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Category Archives: 1 John

Build your life on truth

Life is uncertain with few guarantees and little that can be depended on. Health, employment, investments, and relationships can all change in an instant. We purchase life, health, auto, and homeowners insurance to try to protect us in case of illness, accidents, and damage. In a world of uncertainty, we long for security and stability.

In his first letter, the apostle John encourages his readers and us to build our lives on truth. As he closes this letter (5:13-21), he gives four foundational principles that can give us a solid foundation. He also adds one final warning that will keep the foundation strong. To give us a sense of foundational certainty, John uses the phrase “you know” or “we know” six times in nine verses. We can have confidence about our salvation (13), prayer (14-17), victory over sin (18), and our identity in Christ (19-20). We need to guard our hearts against anything that tries to take God’s rightful place (21).

Our salvation is secure (13). John is writing “…that you may know you have eternal life.” The word “know” points to a settled and absolute conviction. The word “have” points to a present reality. Salvation is secure because it rests on God’s promises, not our performance; God’s faithfulness, not our faithlessness; God’s Word, not our works. Salvation is secure because it rests solely on God, not on us. David Smith stated, “Our security is not our grip on Christ but his grip on us.”

God answers prayer (14-15). When we pray, we can have confidence that God hears and answers our prayers. We can come boldly into his presence and present our requests to him. If our prayers are unanswered, it may be due to unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18), strained relationships (1 Peter 3:7), lack of prayer (James 4:2), selfish requests (James 4:3), disobedience (1 John 3:22), or it is not in God’s will (1 John 5:14).

Intercession makes a difference (16-17). John gives a specific encouragement to pray that God would restore a fellow believer who is sinning. We’re puzzled by the “sin that leads to death.” It could be a specific deadly sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, total rejection of the gospel, or the premature death of a sinning believer. Rather than get hung up in debating the meaning, John’s point is to pray for those who are straying from God. We should pray for believers whose marriage is in trouble, for those who are becoming hard hearted towards God, for those who are impatient, for those who are becoming increasingly materialistic, and for those who are discouraged and ready to give up.

We can enjoy victory over sin (18). While we will never become sinless in this life, we should sin less. Sin should not be the predominant pattern or practice of our lives. Victory is possible because God protects us. Satan cannot touch us without God’s permission.

We are part of God’s family (19). While the world system resides under the control of Satan, we are free from its power. Having put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we are one of God’s children.

Jesus came so that we might know God (20). Being “in Christ” is the means by which we can enjoy fellowship with God. We can know God intimately and can abide in him and in his Son.

Stay away from anything that takes God’s rightful place (21). It is all too easy to “forget” God’s benefits and chase after shiny things. Work, bank accounts, happiness, comfort, family, retirement, leisure, personal preferences, and the desire for control can all become idols if we are not careful. We must be vigilant to guard our hearts.

Build your life on truth. Know that our salvation is secure. Know that God answers prayer. Know that we can enjoy victory over sin. Know that we belong to Jesus. Don’t let anyone or anything take God’s rightful place in your life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 21, 2017. It is part of a series on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Christianity is Rational and Reasonable

Contrary to popular opinion, one does not need to check one’s brain at the door to believe in God. Rather, the truth of the gospel can be known and understood. That is the argument presented by the apostle John in his first letter. Throughout 1 John, the apostle uses two Greek words for knowing to emphasize that the true knowledge of God is available to all.

