Thomas Paine wrote the Age of Reason in 1794.
It was the first anti-Christian best seller…and it triggered Bible-burning parties on both sides of the Atlantic.
Paine’s fury wasn’t directed at God but at churches, which he wrote were set up to terrify and enslave mankind…”my own mind,” he said “is my own church.”
Paine was no atheist, he had substantial religious views(unbiblical, but substantial).
His problem was with the church and pastors…he was decidedly anti-church and anti-clergy.
The charge against priests and pastors from Paine and others, was not that they were preaching about some imaginary God that doesn’t exist, but that they were oppressing people.
Paine was driven by his own vision of human morality…he judged the church and Christians by that standard.
In our time, Richard Dawkins wrote that the “God of the Old Testament is arguable the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.”
Never mind that Jesus called that God, Father…and said that he and that God are one.
Dawkins, comes to this conclusion by a moral standard, like Paine did…derived largely from the Christian tradition…from Christ himself.
Many, in history, have rejected Christianity and yet have reverenced Christ.
Even Voltaire, angry non-Christian that he was, treated Jesus with great reverence…especially later in his life.
Many have denied Christ’s deity but have admired his morality.
(“Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt” Alec Ryrie)
They don’t blame Jesus for the bad behavior of Christians…they blame Christians for misrepresenting Jesus.
Disbelief has historically been rooted more in the actions of professing Christians than in a struggle with Jesus himself.
This remains to be true today.
The Website, The Roys Report has no shortage of terrible stories of professing Christian leaders who do terrible things.
Now a website with stories of Christians sacrificially doing good things would be less interesting to people, and it would be impossible to sort out all the content that could be on it.
But none the less, a statistically few professing Christians who act like knuckleheads…can cause widespread damage to the reputation of the church…I personally don’t own what some knucklehead who claims to be a Christian does.
But still, what of the reputation of Christ?
Well, try as you may to separate them…and it has been tried, Christ is the head of the Church, and his reputation is tied to the church in the minds of most people.
It’s hard to find balance in all this.
On the one hand we say things like, “The church is a hospital, full of sick people.” “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it, you will ruin it.”
True, but a bit cliché…and also, not good excuses for bad behavior.
We are supposed to be Christ’s body on earth…we are Spirit powered, new creations.
And we are still sinful people.
So, we have to find balance…we are sinful still, but we are transformed.
Jesus is perfect, not his people…but his people reflect on him.
Today we are going to look at the larger theme in 1 John, then in the weeks to come we will go back to working through his letter verse by verse.
Today, I want to take a macro view of John’s intent.
His goal is pastoral, it is confidence, certainty.
Certainty for an age of uncertainty.
Every age has been the age of uncertainty…this was true for John and for us.
We desperately want certainty:
-About our future (but we know we will die, and death for most people is not going to be an easy process)
-About our loved ones (but we know we cannot control outcomes for our dearest ones, any more than we can for ourselves)
-About bank accounts, job security, retirement, happiness, government, this flight I’m on…you name it, we feel very insecure because we want, but don’t have, certainty about so many things.
One approach is to live in a kind of denial: Try not to think about how uncertain things are…keep a steady diet of noise and the pursuit of pleasure going to divert our own minds from thoughts of uncertainty.
Another approach is to attempt disengagement: To become practical Buddhists…life is suffering, eliminate suffering, by eliminating desire…”I will choose to not care, so I will not suffer.”
Yet another approach is just despair: Give in to the hopelessness of uncertainty
We are not to do any of those. We are to live with proactive faith.
Trusting God both with the things we are uncertain about and in regards to what he has said we can be certain about.
John has written to Christians that they would have certainty.
We are to live with the confidence of the right kind of certainty.
Certainty specfically in regard to two big ticket items:
1. Certainty about who Christ is.
2. Certainty about knowing you have eternal life in him.
From these two certainties…we can live with confidence in the face of many uncertainties.
In fact, all of the big questions of human existnece are answered in those two certainties:
-What is ultimate reality
-Who are we, what is our problem, solution, purpose, morality, destiny, how do we know
John began with:
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2 that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—3 what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
In space and time God became man to bring us eternal life…that life is not just quantity “more” (but a different unending quality of life).
