An article from Harvard medical school stated that self-confidence has a bell curve.
It gradually rises during late teen years, peaks during middle age and tends to decline after age 60.
I’m on the downhill slope.
Midlife is where people occupy the highest positions of power, status, importance…they are working, involved in relationships, and more adventurous about trying new things.
Older adults, the article says, lose these roles and abilities…bodies break down, the world moves on, the next generation comes up behind and overtakes them.
The article then gives advice on how to combat this loss of confidence as you age…it’s non-earth-shaking stuff.
-Get up and get dressed and look ready to do something…don’t shuffle around in slippers.
-Try new things
Okay, not bad advice.
The article doesn’t, however end, with this statement:
“Regardless of what you do, don’t kid yourself…you will someday die, sooner since you are old…so, most of your self-confidence has always been misplaced and it still is.”
Many become cynical as they age…”I thought I knew things when I was young, I know better now…nothing is stable or sure”…this could be increased humility but it is often just cynicism.
Old people doing the “You’ll see someday” eye roll at weddings as young couples gaze in each other’s eyes..
Old Christians, patting young Christians on the head, “Yeah, I used to have that passion too.”
But younger and younger people are becoming cynical…not that this is entirely new…but it is profound in how much it is happening.
There is this unfortunate combination of the arrogance of youth (I am always right) and the cynicism of age (you can’t know anything for sure).
It can difficult to find a place of security in the world, especially the more we experience and know about the world.
Historians say with few exceptions, the world has virtually always been at war.
Disease has been constant.
Disasters…one after another.
National borders constantly changing.
Leaders and ideas and technology and ideas what is real, true, and important…changing.
This has always been true…but now we have instant access to information that brings increased insecurity.
Then add all the personal struggles, disappointments, suffering that we experience…things that can shake the foundations of our lives.
It IS naive to believe that human institutions are places of ultimate security.
We can be secure in relationships…but not ultimately so…I can’t keep my daughter from the suffering she is going through…no one can.
But thhis different than the knee jerk reaction against anyone who says they can know anything for certain.
There is no room for certainty now, other than personalized versions of “truth” that refuse to be fact checked by reality.
It is similar to what used to be called “existentialism.”
“I had an experience and so now my life has meaning.”
But if you asked…
“Explain your experience and why you think it is in line with the facts of reality…why it gives you a sense of meaning.”
You would get disdain…
“Hah! You asking me to explain my experience shows you are narrow and naive…no one can explain the experience, the experience just is.”
Some experiences defy explanation…but certainty is neccesary when it comes to the core belief of our lives.
Certainty must be based on something external to us…not merely an internal experience or feeling.
When I was in college, I interviewed for a youth job at a local church…I was naive, I thought church was church…didn’t know some didn’t believe the gospel.
I was asked by the pastor what my goal for the youth would be.
I replied, “For them to become Christians and grow in their relationship with Christ.”
He said, “We need to define what we mean by becoming Christians.”
I said, “I know what I mean by that.”
He handed me a booklet that talked about difference experiences people had had, like…
“He looked at the sunrise and felt that he had purpose.”
“He was lonely, started going to church”
Only one said anything like, “she believed the gospel, repented, and became a Christian.”
I didn’t take the job…it wasn’t going to be a good fit.
God uses sunrises, and loneliness to draw people to the gospel…but people are born again when they believe the gospel and God saves them.
Subjective experience does not make up for concrete reality.
Christians, are faced with a world, where confidence in “the truth” is seen as “dogmatic, arrogant, and now…”cruel or mean.”
Certainty is a sign of being naive, or narrow.
Uncertainty and confusion are embraced and celebrated.
Ironically, there is a lot certainty about uncertainty out there.
How is this working out for us?
The evidence says…not well at all.
People are free to disagree, but for me this is self-evidence:
-higher rates of anxiety and depression
-more lifestyle diseases
-higher divorce rates, suicide rates
-less satisfaction and gratitude overall with life, work, and relationships
-an epidemic of loneliness as per our surgeon general (the US government wants to appoint a “federal office to combat loneliness”)
Today we begin the letters of John, there are three of them.
