The Gospel That Dispels Doubt

Jesus promised, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." And yet, amazingly, we're surrounded by friends and family who are weighed down with doubt about God's love, doubt about whether they'll spend eternity in heaven or in hell or just become worm food. They are aching to know the truth and be set free. In this week's message, it's back to basics as Andy Sharples shares how his own doubts were replaced with confidence through the good news of Jesus Christ.

John 3:16-36



At the church camp I attended as a teen, there was a song we’d sing, and people would stand on the appropriate day:  “It was on a Monday somebody saved me. I know it was the hand of the Lord.” 

I always had to stand on “It was on a someday” because I didn’t know what day it was that I became a Christian. 

And I know the pastors and counselors would mark well those who stood “on a someday”, because they were pretty sure these people were probably not really Christians at all.

I was trusting in Christ the best I knew how. I agonized that I couldn’t pinpoint the day and time. They said I needed to be able to state the day and time, and I couldn’t.


So, like you maybe, I was this miserable doubter, wanting so much to be sure that the message of the gospel was true and that I was IN. 


It literally took years for the puzzle pieces of my faith to fit together to make Jesus’s statement ring true for me: “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)


If you’re struggling in your faith. If you’re not really feeling it. I’m glad you’re here. And not just so we can be miserable together. I want you to know that doubt is ok. You’re not alone in this because everyone experiences doubt. It means you’re taking things seriously. 

I hope to share some of the truth that I have found helpful so you don’t have to sit in that agony for years like I did. And I’ve recruited help from master teacher Haddon Robinson and his sermon “Five Basic Issues of the Gospel”. 


If you do have such a moment, that’s great. You probably have it written down somewhere in your Bible. And you can always get it out and say, “See, that's the day I was saved.” 


But it is possible that you can’t point to a specific time and place. Maybe for you it was a gradual process. Or maybe you grew up in a Christian home and can’t even remember a time you didn’t live as a Christian.


If any of these are you, that’s ok. Because Jesus’s version of the gospel goes something like this: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” 


If you’re doubting because you can’t point to a time, here’s a good check: 

What is your attitude toward God and the Bible? Are you trusting Jesus Christ alone for eternal life? Is your life changed and changing because of your faith? If you love God and love His Word, that’s a really good sign. A welcoming, humble attitude toward God and the Bible give powerful evidence of a converted soul.


Another reason for my doubt is that my conversion experience didn’t follow the formula.


I was 9 and a VBS teacher told me I could pray and ask Jesus to come come into my heart. And I did that. And I had this sense that Jesus was now with me. And it was great. 

But the Bible never says that the way to eternal life is to invite Jesus into your heart.


And what made matters worse is that when I learned the formula, I prayed again and again and again, and never could achieve peace. Because I guess I was more concerned with the words than the heart.


A good answer for this is evangelism training. There are all kinds of great courses out there: Evangelism Explosion, Contagious Xn, Sharing Jesus w/o Fear, etc. I’ve been trained in some of these. It’s given me clear, concise and correct concepts about the gospel as well as how to communicate it with those around me.

This is probably the most important training you can receive as a Christian. Get trained. But watch out for the formulas.


If you’re in doubt about your soul, don’t let it be because of how your experience conforms to some model. Don’t agonize about the words.


Because the gospel according to Jesus is this: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”


There’s no clearer passage in all of the Bible, than the verses around John 3:16. Let’s do this old-school. Please turn in your Bible (or your gizmo) to John 3:16. And I’m reading from the NLT version.


Verse 18 gives another reason you may be doubting:


18“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 


In this verse, it says that, even though Jesus came into the world to save the world, not judge it, that judgment does happen. In fact, it says, the judgment has already happened. 


Verses 19-20 explain how:


19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.


So the process of judgment is this. God sent his son to be a Savior. To rescue people from themselves and to give them a relationship with God.


God sent his son into this world of darkness as light. 


While some believe and are saved, others see the light and turn away from it. And in turning away from the light, they reveal what they are. The gift of light was given to the world. And people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

That word evil doesn’t mean “Satanic”. It means “morally wrong, harmful, worthless.”


