Now it strikes me that there are a number of very important lessons in Judas’ situation and condition. Let me suggest them to you for your meditation. The first lesson, the obvious one, is this: It takes more than an example to be saved. Judas was not a saved man, and yet he had spent three years with the greatest example of godliness and purity and truth and holiness that any human being could possibly have. He had spent three years with the Son of God. If even Judas was not saved by an example, then no more are people today going to be saved by an example; and that means that if people are going to be saved it’s going to be by the power of the Holy Spirit in a supernatural way as the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit blesses, is taught to them and shared with them.
People throughout church history have made a great mistake at this point, because they have thought that the way you bring people into the kingdom of God is by example. If only we can show what it really is to love as Jesus loved or to act as Jesus acted or to serve as Jesus served, then people will be won for the gospel. But it is not true. Yes, we need to show them these things, but only the Holy Spirit can change a person.
An illustration I remember hearing years ago concerns a fictitious story of a plane that went down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a very remote spot, and a number of people were able to survive and were there floating in the water. There was somebody who couldn’t swim at all. There was a person who could swim a little bit. And then there was a great Olympic swimmer. Australia was off one direction about two thousand miles and Japan off another direction to the northwest about another two thousand miles, and back the way they had come was Hawaii, about two thousand miles in that direction. There were no islands around, and they were all in a very bad state. So the good swimmer says to the others, “Now, boys, what you need to do is learn how to swim. This is a time when if we’re going to survive it’s going to be by swimming, and I want you to follow me. This is the way you do it.”
And so he tries to give them lessons there in the water. Now the one who can’t swim at all doesn’t survive, and goes down very quickly. The other one who can swim a little bit lasts longer, but certainly not near long enough to make it to shore. Finally, there is this great Olympic swimmer stroking away mile after mile, hour after hour, but still far, far away from any beach or haven that will mean the saving of his life.
You see, that’s what men and women are like if they’re trying to be saved by an example. Somebody comes along and says, “Well, you know, you need to be good. You can’t be living in this terrible way as some people live. It’s quite evident that when you do certain things you should not do you get in a destructive path. What you need to do is have an example of how to do it better.” The problem, however, is that we’re not able to do that in ourselves. Oh, to some extent maybe we can make some kind of external effort toward moral behavior, like a swimmer with medium ability. But sooner or later in this great matter of spiritual things we go down. In order to be saved, an example isn’t what we need. What we need is a Savior, and that’s what we have in Jesus Christ.
This also has bearing on our evangelism, of course, because it means that if people are going to be saved it’s going to be because God saves them, not because we are a model of godliness or even because we are an example in the way we can explain the gospel. We want to try to explain it the best we can, and we certainly don’t want to undermine our testimony by the way we live. But that alone is not going to save anybody. God has to do it, and that means that where we are concerned for the salvation of the lost we must, if we really are concerned, be men and women of prayer. We’re told that when we pray we receive, and when we don’t receive it’s because we don’t ask. So we have to be a praying people, both as individuals and also as congregations.
The second lesson I see in this story of Judas is that there is great difficulty in discerning the elect. I spoke earlier of this matter of a credible profession, and I want to say that we have to be very careful in this area. There is a proper way of exercising it, and certainly elders in the church have to do that. You know it’s very possible for us to spend long years with somebody and therefore think that we know them and can conclude that they must be alright. They’ve been in church for a long time. They haven’t done anything particularly bad. They even said some good things. Why, from time to time they’ve taught a class, and I didn’t hear any particular heresy coming out of their mouths. Well certainly they must be among God’s elect. And yet we really have a very difficult time discerning that.
Here were the disciples with Judas. They would have said if you had asked any single one of them “Is Judas saved?” they would have said, “Of course he’s saved. He’s here in our band, isn’t he? He’s heard everything that Jesus has taught. He’s seen everything that Jesus has done. He is with us. He’s one of our number.” And yet he was lost.
May I make it personal? I’m convinced that our churches are filled with people who think that everything is well with their souls but actually they are not born again. Is that true of you? It may very well be. We talk of revival and the need for revival. Revival, you know, means the reviving of the alleged people of God. That is what revival is. Revival isn’t evangelism where suddenly you’re out in the world and people who have never heard the gospel are coming to Christ. That’s a very important thing, but it’s not revival. Periods of revival are times when the Spirit of God sweeps over the alleged people of God, those who are sitting in the pew. They thought that all was well with their souls. For years they thought they were saved men and women, but then suddenly realize that they are far from God, that they are sinful, that they have no assurance of their salvation, that they’ve been mouthing things that are not necessarily reflective of their heart, and that they are not regenerate. And when that happens the church is revived, changed. There’s enormous transformation. And society is changed as well.