He also wrote the gospel of John; I hope to go there in about two years.
And he wrote Revelation.
To read John’s letters is enter a world marked by assurance, knowledge, confidence, and boldness.
And a call…a challenge to be certain and to live with certainty…this was counter cultural then as it is now
“These things I have written that you will KNOW you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13
A central theme is certainty.
Not certainty about everything…but about the main thing…what is called your “controlling belief.”
I can believe it will rain tomorrow, and plan a picnic…I can be disappointed but not undone if my belief proves to be wrong…it was not a controlling belief.
But your controlling belief is what determines the course of your life…what ultimately is true and real…what you will give your for.
John says we can be and must be certain about God, the gospel, the truth of Christ.
Certainty doesn’t mean we never feel doubt…it means that we believe our beliefs and doubt our doubts, not the other way around.
He loves the words, “Seen” “Know” “confidence”
Some would say…John doesn’t live in our times of uncertainty.
Really? He was a Christian in the Roman empire in the late first century.
He was hounded for his faith…most his friends were all murdered, he was the last surviving apostle.
Ancient history reports that they tried to kill him with boiling oil…he survived, horribly injured and scarred and was banished to a remote island off the Turkish cost…where he was the only of the 12 to die from natural causes.
He wrote this letter as old man, in his late eighties…he reportedly had to be carried into worship services, because he was so crippled up.
But he has not lost his confidence in the gospel as the truth and the power of God.
He remains certain.
He has seen nothing but turmoil all around him, but the truth, he writes, has not, and will not change…he is certain of it.
Who was John?
Some things we know from the Bible:
1. He was one of the 12, but he was also one of Christ’s three closest friends (James, Peter)
a. When Jesus raised a young girl from the dead, he only allowed these three to watch.
b. It was these three that were on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured.
c. It was these three who were asked to pray with him on the night of his betrayal…he was asked to “watch, stay alert” like Peter, He fell fast asleep.
He had a special relationship with Jesus…Jesus gave him very close access…the Lord knew the role John would play.
He needed a front row view.
*He called himself “The one whom Jesus loved” five times in his gospel.
-Not arrogance, like “I am special” but it was the phrase he used when speaking of himself…not, “I john, was there”…but “the one who Jesus loved…”
-The focus was on the one who loved him.
-He wasn’t name dropping…”I know Jesus, we were tight!”
-“Jesus loves me.”
I think we could all, with humility and gratitude, call ourselves, “The one who Jesus loves”
In John 20, when Mary discovers the empty tomb, Peter and John took off running for the tomb…
John writes, “Both were running but the other disciple (John) outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”
Basically, “I’m faster than Peter.”
Seriously though, I don’t think he was bragging about his speed…these are the details you find in an actual eyewitness account.
2. He was a fisherman, like Peter, and in fact many of the disciples.
3. Jesus gave him and his brother James the nicknames “Sons of Thunder”
-We don’t know for sure why…but there is a hint in the gospels.
-One time as Jesus and his friends were traveling, they came to a village where the people made it known that they were not welcome there.
-James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
-“No!” Jesus said, “What’s wrong with you?”
So, who knows, maybe it was fun nickname, like…all thunder and no lightening.
*Like Peter, who was similar in temperament…John came a long way from those early days.
*From, “Do you want me to nuke them?”
To: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16
4. He was later was called a pillar in the early church by Paul. (Gal. 2:9)
-This is how much he had grown.
5. Jesus saw who he would become, not just who he was…On the cross, Jesus asked John to take care of his mother.
*What does that say about how Jesus trusted this guy?
Yeah, he may be a song of thunder…but I know who I want taking care of my mom.
From historical accounts outside the Scriptures, we find:
6. Important early church leaders said they learned directly from John…he passed the faith on to the next generation.
7. He was exiled from Ephesus (Turkey) to a nearby Island called Patmos, about 60 miles off the coast. There he wrote the book of Revelation.