When Leilani and I first got married, our first home was a small rental off Jordan Lane. I had toured the house in the daytime and made the deal to rent the house. When I got the key and the lease, I showed it to Leilani for the first time at night. I remember opening the front door and turning on the lights. And the roaches were everywhere: on the walls, the floor, the counters, the sink. Needless to say, I took care of that problem before we moved in!

When the light was turned on all these bugs would scurry to the dark. The problem was not in the light. The problem was in the nature of the vermin. The light shines, and because the roaches took to the darkness, they turned away from the light. 


In just the same way, this is what John is saying about people. That is, when they clearly see who Jesus Christ is, and what he has done for them, that should bring them salvation. But if they clearly understand the message and say no, they reveal the hardness of their heart. They reveal what they are by rejecting Jesus Christ.


That means that a person’s belief or unbelief is a symptom of what's going on in their heart. 


Haddon recounts the time he shared the gospel with a college student who said no. Listen to this 65-second clip. [insert audio clip here? beginning at 15:33] He went through the gospel with the student and explained it to him as clearly as he could. After Haddon was through, he asked the student to explain the gospel back to him. The student did a remarkably good job. In fact, in his own words, the student was able to focus in on the basic issues of salvation. And Haddon said to him, “Look, you know the gospel, you know who Jesus Christ is. Right now, wouldn't you like to put your trust and confidence in him?” And the student said no.

And Haddon said, “Well tell me, I'm interested. Here you stand, knowing that you are a sinner. You told me that. Knowing that Christ is the savior, you told me that. And you say no. Why?” And the student explained, “Well, to be truthful with you, I’m having a pretty good sex life. And I'm afraid that if I become a Christian he's going to mess it all up.” [16:38]


Now that was a very honest admission. 


John says the major reason people say no is that when they see who He is, and that coming to the light will expose what is base and worthless in their lives, that rather than go through that experience, they turn away from Christ. They like the way they are living so well that they do not want the light of Christ to shine upon them. “Don't judge me. Leave me alone. Who are you to tell me what to do?”


On the other hand, he says in verse 21 that ”those who do what is right come to the light.”


Just in passing, one of the traits that should mark us out as believers is a willingness to be exposed to the light of God. A willingness to have our lives open with integrity before God's truth. So that we will be open be open to his revelation, to his truth, to his holiness. We will walk in the light. Unafraid. 

A Christian wants her life to be examined because she has a relationship with Christ. And she wants that relationship to examine and to cleanse her heart. 


But men and women refuse Christ, John says—and Christ says—because their actions are evil.


So that when the claims of Christ are are clear, and you or I refuse to believe, we condemn our own selves. That’s the process of the judgment. When you and I see Christ for what he is and then say no, that is  evidence of rebellion. Evidence of hatred. Of hardness. Depravity. 


So all of that is to say that one reason the sin of unbelief is singled out for special mention is that it is symptomatic of every other sin. When I know who Christ is and I know what he has done, to refuse him says something about me and about my heart.


A second major reason that the sin of unbelief is singled out: not only is it :  symptomatic, , it is also singled out because it is the supremely important sin.


Why? First of all, because the issue about Jesus Christ—you and I believing or not believing on him—is of supreme importance to God.


Look at John 3:35-36.

35The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. 36 And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”


Now there, the issue of believing on Jesus Christ is connected directly to the Father's love for the son. So that it is of supreme importance to God what you do with His Son Jesus Christ. Now that God has given his son, now that he has given all authority to his son—put everything into his hand—Christ becomes the major issue in the heart of God. In the light of who Christ is and in the light of what Christ has done, he is of supreme importance to the Father.


You see, what matters way more than what you and I think about Jesus Christ—,what matters supremely,, is what God the Father thinks about Jesus Christ. And God the Father says that he is satisfied with the death of Jesus Christ to meet all of the just demands of holiness required of  us. And he asks us to be satisfied with him. 


