New covenant, new Father
Yesterday we saw how the new covenant means different identity markers for who is part of the people of God. The new ‘people of God’ is made up of Spirit filled people. More than that we have been adopted into God’s family. Our identity is no longer orphans or slaves. We are sons and daughters (John 1:14). New covenant means a new Father. That really wound up the Jewish leaders because for Jesus to use even “Father” (let alone the more intimate Abba Father) meant He was making himself equal with God. Rather than backing off, Jesus shows even more His oneness with the Father – He claims to be equal with God in His nature (5:17-18), His works (5:17, 19), His love and knowledge (5:20), His sovereign power (5:21), in judgement (5:22), and in worship (5:23).
In the 1990s Christian teens would often wear a W.W.J.D. bracelet, signifying “What Would Jesus Do?” to encourage them to think about what choices they were making. I’ve enjoyed re-reading “Do what Jesus did” by Robbie Dawkins, which is a very readable guide to signs and wonders. Here in this passage we find Jesus does what the Father does!
The Father loves the Son and shows Him what to do…
The Son loves us and shows us what to do – v24 – hear His word, believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.
There are two categories of people on the earth in this passage – the spiritually dead and those who have eternal life – the distinguishing feature is belief in Jesus.
At the end of the passage we see that Jesus will raise everyone from the dead at the end of time. As John Piper puts it
“All the dead who have ever lived will be raised from the dead by Jesus. Millions of Chinese and Nigerians and Indonesians and Germans. He will raise Julius Caesar from the dead, and Judas Iscariot, and Isaiah the prophet, and Michelangelo, and Johann Sebastian Bach, and Adolf Hitler, and Marilyn Monroe, and Kurt Cobain, and Princess Diana, and Michael Jackson, and Ted Kennedy. He will raise them, and they will stand before him. And you too.”
Verse 29 may seem perplexing – because it tells us that at the judgement those who have done good will have eternal life. So does that mean salvation is by our works? Stephen Cole on bible.org tells this story:
A Roman Catholic friend in college was very interested in spiritual things. At my urging, she bought a Bible and began reading the Gospel of John. One day she told me that she had been wondering how a person gets to heaven. Then she said that she had come across a verse that told her how. I thought, “Praise the Lord, she has read John 3:16!” But she turned to John 5:29 and said, “It’s by good deeds!” So I had to explain to her that verse 29 is describing the lives of those who have received new life from Jesus by faith as opposed to those who have not trusted in Him. She had missed John 1:12, which says that the children of God are those who believe in Jesus’ name. She had missed John 3:16, which says that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life. She had missed John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life….” She had missed John 5:24, “He who believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.”
By believing in Jesus are names are put in the Lamb’s book of life and we are not judged on the bad things that we have done – they are all forgiven. We are judged on what we have done in grace though – not a judgement of hell or heaven, guilty or not guilty. It’s a judgement of reward, a well done good and faithful servant. That’s explained in 1 Cor 3.
Leon Morris explains verse 29 well:
Judgment, as always in Scripture, is on the basis of works… This does not mean that salvation is on the basis of good works, for this very Gospel makes it plain over and over again that men enter eternal life when they believe on Jesus Christ. But the lives they live form the test of the faith they profess. This is the uniform testimony of Scripture. Salvation is by grace and it is received through faith. Judgment is based on men’s works.
So here’s the crux… If grace doesn’t change you, you haven’t received it. The beautiful thing about grace is that it empowers us in the Spirit.