Not just more time, existence…but different kind of existence.
-I read about a 48 year old tech mogul, who is spending all his money and time…trying to extend his life…his time.
-He is completely self-focused all his energy is spent on getting more life…but ironically, he is not really living…he is focused on not dying.
*So, he is wasting his time on the selfish pursuit of more time.
*That is not the life that Christ offers, not Biblical “eternal life”…not more of the same kind of life, but an entirely different kind of life that begins at conversion and doesn’t end at death…more on this shortly.
We are restored to our original design…we are made by God for God…broken by sin…restored by the gospel.
As we walk in the light…we get a taste of this now (new life, now)…we get to run our fingers through the icing…but the cake is yet to come.
He is writing that we would have the joy of this confident relationship with our creator.
He then dismantled three false claims that are barriers to relationship with God and this joy.
He introduced each by the phrase “If we claim.”
If we claim to have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, we are deceived…because sin separates us from God.
If we claim we have no sin nature, we are deceived…we sin because we are sinners.
If we claim we don’t sin, we are deceived…because all of us sin, God says so.
Now, in 1 John 2:3-27 he offers “three tests” of this genuine faith…this new life in us.
We are going to work through this larger passage for the three weeks following today, but today we are going to look at in overview form…to get the macro view.
These three tests of genuine faith (eternal life) are:
1. The moral test: Obedience: verses 3-6
2. The social test: Love: verses 7-11
3. The doctrinal test: Truth of Christ: verses 18-27
So, the born again, spirit-filled believer (which is every true Christian) will experience growing Christ-like moral character, Christ-like love for others, and will have beliefs that align with who Christ actually is.
Because, they have already experienced, new life in Christ.
Let’s take a look at these tests:
First, let’s talk about the word, test.
Between 40 and 60% of people have significant “test” anxiety that interferes with their ability to perform up to their capability.
Some of you get sweaty palms just hearing the word “test.”
Others, get excited!
A test! I get to prove myself, separate myself from the pack!
When we discuss these tests, it is important to remember that we are not “trying” for godliness we are “training” for it.
No one is going to score 100% (whatever that would even mean) and we are not competing with each other for high scores.
These tests are helpful for two reasons:
1. They make sense out of what we are seeing when people claim Christ, but their lives and beliefs are confusing.
In verse 19 John wrote…
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
This is going to happen…it is sad, but it must not undo us.
The ultimate sign of saving faith is enduring faith…faith that finishes.
-God only knows who is his, but we aren’t left completely in the dark as to how to understand what we are seeing versus what people are saying.
*He has told us in his word…there are going to be deceivers, imposters, people who don’t finish.
Be sad, heartbroken even…but don’t be confused about what is happening.
The gospel has not failed because some person has walked away from it.
2. These tests are helpful, To give us training objectives, to direct us toward increased certainty in our relationship with Christ.
John will conclude with his overall purpose statement:
“I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13
These tests are helpful to increase certainty of the gospel.
We are certain, because of the promise of God…but what we do, can impact for better or worse…our capacity for certainty…we can train to increase confidence.
Again, it is important that we have a biblical view of what eternal life actually is.
More on this when we get to 1 John 5, but again it’s not just living a long time after death.
Eternal life is to live a different kind of life, restored fellowship with God…never separated from him again by sin.
Many think that the hope of Christians is to merely to live a long-time post death.
If we have to die, well I guess it’s better to haunt heaven as some kind of spirit being…than go to hell.
The hope of Christians is the resurrection of the body, a new heaven and earth…it is to be restored to original relationship with God.
It is to fully live as we were designed to live.
This kind of life…begins at conversion and it doesn’t end at death.
So, these “tests” are evidence that we are “in Christ” and that we have been given the “Holy Spirit” to live a different kind of life now and this deposit of the Spirit in us, is the guarantee that this life will not end at death.
They are not tests to see if we can maintain passing scores, they help explain that Christians will be changed and if they are not…something is wrong.