His gospel has long been used as the best tool for evangelism that the church has.
-Jim Peterson wrote a book called, “Evangelism for our generation” where he shows how to take a non-believer through an investigation of the gospel, just using the book of John.
All you need to know and trust Christ is in that gospel.
And of course, John, the one Jesus loved, the front row seat John, wrote it.
Let’s look at 1 John 1:1-4
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Verse 1. That which has always been…we have heard, seen, touched
Verse 2. Has it that the eternal could be heard, seen, touched?
-Well, the “life” has appeared, the Word has become flesh…God has revealed himself to us.
Verse 3. We proclaim him to you…so you too can have fellowship with us, and with the Father and the son and so all our joy will be complete.
The eternal, has come, we have seen, heard, touched him and we proclaim the good news of Jesus so you will join in this salvation, fellowship with God, and his Church, through the son.
There is no, “I believe, I think”…this is all bold, direct statements of settled fact…certainty.
And his purpose is crystal clear…I want you to have fellowship with us (the church) and our fellowship is with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I write so you will know our joy.
This settled joy, is a component of his certainty
In these three verses John goes from eternity past to eternity future.
The beginning of time to the end of time, when our joy will be complete (a joy that is already but not fully yet).
Look at how he began his gospel and how it corresponds to his opening for this letter.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Here is John’s purpose in his gospel and letters:
“My proclamation of the gospel is the historical manifestation of the eternal God.”
This is to be every human’s controlling belief.
In space and time…God became man in Christ…to restore us to fellowship with himself.
This has always been hard for people to swallow…no less in the first century than in the twenty-first century.
Many believed and were saved then…many thought it was absurd then…it is no different today…many are believing, many remain in unbelief.
But let me remind you of a two facts: Everyone live by faith, the world is a strange place.
1. Everyone lives by faith.
-The sign I’ve seen many in yards, including last week… “science is real” is a kind of statement of faith, like “God is real.”
-I always think, of course, science is real, what are you trying to say?…but they mean, I think, that what I believe science says is real.
-And for many it is a statement of unbelief in God…I believe science is real, I believe God is not.
Science is: The systematic study of the physical world through observation, experimentation and the testing of theories.
-“Science has disproven God” …is a statement of faith, not science…it has not, it cannot.
Everyone lives by faith…it is how we are wired, and it is required because we are so limited…no way around it.
2. Reality is weirder/more amazing than we can imagine.
-Some physicists have “spit balled” theories like the multi-verse to make sense of the weirdness of the world.
-Many leading physicists think this is nonsense…they just don’t not know why the world is as it is…but they think the multi-verse is sci-fi, not science.
-CS Lewis in his Narnia and Tolkien in his middle earth both speak of the deeper magic of the world.
Magic is the supernatural for them…they use fantasy to show how the world is much more than we can even imagine it to be.
The supernatural is not anti-science…it is a fact of the cosmos as it is.
So, the eternal God entering space and time is mind-blowing…how could it not be?
John in his opening statement says that he is not introducing some innovation, some new truth.
-His primary purpose in this letter is to present the “unchanged, original content of the gospel, over against some novel, new ideas.” (this will become clear as we go through his letter)
*Stop for a moment:
-We can confuse John’s certainty of the gospel with certain, cultural, temporal manifestations of the gospel.
-We need to get back to certain ways of dressing, singing, organizing church life.
-Certain ways of ordering family life, or civic life.
“We need to get back to the original gospel, back to bible times…you know 1776, 1950, or 1990, or.”
*This is, I think, a desire to find stability, certainty…because things feel and are so fluid, so uncertain…people go looking for times that in their memories were more certain.
“We need to do things like the early church did”…and then Catholics, and Orthodox, and Protestants argue that their manifestation of the gospel is most like the early church.
John is talking specifically about the certainty gospel itself, not different time and place applications of the gospel.
