Binary States

This morning I’d like to talk about binary states. No, we are not going to have a lesson in technology, although you would be entirely within reason to think that. Computers use binary code in order to store information. That’s how computer storage works, it’s all ones and zeroes. Every piece of data on your computer, on your phone, on the entire internet, in fact, it is all stored as ones and zeroes. A bit is a one or a zero, and from that single piece of information, from millions and billions of ones and zeros, we store information.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. A binary state is something that is an either/or condition. Ones are zeroes are hardly the only examples. Look at the lights above you. Those are all LED bulbs, they are either on or off. These bulbs don’t dim, but even if they did, they are still on or off, because on-but-dim is still one. The windows on either wall, those are either open or closed. They’re closed right now, but if it was summer the windows would probably be open. A window might be open a little or a lot, but it’s still either open or closed.

There are many things I could point out as examples of binary conditions. Not that it applies to everything, certainly there are many things that are not binary. Many are relative. For example, is someone old or young? I turned 42 this month, so my kids no doubt think I’m old. But my dad, he’s in his mid 70s, and in his mind I will probably always be young. Is someone tall or short? I’ll use myself as an example again, I’m 5 foot 8. That’s not particularly tall, but I’m taller than my parents, my sister, all six of my aunts and two out of three uncles. For that matter, I’m taller than or pretty much the same height as more than half of the people at my work. So am I tall or short? If I went and stood next to Wayne, then you’d say I was short and he was tall. If Wayne went and stood next to a professional basketball player, you’d say Wayne was short. Some things are relative. They are dependant on a comparison.

We like to consider that some things are relative, even when they really are not, because we can make a flattering comparison. It’s easy to feel better about yourself when you contrast against someone that you exceed in some manner. There will always be someone that you are taller than, smarter than, faster than, richer than, what have you. There will always be someone whose behaviour is worse than yours, whose sins are more numerous, more flagrant, more offensive. Does that make you feel better about yourself? It shouldn’t.

While some things are relative, some are definitely binary. I’d like to read a passage which talks about several of those. It’s a familiar passage, probably one you’ve heard preached from, at least parts of it, many times in the past. I know I’ve used some of these verses in previous sermons on several occasions. Turn in your Bibles to John chapter 3, and let’s look at some of the binary states we have in the first 21 verses.

 Read John 3: 1-21 1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him,Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

There are a number of those binary states that we see in those verses. I counted seven, in fact. Understanding and confusion. Flesh and spirit. Earthly and heavenly. Belief and unbelief. Condemned and not condemned. Light and darkness. Life and death. Each of those is an either/or type of situation. You are either in the light or in darkness. You are either condemned or you are not. You are either alive or you are dead. There is no middle ground, no in-between state, as much as people might want to think otherwise, might want to behave otherwise.

We like to find middle ground, and we often want to position ourselves, if not in the middle, then at least fairly close to it. The middle is noncommittal, non-confrontational.  We think of it as safe, not too far to the extremes. And in some cases, the middle ground is the best place to be. When you are driving, you want to be in the middle of your lane, for example, not encroaching on the center line, and not driving over on the shoulder. If you are in a boat on a stormy sea, the closer you are to the middle of the boat, the less motion you will feel, and the less likely you are to get seasick. If you pay any attention to politics, to American politics in particular, it appears that once anyone is a certain distance from the middle, they start to come off as being unbalanced, and the further out anyone is from the middle, the more obnoxious and crazy their politics are. It’s not that the middle is a bad place in all cases. But when something is a binary state, there is no middle. You have to be on one side or the other.

Let’s look at those examples from John chapter 3. Let’s start with understanding and confusion. I was originally going to call this knowledge and ignorance, but that’s not really what we see in the passage. Understanding is not the same thing as knowledge. You might have a great wealth of knowledge in your head, but not really know how to apply it. Today, almost anyone can have a vast array of knowledge at their fingertips, no farther away than a Google search on their smartphone. But you can possess much knowledge, and have little understanding.

Look at Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the council of elders that were the religious leaders of Israel. He was a highly educated man, and most likely one who instructed others, probably many of them. We know he was a man of means and influence, in John chapter 19 we read that he brought a considerable quantity of myrrh and aloe, 100 Roman pounds in fact, which is about 70 pounds in our measurements, and no doubt worth a lot of money, to prepare Christ’s body for burial. He was an important man, a smart man, perhaps someone who was used to being the smartest person in the room, or close to it. He was not some young student who came to Christ with a thirst for knowledge, looking to fill his mind with new information. We see those types in scripture as well, but not here. Nicodemus had plenty of knowledge. What he lacked was understanding.

