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Category Archives: Preaching

The Mark of the Christian

In 1 John 2:28, the apostle John challenges his readers with the statement, “Abide in him.” That leads a thinking person to ask the question, “How can I know for sure if I am abiding in Christ?” John answers that question in 2:28-3:10 by explaining that one who abides in Christ will practice righteousness. Rather than continuing in a lifestyle of sinful habits, a Christ follower will develop habits and a lifestyle that pleases God.

In 3:11-24, John adds that how we treat other people will also reveal whether or not we are following Christ. A Christ follower will obey the command, “Love one another.” In 3:11-18, John says that we do this because of what Christ did for us on the cross. Because Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for us, we should demonstrate our love for one another.

John’s thesis statement in found in verse 11, “Love one another.” As he explains, this was something Jesus taught during his ministry on earth. It is part of the gospel (John 13:34). It proves that we are Christians (1 John 3:14). It proves we follow Jesus (John 13:35). It proves that Jesus was sent by God (John 17:21).

Love is one of those concepts where we all assume we know what we are talking about. In reality, we often have different definitions. Before describing what love is, John states what love is not.

Love is not murder (12). In contrast with love, hate destroys and kills. John mentions Cain killing his brother, Abel, without any details or qualifications. He simply says he belonged to the devil and that he murdered his brother.

Love is not hatred (13-15). John moves from an individual example to a corporate example. In the same way that Cain killed his brother because he was righteous, sometimes the world hates Christ followers for the same reason. Anyone who lacks love has a heart filled with hate. There is no middle ground. And hatred eventually ends in murder, as Cain proved.

Love is not indifference (17). While we may not have the opportunity to die in someone’s place, we can do the next best thing by helping others during a time of need. When we have resources but close our hearts towards others, we demonstrate we are self-centered.

After saying what love is not, John now defines what love is. Love is self-sacrifice (16). John points to the supreme example of love, namely, Jesus Christ. We know what love is because we have heard the message of the gospel.

Self-sacrificial love means a readiness to do anything for other people. It might involve giving up our—money, time, agenda, preferences, control, possessions, listening ear, vacation, desire to be right, desire to be liked—in order to meet the needs of others.

Ultimately, love is action (18). Love is not words or talk, but rather deeds and truth. Love is not merely a verbal profession, it is a vital performance.

Because Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for us, we should demonstrate our love for one another.

“Father, help me to see ___________ as you do. Help me to be willing to give up my __________ for others.”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 12, 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.

 

Does Practice Make Perfect?

My teachers lied to me. For years, I was told, “Practice makes perfect.” However, the more I practiced—piano, trumpet, French horn, tennis, spelling, typing—I worse I got. I discovered that practice does not make perfect. Only PERFECT practice makes perfect.

It matters greatly what you are practicing. The apostle John addresses this issue in 1 John 3:4-10 by posing the question, “Do you practice sin, or do you practice righteousness?” What you practice will determine your outcome.

The apostle John begins this section of his letter with the instruction, “Abide in him” (2:28). In 2:28-3:3, he encourages his readers to look forward to the return of Christ. “Because Christ is coming soon,” he argues, “we should avoid sin so we are ready to meet him.” In 3:4-10, John encourages his readers to look backwards to the death of Christ. “Because of what Christ did on the cross,” he says, “we should avoid sin and practice righteousness.”

John warns his readers not to be deceived about sin (7). On the one hand, some false teachers were saying you could achieve sinless perfection. On the other hand, there were those who taught sin wasn’t real. As the various options below indicate, some of those beliefs are still held today. (The list is adapted from How to Be a Christian Without Being Perfect, by Fritz Ridenour. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1986, p.119-120.)