He will focus intently on three key “tests” of knowing whether we have eternal life, whether we are living in line with the gospel:
1. Theological: Do we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, God incarnate? If not, then you are not a Christian.
2. Moral: Sin is incompatible with walking in the light. We ought to be growing in Christlikeness over time.
3. Social: Since God is love, to say you love God but to not love others is to be deceived.
-You can’t love the unseen God, if you don’t love the people, you see right around you.
So, these three things: Faith, holiness, and love are the true signs of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
If one or more is missing, something is amiss.
You can dress certain ways, organize churches in many ways, sing different songs, have liturgy or not (all churches have a form of liturgy, ways they do things over and over), you can have different views of politics.
John probably wouldn’t much care.
His focus is Gospel truth, life, and community…faith, holiness, love.
The three are inseparable…they are the tests of being born again.
We are not to apply these tests to others…to pass judgment…but to ourselves…as patterns to measure growth and faithfulness.
As means to greater certainty: Focus on the truth of Christ, the life of Christ, the Community of Christ…grow in certainty of the gospel.
So, in real human history, the eternal God entered space and time and revealed himself to people’s senses…hearing, sight, touch.
The word he used for touched is not just a momentary contact but like a blind man using touch to feel a friend’s face…to know them.
All three: see, hear, touch emphasize “knowing”, “understanding.”
He uses two words for sight, one means to “see” another means to “behold” intelligently, to understand.
You might ask a child, “Do you understand what you are seeing?” “Do you see what you are seeing?”
They see it, but then do they comprehend it?
John writes, we saw, because God made himself seen.
We understand, because God has made himself known.
Plenty of people died without faith in the first century, who saw Christ, his power, even his resurrection with their eyes…but refused to understand what it meant.
Peter is not making a merely “religious” claim, he is making a bold statement of historical fact with faith and life implications.
Stephen Gould was a Harvard paleontologist who called himself agnostic but said, if pressed, he would bet against there being a God.
He suggested that religion and science belong to separate domains or magisteria.
By magisteria he meant, realms of authority
Science and religion, he said, deal with fundamentally distinct questions and they can only get along if they stay in their lanes, completely apart.
This view, now often referred to by the acronym NOMA…nonoverlapping magisteria.
It is attractive to some people.
Hey, if science(fact) and Bible(faith) have nothing to do with each other, then problem solved!
You guys stay in your church…just don’t bring that stuff out into the real world.
What it ends meaning is, that…Science is fact, faith is fantasy.
The Bible isn’t a science textbook (good thing, imagine if it were, it would long be outdated)
But what it speaks about it speaks about in truthful, factual ways.
It uses history, and poetry, and story…but all that it speaks to, it speaks truly about.
So, John writes…”The eternal Christ, has entered space and time and has made a way for us to have fellowship with God the Father and his Son Jesus. We know that our joy is real now and will ultimately be complete.”
This is not different factually, than saying, “If you drop a rock, it will fall down not up because of gravity.”
The gospel is the facts of how God has saved us as much as the laws of nature are the facts of how God has made the cosmos.
He is God of all.
He “overlaps”, “rules over” all magisteria..the cosmos is a single reality…all things seen, and unseen are his.
John writes that what has been revealed to us…we proclaim to you.
He uses two words to describe the gospel announcement: testify and proclaim.
They are both words that signify authority, but different kinds of authority.
Testify: is the authority of personal experience. He is an eyewitness of Christ.
*Arlen Hontz and I are working on a team to hopefully go to Poland and train some Ukrainian chaplains this year.
-Three members of the team, two men and one woman, are former POWs…two Vietnam, one gulf war.
-They have incredible stories of their experiences, their suffering and their resilience…they have written books about their experiences.
-They will have the authority of experience when they talk to these Ukrainians who are living a state of war…their experience gives them credibility…authority.
Peter has this kind of “authority”…he has seen, heard, touched…he has personal experience.
But he has more than experience…he testifies to what he has seen…but he also proclaims what he has been given the authority to proclaim.