We can also see then as practical goals for us to grow in our pursuit of training in
Every year military members have to take a PT test to see if they meet standards.
If they fail, they have a process to try and succeed but if they don’t get a passing score after a period of time they can be discharged from the military.
Military PT tests are not designed to kick members out…but to encourage members to train…to be physically faithful for physical fitness…for mission accomplishment.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The military works really hard to keep members in… they don’t want to lose them…expensive to get them and train them.
They want them fit to fight…but they want them.
So, the PT test’s purpose is to inspire faithfulness not to separate people from the military.
So, when considering John’s test’s personally, if you are a Christian, then they can help you do targeted training…to increase your confidence.
So don’t think, a test to see if I am still good enough…if I fail, I will get kicked out.
Again, your confidence must be in Christ and his finished work on the cross…not how you feel today…not even how you are doing today.
But we can train for godliness and the training itself…increases our certainty…our confidence…our joy, our experience of God.
Training in this things, is living the life of promise.
Let’s look briefly at the three “tests” then move to application:
1. Obedience: moral test 2:3-6
And by this we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
We can be sure we know him (not know about him) if we obey him.
This is not working for salvation, this a declaration of the fact that salvation “works.”
Becoming a Christian is not merely swapping ideas about things or changing political parties.
It is becoming a new kind of human.
If anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17)
You may not have had a dramatic experience in terms of immediate life change…but everyone who has been born again…has had a dramatic conversion experience.
We all have different back stories…but there is a sense in which everyone has the same testimony.
The 8-year-old who whose worse deed is lying to his mom about some candy, or the convicted murderer on death row…if they are born again, their testimony is the same…”While I was a sinner, Christ died for me.”
Now remember, he has already said…we sin because we are sinners.
We are now saved sinners…being sanctified…not yet sinless.
So, John is not saying we are going to live a life of perfection in every way, this is a life of settled direction and growing obedience.
We ought to be growing in Christlike character…this is now our great opportunity, our priviledge.
*One reason we aren’t, maybe we are not Christians.
*Another reason, is the hide and slide syndrome…listen to last week if you don’t know what that is.
In any case, sin undermines our certainty…obedience builds it.
There is a tension here…we don’t earn God’s favor by obedience; but we demonstrate that we are his by doing what he says.
“Keep” as in “keep his commandments” is a word that means “watchful, careful attention to”…not mere external conformity to rules, but a heart set on God’s pleasure.
It not our burden to keep his word, it is our privilege, his commands are life! Sin, is death.
I read a secular article yesterday about how the sexual revolution has succeeded in creating more sexual freedom and in making us less happy, more broken, more dysfunctional.
If we are his…it is our privilege to obey him.
As a child I wanted to please my dad because I loved him because he loved me first…my efforts were not to earn his favor but to enjoy it more.
This is the heart of this passage: If we are in Christ and the Holy Spirit is in us…we want to obey him.
We will mess up, fess up, move on…
But the person who claims Christ but gives no evidence of this in his life is deceived.
Again, be careful…you don’t use this to pass judgement on others.
Jesus himself said the weeds and the wheat grow together…God alone will sort it out in the end.
But you can make sense out of someone who claims Christ…but shows no evidence of Christlike character.
The gospel isn’t the lie, maybe their life is the lie.
Love: social test: 2:7-11…I will read the passage next week, today is overview.
John wrote, the command to love is old and the command is new,.
-The command is as old as the old testament, but Jesus has embodied it in a new way.
A test of being “In Christ” and of the Spirit indwelling you is going to be love for others.
When Christians…pastors, priests, anyone…claims Christ and abuses people…it is horrific beyond words.
There is no excuse…the damage is unthinkable.
As I think of about applying this “love” test to my own life…I have to watch that I don’t think, “Well, I’m been a pastor for over thirty years, I’ve never abused anyone.”
Okay, pretty low bar for love Terry…I am passing the love test, because I’ve not abused anyone…really?
As I said last week, the new cultural ethic is “Don’t be like Hitler”…versus, “Do be like Jesus”
Jesus said, “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, I say, love your enemy.” Matt 5
This is what John meant by the command is old but it is new.