Now if God has sent his son to provide our salvation, if this is God's great gift, to ignore that gift and to refuse it means that nothing else you can do matters to God. Let me illustrate.


Let's suppose that when my son Sam was a small boy that a kidnapper crept into our home went into my son’s bedroom and took him out into the night. And let’s say he took him to the other side of town, and somehow I was able to follow him across the city and I come to this attic where this kidnapper is holding my son. And I go up to this man and I say to him, “I want my boy”. And the man says to me, “Now look, I understand you're interested in religious work. I want you to know that from here on out I'm going to go to church every Sunday”. 

I say to him, “I don't give a rap about your church attendance, I want my boy.” And he says, “Now wait, let's back up. I realize I haven't been the best of men up until now. But I've been thinking that I’d like to change my life. I want to become a profitable citizen from here on out.” And I'd say, “That's awfully nice and good, but you’ve got my son, and I want my boy.” 

And until that kidnapper deals with my son. Until he gives me back my boy, everything else he says is not only irrelevant, it is insulting. To have that as the central issue between us, and to ignore it, is to do an injustice to what is of supreme importance to me.


God gives his Son so that people might be saved. He allowed him to die on the cross to take away people’s sin. And for a person to come and say, “Now I will offer him church membership. Or good deeds. Or I'll be good to granny. Or I'll take in stray cats or a thousand other things.” And to ignore the issue that is of supreme importance to the heart of God, is not only to introduce that which is irrelevant, but it introduces that which is insulting. 

God’s concern is about his Son and the issue of the gospel is this--He sent His Son. What will you do with Him?


It is also of supreme importance to the sinner. That is, if God has provided a substitute to deal with your sin on the cross of Calvary, then the only issue that is left is Jesus Christ. If his death is sufficient to save you, and it is there, then it is of supreme importance to you what you do with that death. 


Sometimes you may hear people saying that it is no longer a sin question, it's a son question. And that's good and it's bad depending on what you mean by it. 


It still is a sin question. You are cut off from God and I am cut off from God apart from Jesus Christ because we are sinners--we have offended God. And that’s true whether we ever hear of Jesus Christ or not. Because we have violated what we knew to be right and true. We can be hard on ourselves when we fall short of our And every one of us has fallen short.


So we are cut off from the life of God because we are wrong-doers. But when a savior is introduced who is able to save us from our sin, then the issue no longer focuses on my sin, it focuses on him.


Let's suppose that you and I are on a cruise across the Atlantic. And in the middle of our voyage, someone falls overboard, 800 miles from shore. The ship goes on through the darkness. We are unaware that the man has fallen over until the next morning. When we land we hear the report of the man's death. 

If you were to ask, “why did he drown?” I’d say, “Well, the ocean was 1000 feet feet deep at that place and he was almost 1000 miles from shore. The depth of the ocean, the length of the swim, that’s why he went down.” And that's true. That’s accurate. 

But let's suppose we're going across the Atlantic. Same ship, same people, same fellow goes overboard. But this time we see it. And somebody on the ship recognizing that he is going down, takes a life preserver, and throws the life preserver to the man. And it's there, right next to him where he can reach out and grab it. But instead of taking that life preserver he pushes it aside. And he goes under. 

This time, if you ask me, “How come he drowned?” I say, “Look, believe it or not, we threw him a preserver, and he refused to accept it. That's why he drowned. He refused the salvation.” Of course, he also drowned because it was still 1000 feet deep and a thousand miles from shore. But once a savior appears on the scene, that becomes the crucial issue. 


Women and men are separated from God because they're sinners. That is ultimately why. But once a savior appears, it no longer matters about the particulars of the sin. It no longer matters how bad or evil I have been. That’s irrelevant because a Savior has appeared! And now the issue is what do you do with the Savior? 


Sometimes people talk about comparative religion. If you want to look at the fringe benefits of religion, they all seem pretty much the same. The difference is not out on the fringe, the difference is at the center. And Jesus Christ makes unique claims about Himself that you won’t find anywhere else. And you and I have to do something with those claims.