  • Option #1: Real Christians do not sin, period. (Held by perfectionists.)
  • Option #2: Real Christians might commit minor sin, but nothing major like murder. (Similar to Roman Catholic doctrine.)
  • Option #3: Real Christians don’t sin because God has a different standard for them than he has for unbelievers. (Gnostics held that their “secret knowledge” put them “beyond sin.”)
  • Option #4: Real Christians don’t sin in their “new nature” although their old nature might slip up from time to time. (It’s the idea that the “born-again” spirit cannot sin, but the body still does.)
  • Option #5: Real Christians sin in reality but have an ideal goal or standard not to sin. (Possibly fits in with 3:1-2.)
  • Option #6: The real Christian does not commit habitual, consistent sin as he did before salvation. (Knowing Christ doesn’t make one perfect, but there is a definite difference. This position makes the most sense.)

The main idea John wants to communicate in this passage is that Christ followers should avoid sin and practice righteousness because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. John repeats himself twice in presenting his case. The following chart helps us understand the flow of John’s argument. (The chart is adapted from The Epistles of John, by John R. W. Stott. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960, p,121.)

Verses 4-7

Verses 8-10

The introductory phrase “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning” (4) “Whoever makes a practice of sinning” (8)
The theme The nature of sin is lawlessness (4) The origin of sin is the devil (8)
The purpose of Christ’s appearing “…he appeared to take away sins” (5) “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (8)
The logical conclusion “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning” (6) “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (9)

John’s point is that the practice or habit of sin is incompatible with the child of God. He gives four reasons to strengthen his argument: (1) Sin is not merely a mistake. Sin is a criminal act against God’s law. (2) Sin is incompatible with the Christian walk because of the nature of Christ’s person and work. (3) Sin is incompatible because of its source. Sin originates with Satan. (4) Not only is sin incompatible, it is impossible for the child of God. The habitual practice of sin should cause one to question whether their salvation is real or not.

How should a believer handle sin? Thus far, the apostle John has provided four helpful guidelines on how to deal with sin:

  • Pursue holiness, but don’t expect perfection (1:8)
  • Acknowledge your sin quickly (1:9)
  • Remember that you have an Advocate (2:1)
  • Remember that Christ died for your sins (2:2)

The only question that remains is, “What will you practice this week? Will you practice … Sin? … Righteousness?”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 5, 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.

 

Is Fellowship With God That Important?

When the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in overtime in Super Bowl LI three weeks ago, Carol and I watched the game in a pub in Wanaka, New Zealand. Since New Zealand Daylight Time is 18 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, the game came on during lunch time on Monday, February 6.

We were in Wanaka for our youngest daughter’s wedding. On that Monday, the guys went one direction for a bachelor party; the girls another direction for a bachelorette party; and the parents went on a safari of the region. Since our tour ended by 1PM, Carol and I found a pub to watch the Super Bowl.

We learned later that the bachelor party started out at a pub watching the game. Thinking the game would only last 3.5 hours, the host scheduled several adventure activities like jetboating and off-road racing. As it turned out, it meant that the guys left the Super Bowl with five minutes remaining in regulation. Consequently, they missed the Patriots tying the game in regulation and winning in overtime.

Some people view a relationship with God in the same fashion. It is simply one of many good activities and options in their life. As long as heaven is secure, how important is fellowship with God on a daily basis?

That is a question the apostle John addresses in 1 John 2:28-3:3. Using one of his favorite terms, John encourages his readers to abide in Christ. He explains that abiding demonstrates one is part of God’s family and will prepare a person for Christ’s return. Those who abide in Christ will be prepared to meet him when he returns.

Q: Why should I abide in Christ? (2:28a). A professor in grad school was fond of saying, “Until you answer the why question, the price is always too high.” John seems to anticipate that question. After telling his readers, “abide in him,” John goes on to give several reasons after the phrase, “… so that …”

A1: You will be prepared for Christ’s return (2:28b). The return of Jesus Christ will be more than a Sunday School awards banquet. We will stand before God and answer for how we lived our lives. No one wants to be embarrassed because they are unprepared. We want to be able to enter his presence boldly rather than cower in shame in a corner.

A2: Abiding reveals whose family you belong to (2:29). In the same way that a child has their parents’ eyes or nose, so righteous living is the family trait of those who are part of God’s family.

