AUDIENCE: All right, yeah. Thank you for letting asking you this question. Hi, John.
AUDIENCE: My name is Benedict. As he already said, I’m visiting from Germany, enjoyed today with you together here. Thank you—or I first of all want to thank God for your ministry, for your sermons. So through you I learned more and more on expository preaching and really love it. And since I had a background in the Pentecostal church, I need to say by the grace of God I found a new church close by with expository preaching. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And I’m thankful for all your sermons I could listen to on my way to work, and yeah, learn a lot. Thanks.
JOHN: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: My question goes kind of in the same direction. So after you being in ministry and preaching, teaching for more than a half a century, my question is, If you look back from all what you’ve experienced in the walk with Christ and the ministry, if you could start all over again, like me or any other adult, what would have been your advice to young adults?
JOHN: Well yeah, I—you’re making me go back and think like I think now when I was 20, and I didn’t think the way I think now when I was 20. So I knew what I knew as a 20-year-old, a 21-year-old or 22. When I came out of school, I came out of seminary and then came to Grace Church in my 20s. I knew what I knew then. I wish then I had known what I know now.
AUDIENCE: Exactly. What are you advices?
JOHN: And it would have saved a lot, which is why we do well in the church—listen carefully to this—to be taught by older men. There is a trend in the church for young, entrepreneurial, glib talkers to start churches, who have very little of life experiences and growth in the knowledge of God and His Word. But there was no way when I was 21 that I was going to know what I know now.
So I’ll tell you what I’m grateful for: that the Lord kept me from great sin. I mean, that’s Psalm 19. The Lord’s Word guarded me from great sin that would have completely short-circuited my life and ministry in days when I didn’t have the spiritual strength and the spiritual support and encouragement that I have now. And so I think what Paul said to Timothy is so very important: You have to take heed to your life. Guard your life. You can have right theology, but you can cancel out any opportunity to proclaim that theology if your life isn’t right.
So the message to young men is: Understand the Word of God, grow in knowledge of the Word of God, but growth in holiness, growth in godliness, growth in loving Christ is the most important thing. And I have found through the half a century that what contributes the most to that is a personal preoccupation with Jesus Christ Himself. That’s why I spent so many years teaching the gospels—because every verse is Christ. All those 25 years preaching through Matthew, Mark, Luke—maybe even 30 years, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and then writing commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and becoming so familiar with the person of Christ that your heart is captive to Him. When somebody asked me a number of years ago to write a book on my favorite verse, at the time I said 2 Corinthians 3:18: As we gaze at the glory of the Lord, we’re transformed into His image from one level of glory to the next by the Holy Spirit. So it’s as you focus on the person of Jesus Christ that you’re transformed into His image; that’s the work of the Spirit.
So I tell young men it’s wonderful to be concerned about truth and doctrine and theology, but you need to be preoccupied with the glory of Christ because He is the—this is what the Reformers used to call “the beatific vision.” This is when you see the beauty of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. And in that vision your affections for Christ, your love for Christ, your devotion to Christ take a dominating role in your life, and that shields you from disqualifying sins.
AUDIENCE: All right, thanks.
JOHN: OK. Thank you.
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