In fact, He said things about himself that on the lips of any other man would be stupid and absurd. For example, Marx and Lenin and those who followed them make astounding claims for communism. They claimed that if every man were to produce according to his ability, then every man would be able to share according to his need.

But never once did these men say, “I am the bread of life. He who believes in me will never hunger. He comes to me will never thirst.” But Jesus said that.


Adolph Hitler made astounding claims for the German people. He claimed that they were the master race. And that he could be their master. And yet never once did Hitler stand before the people of his day and say "I am the way to God. I am the truth. I am the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." But Jesus said THAT, and he said more. He said that he himself would be the judge of all men. That every evil thought that we have ever thought, every evil deed we have committed, one day we’d be responsible to him.


In fact, he went beyond that. He said that a man’s eternal destiny was decided not by what kind of life he’d lived, or what kind of church he went to, but a man’s eternal destiny was decided solely and completely on what that man did with him. Isn’t that exactly what He said in v 36 (NIV), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them” 

Jesus said that he could forgive sin. He said that he could give men and women eternal life. That he could give people like you and me heaven forevermore.


Now those are astounding claims. CS Lewis, tells us that as he was coming to faith in Christ, he was faced with one of three alternatives about Jesus’ claims.


One alternative was to decide that Jesus Christ lied. When he said that he could forgive sins, he lied through his teeth. When he said that he could give us the very life of God, that that was deception. But Lewis said that he found that impossible to accept. For Jesus was a man who would inspire truth in the lives of so many. Here was a man whose followers had as their basic ethic both love and truth. It’s hard to believe that this man who would inspire all this with his teaching was himself a liar and a deceiver. And there are very few people who’ve looked at Jesus Christ and have come to that conclusion.


A second alternative that he said you can come to is that, if he’s not a liar, then he must be a lunatic. Because he claims to be God. He claims to forgive sins. He claims to be able to bring people into relationship with the eternal God. Surely that’s crazy talk.

The difficulty was that he really could not find evidence for it. As he studied the life of Jesus Christ in the gospels and looked at the way he faced crises, saw the way he went to death. That was certainly not the death of a man who looked like he was out of touch with reality. As he looked at those who followed him, it was impossible to believe they were men who themselves were guilty of insanity.

And then Lewis looked at the stories in the Bible. He looked at the sermon on the mount. How could a man who was demented produce truth like that?

Dr. Vernon Grounds, of Denver Seminary, said, “If Jesus Christ is insane, then would to God all men were insane.”


But what if he’s not a liar or a lunatic? Then he must be what he claimed to be: very God of very God. That is, he must be God who appeared, visiting our planet, to bring us into a relationship with God. 


You see, there are some things people like to say about Christ that are absolutely ruled out. You cannot say, “He was just a good teacher.” That’s not looking at the evidence. 

At the core of his teaching are these claims about himself. And he’s a miserable teacher if his teachings are based on untruth.


And if you try to say “He was a good man,” that’s even worse. Jesus Christ calls men to trust him completely. Jesus Christ calls men to give up father and mother, houses and lands, to make him first in their lives on the basis of who he is. 

And if he’s merely a human as I am, if he’s just a human like you are, then Jesus Christ is anything but good. In fact, if Jesus Christ is merely a man and nothing more than a man, he is a diabolical monster. He ranks among the most evil men in history, because he calls men and women to give themselves to him completely. And no man has a right to do that on the basis of false claims.


But if he is who he claims to be then that means means God has been here. That God has visited our planet. That God walked the lanes of Palestine. That God was 6’2” with reddish hair and green eyes. Or he was 5’9” with brown hair and blue eyes. We do not know, but God was here. God visited this planet. And by his death on the cross, has satisfied all of the demands of God against the sinner.

And if that is true, no investment you can make can compare to you giving your life to Jesus Christ.


And the point of the NT is that God calls you to believe on Him. The major thing that God asks again and again is that you will believe on Jesus Christ. That is the single element of the gospel. When I see who he is, believe on Him. 


“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”  


So then, what does it mean to believe on Christ? 