Not that Nicodemus was completely clueless, not at all. He came to Christ, he came by night, mind you, most likely because he did not want his fellow councillors to know that he had these questions. But he had questions, and he wanted answers. Knowing that you need answers, and where to go for them, is the first step to understanding. If you think you already have all the answers, then your confusion will persist, and you will not even know it.

But Nicodemus knew that Jesus of Nazareth was extraordinary. He knew that He was come from God, as he said in verse 2. No man can do these miracles, unless God be with him. Did he come to Christ thinking that this was the promised Messiah? Perhaps. But he wanted to know who Christ was, from whence he was come. He wanted to understand His teachings and His power.

Despite his knowledge, considerable though it may have been, Nicodemus comes off as somewhat confused. His question about being born from his mother’s womb a second time, that doesn’t really speak to confusion. That was more likely Nicodemus establishing the framework for the conversation, as a way of saying “Okay, I know you’re not actually suggesting that someone can be physically born a second time, so what do you really mean?”

Nicodemus did not actually think Christ was advocating anything that involved an obstetrician or a midwife. But even after Christ explained the difference between being born of the flesh and born of the spirit, in verse 9 Nicodemus asked “How can these things be?”

Christ’s response in verse 10 is telling. Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? You are an educated man, a leader of the country, a leader of God’s people, and you don’t know this? When those who are leading, those who are teaching, when they don’t understand, that is a serious problem. We see so much of that in the world today, in the church today, that those who in charge, those who have many people looking to them for guidance and instruction, those who really should be in the know, but they do not understand salvation at all. They might be able to say a lot of pleasant sounding words, they might talk about blessings and purpose and positivity and self-improvement, but if they don’t understand salvation, or if they do but if they don’t communicate that knowledge in a way that the listener can understand, then they will only bring about confusion.

There’s more than enough confusion in the world already today. People are confused about who they are, what they should do, why they are here, where they came from and where they are going. We don’t need to add to the confusion. Not when we have answers, not when we have truth.

People do not need more confusion. They need to understand. The world is filled with people who are burdened down with the weight of their flesh, but we have the Spirit. The world is filled with people who see and know nothing apart from that which is earthly, that which is temporal and of their immediate time and place. But there is a heavenly realm to look forward to.

These are two more of the either/or conditions, flesh and spirit, and earthly/heavenly. They are closely related, those two, so perhaps it’s best to look at them together, rather than as two separate binary states. This time it could be argued that something could perhaps be both of flesh and of spirit, after all, as people we have flesh, we have bodies, and we have a spirit as well. And we live on earth now, but we look forward to heaven, so maybe these are not really binary states at all. That could be suggested, but it would be wrong. Yes, we have bodies of flesh and we live on earth, and we also have spirits and if we know Christ, a future in heaven, that part is true, but that is not what the passage is talking about. Look at verse 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. What does that mean? Well, that which originates with the flesh, that which comes from the flesh, that what originates from the flesh, that which is earthly in its source, is fleshly, is of earth. And that which originates with God, with the Holy Spirit, that is of God. It is heavenly, it is not of this world. It may be in the world, but not of the world. There is a difference. It is not the same thing.

Where something originates, what and where it comes from, has a lot to say about what it actually is. It has a lot to say about what it consists of, and where it will end up. For example, let’s say that I wanted to butcher a pig. Well, I’m not going to do it myself, of course, I’d get someone that know what they were doing to take care of it, but you know what I mean. There are lots of different cuts of meat you can get from a pig, you can get ham, you can get chops, you can get a lean sirloin roast, or fatty ribs, and of course you can get bacon. These might all look and taste very different, but they’re all pig. No matter how you prepare it, how you might pretend that it is not, it will always be pig. It’s not beef, it cannot ever be beef. It doesn’t matter what you label it or how you dress it up, it’s never going to be available at a kosher deli.