1 John

Text

Commentary

2:3 This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. There is no assurance apart from obedience.
2:4 The one who says, “I know him,” and does not keep his commands is a liar, and the truth is not in them. There is no true knowledge of God apart from obedience.
2:5-6 This is how we know that we are in him: the one who says, “I remain in him,” ought also himself to walk just as that One walked. There is no true knowledge of God apart from discipleship.
2:13 Fathers, I am writing to you because you do know the One who is from the beginning. Christian maturity entails personal knowledge of the eternal God.
2:14 Little children, yes, I write to you because you have known the Father. Fathers, yes, I write to you because you have known the One who is from the beginning. To be a child of God and to become a mature Christian means to know God truly.
2:18 Children … even now many have become antichrists, and so we know that it is the last hour. Knowledge of God provides discernment.
2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know also that everyone who lives righteously has been born of him. True knowledge of God is the basis for Christian ethics.
3:1 For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know him. “The world” is all those who do not know Jesus.
3:6 Everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. True knowledge of God requires obedience.
3:16 In this way we have known love, because that One laid down his life on our behalf. True knowledge of God allows true love.
3:19 This is how we will know that we are of the truth. Assurance requires true knowledge of God—that One “belongs to the truth.”
3:20 … whenever our heart convicts us. For God is greater than our hearts, and knows everything. True knowledge of God allows us to put our guilt to rest.
3:24 In this way we know that he remains in us: from the Sprit, whom he gave to us. True knowledge of God requires the Spirit.
4:2 In this way you know the Spirit of God. True knowledge of God requires true knowledge of the Spirit.
4:6 We are of God; the one who knows God hears us, [but] whoever is not of God does not hear us. True knowledge of God means accepting the teaching of his apostles.
4:7 Everyone who loves has been begotten of God and … knows God. True knowledge of God motivates love.
4:8 The one who does not love does not know God. True knowledge of God motivates love.
4:13 In this way we know that in him we live and he in us: because he has given to us of his Spirit. Assurance requires the Spirit.
4:16 And we have known and have trusted the love that God has for us. True knowledge of God means we know God loves us.
5:2 So this is how we know that we love the children of God. Assurance requires love.
5:20 We know that the Son of God has come and he has given understanding to us to that we might know the True One. We cannot know God truly apart from knowing the Son of God.

Chart taken from Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1, 2, & 3 John. By Karen H. Jobes. Grand Rapids, MI: 2014, p.239-240.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in 1 John, Quotes, Scripture, Theology

 

A Faith You Can Believe

Several years ago, I served on a jury hearing a case involving shoplifting at a hardware store. The prosecution’s case rested on a plain clothed security guard who followed the suspect through the store. After deliberations, the result was a hung jury. Half of the jury believed one credible witness was enough to convict while the other half thought the prosecution needed a stronger case.

One or more credible witnesses can change the outcome of a court case. It shifts the evidence from circumstantial to verifiable. It makes the difference between a weak case and a strong case, from the jury having doubts to developing settled convictions.

In 1 John 5, the apostle John teaches about putting our faith in Jesus Christ. In verses 1-5, he speaks of the experience of faith, while in verses 6-12 he focuses on the object and content of our faith. His argument rests on the evidence produced by key witnesses. It is so important that he uses the noun or verb form of the word “witness,” “testify,” or “testimony” nine times in verses 6-12. John’s point is that when it comes to Jesus Christ, the evidence is overwhelming. We must believe the evidence if we want to enjoy eternal life.

The witnesses all agree: There is more than enough evidence to believe (6-9). John explains that there are three witnesses to the identity of Jesus—the water, the blood, and the Spirit. Over the years, there have been three primary theories as to what John meant by “the water and the blood.” Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin thought it referred to the ordinances or sacraments of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, John is talking about a completed event, not an ongoing practice. Augustine believed it referred to Christ’s death when blood and water came out of Jesus’ side when he was pierced by a spear (John 19:34). However, this reverses the word order. The most likely explanation was offered by the early church fathers such as Tertullian who believed it pointed to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and his death on the cross. These two events at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry point out that the same man was involved in both. They sum up the totality of Jesus’s ministry on earth.

If one credible witness can change the outcome of a court case, and two witnesses can prove a fact, how much more can three witnesses do? Deuteronomy 19:15 explains that two or three witnesses can establish a charge against someone. As John asks, if we take the word of earthly witnesses, how much more should we believe God when he provides three reliable witnesses?