In the Bible that term “believe” is a dynamic concept. The Greek word is pisteuo, and it means that the subject of the sentence - the believer - moves onto the object - the thing believed in. 

So you could rephrase John 3:16 to. Everyone who puts himself into God’s hands. Everyone who trusts in Him. Shall not perish but have everlasting life.


And this is much more than agreeing that something is more or less accurate. It’s more like this...more like this...


A few years ago, I got to go to Chicago and go to the Willis Tower, the 8th tallest building in the world. In the lobby, they sell tickets to the 103rd floor. To the Skydeck. It’s 1353 feet up and you can look out and see 40-50 miles on a clear day. The view is breathtaking.

Now suppose you worked there at the ticket counter, and I asked you to take me to the top, what would you tell me? Probably something like, “Buy a ticket and get on.”

It’s not enough for me to agree with you. If I want to go to the Skydeck, I have to get on the elevator.

In the same way, If you are going to become a Christian, you’ve got to get on. It’s not enough just to know about Christ. It’s not enough merely to be moved emotionally. Put your confidence upon him as your only hope. As your only salvation. Your dearest and best friend who alone can bring you into relationship with God. 


Here’s a definition of belief from Anglican Bishop O'Brien: "He who knows what is meant by faith in a remedy knows what is meant by faith in the Gospel. He who knows what is meant by faith in a physician, faith in a lawyer, faith in a friend, knows what is meant by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Say I am sick and go to the doctor. He examines me and prescribes some medicine. When I take that medicine home, I don’t simply set it on a shelf and look at its beautiful red color. I take it. I trust that remedy to do what the physician says it will do. I appropriate it. If you know what it is to trust a remedy, then you know what it is to trust Jesus.

My brother recently had heart surgery. His situation was critical and he put his life into the hands of that surgeon. And that surgeon saved his life. If you know what it is to trust a physician, you know what it means to trust Jesus Christ.

If you know what it is to trust a lawyer, you know what it means to trust Jesus Christ. A woman is accused of a serious crime. The first thing she does is get on the internet to find the best lawyer in the city.” Once she hires the lawyer, she says, "I don’t know law. I have to trust you." When they go to court, the woman just simply sits down and allows the lawyer to plead her case. If you know what it is to turn your case over to a lawyer, you know what it is to trust Jesus Christ.

If you know what it is to believe in a friend, you know what it is to believe the Gospel. Leilani has a network of friends who, if any has a need, they put out an APB by group text. Because they know they have friends who’ll pray and help out. And when someone replies with, “I’ll take care of it”, that’s a promise they can take to the bank. If you know what it is to trust in the promise of a friend, you know what it means to trust Jesus Christ.


Or look at it another way. Here’s a little girl in the third story of a building. It’s the middle of the night and she’s awakened by the smell of acrid smoke. She stumbles from the bed and goes to the door and is greeted by a wall of flame. She shuts the door against the flame and then sidles back to the darkness over to the window and looks out to the darkness below and she can’t see anything. But down below there’s a strong man, and that man looks up and shouts, “Child, jump.” And the girl looks down and says, “But mister, I can’t see you.” 


The man says, “jump. I see you. It’s not far.  I’ll catch you. You’ll be fine.”


That girl can believe the fact that that man can catch her. She can believe that the man is just right there, and wants to save her. She can believe that the man is the only way to safety. But she cannot just stand there in that window and believe these things and be safe.That girl must jump into the darkness, trusting her very life to the promise that that man will catch her.


And honestly, in her situation, she has nothing to lose. If she’s going to live, she’s going to have to entrust every bit of herself into the promise of the man who says he’ll catch her.


And, dear friend, if you were struggling with doubt because you’ve never really trusted Christ in this way, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving your life to Christ. 


Will you jump into the strong arms of the one you cannot see who is calling you?


The elevator that takes you to the top is open before you. Will you step in?


You’ve been thrown a life preserver and people all around are urging you, “Take it!”


You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. And this is the truth: God loves the world—and you—so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.


God has come. Will you today, now, give your life to Christ?