A3: Abiding reveals your attitude about God’s grace (3:1). Rather than view God’s love in a “ho, hum” manner, John expresses a sense of amazement. “Look at that! We are called God’s children. Unbelievable!” Our sense of security comes from recognizing what God has done for us.

A4: Abiding allows God to transform you (3:2). John explains that God is in the process of transforming us from “then” to “now” to “not yet.” One day, we will be like Christ. As great as our experience with Christ is right now, it is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what it will be later.

A5: You will stay prepared for Christ’s return (3:3). John comes full circle when he explains that the hope of heaven produces purity on earth. We are to engage in a continual process of moral purification.

When I became an instructor with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries some 30 years ago, I had to promise not to teach a WTB event with sin in my life. Each time the faculty gathers, there is a ceremony where we are asked to recommit to that promise. Next week, I will be in Georgia where Phil Tuttle, the president of Walk Thru, will ask me if my life is pure. I want to make certain of my answer so that I am not ashamed when the question comes.

In the same way, the one who abides in Christ will be prepared to meet him when he returns. Abide in Christ. Be prepared when he comes back.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 26, 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.

 

Defending Against Deception

A knock on the door. A young, well-dressed couple offers you some literature. They ask questions about your spiritual beliefs. They explain things about Jesus that you haven’t heard before.

How do you know if what they say is true? How do you defend yourself against deception? In 1 John 2:18-27, the apostle John explains that those who love God must reject false teachers and embrace the truth.

John expresses his pastoral concern with the affectionate term, “children.” 10 days ago, I stood before my youngest daughter and her husband-to-be on their wedding day. As I took part in the ceremony, I said, “I have some dad things to say and some pastor things to say.” I understand John’s pastoral, fatherly concern and the desire to prepare his flock for what is to come.

John’s statement, “it is the last hour,” raises the question, “Is he talking about chronological time or theological time?” From other passages of Scripture, we understand he is referring to a theological concept. Hebrews 1:1-2 states that the last days began with Jesus. In Acts 2:16-17, Peter said the last days started with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. John now adds a third characteristic to the last days—the rise of opposition. The fact that the church is under attack indicates it is later than we think.

While The Antichrist will come during the period of The Tribulation, John explains that there are many antichrists present today. These folks left the fellowship (18-19), deny the faith (22), and seek to deceive the faithful (26).

John explains that God has given us the Holy Spirit (20) and the Scriptures (21) to keep us on the right path. The Holy Spirit is assigned a teaching role and enables Christ followers to perceive the truth and distinguish truth from error.

John is primarily concerned about warning his readers about one lie in particular—the denial of the deity and/or the humanity of Jesus Christ (22). In John’s day, there were three individuals or groups whose errors he was combating. Gnosticism, Docetism, and a teacher named Cerinthus.

Gnosticism

Docetism

Cerinthus

Spiritual is good; material is evil

Go deeper through “special knowledge”

Jesus did not have a human body; only an illusion Jesus was a man; the divine Christ came at his baptism and left before the crucifixion

Today, we face similar errors taught by Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Christian Science. Of all the world’s religions, Christianity is the only one that affirms both the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

Cults & World Religions

 

Jesus

Salvation

Islam A true prophet

Jesus did not die, but ascended into heaven

Salvation is by Allah’s grace and man’s works
Jehovah’s Witnesses A created being

Michael the archangel who became man

Salvation is by keeping the commandments and being part of the church
Mormons A created being

The elder brother of men and spirit beings

Salvation is by doing good works
Christian Science A man in tune with the divine consciousness Salvation is by correct thinking
Christianity Fully God & fully man

Co-equal & co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone

As John explains, you cannot “have God” without believing in Jesus. If you deny one, you deny the other.

It is not enough, however, to merely reject false teaching. You must also embrace the truth. In verses 24-27, John gives one command, abide, which he repeats twice. We must abide in the truth (24) and we must abide in the Spirit (27). We must ensure that the Bible and the Holy Spirit are welcome in our lives.

We demonstrate the Scriptures are welcome in our lives when we read, study, memorize, meditate, and commit ourselves to obey what it says. We demonstrate the Holy Spirit is welcome in our lives when we are filled with the Spirit and manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 19, 2017. It is part of series in The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Can You Pass the Litmus Test?