This is the authority of commission; this is a derived authority…Christ commissioned him (all of us, in fact)
This separates John’s experience of Christ with other claims of religious experience by many people…Mohammed, Joseph Smith (mormons), Mary Baker Eddy(Christian science), the guy at the gym who has his own ideas about God.
-John’s experience is validated by the Son of God himself…who demonstrated his authority by his life, death, resurrection.
This old, tortured, tired man named John…is neither cynical, nor wondering what life is all about or whether he has wasted his own life…he has great confidence…he has certainty.
*My kids asked as they got into late grade and middle school, “What about people who grow up in a home with a different faith? How do we know if we believe this because we grew up in it?”
We had longer discussions about this, but in essence I said:
“Something is real and true and what is not that is not real or true.”
Some grew up not believing the earth is round some it was flat…what you grew up with is not the question…what is true and real is the right question.
What is the evidence for the truth of the gospel?
Now, where will you put your faith?
My kids would not be born again, because they grew up with two Christian parents.
They were born again because they believed the gospel…this is the end or goal of proclamation.
The proclamation of the gospel has an ultimate purpose for John.
The purpose is “fellowship” (koinonia”) and “joy.”
Fellowship is the meaning of salvation in its widest sense.
We have fellowship (reconciliation) with God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
We have been born into his church; we have fellowship with one another.
This fellowship is eternal life…it will lead to everlasting joy.
*It’s okay to lose self-confidence, self-confidence is a fickle thing.
*It’s not good to allow fear or insecurity to take its place…but to have certainty where we need to have certainty.
We must not be brash, arrogant, pushy people…but we must be people who are growing in the right kind of confidence.
Confidence in God and in the gospel.
*I don’t remember the details, but I heard the story of a brash young man dismantling the faith of a simple, godly older women.
He used philosophy and crafty arguments and ran verbal circles around the woman who could not articulate a defense of her faith.
She simple smiled and in the end said, “I don’t know about all that, I do know Jesus, and I have known him for a long time.”
The smart young man, lost his feelings of confidence in the face of the powerful relational, experiencal confidence of the old woman.
It’s okay to study and be able to respond to the arguments of the time…it’s okay if you can’t.
It is necessary to know and trust Jesus…and for that personal knowledge to shape you into a person of confidence in him.
My dad, who in his physical prime was a man of supreme confidence…in the work place, ijn a cockpit, on a pipeline right of way…he was certain.
But in his spiritual prime, he became a man of less self-confidence, but greater gospel confidence.
You see the chronological bell curve…decreasing self-confidence as you age…ought to be off set by increasing gospel confidence.
I will never forget as he lay in pain, in a dark ICU room saying quietly, over and over…thank you father God, thank you Father God.
Our self-confidence comes and goes, maybe just goes…our feelings of certainty come and go.
We can, we must, learn to BE certain of the gospel.
Our certainty must be well placed and based on both head knowledge of God and heart experience with Christ.
Paschal famously wrote, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”
He is not making a case for “trusting feelings over facts.”
He was a mathematician, physicis, inventor, philosopher.
He was a child prodigy who did advanced math at a young age…clearly he valued the mind.
But he came to understand, after years of struggle, times of doubt…then finally faith…that he cannot simply trust his own reason.
To speak of the heart having it’s reasons is to combat the idea that humans are brains on sticks, or as one person said, “Creeds with legs.”
God has made us such that we are whole beings…We are to love God with what?
Our whole “Heart, soul, mind, strength”
We can live with certainty because God is ultimate reality and in his mercy he has made himself known to us.
We can believe our beliefs and doubt our doubts.
We can trust joy, when it is founded on the hope of gospel.
If you are suffering or have been through a lot…it can be hard to trust joy or to trust hope…you have been disappointed before.
But you can be certain, if you trust Christ, that your hope is a fixed reality and your final joy is promise of God himself.
When all else is uncertain…you can be certain of this.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in me.”