That which is of the earth, that which is of the flesh, is not of God. We might want to pretend that it can be. People operate under the assumption that because something has some sort of spiritual label or sacred-looking window dressing, that it is probably okay with God, but that is not the case. There are many lies told, many thoughts misrepresented, which never originated with God, but rather came from someone’s own imagination, whether well intentioned, or self-serving, or whatever. God does not contradict Himself, and He does not change no matter which way the wind blows.

I’ve heard it said, you’ve probably all heard it, that God said, I believe it, and that settles it. Actually, your belief, or lack thereof, really doesn’t matter so far as what God says and the settling of an issue. God said it, that settles it. Once God has said it, what we have to say or think about a matter does nothing to change it. And what has God said? Well, obviously a lot of things, but in this passage, the Son of God said, twice in fact, that you must be born again. That is what He has said. And that, therefore, settles it. What we belief does not change anything.

Our belief, though, is important. Not in regards as to what is true, what is real, but it is of vital importance to our condition. What we believe does not alter the truth, not in the slightest, but it can certainly change us.

This brings us to the next set of binary states that we see in the passage — belief and unbelief. That is very definitely an either/or condition, you can believe, or you can not believe, but you can’t do both, not at the same time.

You can believe, but still harbour doubts. You can have much doubt, in fact, but so long as you have belief, then you believe. I believe that the Montague bridge will hold me up when I cross it. I believe it will hold up my van, along with whatever other traffic is on the road, every single time I go to work and when I come home. I don’t have any doubts about that. But on the lane at work we have our own little bridge, made with beams and planks, and it’s held up quite well for several years, but it’s not a department of highways constructed and inspected bridge. I drive across that one every day as well, and that might take a bit more faith. Or at least it did when it was new. It’s not especially wide, and it’s made of wood. What if the beams shifted because of heavy rains? Will it still hold the van when I cross? There was a cement mixer down to make a delivery the other week, that’s a pretty heavy rig, maybe the structural integrity of the bridge has been compromised. Do I still trust the bridge? Even if I had tremendous doubts about that bridge, and I should point out that I don’t, the bridge has been very stable and secure for years, but if I did have doubts, so long as the doubts don’t outweigh my belief, and I still drive across bridge, then I believe in it. Belief might be rock solid, or it might be rather shaky, or it might be wafer thin, but so long as belief leads to action, then it is indeed belief.

We might want to categorize and quantify our belief, and we might want to do that with the beliefs of others. We might want to criticize and admonish them because they do not belief as strongly as we do, or because they make certain errors or have shortcomings, whether in their behaviour, or in their doctrine. And while errors should be corrected, mind you, this is best achieved in a considerate and loving manner, not in an authoritarian and angry fashion, someone else’s belief is not up to us. They may have great faith or little faith, they might pray regularly, as did the father of the possessed boy in Mark chapter 9, who cried “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” We do not get to determine if someone else has adequate belief. You believe or you do not. There is no in between status. Whether or not you believe, your actions may reveal what is in your heart, or they may not, but your belief, that is between you, between each and every person and God.

This does not mean belief is not important. It is vitally important. Belief brings benefits, and unbelief brings penalties. We see this in how Christ in this passage advises belief, and cautions against unbelief. There is belief in heavenly things, at verse 12, as well as earthly thing, there is belief in the Son of God in verses 15 and of course 16, the single most famous verse in all of scripture. Whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish. Then we have verse 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already. Belief brings one result, unbelief brings a different result; an undesirable result. No one wishes to be condemned, of course. This is our next, our fifth binary state. One can be condemned, or not condemned. You cannot be both, and according to this passage, you have to be one or the other. If you believe, then you are not condemned. But if you do not believe, then you are already condemned. You might not know it yet, you might not believe or understand it, but it is indeed the case.

No one wants to be condemned, of course. It sounds like a bad state to be in. What it means is actually enlightening. The words we have here translated as condemn and condemnation, are actually translated more commonly as judge and judgement, respectively. The first word, the Greek is Krino (KREE-no), has the idea of selecting, or of comparing. Of evaluating, really. He who does not believe will be judged, and judged by God Himself, in fact. Not only that, but the judgement has already happened. It’s not waiting for a court date to arrive. And the second word, the one we have as condemnation in verse 19? That word is Krisis (KREE-sis), which is a related word, and has more of an idea of the actual result of the judgement. The word has a connotation of separation, and not in a good way, because the word also has the sense of punishment, or of pronouncement of such.  God will judge those who do not believe in His Son. And He will find them lacking.