Perhaps you remember learning about litmus tests back in high school chemistry. The main use of litmus paper is to test whether the solution is acidic or alkaline. We’ve adapted the concept and use it as a social indicator to classify someone favorably or unfavorably. Issues such as one’s position on abortion, same sex marriage, defense spending, economy, and others are used to categorize a political candidate as conservative or liberal.

What is the litmus test that determines if a person is truly saved from sin? Is there a test to determine if a person’s faith is real or phony? According to the apostle John, our behavior always reveals our beliefs. In 1 John 2:3-6, John explains that obedience is the litmus test of love for God.

In this passage, the apostle asks two questions that helps determine whether one’s faith is real or phony. Do you walk the talk? Do you walk the walk?

Do you walk the talk? (3-5a). John’s thesis statement is found in verse 3: Knowing God is evidenced by our heartfelt desire to obey him.

Ancient Greeks believed you could know God through your mind. Modern Greeks placed on emphasis on emotions and experience. The Jews believed you could know God through the Law. John said that to know God and to love God is to obey him.

Obedience is not a popular word today. Some may have grown up in a homes or churches where obedience and righteousness were pounded home so often that today they reject the idea. That is what John is combating. Real knowledge of God contains an intellectual, moral, and spiritual component that cannot be separated.

Verse 4 is the converse of verse 3. It explains that the one who claims to know God but is consistently disobedient is a liar. The one who keeps God’s word (5) is indwelt by the truth and the love of God has done its work in their life.

Can You Pass the  Litmus Test?Our conduct should match our testimony. We should obey the great commandment—love God and love people—and the great commission—share your faith and make disciples. Obedience is the litmus test of love for God.

Do you walk the walk? (5b-6). Love is incomplete if it does not produce any deeds of love.

Abiding in Christ is another synonym for having an intimate relationship with him. John’s point is that a person who is abiding in God will obey God just as Jesus obeyed the Father and demonstrated his relationship with him.

We demonstrate our relationship with God by living in the same manner that Christ lived—servant, humble, spoke the truth, kind, patient, compassionate, forgiving, and sacrificial. An intimate relationship with God will be shown in Christlike behavior. Obedience is the litmus test of love for God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 22, 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.

 

Confession is Good for Your Soul

We tend to have a love/hate relationship with sin. Some declare that what they do in private is none of your business. Others keep copious notes documenting every last fault and failing. Some think God winks at sin. “He knows I’m human and is ok with my behavior,” is their refrain. Others think God’s standards are impossible to meet and give up trying to live a holy life.

There are those who reduce the Christian life to a bumper sticker or slogan. “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” “Christians aren’t perfect; just forgiven.” “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Some fall on the side that they are good people and don’t need forgiveness. Some err to the other extreme and conclude that they don’t deserve forgiveness.

In 1 John, the apostle John stresses that if we want a close relationship with God, we have to deal with our sin. He argues that if God is light (1:5) and desires our fellowship (1:6-7), we must acknowledge our sin (1:8-10) and receive God’s provision (2:1-2).

In 1:6-2:2, John makes six “if … then …” statements to describe how to have a close relationship with God. Three are phrased in a negative manner; three are positive. Three express our words; three express our actions.

“If we say”

“If we do”
1:6 If we say, “We have fellowship with God,” yet walk in darkness … 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light …

1:8

If we say, “We have no sin” …

1:9 But if we confess our sins …
1:10 If we say, “We have not sinned … 2:1

But if anyone does sin …

Negative statements

Positive statements

Words

Actions

On the one hand

On the other hand

In order to deal with sin appropriately, you must:

Recognize who you are (1:8-10). Some make the claim that they do not have a sin nature. If we deny our own depravity, we are merely deceiving ourselves. Such a claim may deceive other people, but it certainly cannot deceive God. If we do not admit our sin, it remains unconfessed and unforgiven.