Those who believe the testimony enjoy eternal life (10-12). The purpose of John’s letter is not to win an argument. Rather, he is trying to promote fellowship and joy. He wants to encourage people to believe the message, not merely be convinced it is true. John explains that eternal life is not possible apart from true belief that Jesus is the Son of God (10a). To reject the testimony is to impugn God’s character and call him a liar (10b).

There are three primary ways to reject God, all of which reveal attitudes of pride:

  • “I can handle this myself.”
  • “Why would he do this for me? I’m nobody.”
  • “He better not ask me to do something stupid, because I won’t do it!”

We must believe the testimony about Jesus in order to enjoy eternal life (11-12). We either believe the message or we reject it. We either have Jesus or we don’t. We either enjoy eternal life or suffer eternal punishment. There is no middle ground.

After examining the overwhelming evidence, how will you respond? Are you a sinner? Do you want forgiveness of sins? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for you and rose again? Are you willing to surrender yourself to Christ? Are you ready to invite Jesus into your life? Believe the evidence and enjoy eternal life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 14, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Vital Signs

“I know I’m saved, but why do I have these thoughts?”

 “I’ve been a faithful church member for years. Christ is my Savior—but heaven? I hope so.”

 “No one can be absolutely sure he’s saved. Didn’t Jesus say himself that he’s going to tell a lot of so-called believers, ‘away from me—I never knew you’?”

These are more than merely hypothetical questions to use as conversation starters at lunch. They are all too real, and ones that many people ask today. Is there any way to be absolutely certain of our salvation? As John pens the final chapter of his first letter, he focuses on this question. (Adapted from How to be a Christian without being perfect, by Fritz Ridenour. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1986, p.190.)

What are the Vital Signs that help us know if we have been “Born Again”? In 1 John 5:1-5, the apostle John gives a simple formula that leads to assurance. Belief + Love + Obedience + Victory = Assurance.

Throughout his first letter, John has posed three tests that help reveal whether or not we are in fellowship with God. There is the doctrinal test—Do you believe? (2:3-6; 2:28-3:10). There is the ethical test—Do you obey? (2:7-11; 3:11-24). There is the social test—Do you love? (2:18-27; 4:1-6). In 5:1-5, John braids belief, obedience, and love together into a strong cord that binds the believer tightly to Jesus Christ.

Belief (1a). This is one of the clearest statements in Scripture of what a person must do to be saved. We must believe that Jesus is “the Christ” (the Anointed One whom God promised to provide as a substitute sacrifice for the sins of the world.)

Love (1b). Love is an action, not an emotion. Don’t wait until you feel love to practice love. Act as if and allows the emotions to catch up.

Obedience (2-3). The proof of our love for God is our obedience to God’s commands. Rather than being a crushing burden, God’s instruction are for our benefit (Matthew 11:28-30). The closer one gets to God, the more delightful his moral and ethical demands become (Psalm 119:16, 24, 35, 54, 92, 97).

Victory (4). Every Christian has overcome the world by his or her initial faith in Christ. To continue to overcome and obey God all we need to do is continue to exercise faith in God.

Belief (5). Faith that overcomes is only faith that believes that Jesus is the Son of God. A believer’s authority is determined by his position in Christ.

To determine the health of your relationship with God, check your vital signs. What do you believe about Jesus? How do you treat others? What is your attitude towards God’s instructions? Are you gaining victory over sin?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 7, 2017. It is part of a series on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

It All Comes Down To Love

Sometimes, the simplest commands are often the hardest to obey. Three times in his first letter, the apostle John instructs his readers to “love one another” (2:7-11; 3:11-18; 4:7-21). It is a simple, straightforward command. Yet, it is difficult to practice in daily life.

Instead of showing love by listening, we monopolize the conversation. We criticize instead of affirming. We believe the universe revolves around us. We demonstrate indifference, respond in anger, and are unwilling to forgive. All of these work to destroy relationships.

In 1 John 4:7-21, John makes the argument that Because God loves us and lives in us, we are to love one another. John instructs Christ followers to love one another three times in the passage with a fourth time as an implication.