So, the practical application would be to measure your life by this kind of test…how do I love Trump, or Biden?
How do I love the person whose beliefs and behaviors I “hate”?
How do I love the really annoying person? Your enemy, the person who is coming after you, persecuting you.
This doesn’t mean that we comply with the demand that in order to love someone I have to agree with their beliefs and behaviors…that’s not true at all.
But we are not off the hook to love just because we don’t agree with beliefs and behaviors.
Our test of love is a high bar…Jesus set it high.
He concluded that passage, just in case we weren’t clear, like this…Be perfect. Matt 5:48
That is the standard, now we won’t hit it…but we are to settle for nothing less.
Belief: doctrinal test 2:18-27 we will unpack this passage in a few weeks but just briefly
There is a clear distinction between true and false believers in what they confess, believe, about Jesus.
There is a difference in reality between the visible and the invisible church.
The visible church is all who show up, all who make a profession of faith with their mouths, who claim to be Christians…but they aren’t all actually born again of the Spirit.
The invisible church is the true body of Christ.
Again, Jesus said, the weeds and the wheat look alike now…God alone knows and will sort it out.
So, we set up biblical standards of belief and behaviors for church membership and leadership…we practice church discipline when required…but we won’t always know who is authentic who is not.
Some, John writes, will defect…they will demonstrate who they are by turning away from Christ and his church.
The key doctrinal or truth test of the professing Christian revolves around his or her view of the person of Jesus.
John says that the liar denies that Jesus is the Christ.
In second John he will say, they “deny that Jesus has come in the flesh.”
Jesus was a mere man.
Maybe God’s hand and power were on him but he is not God.
Maybe he was the best moral teacher, but not the propiation for my sins.
They deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
That he possesses two perfect natures, human and divine…they deny the incarnation.
Let’s go back to the opening of John’s gospel:
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Many accept Jesus as special, maybe a unique moral teacher…but to know Christ in a saving way you must understand that he is God incarnate.
You don’t have to understand deep theology…if so, how deep?
If we have to completely understand God, a child could surely not be saved, but neither could the smartest theologian…because that person still has a dim understanding of the incarnation.
You don’t have to have perfect knowledge of a person to have good relationship with them…but it must be accurate and adequate understanding.
What John says is that we are to believe that Jesus is God became man to die for our sins.
How do these three tests can help us make sense of what we see?
When we look around and think…
1. How can a Christian, a growing Christian, consistently act like that? They can’t.
-something is wrong with them
2.How can a growing Christian be so consistently unloving? They can’t.
-something is wrong with them
3. How can a Christian deny Christ? They can’t.
-Something is wrong with them.
I say something is wrong with them, not so we would sit in judgment on them, or think highly of ourselves…but that we would know there is nothing wrong with the gospel.
It always works.
But we can be deceived and there are ways we can recognize where we are off.
These three tests can help us focus on ways to increase our own faith confidence.
Don’t try to feel confident. Do what certainty does.
1. Ask How do I live my life like Jesus?
-What ethical choices do I make as I deal with money, and watching or posting media, and in my conversations, and in my words and thoughts.
-What character choices am I paying attention to in my heart…where only God sees…but will eventually show up for everyone to see?
As I pay attention to my life in Christ…I will grow in confidence in Christ.
2. How do I love the people God has put in my life?
When I choose to live out Phil. 2 in my life, I have greater joy, and faith, and I “feel” God’s pleasure.
When I love those I don’t like, or agree with, or who attack me…as I do, I will grow in gospel confidence.
3. How do I grow in knowledge and worship of Jesus as he actually is?
As I read scripture and other books that help me understand who Christ is in his own self-revelation, other lesser ideas of what it means to be human, pale in comparison.
Confidence grows as I understand more and more who Jesus is.
The three tests:
-Character of Christ
-Love of Christ
-Truth of Christ
Help us see what we are seeing…the gospel has not failed; some have failed to fully believe and receive it.
Help us train for certainty…our certainty is in Christ…we can train to trust him more.