How Can I Receive Christ?
From an Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
But what exactly does it mean to “have the Son of God”? How do we come into possession of Jesus? If we don’t possess him, we remain dead in our sins. So this is one of the most important questions in the universe. The answer was expounded by John Piper in a 1985 sermon. The following clip is also one of the rare examples of Pastor John drawing out metaphors from a contemporary movie, a movie titled ‘A Passage to India’ (1984), a celebrated film nominated for eleven Academy Awards. So again, what does it mean to “have the Son of God”? Here’s Pastor John.
In the film A Passage to India, there was an Indian doctor who was arrested by the British colonial powers and thrown in jail under the alleged claim that he had assaulted a British woman. The case becomes an extraordinarily tense point of conflict between the people of India, who want to be free from the British rule, and the British colonial powers, who were ruling very insensitively over the Indian people. And the whole colonialist power structure seemed to make the doctor’s case utterly hopeless — in jail, no advocate, no money, and they were going to get his flesh.
Deliverance for the Underdog
However, the most famous and able lawyer in India gets word of this. He has a reputation for liking to take on the British and for standing up for the Indian underdogs. And for me, one of the most powerful scenes in that movie was where two friends of the doctor come to him in jail. He is utterly dejected and frightened. He has no way out, and he is surrounded by wolves. But their faces are bright; they have good news. They come to him and say, “This lawyer is willing to come and try your case and stand in for you.” And his face doesn’t lift. Then they say, “And he won’t take a fee!” And that transforms the man. Now the doctor has a lawyer. He has a lawyer. The lawyer’s thing will now be done for this doctor. All his eloquence, all his skill, all his reputation will be funneled in one channel: liberate this doctor.
How did the doctor come to have a lawyer? He was broke. He was miles away from this lawyer. They didn’t even know each other. And all of a sudden, he can declare to all of his British enemies, “I have a lawyer.” How’d that happen? Well, it started with the motive of the lawyer. This lawyer is interested in two things: the liberation of India from the British and the magnification of his skill on behalf of underdogs.
Now, I don’t know if you remember, but another scene that I loved was in the courtroom where there was utter pandemonium. It was chaos. And this lawyer was sitting there, laid back in his chair, utterly composed, as though to communicate sovereign control over this situation. What that lawyer wanted to communicate, in the little role he played in that movie, was, “I magnify my skill by not accepting pay for my services, because that might compromise my allegiances. I’m for the liberation of India, and I’m for the exaltation of my own skill on behalf of underdog patriots. I don’t give a rip about your money.”
Services Not for Sale
And so it is with the Son of God. How does it come about that you can say, “I have the Son of God?” Well, it starts with the motive of your divine lawyer and advocate. He has two things that he’s after in this world: one is the liberation of his people from sin and death, and the other is the glorification of his power and his skill on behalf of underdog people. That’s the origin of salvation. That’s the source of eternal life. He loves to show that he loves the liberation of his people and the magnification of his skill. And therefore, his services are not for sale. You can’t buy Jesus. So, how do you come to have the Son of God? He makes you a free offer, and you accept the offer and trust it. The doctor trusted the lawyer, and the lawyer was willing to stand in for the doctor.
Of course, there are at least three ways you can reject the offer of the lawyer. He could have done it in the movie. We could do it to Jesus this morning. You could say, “I can handle this case by myself. I don’t need a lawyer.” You could say, “I am a nobody. He’s a world-class attorney. He will not come. There’s no point in responding to the telegram. There’s no point in putting trust in him. He ain’t going to come. Why would he bother with me?” Or you could say, “Sure, I’ll trust him, let him come. But he better not tell me to do anything stupid in the courtroom, because I’m not going to do it.”
Three Wrong Responses
There are people here this morning who need to have the Son of God. And you can have the Son of God if you won’t use any of those three escape devices. So let me just show you why you shouldn’t use those three.
1. ‘I can make it on my own.’
First, don’t say, “I can handle this case by myself. I can handle my life by myself.” I was talking to a man the other day who was dealing with a man who had cancer and trying to witness to him in the hospital, and the man said, “I can handle this by myself.” None of us can handle our cases by ourselves. John Melin, who passed away yesterday at eight o’clock in the morning, couldn’t handle his own case. That’s why he believed in Jesus.
If you don’t have an advocate, if you don’t have the Son, it’s over. You’ll stay in that jail or go to the gallows — period. You can’t handle life on your own, no matter how strong you feel right now. You see, that poor guy was innocent, and he was about done for. We’re guilty, and we are done for. Our advocate better be a lot better off than the one in the movie, because he’s got to pull off a miracle, because we are guilty and the Judge is just.
2. ‘I’m just a nobody.’
Second, don’t say to yourself, “I’m a nobody. He’ll never come. Why would he bother with me? I mean, I’ve committed so many sins. I failed so many times. He is a world-class God. There is no reason why he would bother with somebody like me.” Now, the reason you shouldn’t say that is not because you’re not a nobody, but because you don’t understand grace. Jesus Christ speaks like this: he says to you, “I don’t come to you because you’re somebody; I come to you because I’m somebody, and I like to glorify my somebody-ness by helping nobodies like you. So quit thinking you’ve got to measure up. The only people I help are nobodies. If you think you’re somebody, you don’t qualify.”
The good news, people, is the lower you have gone, the better candidate Jesus thinks you are, because he can congratulate himself or magnify himself in the world by pulling off the most amazing trial upset imaginable. If you’re not very guilty, any lawyer can handle that. So, let’s put that one aside. Sure, you’re a nobody. That’s the point, and he’s ready.
3. ‘I’ll take the help, but won’t return any trust.’
And third, don’t say, “Well, sure, I’ll trust him. I’ll take the offer. Let him come. He just better not tell me to do anything stupid in the courtroom, because I ain’t going to do it.” Brothers and sisters, that is not trust. You can’t keep a lawyer that way. Maybe one time you could say it to the lawyer, but you say it to his face two times, “I don’t take your advice; I got a better idea,” he’ll say, “You get another lawyer.”
Brothers and sisters, don’t evade the summons to trust by just going halfway and saying, “Sure, I’ll take the bail, but not the advice.” You’re not trusting him if you say that.
So I close this morning by simply holding out to you the free offer that comes from this world-class Son of God, who can stand in for you and will stand in for anybody who trusts him. He who has the Son has life, and you can have the Son if you trust the Son.
Hard to find a better illustration of Christ magnifying himself in the salvation of sinners, and all for their shared joy. Great stuff. This excerpt is taken from Pastor John’s sermon from June 9, 1985. It’s titled “He Who Has the Son Has Life,” and you can find the entire thing online at desiringGod.org.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.