We are to love others because God loves us (7-10). John’s exhortation to love one another is based on the fact of God and his love. He relates our responsibility back to God’s character and example. Our responsibility to love is rooted in God’s character (7, 8). The proof of God’s love for people is that he sent his only Son to provide eternal life for us (9-10). When we love others, it identifies us as followers of Jesus (7). If we don’t love others, we really do not know God (8)

We are to love others because God lives in us (11-16). The demonstration of love by God is our model for showing love to others. As God manifested love in us then by sending Jesus Christ, so he manifests his love among us now as we love one another. The unseen God reveals himself through the visible love of his followers (12). No one has seen God in his pure essence without some kind of filter. Whenever we love one another we make it possible for God to “abide” in close fellowship with us. Furthermore God’s love reaches a fullness and depth in us that is possible only when we love one another. When we put our trust in Christ, God comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit (13-15). If we don’t love others, God is not in our life (16)

We are to love others because God’s love is perfected with us (17-21). The demonstration of love by God is our model for showing love to others. As God manifested love in us then by sending Jesus Christ, so he manifests his love among us now as we love one another. Full grown love produces confidence (17-18). Our love becomes complete in the sense that we can now have confidence as we anticipate our day of judgment. We need not fear the judgment seat of Christ if we have demonstrated love to others. God took the initiative to love us and we responded to him (19). Our ability to love and our practice of love come from God’s love for us. We are to love the members of God’s family (20-21). Love for the unseen God will find expression in love for our brothers and sisters whom we can see. It is easier to love someone we can see than it is to love someone we cannot see. If we don’t love others, we are lying about our relationship with God and have reason to fear the Day of Judgment (17, 20)

Because God loves us, we are to love one another. Because God lives in us, we are to love one another. Because God’s love is perfected in us, we are to love one another. How can you demonstrate love this week?

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 30, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
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1 John 4:19

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2017 in 1 John, Scripture

 

Don’t Settle 4 Fool’s Gold

Eureka! This simple Greek word—meaning “I have found it!”—became the life slogan for thousands of California gold prospectors in the mid-1800s. It summed up every treasure hunter’s dream and expressed the thrill of striking pay dirt. For James Marshall (the first to discover the precious metal in 1848) and the “forty-niners” who followed him, the term meant instant riches, early retirement, and a life of carefree ease.

However, world-be prospectors quickly learned that not everything that glittered was indeed gold. Riverbeds and rock quarries could be full of golden specks that were entirely worthless. This “fool’s gold” was iron pyrite, and miners had to be careful to distinguish it from the real thing.

In the same way, Christians must learn how to distinguish teaching which is biblical and sound from that which is not. We need to be wary of spiritual fool’s gold. That is the subject that the apostle John addresses in 1 John 4:1-6.

Don’t believe every teacher who comes along (1). Some of John’s readers were being swept away by false teachers. John is telling them to take the time to test and see if what they are being taught is true.

Some theology being taught today is the equivalent of eating a candy bar. It is sweet, tasty, and filling, but it has absolutely no nutritional value. In fact, it can blunt your appetite for healthier fare. Rather than blindly consuming everything we hear, we need to put it to the test and see if it is true or not. John provides two tests we can use.

Test #1: What do they say about Jesus? (2-3). In the same way you can identify a follower of Christ by their works, you can identify a false teacher by their message. Rather than ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” we should ask, “What do you believe about Jesus?” A false teacher will err on either the humanity or the deity of Christ.

Test #2: Who are they listening to? (4-6). John reminds his listeners that they are victors, that they have overcome. They are not necessarily more intelligent or more skilled than false teachers, but they possess the Holy Spirit. In contrast, the false teachers are listening to the world (4-5) rather than to the truth (6). A teacher’s doctrinal beliefs are often revealed by the character of their followers.

As Christ followers, we must practice discernment. Get into the Scriptures for yourself on a regular basis. Ask God for wisdom to know truth from error. Ask God to give you ears to hear and a heart to obey.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 23, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.