In the book of Daniel, in chapter 5, when Belshazzzar saw the fingers of a man’s had writing on the wall, the message written said mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. That first word, mene, has the sense of being judged, of being measured. The next word, tekel, has the idea of being weighed, as on a scale, and of being found wanting. That’s how we measure up before God if we stand before apart from Christ. We will be measured, we will be judged, and we will come up short. Christ said, you must be born again, not you should be born again. It is through the Son of God that you can avoid the judgement of God. That’s what these verses tell us. He who believes in the Son is not judged, is not condemned. He who does not believe, though, then is faced with an alternative outcome. An outcome that features judgment, an outcome that is predetermined, condemnation is already prepared. The judgement of God is not like a court case with expert testimony, cross examinations, and surprise witnesses. There is no question of what the verdict might be or might not be. He who does believe is condemned already.

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. That brings us to our next binary state, light versus darkness. You might argue, a lot of people might argue that there are many degrees of variability between light and darkness, or that say it is a continuum, a spectrum on which we might fall. And yes, obviously a 150 watt spotlight casts a much brighter glow than a 25 watt desk lamp. But I don’t think that Christ was talking so much about literal light measured in lumens and candlepower, as in the light and darkness in our hearts. Everyone enjoys a bright sunny day, well, unless you are stuck outside and you’ve run out of sunscreen, but no one is terribly keen to have their misdeeds brought to light. We’re seeing a lot of that lately in the news. People who have done things that are questionable at best, and in many cases deeply offensive and probably criminal, in some cases these were done many years ago, sometimes two or three decades ago, and now they have been revealed. If you have done wickedly, you don’t want the light. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. This makes it painful and humbling to come to Christ, who said, as we have recorded in John chapter 8, verse 12 “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness.”

This is a binary state. You cannot follow Christ and walk in darkness. It does not work. Light has no fellowship with darkness, and Christ is the light of the world. If you wish to be near Him, you will find no shadowy corners, no dark places where you can hide from the light. Light and darkness are not compatible, light drives out darkness and removes it. If your deeds are sinful, and of course all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, then you have a choice. You can follow Christ and walk in the light, or you can hold unto your sins, and abide in darkness. You can’t do both.

Many people would like to do both, or at least say they would, or pretend they would. They want to have the warm, comfortable feeling of being associated with spiritual people, they want to sing the songs and talk the talk, but they want to keep their sinful ways as well. They want eternal life, but they want to enjoy sin as well. But these are not compatible.

And eternal life is what is at stake here. God sent His Son into the world in order that men and women might be saved from sin, that they might not perish, but that they might have eternal life. That is our final binary condition, life and death. There is no middle ground here, either. You cannot be both; you are one or the other. There is no mostly dead, despite what you might have seen if you’ve ever watched The Princess Bride. And there is no way back from death, it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, there is the aforementioned judgement.

There are only two possible outcomes from this life. We all either go one way or the other. There are those who go into life eternal, and those who perish. There is no reincarnation, no second time around. There is no passing into oblivion or reaching nirvana and ceasing to exist. There is life eternal, and there is death and punishment. There is joy and peace, or there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is one or the other, you don’t get have both.

Why would you want both? Obviously no one signs up for anything based on the promise of everlasting suffering. That’s not a great selling point. But people make that choice every single day, not because they want that outcome, but because they have selected to stand against God, instead of with Him. If you choose to keep your sins, if you chose to remain in confusion, in unbelief, in darkness, then you will also find yourself facing condemnation and death. These are all binary states, but they come as a package deal. This is not an à la carte arrangement where you get to pick and choose, where you get the option to live in sin, die in sin, and somehow end up spending eternity in heaven. It doesn’t work like that.

God is heavenly, not earthly, and He is light, not darkness. He cannot allow evil to remain in his presence, it simply isn’t possible. Much as an ice cube cannot remain in a fireplace, sin cannot exist beside God. If you would like to spend eternity with Him, and with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, then your sin must be dealt with. That can only happen through the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from all sins. There is no other way. As we read earlier, you must be born again.

God will not force you to be believe, not in this life. He will not make you be born again. It is a choice. Like all the other binary conditions we have looked at this morning, this is an either/or, a one-or-the-other choice. You can choose to believe in Him, and not be condemned. Or you can choose to not believe, and your condemnation is predetermined. The choice is up to you.