Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This is probably one of the most well-known verses in Christianity. It’s on display at virtually every sporting event and most anywhere else someone can manage to get a sign of some kind to display it on. I would expect that virtually everyone reading this, if asked, do you believe in Jesus, would respond with a resounding “Yes!”
We would all agree that we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our savior. But there’s more to being a Christian than simply making that statement. While we all may believe in Jesus, we must also believe Jesus. You see, there’s a difference here. Believing in Jesus as the Son of God is not the same as believing what He tells us.
Some people who profess belief in Jesus chose to be very selective in their belief of what He taught while on earth. Even people who proudly proclaim John 3:16 are sometimes not so certain they believe it as it is stated rather than as a concept of Christianity. For instance, some say that Catholics should not pray for intercession from Mary and the Saints. They are dead, we are told, and we shouldn’t pray to the dead. But if we reread John 3:16 it states very clearly that those who believe in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life. If we believe what is said, rather that just accepting the concept, we must believe that Mary and the Saints are alive and well. They are quite capable of praying for us just as still living friends pray for us. While they may have died physically, their soul remains alive and in the presence of God. Otherwise John 3:16 is not factual.
If we are to be the followers of Jesus, we must be willing to accept His teachings, even though we may not fully understand them in this world. Jesus, during His life, made a habit of raising the bar on what it takes to be accepted into God’s Kingdom. He didn’t preach exceptions, He taught obedience. Anything less is unacceptable. He didn’t require that we understand, only that we believe Him. He recognized that there are many mysteries in our faith. Many we will not understand until we are in the kingdom of God. However, not understanding doesn’t equate to not believing. I don’t understand love in a practical sense, yet I know love exists and I experience it. Just because I don’t fully understand it doesn’t lessen the beauty of love.
Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) I would expect the thief, though physically dead, was spiritually alive with Jesus in Paradise as promised. If he was not alive in eternal life, and therefore unable to experience paradise, of what worth was Jesus’ promise”
The fact of life after death is central to our Christianity. To deny that Elijah, Moses, Mary, the Saints, and the thief on the cross are alive in paradise is to deny the words of Jesus and ignore John 3:16. Remember that Jesus met with Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration. “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus.” (Mark 9:2-4) If Elijah and Moses were not still living, this passage can not possibly be true.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, failed to understand Jesus’ teaching that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can this be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?” (John 3:4-10) Just because we can’t explain or prove something, we must still believe it if Jesus said it.
Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks as a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:72-28) We all would agree that adultery is wrong and sinful. But what if it’s our own son or daughter who is committing adultery? Or if not adultery, fornication by living with someone to whom they are not married. You see, agreeing that something is a sin is not necessarily the same as believing it in our own lives and actions. We choose to ignore rather than lovingly confront such actions. But that isn’t what Jesus said; there were no family exemptions or equivocations involved. Adultery is sinful and those who practice it will not enter the glory of heaven. To believe otherwise is to deny the truth of Jesus as well as the commandments. To allow a loved one to continue a sinful life without trying to convince them of their error, is also failing to love them. What parent would willingly allow their child to jump out of a twenty story window to their death? Yet we allow our children to risk their eternal life rather than lovingly trying to persuade them to change their ways. While we may not have the ability to change their way of life, we still have the responsibility to try, through prayer, and loving admonition.
Let’s also not forget that Jesus clearly stated that we don’t have to physically commit adultery to be guilty of the sin of adultery. If we look at another with lust in our heart, we have already committed the sin. Our culture is awash with pornography, both soft and hard core. To view these images pushes us toward adultery, whether actual or in the spirit. Movies all too frequently glorify wanton sexuality as well as adultery and fornication. Even commercial television has fallen to lows in the barely veiled presentation of these sins. We are tempted to seriously consider these acts when we they are everywhere in our culture. Satan strives to tempt us to sin; these images are a powerful weapon to achieve that end.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:53-56) It can’t be said any more directly than Jesus said it; we must eat His flesh and drink his blood if we are to raised up on the last day. Yet many would say that the Eucharist we receive is merely a symbol. As a Catholic, one of my greatest joys is receiving my Lord in the Eucharist. And yes, I am receiving the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in that small wafer and that wine. I can’t explain how that happens, but I have absolutely no doubt that it does. I can’t prove it scientifically, but I can prove it spiritual. I know that I have received my Lord, just as I know that love exists even though I can’t prove that scientifically either. Otherwise I am putting my own meaning to the words of Christ rather than believing Him. For those who would argue, I would suggest reading John 6:64-66. “But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father.” After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.”
Jesus meant exactly what He said. If you doubt His sincerity, think about those who walked away. Jesus did not rush after them and try to bring them back. He didn’t say, “Oh, don’t leave, I was only talking figuratively. I didn’t really mean you have to eat my flesh and drink by blood.” He let them leave. And consider this. By leaving they were condemning themselves to hell. They had known Jesus and had been taught by Him. Yet, when believing Him was too hard for them they turned away from Him. That decision, unless repented and changed, can only result in eternal condemnation. If you don’t believe Jesus meant that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, then you also have to believe that He allowed those disciples to condemn themselves to hell rather than change or water down His words.
In our churches today, there are many who claim belief but fail to believe. There are sometimes referred to as cafeteria Christians. They will accept Jesus as the son of God, but not as truly and wholly present in the Eucharist. They would never dream of murdering anyone, but will accept abortion, the murder of the most innocent of all. No one argues that envy is wrong, yet many jealously desire the goods and wealth of others. The list goes on and on. If we simply read the commandments and reflect on what they truly mean, we will see how common it is to accept the general idea, but reject the specifics. If we are to believe Jesus, the specifics matter. We must not only hear the words of Jesus, we must respond. We must not stop with the overview, we must look for and believe the details as well. Only through believing Jesus and the teachings He left us are we to enter the kingdom of God. Some of the teachings are hard; some we will never understand in this world. Still, if we are to truly believe in Jesus, we must hear the teachings and act upon them.
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)