Instead of denying sin, John commends owning up to it. When we confess our sins we agree with God that we have done wrong and owe him an apology. But far more is involved than a “please excuse me.” Confession comes out of repentance, a desire to turn from sin to righteousness. If we confess, God is faithful to his word to forgive.

In verse 8, the person said he has no sin; in verse 10 the person says he is not a sinner. In so doing, he makes himself equal to God, the sinless one. If we claim to be sinless, we reveal that God’s Word is absent in our lives. People who talk this way are not Christians, whatever they say.

Recognize who Jesus is (2:1-2). To John, sin is serious business. John writes to encourage his readers to avoid sin. He knows that they want to live a holy life, but occasionally they sin. Because Christians aren’t perfect, God has provided the help they need for daily life as they try, fail, and seek to get up and try it again.

Jesus Christ is our advocate or defender every time we sin and need forgiveness and cleansing. We stand as prisoners before God’s bar of justice, but Jesus comes to speak in our defense. He makes intercession for us at God’s right hand, making sure no charge will ever stick.

Jesus is both the advocate and the atoning sacrifice. What he pleads on behalf of sinners is what he himself has done on their behalf. He died to pay the price for our sin. It is this that constitutes him a righteous advocate for them.

Confession is good for your soul. If you have not done so, acknowledge your sin. Recognize that God is righteous. Ask God to forgive you. Turn away from sin and turn towards God. Only then can you enjoy a close relationship with God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 15, 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.

 

Stay Out of the Shadows

When I went through my experience with vertigo a few years ago, I learned a lot about the human body’s balance system. I discovered there are three components—the inner ear, the eyes, and the feet. In my case, I had an infection in my inner ear which sent me for a loop. While the dizziness went away, my balance never went back to normal. I still have lingering issues with my inner ear. As a result, I am very dependent on my eyesight and my feet to keep me balanced.

Because of my balance issues, I am unable to walk in a dark room. If I don’t hold on to a wall or a chair, I will stumble and fall. In the same way, I get into all kinds of trouble when I walk in spiritual darkness. If I don’t hold onto Jesus, I will stumble and fall spiritually.

If I want a close relationship with God, I need to stay out of the shadows and walk in the light. That is a lesson I learned from 1 John 1:5-7.

In his first letter, the apostle John is trying to promote a deeper fellowship with God. But there are conditions to fellowship. One is a doctrinal condition. Fellowship is based on the reality of the incarnation (1-4). One is a moral condition which arises out of the character of God.

Light reveals the holy character of God (5). By explaining that he is passing on what he learned from Jesus, John is demonstrating that we cannot base our theology on opinions or personal experience. We must base it on revealed truth.

The concept of God being light is not a new idea. In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as a flaming torch (Genesis 15:17), a burning bush (Exodus 3), a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21-22), and is clothed in light (Psalm 104:2).

We know that light reveals, is pure, comforts, and judges. When it comes to God, there is absolutely no darkness in God. He is absolutely perfect in truth and holiness.

In 1:6-2:2, John makes six “if … then …” statements to describe how to have a close relationship with God. Three are phrased in a negative manner; three are positive. Three express our words; three express our actions.

“If we say”

“If we do”

1:6

If we say, “We have fellowship with God,” yet walk in darkness … 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light …
1:8 If we say, “We have no sin” … 1:9

But if we confess our sins …

1:10

If we say, “We have not sinned … 2:1

But if anyone does sin …

Negative statements

Positive statements

Words

Actions

On the one hand

On the other hand

Stay out of the shadows (6). Ever since the fall of mankind, people have tried to deny the reality of sin. Some minimize it or redefine it. Some ignore it. Some believe they can follow Jesus and still live a lifestyle of sinful habits. John explains forcefully that you cannot claim to love Jesus and live in sin. You are lying to yourself and everyone else.

Live in the light (7). Walking in the light means living in obedience to God and his instructions. Since God is light, it means coming to where God is found, or to live in the same way as God himself. When Christ followers live in the light where God is, there is mutual fellowship between himself and us. It also results in continual cleansing from sin by the blood of Jesus.

Stay out of the shadows and live in the light.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 8, 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.